Stories From the Hellmouth: Five Artists Share Memories of Their 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' Appearances

© 20th Century Fox/Photofest
Ashanti as Lissa on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Twenty years ago today, television audiences were introduced to Buffy the Vampire Slayer -- or rather, reintroduced. The character originally made her debut on the big screen, in a largely forgotten 1992 feature-length film. But the Buffy that endures in the pop culture canon is the one played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, who anchors one of the most beloved TV shows of the past quarter century.

Creator Joss Whedon fleshed out the big idea behind his movie script -- taking the horror-flick cliche of the helpless high school girl and turning her into a heroine -- to fit the structure of a weekly series. Not long after the rebooted Buffy first aired on March 10, 1997 did it become a flagship show for the then-fledgling WB network — a coming-of-age story that focused on female empowerment that happened to take place in a suburb located above a Hellmouth.

Like most other tales about teens and twentysomethings, music was also a part of Buffy’s fabric. When they weren’t busy with schoolwork or vanquishing evil, Buffy and her self-described “Scooby Gang” were frequenting local venue The Bronze, where they enjoyed the sounds of fictional bands like Dingoes Ate My Baby, but also real-life acts like Cibo Mattoand Nerf Herder. (The latter act also wrote and performed the show’s instantly recognizable theme song). In one case, the Scoobies even acted opposite a singer: Ashanti played a demon (posing as a potential Xander love interest) in the show’s seventh and final season.

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Buffy, Billboard spoke with several musicians who appeared on the show, about their experiences on set and the legacy of Sunnydale's Chosen One.

Cibo Matto
[Appeared in “When She Was Bad,” Season 2 Episode 1]:

Yuka Honda (multi-instrumentalist): I’m not very good at watching TV -- I’m just a little bit too impatient -- so I didn’t really follow Buffy [too closely], but I do love the show. To be honest, it was the record company who told us about it. At the time, we considered ourselves punk rockers, and it’s not very cool to be on TV when you’re a punk rocker. So my first reaction was hesitation -- but then it was explained to me what the show was about, and I thought it would be really cool to be a part of it. The woman protagonist especially appeals to me.

Still, today, people come up to me and talk about it. People love Buffy. The fact that we were there means that we also have a connection to people in a way that we couldn’t have had without Buffy, and it’s a beautiful connection. I really hope that we have more shows where girls are kicking ass. We grew up in Japan, [where] we had so many shows where girls kick ass, or are the hero, or save the earth -- it’s a nice image to have when you’re a child.

Miho Hatori (vocals): [When] we went to the Warner Bros. studio, it was my first experience being at a big, Hollywood production, so everything was trippy. We went to the set and everything was perfect, it looks exactly like the club [the Bronze], and we finally met Sarah [Michelle Gellar]. At the time, my English wasn’t that fluent, but I could feel her vibrations so strongly -- she’s Buffy and is so cool, and had a very strong, focused energy. I was very impressed and was super-inspired to meet her.

We didn’t know exactly what we were doing. [Our record executive] was just like, “Oh, just be yourself,” so we were just wearing that tropical clothing, whatever we could find on tour. We were totally being as we were, and kind of like, “Oh, maybe there aren’t that many bands like this, wearing this kind of clothing on shows.” In a way, we’re a very strange band to have on the show, but they did that, which I thought was kind of brave.

Bif Naked
[Appeared in “The Harsh Light of Day,” Season 4 Episode 3]:

Sarah Michelle Gellar was like the Mary Tyler Moore of vampire slayers. It was cute and a smart show, and it may be different for girls in their 20s than guys, but we were all really aware of her as a heroine.

For us as a band, [appearing on the show] was a really great experience. To fly to Los Angeles was already a big deal, because we romanticize everything Hollywood. The set was great, they had snacks, we got a free lunch... all great things for us. But then meeting stars like Sarah -- she was so gracious to us on the set, very, very polite. We were absolutely gobsmacked at how nice everyone was; it’s not that we were expecting anything different, we just didn’t expect them to acknowledge us. We loved it.

If you’re not used to being on a film set, it can probably be a little boring for some people, and some of the extras were in this scene that we were playing -- it was a frat party, and we were playing a band playing the frat party -- and the extras in the audience were just not really paying too much attention. They were talking in between takes about whatever -- the weather, who knows — and they should’ve just been kind of quiet. We were notoriously polite Canadians, keeping our mouths buttoned shut, and we were appalled at the extras and how rude they were -- that I won’t forget.

For us, Angel [Buffy's vampire love interest, played by David Boreanaz] was a big deal. Not only was he super hot, but he was quiet and mysterious, all of the things. So we were always very concerned with his character, [and my favorite episode is] the last time we saw him, when [Buffy] graduated, right before she went to college. And I think somebody -- her principal or the mayor -- turned into a monster. It was great. She goes on with her life, but [Angel] is the one who got away. We all have an Angel in our past. It was hugely romantic.

Michelle Branch
[Appeared in “Tabula Rossa,” Season 6 Episode 8]

My first guitar player in my first band, Jesse Tobias, he was friends with Joss Whedon, the creator [of Buffy], and he asked, “Would Michelle be interested -- there’s a scene that I have, it’s gonna be a really crucial scene, and I really want something emotional and I was thinking of her song ‘Goodbye to You.’” And we’re like, “Yeah, great.” 

I was on the road and trying to figure out when I could do it, but he wanted something live with my band — he didn’t want the recorded version -- so we actually were on tour, and we stopped in Nashville and we recorded a different version of “Goodbye to You” to perform to. And I actually don’t know where that recording is. [Laughs.] I should release it for Buffy fans.

Then when I was in L.A. next, we did the scene. It was a club scene, and there were a lot of extras, and I was onstage and I didn’t meet Sarah Michelle Gellar, I didn’t really see any cast members that close up. But it was exciting for me -- it was one of my first times on a real set, and I still get stopped by people who are like, “I cry when I see that scene,” so it worked. A lot of passionate Buffy fans.   

Ashanti
[Appeared in “First Date,” Season 7 Episode 14]:

I just remember being on set and people not knowing if I was gonna be cool or not. Like, if I was gonna be down to earth, or if I was gonna be bougie, or a problem, or if I was going to take it seriously, or if I knew my lines. I remember them being pleasantly surprised and everybody was cool. I know the one thing that was a little bit tough for me at the end was that they wanted me to wear demon-eye contacts and I was like, “Can't do it.” [Laughs.] So, that was all computerized.

It was a good time. I remember the fight scene and having to stab the guy -- I was getting my little sci-fi/action thing on. It was something different; I think that it's really important to learn early in your career that you have to go outside the box. You can't stay in one group.

Nerf Herder (Steve Sherlock, drums)
[Appeared in “Empty Places,” Season 7 Episode 19]:

We were the last band in the Bronze, and that was a pretty fun experience. The greatest thing about that experience was that it was the end of the show, and they were tearing down the sets. We basically had free reign to go around the entire lot and explore and have fun -- we went into Buffy’s mom’s living room and sat on the couch where she died from that brain aneurysm. We went into different areas of where the Hellmouth was, and they were throwing away chunks of this foam sprayed to use make the walls of the Hellmouth, basically the faux-stone. We took some chunks of that out of the dumpster, and we went into the prop room and played with all of the swords and stakes and crossbows -- we just kinda walked around and had fun and nobody stopped us. It was pretty wild.

I couldn’t see myself [in the episode] -- maybe half a second of me, but it’s a real quick pan across the stage we were on. But the funniest thing was when Dawn and one of the Potentials, I believe, were talking about the apocalypse and Dawn just says, “I think this band might be one of the signs,” which is a funny little poke. That was great -- that was probably my favorite part of that episode. That is probably the biggest episode for us, and we were honored to come back and be a part of it -- an amazing experience.   

Additional reporting by Carl Lamarre and Jason Lipshutz.