HBO's 'Mare of Easttown' Proves Indie Rock Is Everywhere on TV

It’s not just the fictional band on the new Kate Winslet series playing Mannequin Pussy songs. There are more artists on shows than ever.

May 3 2021, 11:00am

HBO’s latest miniseries Mare of Easttown has a lot going for it: An Oscar-winning star in Kate Winslet, stellar writing that’s as much of an exploration of grief as it is a murder mystery, and even the music of Mannequin Pussy. The band’s songs are repurposed for a fictionalized group in the show led by Angourie Rice, who plays Siobhan, the daughter of Winslet’s cop character Mare Sheehan. 

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Last week, Mannequin Pussy confirmed their HBO debut, explaining that the actors on the show recorded the band’s songs with iconic producer Will Yip and Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner coached them on how to be realistic on-screen performers. 

The show is true to its Philly setting, featuring mentions of Yuengling, hoagies, the Pennsylvania pronunciation of “water,” and costumes that are based on real-life Wawa customers (The show is also a treasure trove for spotting characters wearing random band t-shirts). Involving Philly staples Japanese Breakfast and Mannequin Pussy proves HBO did its homework, and their inclusion is yet another instance of independent artists showing up on TV. Television has always loved indie rock, but now artists’ involvement is going deeper than song placements and one-off cameos—they’re doing behind-the-scenes work and even taking on recurring roles in well-known series.

TV’s love affair with music is nothing new.  Look throughout history and you’ll find dozens of random artist appearances on all kinds of shows: Frank Zappa was on Miami Vice, Bob Dylan guested on Dharma and Greg, Tom Petty voiced a supporting character on King of the Hill, and Anthrax appeared on Married...With Children. More recently, the late Prince guested on New Girl, Britney Spears had a memorable stint on How I Met Your Mother, Sonic Youth played a song on Gossip Girl, Lady Gaga continued her acclaimed foray into acting on American Horror Story, and an animated Alanis Morrissette stars as herself on the charming FOX show The Great North to name just a handful of examples. But compared to the common marquee guests populating series throughout decades, there have been smaller but still successful acts making their serialized TV debuts. While that’s due to the rising profiles of several independent artists and that there’s just so much television series on both cable and streaming services, it’s still a welcome development. 

Though TV is no longer the career-launching vessel as it was during the early 2000s when syncs on shows like The O.C., Gilmore Girls, and Grey’s Anatomy which catapulted bands like The Killers, Death Cab For Cutie, Rooney, and others into mainstream prominence, it’s still important for any recording artist. Below, we’ve compiled a few of the funniest and most surprising examples from the past decade including a squirrel version of Ty Segall, random sightings of Jeff Tweedy and Japanese Breakfast, and even great acting from Andrew Bird. 

Japanese Breakfast on ‘Search Party’ Season 3 (2020)

'Search Party' Courtesy of HBO MAX

Mare of Easttown isn’t the only well-reviewed HBO property Michelle Zauner had a surprising part on. Last summer, the songwriter and New York Times bestselling author made a cameo in the show’s third season as part of a wedding band strumming a version of Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love to You.” Sleater-Kinney’s Carrie Brownstein also directed the episode. 

Andrew Bird on ‘Fargo’ Season 4 (2020)

FARGO — “Welcome to the Alternate Economy” – Year 4, Episode 1 (Airs September 27) Pictured- Andrew Bird as Thurman Smutny. (Credit: Elizabeth Morris:FX)

Andrew Bird has a lot on his resume: excellent songwriter, guitarist, loop pedal master, trained violinist, and world-class whistler. But heds never actually acted before his regular role on the latest season of Fargo. According to this Billboard interview, Bird was playing a gig in Fargo showrunner Noah Hawley’s native Austin, Texas and was offered the role of funeral director Thurman Smutny on the spot. Hawley didn’t care about Bird’s lack of acting experience and even tricked the musician on the first day of shooting. “The first thing he did was give me completely different dialogue, which was maybe by design in case I was too prepared," said Bird. 

Jeff Tweedy on ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ Season 10 (2020)

Jeff Tweedy on 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' (Credit: HBO)

Back in 2019, news broke that Jeff Tweedy was cast in an unspecified role on the latest season of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. While every music-focused outlet reported on the news, including this one, there was no indication on how involved the Wilco frontman and author would actually be with the Larry David comedy. It turns out, he was only an extra appearing as a Latte Larry’s customer for a couple seconds in the season’s ninth episode. However, Tweedy has been a ton of shows over the past few years: He’s guested on Portlandia, Parks & Recreation, and Comedy Central’s South Side

Ty Segall on ‘Corporate’ Season 3 (2020)

Ty Segall on 'Corporate' (Credit: Comedy Central)

Ty Segall provided the score and the raucous theme song for what’s arguably the most underrated Comedy Central show of the past half-decade. In the biting workplace comedy’s final season, he even shows up on screen in a fictionalized streaming show called Society Tomorrow, created by the soulless company Society Tomorrow. 

Ezra Koenig’s ‘Neo Yokio’ (2017-2018)

Netflix

Even a few years after it aired, its “Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig teamed up with Jaden Smith for a dystopian anime-inspired Netflix series” concept still feels like culture writer headline mad-libs. It’s a baffling and unexpected show but there’s something cool about a musician who then was still signed to an independent label being able to write and produce his own animated series. 

Chromatics, Sharon Van Etten, and more on ‘Twin Peaks’ (2017)

Just as David Bowie guested on the original run of David Lynch’s television masterpiece, its 2017 reboot meant a wealth of special guests. Throughout the final season, most episodes would end with a musical guest at the show’s Roadhouse bar. Artists ranging from Hudson Mohawke, to “The” Nine Inch Nails, and unfortunately James “Just You” Hurley all performed at the bar, but the best sets came from The Chromatics and Sharon Van Etten’s powerhouse rendition of her best song “Tarifa.” 

Kurt Vile on ‘Animals’ (2016)

Kurt Vile in 'Animals' (HBO)

Kurt Vile as an animated squirrel makes a lot of sense immediately but when you watch his segments HBO’s former animated series Animals it’s an even better fit. The Philadelphia indie rocker isn’t the only musician to make an appearance on the show: Ty Segall is also a squirrel, Big Boi, A$AP Ferg, A$AP Rocky, Kim Gordon, and others also show up too. 

Clementine Creevy on ‘Transparent’ (2014-2015)

Clementine Creevy in 'Transparent' (Prime Video)

Clem Creevy fronts the LA alt-rock outfit Cherry Glazerr but during the band’s early years she also had a recurring role on Transparent, as one-half of a buzzy pop duo managed by Josh Pfefferman (Jay Duplass). Carrie Brownstein was a recurring character in the show as well, but considering her vast resume in TV and film that’s not a surprise. 

Sigur Rós on ‘Game of Thrones’ (2014)

Sigur Rós on ‘Game of Thrones’ (HBO)

If you’re normal, you probably spent much of the 2010s totally enthralled by HBO’s marquee adaptation up until around the last few episodes of its divisive final season. If you’re me, you spent time in 2017 disgustingly yelling “Christ, is that Ed Sheeran?” at your TV during his appearance in season seven. For the most part, Game of Thrones had artist cameos that really scanned: Mastodon and Chris Stapleton as Wildlings, the drummer from Coldplay in the “Rains of Castamere” band, and while not a musician, blond Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard made sense as a Lannister soldier. But most memorably was in 2014 when Sigur Rós jumped in as Joffrey Lannister’s wedding band. 

Pretty much every Pacific Northwest indie musician on ‘Portlandia’ (2012-2018)

St. Vincent on 'Portlandia' (IFC)

It’s impossible to talk about indie musicians on TV without Carrie Brownstein and Fred Armisen’s Portlandia. Not since the Adventures of Pete and Pete have there been more surprising cameos from people who have previously been awarded Best New Music by Pitchfork. St. Vincent guests on three episodes, there are also appearances by The Decemberists’ Colin Meloy, Aimee Mann, Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock, Johnny Marr, Run the Jewels, and many more. 


Tagged:

Game of Thrones, HBO, TV, jeff tweedy, mannequin pussy, Japanese Breakfast, Michelle Zauner, Mare of Easttown, TV Music

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