The Story Behind Gilmore Girls Music Is Delightful

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GilmorePhoto: Courtesy of Amazon, Warner Brothers.
Sam Phillips is the genius behind one of our favorite scores on television — and below, she talks about how that came to be. She also happens to be an incredible singer-songwriter with 15 albums under her belt, and you can buy her latest album, Push Any Button, on Amazon or iTunes.

Recently someone asked me if I could perform anywhere in the world, where would it be? I said I had played on a street corner in Stars Hollow once, and that remained at the top of my list.

In 2000, I was surprised to get a phone call asking if I would be interested in doing music for a new TV show called Gilmore Girls. I had spent more than a decade writing songs, making records, and touring, but had never considered such a thing. I drove to the Warner Brothers lot to meet with the show's creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, on a hot July afternoon, not sure what to expect. I assumed TV people would be on the conservative side, unlike the denizens of the music business. But, when Amy, a former professional dancer, and former writer for the Roseanne show, walked in looking cool wearing a minidress and ankle boots — lighting up the room with her wit — I felt I had met a friend and comrade. I also figured this was not going to be a normal TV show.

When I walked into Amy's office for our first day of working on music, it was like stepping out of a black-and-white (and very corporate) Kansas world into the Technicolor creative haven of Oz. All the things in the room — the walls, the phone, the lamps, the pens, the desks, and even the mannequin — were pink. I want to say there was also a giant martini glass you could sit in and a bubble machine blowing bubbles into the air, but perhaps I made that part up.

Amy did not seem to mind my lack of TV scoring experience because she didn't want a typical soundtrack for Gilmore Girls. She wanted the music to be one of the characters in the story — as though it were the music inside the mother and daughter's heads. And so, I wrote and sang little melodies with "La's" and background vocal parts instead of lyrics, to create that sonic character without stepping on the great, rapid-fire dialogue.
gilmore-familyPhoto: Courtesy of Warner Brothers.
When Gilmore Girls went on the air, it was different from most other shows on TV. We were surrounded by big slick hits, mean teenage dramas, and sitcoms. But, Gilmore Girls was funny and smart and also deeply touching. And, because it wasn't typical, it took its own time to find an audience, but once people found the show, they seemed to really connect with it. I began to get e-mails and comments from viewers who called my score the "La La's." A mother wrote and said though she and her daughter lived in different cities, they made a phone date to watch the show together every week. My friend's sister had just gone through a rough divorce and told him to tell me (the lowly composer) how much the show meant to her…and that she liked the "La La's." I also met a single dad who watched the show with his teenage daughter.

Some of the music was done in a recording studio, but for the most part, I recorded in a home studio that my husband and I shared. One morning, I walked downstairs, still in my pajamas, and typed in the code to turn off our home security system. I was so sleepy that I typed in the wrong code — the one that said "Help! I am being held hostage in my own home." A few minutes later, as I was starting to make breakfast for my little girl, two extremely handsome police officers (who looked like they were from Central Casting) were knocking at my door. After they searched my house and I explained my mistake, one of them noticed my recording equipment and asked what kind of music I made. I told him I was doing music for a new show called Gilmore Girls. I was shocked when he lit up and said "Tuesday nights at 8 o'clock on the WB — I love that show!"
rory-lorelaiPhoto: Courtesy of Warner Brothers.
There were great broads (female characters, non-pejorative, to be clear) on the show — Miss Patty, Sookie, Gypsy, Lane, and Paris, as well as the three Gilmore ladies — and there were a few funny broads behind the scenes as well. Our weekly music meetings often felt like a girls' night out when Amy and our beloved producer Helen Pai were in attendance. We rivaled Rory and Lorelai with our snacks: There were breakfast burritos, cartons of Chinese food, doughnuts, cupcakes, cookies, and my favorite, the giant coffee-bot that appeared in the writers' kitchen one season. Even today, I would rather own this machine than a fancy car. With the push of a button it would grind the coffee beans, make the espresso, and foam the milk for a very tasty cappuccino or any other hot coffee drink you wanted. I called it Luke.

Halfway through our seven-year run, my marriage ended and I became a single mom. I understand art imitating life, but the opposite is still a mystery to me. And, to Amy and her writers' credit, during that painful time, I felt as if they were reading my e-mails. I laughed and cried with Lorelai and the rest of the characters, feeling as though they were speaking directly to me. This is one of the many reasons why it meant so much to me to sing on that street corner in Stars Hollow.

It was the last night of filming for the last episode Amy wrote and directed before leaving the show. Sonic Youth, Grant-Lee Phillips, and Sparks had already filmed their performances. Luke and Lorelai were arguing in the coffee shop, and as she walked out, brokenhearted, and passed me on the street, Amy cued me to play my song "Taking Pictures." Instead of "La La's" I sang "Nostalgia isn't what it used to be…"

After we wrapped, and as the cast and crew were going home, someone, in classic Lorelai fashion, opened a bottle of liquor they had smuggled onto the set. A few of us raised our plastic cups to Amy...and to all the broads.

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