In this brave new world of music licensing, the idea of having a song placed in a commercial or film is no longer met with cries of “selling out”—rather, it’s increasingly embraced as both a validation of the artist’s talent and a necessary mechanism for how they will be compensated for their work.
In some cases, music placement is happening so quietly and efficiently that the band’s fans might not even know it’s happened until they’re sitting in a theater watching a new flick. Which was the case when Trampled by Turtles had their song “Alone” placed at the climax of the indie film The Way, Way Back, and is the case again this winter as Rogue Valley’s “The Wolves and the Ravens” is prominently featured in the Ben Stiller film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.
I caught up with Chris Koza, Peter Sieve, and Paul Engels of Rogue Valley to talk about how their song—originally released in 2011 on their False Floors LP—ended up on the Walter Mitty soundtrack, and what that kind of positioning means for a band today. They also have a new video for the song, which you can watch at the end of the interview.
Local Current: So how did you get one of your songs in a major film?
Chris Koza: It was February of 2013 when I got a very short email that said that somebody was requesting an instrumental track for “The Wolves and the Ravens” for use in Walter Mitty. That was the whole email. And I didn’t know what any of that stuff was. Over the next couple of months we worked with our engineer to pull the stems out, just the piano, just the vocals. I did a little research, I started getting excited, and then I started compulsively checking my email. And it wasn’t until September when I learned that it was for sure going to be in there. I didn’t want to tell anybody, because I didn’t want anybody to freak out.
Peter Sieve: I remember you whispered in my ear about it really early in the process, but said, ‘Just don’t tell anyone else.’
Paul Engels: I may have heard from a source as well, but I didn’t act on it.
Koza: That’s the best thing: everybody kind of knew, but nobody talked about it. And then it wasn’t until the middle of November when I knew that it was also going to be on the soundtrack, and I was really excited about that. Because I knew only an instrumental would be used in the movie, so the soundtrack would be the chance for people to hear the lyrics and hear the singing and have a more emotional relationship with the music.
Do do you have an agent that handles this kind of licensing?
Koza: Yes, it’s a company in town here called In the Groove. I really like working with somebody who’s local. They’re a smaller agency, and they have some strong relationships, and they pitch our music right up there with anything else they’re going to pitch.
Have you all seen the movie?
Koza: I saw it opening day in International Falls, on Christmas Day. I went to the theater and it was about a fifth full, and I go out to get some popcorn—and I was feeling pretty good—I was like”Hey, I’m going to get popcorn and see that movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, I had a song in there.”
You told the people at the theater that, as you were getting the popcorn?
Koza: Yeah! I was like, I’m going to be un-Minnesotan about this.
Sieve: [laughs] Was she like, ‘That’s great sir! Would you like some toppings on your popcorn?’
Koza: They were like, “Oh, it’s a really good crowd for the movie! 34 paid.”
Sieve: That sounds like a typical show out of town for us.
Koza: It was good, I liked the movie.
Sieve: I saw it a few days ago. My wife and I were sitting there, and I totally forgot that we were there primarily to hear the song in the movie, and I was enjoying the movie—then all of a sudden the song kicked in and I was like, “What!?” I was just grinning like crazy. It’s a strange thing to hear—our stuff in such a mass-marketed product. It was very surreal.
Koza: And to have this huge production that’s all of these other people’s ideas, and then some little ingredient is supremely familiar to yourself.
Sieve: I went in there very nonchalantly, like it’s not that big of a deal, it’s going to be cool, whatever. And then when I came out it was like “eeeeeee!”
Engels: I haven’t seen it yet. I’m anxious, because I’ll be excited. I’ve just got to pull the trigger.
Koza: It’s two minutes at the emotional climax of the movie.
Sieve: Yeah, the placement of the song is really cool; it’s the moment when the main character goes through his big changes and has a lot of realizations.
Koza: It’s kind of a montage song. [laughs]
Sieve: It’s totally a montage song.
When you have your music used in something that is outside of your control, do you want the final product to be in the same vein of something you create?
Sieve: We’ve talked about that in the past, like, man, what if Marlboro called? We’ve had abstract conversations about that before, where you’d be bummed out —
Koza: —like if we have a powerful, passionate song, and then a pet food company wanted to use it. I don’t know. I don’t really have a problem with how someone else is interpreting our work. I feel pretty great that something we’ve created seems to work for somebody else’s creative use. I think that’s awesome.
Sieve: However something can get out to a wider audience—more and more, these days, it seems irrelevant about how it got delivered. That’s just the way things are heading right now, as everything has merged.
Koza: It was really sweet that the Ben Stiller movie was a really good movie, stylistically. And all of the other bands that were in there were really good. Jose Gonzalez and his band Junip have songs on there. It’s a good soundtrack. So I was really excited about that.
Sieve: And Rogue Wave.
Koza: Yeah, of course when I first saw that I was like Rogue… Wave?? Rogue Wave is on there too?
Sieve: We need to have a cage match with those dudes.
Koza: On merit alone, they would kill us.
When did you start working on the video?
Koza: A month before the movie was set to come out it just dawned on me that people are probably going to look for this song on YouTube, because that’s where people go to listen to music. And we have our album tracks up there, but no real video. It was pretty quick. We were able to work with this guy named Jeremy Krzmarzick, Josh Becker, and Maranatha Wilson—they did Fathom Lane’s last video, with the candy. We made a plan, rented a studio, and spent about 5-6 hours capturing footage. And when I was out in Portland for Thanksgiving, I went and took a bunch of video of the Pacific coast, because the song references the ocean in the lyrics.
Sieve: The filmmakers had this idea of doing layered images, so we brought in a projector and had some other imagery and footage that we took when we were on tour, from the West Coast, and kind of projected it onto us. So they incorporated those visual aesthetics into the final product. I like the way it turned out.
Rogue Valley’s Chris Koza hosts an intimate evening full of food and acoustic music at the Chowgirls Locavore Serenade happening on Sunday, January 26.