Jul 07, 2022

Stranger Things Indeed!

Music as the partner for crucial scenes in film and television is becoming the main bridge between generations. Steffan Chirazi speaks with Q Prime’s Hannah Davis and OTTTO’s Tye Trujillo on just how “Master of Puppets” met up with Stranger Things to hurtle the track back into the global spotlight.

In the world of the upside-down, “Master of Puppets” has followed Kate Bush up that hill in global popularity on Netflix’s smash-hit supernatural series, Stranger Things; sprinting to #1 on the iTunes rock chart, #23 on their overall charts, and #6 on Spotify’s US charts. According to Billboard.com via Luminate, streams of the song across all platforms reportedly jumped from 253,000 on June 30 (the day before the Stranger Things episode aired) to 1.43 million on July 4.

Lots of ears there, and for what it’s worth, those numbers are already doubtlessly wrong, but you get the point. “Puppets” is juggernauting through millions upon millions of new fans thanks to Stranger Thing’s metalhead Eddie Munson and his ‘ defense’ in that season finale.
The “stranger things” don’t stop there, however, as that initial riff you hear come in from Munson (and later in the song when he gets into some deep-vibe soloing) was laid down by Tye Trujillo. How it happened is not at all what you’d think…

Before we get to that fantastic quirk of fate, it is worth running through the story of how “Puppets” was chosen for this premier placement, not just in the series, but the episode and storyline (i.e., epic battle finale stuff). It starts with Q Prime’s Hannah Davis, who joined Q Prime Management in 2016 as Director of Creative Sync Licensing for their roster of artists.

“Sync-licensing is whenever a piece of music is synchronized with visual media. Using a piece of music in that context requires a license, an approval, for both master recording and underlying composition,” explains Hannah. “So, I have relationships with Music Supervisors like Nora Felder, who works on Stranger Things, and I pitch our artist’s music for specific series and scenes and sometimes receive briefs on shows and so forth that are in production. I pitch across all areas, from film to TV to adverts to video games. I also deal with the requests that come in and hopefully help find agreements so the music can be used as requested. You have to keep your ear to the ground to stay informed on what shows are coming and what their musical palette is like. With shows increasingly using music in new, unique ways, moments are created for all sorts of songs, whether brand new or catalog songs that maybe hadn’t been in the forefront for years. It’s definitely a role that requires you to know what’s going on, as well as have strong relationships within the entertainment community at large. And you also have to know your roster and the sorts of opportunities they’d be interested in.”

Some sync placements require Hannah to go to the music supervisor or show and suggest a piece of music. With Stranger Things, it was literally already written.

“The song was scripted in by The Duffer Brothers, so it was in their mind from the very beginning. Nora reached out to me in November 2020. They were shooting bits and pieces when they could because, of course, it was the pandemic. Nora ran me through the scene and explained the character of Eddie Munson to me. Because he was a new character, there wasn’t a real reference for how much of a ‘fan’ he was, so Nora explained he was a metalhead and that the fans would love him. She detailed how it started with him playing the riff on guitar, a visual instrumental, and then Metallica’s recording would come in. We didn’t know the total scope in terms of how long it would play or how exactly the song would be used. For example: would it play through or stop/start? But everyone was so excited that it was a quick ‘yes.’”

Fast-forward to Spring 2022. Tye Trujillo is preparing to leave the So-Cal West Side at the beginning of May for some Suicidal Tendencies dates when word of an exciting request makes its way to him. Not via Metallica, mind you…

“One of the producers [Rand Geiger] is married to my 3rd-grade teacher, Sona, at Muse School, and 3rd grade was when I started really getting into music,” Tye starts. “They were looking for someone to do a raw guitar track for that particular part, so Sona reached out to my current teacher, J, and asked if I’d be interested in doing that based on her knowing how interested, I was in music. They didn’t know whether I played guitar or not – they knew I played bass – but I told them I play both and that I was definitely interested in it. They sent me the script parts to learn, and I just went and practiced hard in my room.”

Tye actually plays a fair amount of rhythm guitar when writing his own material for OTTTO and Feed the Beast. Still, he was certainly happy to get some extra tutorial help on the solo from the original Rïpper himself, Kirk Hammett!

“My Dad asked Kirk to help me, and Kirk sent me recordings of him playing the solo (and rhythm) down,” explains Tye. “At first, I didn’t know how I was going to learn it, but I quickly figured I’d be able to get to grips with it, and the clips were hugely helpful in that process.”

When it came time to lay it down, Tye went to Venice Studios and worked with engineer Steve Ogan.

“That’s right, Steve Ogan, the original studio guy, OG!” he laughs. “He hooked me up with all the gear because he has a bunch of sick guitars. I played through a small VOX amp for that raw sound, I used a Les Paul, and I think it was a Charvel for the solo. This all happened in late April; they wanted it tracked by May 2. I tracked it a good amount of time before the deadline just in case they needed to change anything, so it was a fast turnaround.”

With Tye having just been back in Europe on another Suicidal tour run, he could join Dad and Metallica at the end for a few days of family fun, as well as a cool pre-gig moment in Madrid.

“I took a photo with Kirk. He had me grab one of his guitars. He grabbed one. It was cool,” he says with gracious understatement, and he further chuckles when I mention how surprised the band must’ve been to learn he was the master of extra riffage in this case. Q Prime’s Hannah was also caught happily by surprise.

“It’s such a cool, amazing, synergistic situation,” says Hannah about Tye’s role, “and it’s such a great way to weave it all together. You’ve got this huge show with a young audience, some of whom wouldn’t know the song and are hearing it for the first time, so Tye’s playing on it wraps it all around in terms of bringing generations together.”

There is no doubt that the explosive re-emergence of “Master of Puppets” via Stranger Things, much like Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” earlier in the season, is proof-positive that synching of this nature is creating ‘new’ pieces of art in its own right.

“Sync has a unique power,” says Hannah. “I sometimes think, as a viewer, you might have an emotional connection with a song because it is such an inspiring or emotive piece of music. When that song is paired with a scene where you are also invested in the plotline or the characters, it melds those two feelings together to create an even larger bond. And that, essentially, makes a new piece of art which brings new fans into the fold and energizes established fans too.”

So true. And by the way, if you didn’t already get the subtext motto of Tye’s Stranger Things journey, it is: go to school and be cool with your teachers…or something like that.

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