How Zach Braff’s ‘Garden State’ Soundtrack Brought Indie Rock Into the Mainstream
The Shins had released their critically acclaimed debut O, Inverted World in 2001, but it wasn't until Zach Braff included "New Slang" in his 2004 movie Garden State that the public at-large caught on to them, as well as many of the other exciting new sounds that were happening below the surface of the mainstream.
Braff, who also wrote and starred in the movie, was already famous when he set out to make the vaguely autobiographical Garden State. He was the central character of the hit TV show, Scrubs, so he had a little leverage for making his movie the way he wanted. And one aspect of the film that he was steadfast about was its soundtrack, which came out on Aug. 10, 2004.
For the movie's music, Braff said he basically made a mix CD of what he was listening to while he was writing the script. Given that the soundtrack contained songs from some pretty big acts, and that the movie's budget was relatively small, getting the licensing rights for everything he wanted proved to be difficult.
Braff, however, was convinced of his movie's quality and was ardent about the music in it. He appealed to each artist (or artist's estate, in some cases) directly, sending along a script for the movie along with the request. He explained to them exactly how their songs would fit into the movie.
His doggedness paid off, and he eventually got permission to use all the music he wanted. Garden State is known today just as much for the music within it as it is known for being an angsty coming-of-age drama. Braff won an Oscar for the soundtrack.
"New Slang" benefited the most because Natalie Portman's character said, "You gotta hear this one song. It'll change your life, I swear" before handing Braff's character a pair of headphones. That recommendation changed life for the Shins, who had released two albums by the time the film came out. Sales of their albums skyrocketed after Garden State, turning the band into indie rock mainstays.
The Shins, however, weren't the only band on the soundtrack. Coldplay's "Don't Panic" opens up the soundtrack and fits right in with the ennui of the album as a whole. Then there's the Nick Drake song, "One of These Things First." Simon & Garfunkel's "The Only Living Boy in New York" might be considered the feather in the cap of the soundtrack.
Its inclusion helped fuel comparisons between Garden State and another movie about a 20-something dude coming home and falling in love – The Graduate. But Braff said in an interview, though, that he drew more inspiration from Harold and Maude.
The soundtrack to Garden State likely changed a lot of lives, at least in small ways. If nothing else, it's a master class in making mixtapes, which seems to be going the way of the buffalo and flip phones.
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