Zach Braff Digs Deep On Wish I Was Here Soundtrack

GRAMMY winner on Garden State's success and how he assembled the soundtrack to his new film, Wish I Was Here, which includes songs by Coldplay, Bon Iver, the Shins, and more
  • Photo: Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic/
    Zach Braff
July 24, 2014 -- 4:14 pm PDT
By Tammy La Gorce /

The TV-viewing public fell in love with Zach Braff during his nearly decade-long run as  Dr. John Dorian on the series "Scrubs," which aired from 2001– 2010. Midway through the series, the movie-going public fell in love with him in 2004 when he became the auteur responsible for the award-winning indie film Garden State, which netted Braff his first career GRAMMY for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album For A Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media.

Today, Braff is arguably as recognizable as Kate Hudson and Mandy Patinkin, who co-star in his new film, Wish I Was Here, about a crumbling family and the dysfunctional mechanisms that keep it going. Directed by Braff, the film, which was funded via a $3 million-plus Kickstarter campaign, opens in major markets nationwide starting on July 25.

In an exclusive interview, Braff discussed the 10th anniversary of Garden State and his GRAMMY win, the making of the Wish I Was Here soundtrack, which, similar to Garden State, leans heavily on indie rock and includes a very important Shins song, and reveals which song on the soundtrack gives him goose bumps.

Did your GRAMMY win in 2004 come out of left field for you? Were you surprised?
Yeah, my father, who loves to come to anything and everything I ever do, wanted to come that night. I was like, "Dad, there's no way I'm going to win a GRAMMY. I'm up against Quentin Tarantino['s Kill Bill Vol. 2]." And then I won! My jaw was on the floor. My dad said, "I can't believe you didn't let me come."

Before we get into the Wish I Was Here soundtrack, the Garden State soundtrack is being reissued on vinyl in August.
Yeah, it's so bizarre because in the last 10 years we've gotten Napster and iTunes and Spotify and Sonos and everything in between, and ironically and bizarrely there's this emergence of vinyl. People love going back to analog. We're actually doing two different presses of the Wish I Was Here soundtrack on vinyl, one for the Kickstarter backers and another for regular retail.

The Shins have a song on the Wish I Was Here soundtrack. Do you think it's going to change people's lives, the way Natalie Portman said the Shins' "New Slang" would in Garden State?
[The Shins' frontman] James Mercer [said] that he thinks the song he wrote for the film, "So Now What," is one of the best things he's ever written. That made me feel wonderful. But it's a different kind of song than "New Slang." He's not really writing so much in the style of the Shins anymore. But his music really works for me, it always has. And the fact that he said that about the new song is really cool for me.

Mercer isn't the only one who wrote a song especially for Wish I Was Here. The soundtrack also includes originals by Coldplay and Cat Power, the Weepies, and the Head And The Heart. Did your GRAMMY win afford you some influence among these artists?
Well, music is something I've always cared deeply about. And … I wanted to make something really unique. When I started looking into music for this film I realized it's really hard to find stuff that hasn't been licensed like crazy. If I wanted to find stuff that hadn't been licensed, I had to dig way deeper. So I decided to go to the artists I love, my favorite artists, and I said, "Would you consider writing something about the way you feel after seeing this movie? A song that's inspired by the film?" And they all said yes. My music supervisor showed Justin Vernon [aka Bon Iver] the movie in his living room, and he loved it. [Editor's Note: Bon Iver's GRAMMY-nominated "Holocene" and "Heavenly Father" are also on the soundtrack.]

Did you choose the artists to match the mood of the movie? Parts of it are funny, parts of it are sad. The soundtrack plays that way, too.
It was, again, just wanting to make something original. And [I chose] music from my favorite bands, the bands that mean a lot to me. Some of them are my friends and some are people who've been introduced to me through music supervisors. But the fact that they all said yes, and that they liked the movie enough to write a song for it and they were all my first call, that's something I really love. 

You have a Paul Simon song on there, "The Obvious Child." Is he one of your favorite artists? The Simon & Garfunkel classic "The Only Living Boy In New York" is on the Garden State soundtrack.
Yeah, he's one of my favorite artists of all time. I have this awful story I like to tell: Someone I know went to a Paul Simon concert and a person in the audience asked him to play "The Only Living Boy In New York." He said, "Having seen Garden State recently, here you go." It was thrilling for me to hear that. 

Do you have a favorite song on the new soundtrack?
The Cat Power and Coldplay collaboration, which was named for the movie, gives me goose bumps. I have goose bumps right now, just thinking about it. It's perfect.

Whose advice did you follow when compiling the soundtrack? I know you had creative control, but did you have any guidance?
I had great producers, and I wrote the movie with my brother [Adam Braff], and he had a lot of opinions. I got a lot of good feedback from people who debated me when I needed to be debated. I didn't surround myself with a lot of yes men.

Now, the obvious question: Do you think Wish I Was Here's soundtrack will make you a two-time GRAMMY winner?
Well, it would be incredibly presumptuous for me to even think along those lines. I hope people like it and vote for it, but it would be shocking to get one again. If it did get nominated, my father would definitely be invited, though. 

(Tammy La Gorce is a freelance writer whose work appears regularly in The New York Times.)

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