The Music of Supernatural – Composer Jay Gruska on Scoring the Emotional Series Finale and More

I have long said that the music of Supernatural has had a significant impact on the show – making it memorable and especially giving it the emotional resonance that it had for all fifteen seasons. That’s not something that every genre “horror show” can say, and I’m not sure any can say it with as much pride as Supernatural. The music added so much to the emotional impact of the series finale, so I was excited to talk to composer Jay Gruska about scoring that episode and the emotional episode ‘Despair’, as well as his fifteen years working on my favorite show.

As with many of the  people working on SPN (and another thing that made it so unique and wonderful), the same two composers worked on the show for its entire run – Christopher Lennertz (now working with Eric Kripke on ‘The Boys’) and Jay Gruska. I’ve talked to Jay several times over the course of the show – he contributed to ‘Supernatural Psychology’ for the chapter on music in the show – so I know how insightful he is about how music is used on the show. Chris and Jay tend to alternate episodes, so Jay scored all the even numbered episodes of Season 15, including the final episode, ‘Carry On’, and episode 15.18, Castiel’s goodbye episode, ‘Despair’.

The week before we spoke, I had done a Supernatural music panel at the Southwest Popular Culture Association conference with two friends and colleagues devoted to the most recognizable musical theme in the show, ‘Americana’, which Jay composed. We had invited him to do the panel with us, but he was unable to make it due to a family party. Luckily he and I were able to coordinate our schedules for a phone chat afterwards though.

Jay: That’s amazing about the panel, and kinda flattering and sweet. I’m so bummed that I missed it, I would have loved to share my experience from my end.

Lynn: I don’t think that many composers get an entire panel devoted to one single piece of music at an academic conference – but that’s how important ‘Americana’ is to Supernatural fans.

The Emotional Rollercoaster of ‘Carry On’

Lynn: I know you read my review of the series finale so you know that I loved the barn scene even though it was incredibly painful to watch, but it was such a masterful scene. I was talking to Jensen about it recently and said that he and Jared killed it, and also that the music makes it so much more emotional. That whole piece, the piano then the strings, and then the most familiar part of Americana in the middle…

Jay: Right. As you know more than anyone, I try my best to not use Americana just at the drop of a hat. I try to really respond to when a scene is asking for it. I’ve probably made a misstep or two along the way as far as some fans are concerned – I used it once with Jack, but boy, I heard from people right away like hey, he’s not family! And I was like well yes he is to me! But don’t mess with the Supernatural fandom.

Lynn:  So true. We’re passionate, that’s for sure. And some people would definitely agree with that and some wouldn’t.

Jay: But let’s start with those performances (Jensen and Jared). Because I’m gonna be crude right now and say that without performances like that, which don’t come along often, if there’s a scene where someone is not pulling it off? You’re basically polishing a turd with the music.

Lynn: lol

Jay: My job and particularly that scene, which I count as in the top two or three if not the most emotional, well acted, just hearts-on-their-sleeves as actors and as humans moments in the whole run of the show…

Lynn: I agree!

It’s okay, Dean, you can go now.

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Celebrating Radio Company Vol 2 – Steve Carlson and Jensen Ackles Part 2!

We left off in Part I of our look back at the history of Steve Carlson and Jensen Ackles’ friendship and musical collaboration somewhere around 2009. We saw Steve play a few times in between – once at a con in New Jersey, if I’m remembering correctly, where I actually took a picture for a change!

In 2011, Jensen and Steve did a little jam session that was one of the highlights of the Nashville convention. Jensen was still clearly nervous about playing and singing in front of people (but not as nervous as he was for his first jam with Jason Manns). Here are a few of my recollections about that first ‘public’ performance of Steve and Jensen:

Steve shared more backstory to how the two friends ended up playing together, and even doing some recording. Whenever they were both in town they’d get together at Steve’s house and the guitars would come out. Apparently wherever Steve is living, something gets turned into a makeshift studio – when Jensen and Steve lived together, it was the hall closet, wired up and soundproofed with foam, and probably looking very …. Interesting. In Steve’s place before that, it was the garden shed, similarly outfitted but alas, sans air conditioning. Steve would lure friends out to record there and they’d emerge sweat-soaked and bedraggled, asking plaintively, “was that okay?” (And hoping it was so they could come out of the garden shed!)

Photos Lizz Sisson

I remember they played a really haunting version of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” full of emotion – if I heard that one now it would be even more emotional, post Supernatural finale. They also played the first song that Jensen had learned to play, “If I Had a Million”, which they actually recorded at one time with Steve on mandolin, but there’s some backstory there so they swear no one will ever hear it.

Steve and Jensen also played “Bad Company,” one of my favorite songs. Jensen said that the crew had asked The Impalas (the cast and crew band) to learn that one because it was so perfect for the show – “I was born, six gun in my hand…”   He should totally sing that again one day.

Stage It

I also remember that Jensen asked the fans to excuse the mistakes. And then didn’t make any.

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Osric Chau Works Out and Catches Us Up on ‘Get Ripped Get Tipped’

Kicking off the book birthday month for both Family Don’t End With Blood and There’ll be Peace When You Are Done  by catching up with some of the contributors who wrote chapters in those books. First up, one of our favorite people, Supernatural’s own Kevin Tran, Osric Chau! Osric wrote a candid and personal chapter in Family Don’t End With Blood about his experience on the show and with the fandom and what it meant to play a character like Kevin. Osric (and Kevin) returned for an emotional goodbye in Season 15, but he has all sorts of other exciting projects that have been keeping him busy.

Photo Karen Cooke

Most recently, filmmaker and comedian Milton Ng welcomed Osric as a guest on his YouTube show ‘Get Ripped, Get Tipped’ and caught up with everything he’s been up to.  This is the only show I know that does its interviews while both the host and the guest are working out – the entire time! I’m tired just watching, but also impressed. (Video link following article)

I asked Milton how he got the idea for such an unusual show, and why he thought of Osric as a guest.

Milton: I made the workout show after doing planks and having a friend call me — trying to maintain a conversation was super hard but I found it hilarious. Flash forward a year later, Get Ripped, Get Tipped!

Osric came on the show because I asked him as a friend lol. We met way back in 2013 in an acting/directing workshop, then I directed him in a 2014 short film, “Next Like”. Knowing he was so busy with setting up restaurants while still auditioning and starring in shows, he was a machine — knew we had to get him on the show as a guest, knowing he could bring a lot of aspiring actors value.

They had a great discussion about all kinds of things, so check out the video below – here are a few tidbits. Also I’m very impressed at how articulate Osric is while doing all kinds of contortions!

He has a bunch of short films and features in the works, including one that’s coming out soon on Shudder that’s a horror film about an Air BnB reviewer (which honestly does sound scary…) and a new one he’s about to start called “Good News”.  Osric has learned a lot from undertaking all aspects of filmmaking – he’s been actor, writer and producer, and is about to try his hand at director. What has he learned?

Osric: Filmmaking is a collaborative process, and understanding all the roles helps – writer, camera operator, producer, actor, sound, etc – you have to learn how to collaborate with a team.

In his chapter in Family Don’t End With Blood, Osric writes about his widespread interests. When he was on Supernatural, it was very on and off, he said — he would do the thing and then when his episode was done, he’d focus on the next thing.

That hasn’t changed, because he’s involved in multiple things now too – including a restaurant he recently opened in Vancouver, with a second one opening soon.

Osric: You sow as many seeds as you can and hope for one thing to grow.

That has certainly happened for Osric.

At his new restaurant under construction

The films that he’s worked on have all been something he was drawn to, Osric says.

Osric: A good story, a captivating character, something I want to tell.

That was certainly true on Supernatural and in his recent film ‘Empty By Design’, so I have no doubt that will be the case with his new projects too. And if you’re in Vancouver, check out some of Osric’s restaurant food!

In the meantime, enjoy this entertaining (and kind of adorable) video workout and interview combo!

Get Ripped Get Tipped!

— Lynn

You can find Family Don’t End With Blood

at the links on the home page here or at

Peacewhenyouaredone.com

Julie McNiven on Supernatural, Anna, and That Scene with Dean

Next up in our Supernatural Spring Break celebration, the There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done book club also chatted with Julie McNiven, Supernatural’s Anna and another contributor to the book. I love what her chapter has to say about how Anna inspired her and how the show and the fandom have done the same. She also had some heartwarming things to say in her chapter about filming Anna and Dean’s love scene in the Impala’s backseat, and how Jensen Ackles helped her ‘find her light’.

Here are some excerpts from the book club discussion. I neglected to explain to her that the book club was on Discord, so Julie was laughing as she sat there with her ring light ready – sorry, Julie!

JMN: Hi Everyone!

BC: The chapter was beautiful.

Lynn:  Julie, you wrote your chapter more than a year ago (unbelievably) – how does it feel now to have Supernatural for real coming to an end?

JMN: Sad…but it’s been over for me for a looooong time so it feels almost unbelievable that it’s still on.  It really goes to show how great this cast and fandom is!!!  I’m also excited to see what my talented group of SPN friends will do next!!

BC: It’s a recurrent theme that this cast and show and set have been so different than all others.

JMN: Absolutely.

BC: Did you ever expect for the fandom to still care about you or your character even years after her last appearance?  What is the most surprising thing about that??

JMN: I NEVER expected for Fandom to care about me after my death!!!  That has been the gift that keeps on giving.  I’m so grateful that y’all tune in to Doom Patrol and cheesy Christmas movies to support me!!!!

Julie onstage at Vegas con

BC: Anna was a complex character.  Did you enjoy the challenge of playing a character that went from lost to (being) such a badass? (In response to the Christmas movie comment:) I’ve loved Matt Bomer since White Collar!

[I mean, what’s not to like about Matt Bomer? Also Doom Patrol is a great show]

JMN: This was my favorite part about playing Anna and I’d be lying if I said I was totally fine not getting one more chance to portray her…I wonder how the Empty changed her?  Matt (Bomer) is a dream. So kind and an incredible acting partner.

Doom Patrol

BC: The behind-the-scenes glimpse of the how-to of intimate scenes in your chapter was eye-opening. [In which Julie writes about the challenges of the backseat scene with Jensen Ackles]   I’m so glad you had a positive experience on the SPN set.  Have you been able to maintain that control and self-agency on sets after that, or is it still a challenge?  I would like to think we’re all moving forward along those lines, but sometimes the pace seem glacial.

JMN: I’ve been able to maintain that control but it definitely helps when the co-star is supportive and protective!  They have “intimacy directors” on set now…this is new and I have yet to experience it but I think that it’s a great move.

BC: I think that a lot of people who find someone like Jensen incredibly attractive would find it easy to do this type of scene, but I think it would be so difficult and terrifying.  I love that you told your story so that we see a positive way that it can be done, while highlighting that it’s not the fantasy some might have about this.

JMN: Truly, that’s the LAST thing on an actor’s mind…it’s very choreographed and does not FEEL sexy or anything.

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A Chat with Supernatural’s ‘Dracula’ – Todd Stashwick!

Next up in our Supernatural Spring Break celebration week, another chat with one of the Supernatural actors who made their way into our hearts – this time while dressed as Dracula. Todd Stashwick is a genre favorite actor from so many of my favorite shows, as well as a bona fide fan himself. We met over a decade ago at an early Supernatural convention, and I was so taken by his understanding of fandom and passion for all things geeky that we included that chat in our first two books. When I put together a book to celebrate the legacy of Supernatural as it was ending, I knew I wanted to ask Todd to write a chapter – and I’m glad he did!

At the end of last year, the online There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done book club for that book invited him to drop in and answer some questions about his chapter and the show, and I’m glad he did that too. Here are some excerpts from that discussion, that I was happy to join in on also.

BC: So glad you could join us. Can you talk a little bit about how you decided on what would be in your chapter?

TS:  Kind of you to say (smile).  Thinking about the long road you all traveled down, and looking back at the fact that you all found commonality of experience through the show got me thinking about fandom as a whole and what that means to me.  So I reflected back to what I believe lit the fuse of being “fan” in myself.  How we don’t “become” fans, we notice that we are, we find ourselves innately drawn to certain stories, characters, and franchises because it answers some need inside of us.  It connects us to other people.  It gives us a tribe.

BC: I adore that you have a long history of being a fan of so many things!  My husband is a huge Star Wars fan, but I never experienced that kind of community until SPN.

TS: It’s also not restricted to sci-fi/horror/fantasy.  My mother in her 70’s attended Downton Abbey parties.  We seek like-minded souls.

BC:  When you wrote in your chapter that “We are tribal creatures who use mythology to come together and understand ourselves” – that really resonated.  So true!

Lynn: Yes, that is so much what fandom – ANY fandom – is about.  We seek like-minded souls, and finding them validates us and feels incredibly satisfying.  It’s like a primal need, for belongingness.

TS: Mythology is a way to analyze ourselves, our culture, explain the unexplained, wrestle with death.  It gives us a metaphor to understand ourselves.  Mythology gives us an escape.  It’s really fun.  And horror allows us to field-test fear without consequences.  Like a roller coaster, we tempt fate, death, and come out okay.

Photo: troubledgirl, from There’ll Be Peace When You Are Done

Lynn: Yes – and Supernatural has both mythology and horror.  No wonder it’s so compelling. People always ask me, how did you choose who would write chapters in the book?  A decade ago, I sat down with Todd in the green room at a convention, and was so taken with how deeply he understood fandom that I never forgot it – something he said, “television is our campfire” resonated with me so much I couldn’t get it out of my head.  So I knew I was going to ask him to write a chapter in the last book about Supernatural and its legacy.

TS: It’s (TV is) just an extenuation of our oral traditions.

BC:  I also think it’s so wonderful that someone who is such a fan themselves, and who has such an appreciation for fandom itself, played the shapeshifter enamored of classic monster movies, and with such pathos.  We very rarely see a villain on SPN, especially those with a humorous bent, evoke such a sympathetic response.  I think that moment is one of the reasons it has endured as a fan favorite (for me at least).

TS: It’s what drew me to the role, the high melodrama and the quiet fragility.

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