Alexandra Patsavas Makes the Soundtrack to Your Life
November 6, 2012
By Kathy Iandoli
Reading the list of credits on Alexandra Patsavas’ C.V. probably resembles the list of shows recorded on your DVR. Having provided sounds for shows like The O.C., Grey’s Anatomy, Gossip Girl, Mad Men, and films like the Twilight series and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, it’s hard not to turn to this music lover turned supervisor for advise on which artists to love next. That’s kind of her thing, though. Once she added a label leg to her Chop Shop Music company, Alex was able to discover bands that she loved, place them in TV/film, and then give them a fair shot in this ridiculous music industry. Her next venture is soundtracking the pre-Sex & the City show The Carrie Diaries, which highlights a young Carrie Bradshaw navigating through New York City in the ‘80s. She elaborates on that project, along with her others. She also knows who “Gossip Girl” is, but she’s not telling.
VICE: So I know a couple of people – myself included – who are mildly obsessed with you.
Alexandra Patsavas: Oh boy. You just haven't spent any time with me yet.
Well I think it starts as an obsession for your ear for music. When did you know this was your thing?
I mean, I don't think you ever really know that, but I was awfully interested in music as a kid. As I think that all of us are who work in the music industry, either tangentially or in sort of the more traditional business. So I was super interested as a kid. I grew up in Chicago in the late 80's and was very inspired by John Hughes, and by the local music that was happening in Chicago at the time. It was far more difficult to have any sort of international awareness back then, so I heard what I heard. I was able to go get some imports at my local record store, and listen to the radio, and that's sort of how I got interested.
I know you had a few music industry jobs, but when did you decide upon music supervision?
My first music supervision gig was for Roger Corman in the mid 90s. I think my first credit might be '95 or '96. I came out to L.A. to work for a talent agency, in the mailroom. It was Triad at the time; it's now William Morris. That was an eye opener for me. Then soon after, I went to work for BMI, but I was able to work in the Film & TV Department, and that was the first time I was really... I mean, I was always so inspired by soundtracks, but I didn't really understand that music supervision was a gig! That's when I was exposed to it. I was a big movie buff. I enjoyed scripts, and I got to supervise Caged Heat 3000. That was my first movie, and I got to supervise that with a first-time director [Aaron Osborne] and so I really came up with some other young talents.
At this point, you've given your supervision to so many shows and films that are so important to present-day pop culture. That must feel great, right?
I'm so lucky. I'm so lucky I get to work with such creative people, and get to sort of carry out their musical points of view, and that's something that I think gets overlooked a bit. It's something I said before, that we're part of a creative team that we're really working for our directors and our executive producers, and carrying out the signature sound of their vision. If you like assignments like I do, it's so interesting to be able to try to bring those to life. So yeah, super lucky. That’s what I am.
How do you sort through stacks of CDs or mp3s to figure out what you pick for some of these shows? Do you have a science, or a certain genre that became for certain shows?
I think that really it's again back to that. I think it's about really listening to the creatives and taking a close listen to music. First of all, before we can even get into the lyrics, it's about listening to how a song sounds. How it makes the audience feel. All these songs are paired to picture – they're never listened to on their own until there's a soundtrack. So the first time the audience experiences these songs are when there's awesome dialogue being spoken, and beautiful visuals to watch, and story happening, and I think we are helping to tell the story. That's what I look for.
Your selections for Gossip Girl have become basically my playlist. I mean, you taught me about Warpaint. I can’t thank you enough.
Aren't they great? They're so great.
It's like you know the sound, you know what's hot. That's hard to do.
I'm not as concerned about that as you'd think. I think that really we get exposed to so much music. Really excellent stuff is very self-evident. It really is, especially when you listen to so much. I'm sure you do the same thing for your job and you know, great bands really stick out. Then they become career bands...not so interesting to watch. Like brand new bands that become the sounds of the time.
Well, I can't listen to B.o.B.'s “Ghost In The Machine” without thinking about Paris and Blair driving by Chuck Bass in a limo. Or Sia's “I'm In Here” without thinking of them meeting in France again. You know, the visuals heavily play into it too, and your placing of the music in those visuals helps an artist greatly.
I think, though, that the artists help... I mean, I think that it's a beautiful... I think everything sort of works for a reason and I think the scenes are enhanced by the right songs, and as bands have definitely had a shift in their feeling about licensing. When I started, it was very tough to sort of convince a band that their song was going to be used respectfully – that it wasn't going to erode any of their cred – and all that. It was a different time, and album sales were such that it supported in demand, and that's changed. I think we have so much access to such good music because bands are open to it. And also because the producers use the music so well and with such respect.
Do you find yourself getting into the shows while you're placing the music?
Oh yeah, of course! I mean, I think that the supervisors and stuff, we get outlines and scripts, and then footage, and we're sort of, we're part of that whole editorial process that starts in the writer's room and goes all the way to the mix stage. So, it's really exciting to be a part of that.
Did using the music for so many great, unsigned artists inspire you to start the record label leg of Chop Shop Music?
In the old model, I think it would have been that a music supervisor with a label would have been such an odd anomaly. It sort of makes a lot more sense now. And yes, I was thrilled to be able to start a label because there was so much talent, and we had the good fortune of being able to hear music early because we had so many submissions. Bands were interested. Before they were signed, we knew that if the songs were broadcast-quality, it didn't matter. It didn't matter to the supervisor, to the producer, or to the director if the bands were signed or not really the best song for the scene. So we did have quite a few, still so many songs that we use on the shows are unsigned.
So, on the roster now, you have Anya Marina and Mackintosh Braun that I knew of. Who else is on the roster?
Republic Tigers, Scars On 45 and Milo Green.
Are you looking to build it even bigger into like a full blown, stand-alone record label?
No, I think that I'm really happy. I enjoy the small, focused roster and this is a way, I think, that I can serve the artists best is to stay focused and get great help from the major label partner.
The two music supervisors that everyone talks about are you and Scott Vener [Entourage, How To Make It In America, 90210]. Is there like some sort of MusicSupervisor beef between the two of you, or competition? Do you like do rap battles and stuff?
[laughs] No, I think that we're all colleagues. I think that we share an experience, and a job, and I enjoy talking to other music supervisors.
So, obviously you know who Gossip Girl is.
Ah, I don't know as much as you think I do. I do not know who Gossip Girl is.
Are you serious?
Yes, I'm serious.
Haven't you seen the scenes yet to place the music yet?
I'm kidding, I'm kidding [laughs].
Do you think that the Gossip Girl audience is going to be shocked?
I think it's a wonderful end to the series.
I've been working on the finale now and it's really bittersweet. The finale is so exciting, and we're doing a special cover for it. We've got some nice things in the works, which I cannot reveal but it's really, really hard to see it end. It was so fun.
The end of Gossip Girl is going to like, ruin me. It’s a good thing you’re doing The Carrie Diaries. I didn't know what I was going to ever watch again.
[laughs] Oh, you'll have to set your TiVo.
So it’s set in NYC in the 80s, right?
Yes, and I was exactly that age at that time. We're going to do some wonderful original music from the time; we're going to create some covers. It's going to be such an interesting, fun project.
This must be like a total playground for you.
Oh, absolutely. Now, if we could just find a nice home for the Stranglers' “Golden Brown,” I could die a happy woman.