Rob Thomas (Creator)
Perhaps sensing the prospect of confusion on the level of Roger-Taylor-drummer-for-Queen v. Roger-Taylor-drummer-for-Duran-Duran, Public Bulletin/Hey Zeus/Black Irish guitarist and bassist Rob Thomas gave up his rock-and-roll dreams for books and television just in time for the lead singer of Matchbox 20 to take his good name and associate it with bland, overwrought pop music. Thomas the elder gave the world Rats Saw God, Cupid and Veronica Mars; Thomas the younger gave us "Push," "Bent" and "Smooth." If you're not sure which has made the more substantial contribution to the world of entertainment, you're at the wrong website.
spacecitymarc and wyk recently spoke to the Rob Thomas who doesn't suck about the upcoming Veronica Mars soundtrack album and selecting music for the show. Out of the goodness of their hearts, they have decided to share.
spacecitymarc: What was the impetus for you to create a soundtrack for the show in the first place?
Rob: Honestly, the primary goal for us is to get more publicity, which will in turn hopefully get more viewers for the show. It's kind of why we're doing anything around here. You know, desperation for viewers, and the release of the soundtrack will get a fresh wave of publicity. And we hope to turn that into more viewership.
spacecitymarc: So it's just crass commercialism?
Rob: Ah, yeah. I mean, they're all songs that I like so it's not just [laughs] crass commercialism. It's not like we picked songs that are outside the focus of the show. But we can all sort of make mix tapes at home if the question is, "Why do a soundtrack album?" I mean, there's a little ego in it that, "Hey, I get to make a mix tape for America" which is pretty cool. But yeah, at the end of the day, what Veronica Mars needs more than anything is more viewers, and the more publicity we get, hopefully the more people that find us. Hopefully there'll be people who find us because they think we're using cool music in the show.
spacecitymarc: From everything that we've read, you've had to fight tooth and nail for the DVD release. Was getting the soundtrack greenlit also difficult?
Rob: Well, they're kind of two different arenas, in a way. The DVD is done by Warner Home Video, and we didn't really have to fight tooth and nail. Actually, the DVD release was easier because it's all company synergy. It's Warner Home Video doing it. So that was easy. I mean, that was always the intention. The difficulty that we had with Warner Home Video is...I don't want to call it a misunderstanding, because there wasn't a misunderstanding. But originally we thought we were going to have the DVD out before the beginning of season two. It's why there are almost no bells and whistles on the DVD. They gave us the option of before the season with no bells and whistles, or out in January with audio commentary, et cetera, et cetera. And it would be nice to be one of the shows that can do it whenever they want, and do the gold, platinum, extra-special edition, but Veronica Mars, if it's going to survive, needs more viewers. I got into 24 because of the DVDs. You know, you sort of missed the boat, and I feel like a lot of people who might have watched Veronica Mars felt this way. It's like they heard all the buzz, all the good press on the show, but it was 12, 13 episodes in, so they felt like, "I can't catch up, so why bother?" The DVDs allow you to catch up. And that's certainly how I got into 24. And so I'm hopeful that it has the same effect for us. Of course, it would have been even more helpful if it had been out a couple of weeks before the season started, rather than a couple of weeks after. So that was the difficulty with Warner Home Video, but selling them on the idea of doing a DVD was not an issue at all.
With the soundtrack, actually, we were sort of required to first offer it to the Warner labels. The Warner labels all passed on it, and then we started going to other labels until we found one that we felt like was the right fit. At the end of the day, we didn't have a ton of offers, honestly. And Nettwerk isn't a huge label, but they're a label that has our type of bands on it. They're both a label and a management company. So that helped us quite a bit. We really got the personal touch from Nettwerk on it. We got people who cared and who are very invested in it and who are fans of the show, which has been really nice to work with.
[Editor's note: VM soundtrack (September 27th): $14.
VM season premiere (September 28th): $0.
VM DVD (October 11th): $40.
Kristen Bell's killer abs at the Emmys: Priceless.]
spacecitymarc: What was the song selection process? How did you decide which songs from the show, and I suppose in the future from the show, how did you decide which 14 to pick?
Rob: Well, the songs that were from last year, the ones that I was most excited about, were the really hard-to-get songs. The songs that had a special moment in Veronica Mars that fans had difficulty in getting. You know, in Television Without Pity, there are only a couple of things I do on there. I like to read it the night an episode comes out, and specifically the East Coast, so I get an early heads-up on how the fans react to the show. So right when an episode airs, I go on there. And the other thread that I read, actually, is the music thread. Because it's one of my little personal quirks. I want to know how that's affecting the fans as well. So I really did choose songs that were from memorable moments that are difficult to find. Like the Something Happens song, like the Cotton Mather song, like the 46bliss song. Those actually were some of my favorite uses of music in season one. And they're not out there and readily available.
So many of the other songs that we used in season one, by the time we would get them out on the soundtrack, they would be a couple of years old, or a year old. So what I started to do when we were putting together the soundtrack is – and this is really fun for a music fan like myself – the label and Warner Bros. music department sends me all the upcoming releases. So it's this moment of feeling really, incredibly hip because I've got albums that are in their pre-packaging, that haven't been released yet. And I just keep putting things in iTunes, and I'd weed them out. Like, I put probably 400-500 songs in a bin, and I would listen to that bin, and when something struck my fancy, move it into the smaller bin until it gets smaller and smaller, and we're down to the songs we're considering.
[Editor's note: Read our 46bliss interview to find out their reaction to one of Rob's favorite song selections. You might even win an autographed 46bliss CD.]
Now any time you do business with a label like this, part of the deal is they want their own bands promoted, so there are five Nettwerk artists on there. And two or three of them I had already put in. During the season, over the course of the season I have songs that I'm considering that almost make Veronica Mars. I tend to write with songs that I'm thinking about for the show played very loud in my office early in the morning. Like that Ivy song, "Ocean City Girl," was one that I almost put in three episodes last year. It just never happened, so I know I'm going to find it. The Spoon song, "I Turn My Camera On," we're using it in episode three this year. There are a lot of reasons I like that song choice. One is, you know, I'm an Austin, Texas, guy and that's an Austin, Texas, band, so it was the chance to be a hometown hero. Plus finding a use for "I Turn My Camera On" was no-brainer. I knew I would have no difficulty with that.
You know, we didn't get a couple songs that I wanted to get. There's a song called "Dy-Na-Mi-Tee" by Ms. Dynamite that I absolutely wanted, but we couldn't quite make a deal happen on that. Just a little FYI, we talked briefly about trying to cut together a new title sequence, but we just don't have the budget for it right now. And when we were discussing it, what I would want to do if we went with a new title sequence is to do something more truly artsy and noir. I love "We Used To Be Friends" as our theme song, but it wouldn't really work with a noir piece. And had we done that, I think Ms. Dynamite would have been the choice for that. I would suspect that you'll hear that song before the end of the year on the show.
And interestingly, my sister-in-law works for a radio station, The Mountain in Seattle, and occasionally she just sends boxes of CDs to me. And that Mike Doughty song, that was in the box of CDs she sent. And then a buddy of mine gave me the Delays record [Faded Seaside Glamour], which he said sounded like Veronica Mars to him. And I love that "Long Time Coming" song, which you'll hear, it's a great play in episode one. That's also one that I'm pretty excited about.
[Editor's note: To learn a little bit more about each of the songs and artists that appear on the soundtrack, read our annotated song list. To hear clips from the soundtrack and learn more about Nettwerk's awesome VM soundtrack contest, visit the VM soundtrack page.]
wyk: So you personally approved all these songs? No one said, "You have to have this song."
Rob: Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. It was really fun, actually. You know, I played in a band for nine years trying desperately to get my name on a major album release and I finally do it by quitting playing in a band. [laughs] It's a different route, but I've finally made it.
spacecitymarc: Is there ever any temptation to put your own music into the show?
Rob: [laughs] Ummm...the temptation is only because it's cheap. We have a certain budget for music each episode, and typically we can get three major-label songs in there. That's about what our budget will hold. If you've listened to the Veronica Mars music for the year, you know that I've used a ton of local Austin bands that cost us a thousand dollars, instead of seven thousand dollars. And so there have been times where I have been looking for that, "Okay, what can be playing on the radio here that we don't have to pay big money for? Well, I can always slide my band in there." But I always figure, it feels a little too corny to me, so I use some friend's band and make his day.
[Editor's note: Despite having TWO interviewers with TWO recording devices, we somehow still managed to lose a few minutes of the interview. At this point spacecitymarc is mysteriously cut off from the conference call, and wyk's computer crashes. The following is recreated from wyk's creaky memory.]
paraphrasing wyk: Are in still in touch with the Austin music scene?
paraphrasing Rob: Yes. I have a lot of musician friends who live in Austin. I'm heading down there for the Austin City Limits shindig.
[A few seconds of Complete. Dead. Silence.]
paraphrasing Rob: Hello? Are you still there?
paraphrasing wyk: I'm here.
[spacecitymarc doesn't respond. That's when we realize that he's been cut off.]
paraphrasing wyk: Oh, no. That's not good. I don't like music.
paraphrasing Rob: You don't like music?!
paraphrasing wyk: Not really. That's why Marc is here.
paraphrasing wyk: Why are there so few season one songs on the soundtrack?
[At this point, the non-music-loving wyk suddenly realizes her iBook is frozen and hasn't been recording the interview for the past few minutes. She scrambles to come up with a music-related question and restart her laptop, all the while desperately hoping that spacecitymarc will get back on the phone!]
[Rob says something so mind-blowingly profound that his words might alter the course of human history, but wyk has absolutely no memory of it.]
[Editor's note: At this point spacecitymarc rejoins the conference call and begins recording the conversation.]
Rob: [We want our songs to be] fresh, rather than picking these songs that would come out after being a year, year and a half old. Particularly if they're major-label bands or bands that have been on other soundtracks. We just hate to grind those into the dirt. Instead, on the soundtrack, for the most part, they'll be getting fresh songs, they'll buy the soundtrack and then hear the songs on the show. And I think however upset they are about not getting the songs that they remember from last year will be compensated for by hearing the new cool songs that we're putting on the show. At least that's my hope. I do have a couple big, huge cool pieces of news, or at least one for sure.
spacecitymarc: We like those.
Rob: Yeah, you know, our single off the record is going to be a song called "No Sleep Tonight" by the Faders.
wyk: On the Cingular commercial.
Rob: Yeah. Which is just a huge shock. No one, including the band, knew that it was going to happen. So we shot the tie-in video stuff. We're gonna have a video for that song that includes the Veronica Mars cast. We shot that last Thursday down in San Diego, and the band found out Wednesday night that they were going to get that commercial. It's so huge, because that's a band that hasn't even been released in America. It's a British sort of power pop trio of two 18-year-olds and a 20-year-old girl. And also, not only are we doing a tie-in video but they play the homecoming dance in episode 5 this year. It's funny, because I let them call themselves the Faders, and they're the Faders, and I felt like, well, this is no problem because no one in America has heard of them, they haven't heard this song, it hasn't been released here yet. And now suddenly in episode 5, you're gonna hear this song, and by that point, everyone in America will know this song and it'll look like, "Wow, a hugely famous band is playing the Neptune High homecoming dance." Which is not what I was planning on at all. I was thinking it'll be an unknown band that we're breaking. But that commercial, I saw it five times this weekend.
[Editor's note: How cool is it that Alfred Sole discusses the set decorations for the dance in his interview, and a week later Rob discusses the same dance?]
wyk: I found out about it Wednesday, and then I saw the commercial an hour later after talking to [VM associate producer] Stacy [Fields]. It was weird.
Rob: Yeah, it was freaky for me, too.
wyk: How did you hook up with the band, since they are a brand new band?
Rob: I was just sent by both Nettwerk and by Warner Bros. tons of new, unreleased stuff. Typically, and I know this as a book author, they have things in the pipeline and they're just waiting to release them, and they're trying to get promotion for it, they're trying to find the right week to release the record so it's not competing against stuff. So the albums actually exist for quite a while before they get the big release and promotional push, and fortunately I got sent a lot of that music that hasn't come out yet. And that was a band that was sent to me.
spacecitymarc: You said they're playing the homecoming dance. Are there any plans to do something like Buffy did or The O.C. does, with bringing bands in constantly?
Rob: Yeah, we do have a plan. And it's a strange plan, and we've shot our first one and it worked so beautifully that we hope we're gonna do it all year. The plan is to do it all year. You know how Veronica sang karaoke last year? Well, she's now working at that coffee shop as the season begins, and what we're going to have are karaoke nights every few episodes. Like, in episode 3, you're gonna see Courtney Taylor-Taylor. The lead singer of the Dandy Warhols comes on and sings karaoke, "Love Hurts" by Nazareth. And it's amazing. It's so cool. And we don't say, "It's Courtney Taylor-Taylor of the Dandy Warhols," we just say, "Hey, Courtney, come up, it's your turn to sing karaoke." And so we're gonna do that all year. Britt Daniels of Spoon has already volunteered to come and do it. So we're going to do these karaoke things where we won't identify them as the famous person they are. If you happen to know what the lead singer of Dandy Warhols looks like, then you'll get it. Otherwise, I'm sure it'll be something that'll be up on all the boards later. But they're not going to sing their own hit songs. They're gonna do karaoke, so it'll be some rock standard that they're doing. And then, sort of in conjunction with that, Courtney Taylor-Taylor does the karaoke sing where he sings "Love Hurts," and then later in the episode we gave great play to "Smoke It," which is the new single off their new record. So everybody is happy that way.
[Editor's note: Alfred also mentioned the new karaoke set during his interview.]
spacecitymarc: That's actually interesting. I interviewed Courtney, and I brought it around to Veronica Mars. And one of the things he said when I asked him if he was a fan of the show, he said that he doesn't have a TV. So I'm curious, especially if he's going to be on the show, was there any resistance from the Dandy Warhols about using the song as the theme or getting more involved in the show that way?
Rob: No, the Dandy Warhols in particular have been really great to the show. I think they were pretty happy to have the theme song used. On their preview album, the new album, they don't have a title yet. It's either Odditorium or The Warlords of Mars. And of course I'm lobbying the band manager for Warlords of Mars. So they can't hate it too much. The fact that Courtney came down and did the karaoke, I mean, yeah, I think for them it's publicity. And fortunately Veronica Mars has a certain level of hipness and cachet that doesn't make it feel like you are going on The Osmonds or something to do your record.
[spacecitymarc's correction: The full title of the new Dandy Warhols record is Odditorium or Warlords of Mars. Rob seemed to think that it was a choice between the two.
Polter-Cow's diss: Yeah, I'm glad I wasn't on crack, and it was Rob who was chokin' and tokin'.]
wyk: You're not going to do that freaky editing again, are you?
Rob: Uh, no.