INTERVIEW: Matt Barber (Chuck vs the Music)
I’m a big fan of the dearly departed spy dramedy Chuck. If you’re a regular over here at ITYLTS you may have seen my dedication to this beloved show and its absolutely blinding music selections it has had over its five year run, in a post I call Chuck vs the Music.
Since I started watching the show this time last year, I have been introduced to so many fantastic and varied artists and I truly believe that that gave me one of the big pushes to start this here blog.
In the wake of the series finale of Chuck, I got to chat to one of the guys behind some of those genius music selections, Matt Barber. Working as one of the editors on Chuck and The O.C. (another show known for its music) Matt gave us Chuck fans some of our favourite musical moments along with renowned music supervisor and head of Chop Shop Records, Alex Patsavas. Never has a music supervisor been a household name, who has picked music for The Twilight Saga, Gossip Girl, Grey’s Anatomy and so much more. Chances are if you found yourself singing a song you heard on a TV show last week, it was Alex Patsavas who put it there.
I talked to Matt about how he got into the business, making a song work for a scene, his television directorial debut on Chuck and his favourite songs.
How did you get into editing?
It was a bit of a journey. I graduated from San Jose with a radio and television degree. I originally wanted to get into radio actually but I did some internships and hated it. Everyone was overworked, underpaid and miserable. So I switched to film and loved it. After I graduated my wife and I moved down to Long Beach, I got some internships, started hanging out with editors and pretty soon I found myself editing as an assistant on a law and order show. I went from there to The O.C. as an assistant and moved up to editor and that’s where my connection to music really starts.
I’ve always loved music and always used music in everything I’ve worked on. On The O.C. we were at the forefront of that, every week all this great new music, it was fantastic.
Yeah! It felt like The O.C. really switched up how music was used in television that has now become the norm in shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Gossip Girl and Chuck. The O.C. had a few soundtracks released alongside the show, did you have a chance to pick out some of the music used on The O.C. or was it left up to the music supervisors?
During the last season I was an editor but for the first four years I was an assistant. The way it works, especially in our organisation, Alex Patsavas (of Chop Shop Records and music supervisor for The O.C., Grey’s Anatomy, Chuck, Gossip Girl…) will send us a bunch of CDs, the new stuff that we should be listening to, and after that it’s really up to us. There’s been plenty of times when we’ve been listening to something and we as editors have brought it in. On Chuck, sometimes Josh [Schwartz] or Chris [Fedak] would bring in a song but its not like Alex will say this is the song we have to use in this scene. She’ll kind of guide us and say this is the kind of stuff you should be listening to and then its up to us to figure out what works with the scene.
Were there any songs you really wanted to use that you never managed to fit in?
That’s a tough question. I’d have to go back to see what that was. I mean, there was always this small band from the Midwest called Cloud Cult that I love but we could never find the spot for them. Usually, you’re putting stuff in there that you love anyway. It’s rare that you’re forced to put in a song that you don’t really care about, usually I really like this song AND it works really well.
Sometimes you’ll be listening to music and think this will really work with a scene and you put it there and it just does not work at all and sometimes they’ll be music that I’m listening to that I won’t really care about but I’ll save it just in case. You put it up against a scene and the scene comes to life so you never really know.
When you had the script for an episode you were editing, were there already notes about what kind of songs they wanted to use or were you free to pick whatever you wanted?
On occasion there was a song already in but usually it was to do with thematic reasons. For example, in Chuck if we were going down to ‘Costas Gravas’ we would need some kind of Latin music or when we had a flashback scene to when Sarah Walker was in high school we would need songs from then. Most of the time, we’ll look at the songs given and try them but we’re not forced to use them and they’re more of a suggestion. Usually the writers are listening to a song when they’re writing and they’ll put it in there knowing that sometimes it doesn’t work. For the most part there’s no requirement, we just put in what works.
What’s your favourite piece of music used in Chuck?
Probably my favourite is Frightened Rabbit.
The first one, ‘The Twist’. I had found them over the break for the writers strike and fell in love with them. I knew we had to use it. They had a completely different song for the end scene and I said that this song was going to do it and it would be great. So I put it in there and the director was kind of iffy about it so we went back to the original song but then I showed it to Josh [Schwartz] and Chris [Fedak] and they fell in love with it. It started our love affair with Frightened Rabbit.
Yeah, you’ve used them a couple of times. I love all of them but I think my favourite is ‘Swim Until You Can’t See Land’.
Yes, and that was one of those ones where we almost didn’t put it in because it would have been our fourth time using them and it could have been a little too much. But it worked great, we love them and if we can support them then its great.
Was ‘Young Blood’ by The Naked and Famous one of your choices?
Yeah, that was one that Alex had sent us on a CD. I heard it and thought that would be great for that scene.
So do you work closely with Alex and the guys over at Chop Shop Records?
Yeah, we work pretty closely with them. Especially when it comes to ‘Jeffster’ songs. Anything to do with ‘Jeffster’ we get them involved early. With ‘Jeffster’ you have to make sure that the band is cool with it, because its parody. In the scene when ‘Jeffster’ are driving to Reno, we originally thought about doing Tracy Chapman’s ‘Fast Car’ and she wasn’t too comfortable with it. With ‘Jeffster’ there is a little bit of mockery that goes on so the band have to be good sports.
A-ha’s ‘Take On Me’ was a great choice for ‘Jeffster’ in the last episode to round off their 80s cover series.
I love when they come out with all the fog, they did a really good job on that.
Was it fun having those conversations about what ‘Jeffster’ would cover next and what you could get away with?
A lot of those conversations happened so far in advance that the editors would read it in the script and be like ‘oh we’re doing ‘Mr. Roboto’, okay cool’.
How was it directing for the first time on Chuck? A lot of preparation?
I prepped for about a month because it was my first time and I wanted it to go well. So I spent a lot of time with it, I took classes and talked with Zac and Yvonne early. The thing I realised about television directing, is how much pressure there is on you at any given moment. When you’re editing, it’s easy to say ‘why don’t we have a close up here’ and yelling at the screen but when you’re there directing you might have a wardrobe malfunction or something that slows down everything. You lose hours that you can’t make up and you have to speed up everything else. You don’t realise how much pressure the clock is and it doesn’t matter if you’re not causing any of the problems, you still have to make up the time.
Where you happy with the finished product, I loved it.
Ha, thank you. There were a couple of things that I thought I could have done differently. Overall, we had amazing guest stars and I had an awesome script to work with.
I was looking at your IMDB earlier and I saw that you had written and directed a short film ‘Weathered’. What’s that about?
It’s about a woman who lost her fiancé years a go and never got over it. She got stuck in time and lived her life in a bubble essentially and her only means of human connection were doctors appointments. In the end, she finds her special someone played by Tony Hale.
Are you planning to write a bit more in the future?
I’m not really a writer so to speak. I write out of necessity because I’m cheaper than paying other writers. I’m working on a feature film and a documentary right now. I’ve got a few things in the works.
It must have been so bittersweet to say goodbye to Chuck, are you over it?
Yeah I’m over it. Not in the way of good riddance but we had to say goodbye to it in December and for all the fans it was a few weeks a go. So I’ve had a few months to process it but the last night of shooting was really emotional. I was there right until the end, it was 3am and everyone’s crying because it was the last time we were all going to be together. It was such a great cast and crew, we had our troubles but in the end everyone came together and after everything we’re family. It’s weird to think that those 200 people that came together to make that show will never all be in the same room again. In different forms maybe, but never exactly the same.
Back to the music, who is your all time favourite artist? Gun to your head.
Oh man, gun to my head. That’s hard.
I don’t know why I asked you that, I don’t know if I even have a definitive answer…
The problem is I’m always looking for new music so I’m always into what’s happening now. I do keep going back to Frightened Rabbit, I’m a big Pearl Jam fan, early Nirvana, big The Beatles fan. I think if I was on a desert island and I had to pick one band, it would have to be The Beatles. If I had to pick an album it would have to be The White Album.
Yeah, that is pretty good.
Who would you pick? Your turn.
Okay, gun to my head. I think it would be Bon Iver. I’m not sure which album but right now it would be their most recent Bon Iver, Bon Iver. I’m preferring that over the debut at the moment.
Oh really, interesting.
I thought I wouldn’t but it has a richer sound. But then there are so many albums that I always go back to as well. It’s a tough question, I should have an answer to it if I’m going around asking it.
It’s one of those absurd questions. You’re never going to be on a desert island with just one album.
There’s albums that I will always listen to but currently I’m loving M83’s new one.
Yeah that’s fantastic.
What new artists are you into at the moment?
I’m starting to really get into Radical Face and Electric President who we featured on The O.C. Electric President are these two guys and one of them became Radical Face. Really cool stuff. You know, I download all these things and then I forget about them. Cloud Nothings and a few other things. Honestly, I’m making my way through the rest of the music that I got from Chuck from the last couple of weeks.
Do you listen to Long Beach’s KCRW? That’s where I first heard The Head and the Heart.
You introduced me to Clock Opera as well, how did you hear about them?
Alex actually, she sent me a track and I posted it up on my music blog. I put it up and I didn’t realise that it wasn’t released to the general public so I get an email from the UK saying ‘Where the hell did you get this track?’ and I totally didn’t mean to pirate the song. But because of that I’ve become friends with their PR guy, so he sends me new tracks.
As this is I Think You’ll Like This Song, is there anything you’re listening to at the moment that you think we would like?
Yes, check out Radical Face ‘Welcome Home’. That would have been on Chuck if we were still going.