Local Wire

How Keith Jackson's Music Became Part of Stranger Things

Season two of Stranger Things is streaming now.
Season two of Stranger Things is streaming now. Courtesy Neftlix
When musician Keith Jackson received word that his music was in Stranger Things, he was pretty excited — even though Jackson’s never seen the show. The guitarist of punk band The Glass Heroes is more of a Ray Donovan guy.

“My publisher called and told me my music was on this show called Stranger Things,” he recalls. “I’m like, ‘What’s that?’”

The popular Netflix series used a dark and percussive track from one of Jackson’s other bands, Shock Therapy, which he co-founded in Detroit in 1982. The song, titled “Can I Do What I Want,” is featured in episode five of Stranger Things’ second season. Also featured in that episode is “When The Sun Goes Down” by the influential Tempe New Wave band The Jetzons. 

Both songs found a place in the nostalgia-laden science-fiction/horror hybrid through the independent label Fervor Records. Founded in 1989 by local musician Dave Hilker and some friends, Fervor coordinates song placement in TV and movies — among other things.

Based in Sunnyslope, the label started out producing a lot of sample-free hip-hop for bands who, Hilker says, “probably no one has ever heard of.” In 2002, he partnered with Jeff Freundlich to delve into the publishing side of the music business.

“We are a label and a publisher,” Hilker says. “We just happen to be really strong in licensing.”

Fervor has released new music from artists including Pistoleros and CooBee Coo, and has licensed songs from Arizona musicians for use in several TV shows and movies, including 2017 indie fave The Big Sick, the Ryan Gosling blockbuster The Nice Guys, and the television show Bones.

“... Our goal is to perpetuate the legacies of all these incredible artists and their music,” Freundlich says. “One of the best ways to tell the stories about those artists and turn new fans on to their music is through film and TV. It’s the most prominent way to connect people to music right now.”

Hilker agrees, “It puts more ears on the music than any other platform unless you have massive radio airplay.”
With a constant stream of content coming into viewers’ homes, you might assume that Fervor’s more in demand than ever. But as the demand and opportunity for pop music placement has gone up, the field that Hilker and Freundlich play on has become increasingly competitive. Luckily, the label has earned a good reputation.

“Fortunately, people like our ears,” Hilker says. “It’s an honor to be able to deal with that part of the industry and also get so many artists from our own backyard into major movies and shows.”

In the case of Stranger Things, music supervisor Nora Felder and her coordinator came to Fervor Records looking for music from the 1980s. Hilker and Freundlich combed their catalog for songs that fit the bill — and the particular scene. Shock Therapy and The Jetzons were ideal.

“The scene is never there to support the music,” Hilker says. “We don’t decide what people want. We try to respond to what people ask for.”

Licensing Shock Therapy’s music for use on Stranger Things not only introduces people to Jackson’s band from three decades ago, it also brings him a check every quarter from performance royalties.

Jackson’s current band, The Glass Heroes, has also benefitted from licensing.

“They were making [a record] for ‘seven years,’” Freundlich recalls. “We were hanging out with Keith one day and we were like, ‘Keith, why don’t you finish the damn record at our studios? Let’s get it done.’”

Fervor Records licensed the instrumentals from that record to Fox Sports. If you’re watching a hockey game or a NASCAR race on television and they are airing highlights, you’re listening to The Glass Heroes.

“It’s kind of changed our lives,” Jackson says.
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Jason Keil was the Phoenix New Times culture editor from August 2019 to May 2020.
Contact: Jason Keil