Atlantic Records was so eager to land the soundtrack to Amazon Prime Video’s new series, Daisy Jones & The Six that West Coast president Kevin Weaver went to extraordinary measures.
The 10-part series, whose first three episodes debut today, brings to life Taylor Jenkins Reid’s best-selling 2019 novel about an imaginary rock band from the ‘70s who release their magnum opus, Aurora, before they breakup, riven by the complicated, tortured relationship between singer/songwriter Jones (Riley Keough) and band co-founder Billy Dunne (Sam Claflin). The series is told from the viewpoint of the band members 20 years after the split through flashbacks.
With several labels competing to release Aurora, Weaver pressed up fake vinyl copies of the album, complete with the Ellemar Records label (the made-up record company the band is signed to in the book) and sent them to the series producers Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine and Amazon Studios.
“The opportunity here felt massive, and it just felt incredibly important to Atlantic with our story, heritage and the label’s rich history in rock and roll and this type of music over decades and decades that we were the partner here,” Weaver says.
While the band may be fake (and owes a major debt to Fleetwood Mac’s fractured dynamics and glorious melodies), the music on Aurora — which comes out today (March 3) on vinyl and to digital service providers — is very real, and was created by some of music’s heaviest hitters. Grammy Award-winning producer Blake Mills, who co-wrote and produced the album and supplemental songs heard in the series, collaborated with friends Phoebe Bridgers, Marcus Mumford, Jackson Browne, Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith and others to create the 11 songs on Aurora, plus another 14 non-album originals that are peppered throughout the series.
When Atlantic president of A&R Pete Ganbarg heard of Mills’ involvement, he was totally sold. “Not only is he a great record producer, but he understands time and place,” he says. “[Over] a nearly four-year process, he really became the creative voice, the visionary of what this Daisy Jones music was going to sound like.”
The process in the writing room included 10 songwriters composing for around five months, says veteran producer/A&R executive Tony Berg, who handled additional production on the album and serves as the series’ chief music consultant. “We had a pretty comprehensive dialogue about what it is to be in a band and what it was to be in a band 50 years ago,” Berg says. “The songs were done with real ambition and never that kind of corny simulation of a song from a time and place, but instead ‘Are these great songs? Would a band 50 years ago or a band today perform these songs?’ That constituted our criteria for whether it was good enough.”
As to how Mills and Berg attracted such top-notch songwriters, they simply opened their phone books. They’ve worked with most of the big names involved: Mills produced Mumford’s recent solo album and Berg produced two of Bridgers’ albums, as well as her forthcoming set as part of supertrio Boygenius.
Berg has nothing but praise for the producers from Amazon Studios and Hello Sunshine for trusting Mills, who was recommended by CAA’s Brian Loucks, to make the songs sound as authentic as possible. “That they entrusted this whole project to Blake is remarkable because historically television treats music moronically,” Berg says. “And it was a concerted effort by everyone involved for that not to happen.”
After the songs were completed, Berg and Mills began rehearsing the cast and got an unexpected benefit from COVID. The actors in the band, which also include Suki Waterhouse, underwent a few months of planned vocal training, but when the pandemic hit and shooting was delayed, that training extended to 18 months. “We went into what Frankie Pine, our music supervisor, calls band camp and they rehearsed as if they were a band for months so they could stand up and perform the songs and do a really good job,” Berg says. The actors even played a gig at SIR Studios in Los Angeles before an audience. All band members contributed vocals but did not play the instruments on the album and series.
That authenticity in both the songwriting and the actors singing their own vocals “has tremendous importance” in giving the project credibility, Weaver says. “These are some of the most credible, important songwriters of our generation, and so to have significant contributions from them in this music is more valuable than anything.”
Mills recorded the music for the album and the series at iconic Sound City Studios, which he and Berg run. The studio, the subject of a 2013 documentary by Dave Grohl, plays a recurring role in the show. “They shot for three or four months at Studio City,” Berg says. “All the studio footage was done here. We remade the rooms to look much as they did back in the day.”
Lead single “Regret Me” has received 1.2 million streams, according to Luminate, while new single “Look At Me Now (Honeycomb)” is at 207,000 steams and has been serviced to radio. “We’re looking to grow that and with the streaming story and the momentum off of the show release this week, the hope is that we can really drive that to be a meaningful record at multiple radio formats,” Weaver says.
Additionally, each week after the episodes air, Atlantic will drop EPs with the featured music on DSPs. Weaver and Ganbarg add that there will be additional surprise releases coming during the duration of the series.
In an era where the pop charts are dominated by solo acts — the only rock group in the top 20 of the current Billboard 200 albums chart is Paramore — Berg hopes the series and soundtrack reignites interest in bands.
“I grew up in an era where bands were everything and the idea of a band with two and three lead vocalists was quite normal — The Beatles, The Band, The Byrds, The Buffalo Springfield, Eagles — they all have [multiple] singers. Today, I can’t name a single band like that. I want people to understand that camaraderie, that competition, but, ultimately, the beauty of a band relationship.”