Sound & Vision: Music - The latest drive-time hit from VW follows in a winning indie tradition.
Arnold Worldwide's new "Chain Reaction" :60, for the VW New Beetle Convertible, is a visual tour de force in the crisply choreographed style of 1999's acclaimed "Synchronicity" spot for the Jetta - and, like the earlier spot, the new one, directed by Mike Mills, is driven by an insistently catchy original soundtrack. Similarly, where the "Synchronicity" music was the work of composer/DJ Peter Ducharme, an ad music outsider, the persuasive yet languid groove of "Chain Reaction" belongs to songwriter/producer John Dragonetti of a Massachusetts-based indie band called Jack Drag (see Jackdrag.net). A self-described lyrically inventive beats culturist, somewhat in the manner of Beck, Dragonetti worked for Arnold previously, but only on music played at auto shows, on the VW website and for one regional spot. This is his national TV ad debut, and the one-take, handheld street action, in which everyone seems to be living in a happy utopian sidewalk dream - the payoff being a quick shot of the car, after a clutter-busting spate of reverse footage peppered with freeze-framed closeups - is sure to get plenty of notice.
"As far as composing commercially - it's fun," says Dragonetti, 35. "Though I view this in a completely separate light, I think it's important that it's come as a result of making Jack Drag records." It also came as a result of his friendship with Ducharme, who initially brought him to the attention of Arnold and whom he largely credits with "changing my view on ad music. A lot of bands have ethical issues with licensing their music for television commercials, and I agree with much of it," adds Dragonetti. "Which is why composing something new for a spot is a lot easier than giving up a song that means something to you."
As to the gig itself, "they were looking for something very 'Haight-Ashbury,' " recalls Dragonetti. "It's a ridiculous contradiction, but 'Gen-X flower people' sort of came to mind when I saw it. I suppose some of what I do could be defined as 'psychedelic,' which is maybe why I came to mind for the spot. I did two sketches; one was maybe a bit more mysterious and intriguing, and the other, the one they chose, seems to have a more sunny, laid-back feel to it."
Indeed, according to Arnold senior writer Joe Fallon, "we simply tried to show how the New Beetle Convertible really is the most uber-happy car on the road. You can't help but smile at one when you see it. We took the notion that smiles are contagious and ran with it. Musically, we wanted to mimic the feel of the action on the street, so we thought something mildly trippy and retro, but with a good tempo, would work well. Seeing as we shot the spot near Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, I guess we were into a whole psychedelic vibe." During the edit, by Angus Wall at Rock Paper Scissors, "we thought how cool it would be to have musical beats coincide with the reverse action of freezing on faces. At that point, we knew we wanted something composed, and John was the only person we asked. He nailed it right out of the gate. His piece helps carry the street action along while never imposing on what's happening. John's a real treat to work with, and the fact that he's local makes it that much cooler for us. The problem is, now he won't be just our little secret anymore."