Andrew Charles Kahn has three names, which is impressive. He is also impressive for the reason that he has made a career in picking songs for commercials, movies, and television. Like that song in (any) Apple commercial? He's the guy that picked that. I sat down with him over many drinks in a bar in Brooklyn and talked to him about live, love, and why children should not be allowed in bars.
VICE: Hello there. I’m checking the, uh, levels. On my iPhone. Yep. Test. This is for VICE and we’re at a bar.
Andrew Charles Kahn: OK. Cool.
And that’s the whole interview. We can just shoot the shit from this point on.
Hmm. Ok. Let me start here... in high school, like freshman year of high school, there were these three kids, and one of them had a Led Zeppelin shirt, and one of them had a Beatles shirt, and they’d have these fucking arguments, like something outta Freaks and Geeks, where they’d be walking by saying stuff like, “Nah man, Jimmy Paige... Nah man, George Harrison,” and it was fucking hilarious. I recently learned that one of them works in like an auto parts store now, and he never accomplished anything he wanted to. Like being the next big guitarist or whatever. So, like, having... I’m kinda monologuing. Lots of people have a good taste in music. So...
[laughter] This is an excellent interview.
You’ll be like “fuck, I was genius. Good one me!” Chalk one up for Hepburn.
So my question is: How does one like come by having good taste in music? That’s something a lot of people have. How does that become a marketable skill?
Practice. I really think it just takes practice, and for me that came about by being an only, lonely child and just listening to a shit ton of music.
For hours and hours on end, and then, I mean, I remember when iTunes came out.
Did you have Winamp before that?
What did you think about Winamp?
It was great at that time. Like, Napster and Winamp started me off, right? I was like, when that came out I would sit in my dorm for hours on end. It was the first time I had access to music and it was the best thing ever. It’s still the favorite part of my job; just finding music.
Finding music that you like?
That I don’t need to like.
That’s a good point. Do you remember Audio Galaxy?
No. Uhh, was that a download app? Was that like after Napster?
It was built within a website, so you had the program, then you had the regular thing. Basically what happened was, you’d search something and it would give you real recommendations, like that’s how I found out about so much shit.
I remember looking up not even Dane Cook, but some bad, awful stand-up that I liked at the time and Audiogalaxy said: “Oh, you might like Bill Hicks.” And then that changed my life. That and so many other bands I found through there. I’ve been trying to find people that remember Audio Galaxy, like, it’s kinda like, one of those. Every once in a while I’ll hit somebody who’s like “Oh my GOD.”
And you’ll like freak out with them?
That’s the thing about filesharing. I think you could, like, go into ‘Users’ and then see... like, oh, this guy had a rare Willy Wright track... let’s see what else he has. That’s kinda the same thing. You had all this stuff. And shit! You had, like, T1 hook up lines. It was just so much free, illegal music that I was...I was hooked to that. Even before I had a job as a music supervisor, I would sit there and download music forever and catalogue it too.
My old boss.
Yeah? What was it like working with him?
Amazing. He’s brilliant, and also the most articulate person in the world when it comes to music. Talking about a song, it could easily sound like, uh, pretentious or just boring. But whatever Thomas says, he’s got this like amazing skill, where he’s like “this band is...” and he just forms a perfect, like, distillation of words where you’re like, you’re right. That is exactly what that song sounds like and how it makes me feel.
How is that not like Pitchfork, or that kind of mentality?
Right. Well... usually you don’t want to hear people talk about music.
Because it can so easily be pretentious and wrong.
How many times have you heard, like, you don’t need to know that "this new artist sounds like Florence and the Machine on LSD if you were on a beach in the Caribbean." It’s not even really that funny. It just doesn’t matter. Maybe I’m jaded by reading too much absurd or overly sincere comparisons like that. It doesn’t normally provide too much more depth. But Thomas, I can listen to all day long, fucking talking about music.
Well, what’s the difference between Thomas Galubic and you... and, let's say... Pitchfork or music journalists?
He’s just... he’s better at it.
How? How... why though? Is it because you guys are abstract? Because I’ve noticed, like with Pitchfork shit, it’s very clinical. It’s like they’re almost taking it apart. I feel like it’s an open operation on the album. It’s hilarious.
Yeah. I haven’t... I’m going to have a little trouble answering this because I haven’t really read a good review of a song in a really long time. Like, I love Fader. They have an incredible ear for music, or whatever. Sometimes, you know, I read what they say about songs, and they’re funny, but they... there no real content there. They’re just kinda trying to be entertaining, as opposed to being...
*** A child runs up to the table, screams, then runs away ***
That wasn’t me, that was a a little child.
That was a kid in the bar.
That wasn’t a weird sound I made.
There’s a fucking kid in the bar. Unbelievable.
He’s getting drunk too.
I’m never going to get used to that.
No? You don’t think it makes you feel kind of wholesome?
No! We’re drinking alcohol and people make shitty decisions in this room every day of the week, and it’s, the one pure, innocent being is literally running through the room screaming. It’s like Batman’s fever dream.
For me, It makes me feel like whatever you do in here is kind of wholesome, cause there are fucking kids around.
I’ve seen a dude finger a girl over her skirt in the same room... this is not...
Right, and now it’s wholesome and sweet finger fucking.
I don’t know...
There could be, like, two dudes sodomizing each other right over there and then a four year old girl outside goes by and waves, it’s like Sesame Street... Mister Rogers...
You make it sound like a Broadway play.
Yeah. It’s like a lot nicer that way.
Oh! I talked to Randall Poster [Wes Anderson’s music supervisor] the other week.
Oh, Poster? He’s the boss. He’s one of the few incredibly successful music supervisors. Every single person that you talk to about getting into music supervision, at least when I was trying to get into it, was like “Don’t do this. This career sucks.” Randall was one of the few people that was not, probably, I don’t know what his finances are, but probably not struggling to make ends meet and doing really awesome and creative work. And you’re like, “Some people have to be the next Randall Poster... it might as well be me if I just try harder and follow my dreams.”
Was he a major motivation to pursue music supervising?
Uh, I didn’t know too much about him, but the movies that he worked on, Wes Anderson movies were an inspiration.
Wes gets a lot of the credit for the music in his movies. How much of that did Randall actually do, without sounding accusatory?
That’s really interesting. I don’t know. Um, it seems like him and Wes Anderson have a nice relationship like that. Like I’m sure he just feeds him music, and it goes back and forth, but... I am friends with... like some other music supervisors that I know, that I’m friends with, they’ll work on really big movies any they’ll get like, two sync’s in the whole thing. And the rest come from the director, or the directors wife, or the directors assistant. It’s like, I remember when I first heard that. You get all this credit. You are the music supervisor on an Academy Award-nominated film, that so great for you and your career, but really, behind the scenes, you picked two of the songs, and you’re just clearing music with the directors assistant.
It just depends on the project. I work in advertising a lot now, but my first job was on The Sopranos. And we had, ya know, pretty much as much of an unlimited budget as you’re going to get in television... So as long as you’re not, like, every single fucking song is like a Kinks track, and like, a Beatles song, then you’re probably going to be okay, and you just have to keep your eye on the budget. The other people license it for you. Purely creative land.
How did the Apple thing come about?
Right. Well, do you want to hear a story? My first real job was on The Sopranos, and I got that because I made a mixed tape for a girl that I was seeing. She played it on vacation with her friend, who happened to be the daughter of the creator of The Sopranos.
So he heard it.
That’s a fucking story.
Yeah. I think it’s a good lesson in like, do your job... a lot for free, until you can get paid for it, maybe.
Tell me about it.
Like make shit. Like, fucking write shit all the time. Make mixed tapes. Make art, and then, eventually, try to get paid for it if you can.
I used to DJ for a while. Can you try out different songs that way?
Yeah. DJing is a blast. DJing is part of the reason why I do this job too. I’m a shitty DJ, but I DJ in LA at this one bar. My favorite bar in LA, for like the past four years. And it’s like instant gratification.
So from college, you did the mix tape for this girl. She heard it. So what was the phone call like? Or email or handshake? Someone handed you a bag...
Yeah, a limo pulled up to my place, and a guy said “get in the car.” Not really. What really happened was that I gave the tape to the girl that I was seeing, and her friend I also knew. And she knew I was somewhat unemployed in my life. I was actually interning for Thomas at that time.
Oh cool. How did that happen?
I knew I wanted to be a music supervisor, so I emailed, like I wrote him a meaningful letter... to all the music supervisors that I admired. Meet with Liza Richardson, who does Friday Night Lights and a bunch of other stuff now. She got me a job a KCRW. So I would do that, like once or twice a week. Then I met with Thomas, and he offered me an internship. So, then I met with him, probably twice a week. Other than that, it was the best summer of my life. Pretty much unemployed... it was awesome.
We listened to a lot of music on Thomas’s portable CD player. This was like in 2006? 2005? I don’t know. I don’t know. I think I would like write down what songs were worthwhile for him to listen to or something. Then import them along with contact information. Really boring shit, but I had never really worked for a music supervisor before. I had graduated three years before, but I had jobs at really boring... I had a boring job at CAA and that’s when I worked at Will Smith’s place... for Overbrook Entertainment.
Is he really a Scientologist?
I think so.
Are you a Scientologist?
No. I’m not religious. I met a Mennonite today, though.
I dated a Mormon.
Yeah? It's good to know that she was open to dating outside the religion though, right? Or did you just pretend that you were Mormon too?
It was the weirdest couple weeks ever. She had the special underwear and everything. Anyway. So what was it like, just sitting at a table at Thomas’s with headphones on? Just like, “Hey, listen to this?"
I probably interned for him less that twenty days before I got a call from the creator of The Sopranos. He was like “Hey, I heard your mix. Do you want to come meet with my guy who does all my music?”... who’s also the guy who did all the post- production, so I went in and met with him. They film everything out here on the East coast, but their post-production was on the West coast. Then I eventually got a job in their West coast office, helping out, they had a post-production/music guy. Just learning the ropes about T.V that way. That show ended in, I think...
2007. I know when it ended.
You remember when it ended? Everyone remembers when it ended. That fucking episode.
Did he choose the Journey song?
Uh, yeah, with David, the creator.
I already like that song anyway, because I'm a bro. But I was watching it with this girl and I was like, “holy shit. This is fucking incredible.”
Really? You were a Journey fan? Is that how that works?
I’m sure it can be good for the artist, but can getting booked for a commercial define you as a sell out, in this day and age?
I think selling out is when you license your music to a shitty ad that you don’t believe in and has bad creativity. I think that an ad can be great, and it could be beautiful. It can use music in a very respectful way.
Like that Chipotle ad.
Yes! Best thing of last year. And Coldplay didn’t really license their music anywhere else for any other ads. I don’t know how that thing came about, but hopefully they saw the creator, and was like, “this is powerful. This is something I can get behind” and that’s great... versus a band that doesn’t care.
Do you think there’s some ignorance and stupidity... mostly ignorance, going into commercials?
I think it’s laziness.
It’s just a half ass job?
Yeah..."I’ll just use the Train song.”
What’s your favorite soundtrack of the last 20 or 30 years? Like we talked about Trainspotting, that was great.
Yeah, Trainspotting was, like another one, and I don’t have a brain that can catalogue all this shit, but that was amazing. Wes Anderson’s first three films. And almost everything that Quentin Tarentino did. When you’re an impressionable seventeen year old...that’s when I hear all that shit, and that’s how I got into this crazy world called music supervision. You should do it. I think you would be good at it.
*** The kid from earlier returns to the table with a small water gun ***
The fucking kid again. And he’s got a gun.
It’s a water gun.
Calmly, someone's got a gun.
Was there a point when your taste became, and I’m using this phrase wrong, completely, but like, taste pornography. Where you’re basically showing off? Like look, I know this thing. Can you name an example of that, or, what is the danger in knowing so much shit about that, and using maybe the wrong thing cause you want to show off?
To be unexpected? Oh. Yeah. Fuck yeah.
Is there a section of music supervisor that’s the old man in the record store with the Napalm Death t-shirt on berating the kids who come in and want to buy dubstep?
Yes. 100 percent. Well, I think that part of it, part of the job is getting it...shit, the first thing you asked me is what allows you to have good music taste, and how to make that into a job, with practice. I think that with enough practice, you can understand what other people are looking for, and what fits in with this particular scene, in Gossip Girl, featuring a 16-year-old debutant.
So you know who’s going to be watching it.
Exactly. What they want. You have so much input, that you know what’s going to sound right under the circumstance. Hopefully you won’t be, like too much of this pretentious asshole, who only wants to put in, like, your own favorite, German, underground heavy metal band for every single project that you work on. I love girly music. I love 1950s slow jam doo-wop shit. And that will fit into whatever it is. If you practice long enough, you get more and more familiar with nuances of every genre and can understand what fits where. Even if it’s going to be a project, either film, TV or advertising that needs mainstream accessible.
Can I ask you, like five questions about the Apple job?
Yeah, I may not be able to answer them because they have a crazy confidentiality policy.
Shit. [long pause] What’s your favorite Apple product? [laughter]
That Apple's the best, huh?
They’re good people.
Buy their stock now!
Do you still make mix tapes for girls?
Not as much. I would, I just don’t have anyone to make mixed tapes for.
Shouldn’t have asked that question
It’s lonely out here.
It started raining indoors. And he’s crying.
My last girlfriend, I made her a mix, that was 2001. I think you need to know someone to make a good mix... to like, share your taste with them. I also just don’t think people care anymore. I think that’s part of the reason I don’t do it. Everybody get music for free all the time. There’s music coming at you from all fucking angles. It’s a gang bang of music. Nobody cares that much anymore.
So people don’t care during gang bangs.
They don’t care about what kind of dick they are getting, as long as they get some dick.