Backstage at the Bait Shop – what it was like to play the sweaty indie club on ‘The O.C.’

In 2005, Welwyn Garden City rockers The Subways travelled to America for the first time to perform at the Bait Shop, a fictional venue that appears in teen drama ‘The O.C.‘ – and also hosted The Killers and Death Cab For Cutie. As a legion of new fans discover the show on streaming service All 4, Billy Lunn looks back at their Hollywood moment…

“I don’t want to sound melodramatic, but walking onto the Bait Shop set felt like a spiritual experience. It was a place that I was familiar with, having watched The O.C., but as soon as you arrive and start touching the bar and the walls, and look out of the windows that aren’t quite windows, you feel, for a very brief moment, like the veil has lifted. The reality that this was all just make-believe suddenly hit home for me.

We’d released our debut album, ‘Young for Eternity’, in 2005 and had waited until Valentine’s Day 2006 to put it out in the US. As soon as that happened, the record was picked up by a lot of American TV producers. By that point we’d toured the UK and Europe a couple of times and it seemed like every support band we booked blew up into super-stardom. When we got the call for The O.C. we were like: ‘Finally, a little sparkle for us!’

This was our first trip to the US, and it felt very dreamlike because of that. Usually when we go to a new country, we play a bundle of gigs and it’s all very unwieldy and low-key and rock and roll. Here though, we weren’t playing a gig in a dingy venue, but on a TV show that was broadcast to millions of people.

I remember touching down at LAX airport and a limo pulling up. It had “The Subways” in the window. Everything was so big and brash and shiny and magnificent. We thought we’d be staying in the equivalent of an Ibis, but we ended up in a country mansion that looked out onto the Pacific Ocean. We were movie stars!

Upon arrival, I was so sick with nerves. But we were whisked off to makeup in a winnebago and then it didn’t seem so scary. It was kind of like shooting a music video.

The O.C.
The Bait Shop played host to a number of indie bands during the show’s run, including The Killers and Death Cab For Cutie. CREDIT: Channel 4

I was having a wonderful chat with the lady who was doing my makeup, very much relaxed, and then all of a sudden Ben McKenzie (who played Ryan on the show) came in, sat down in the chair next to me and started getting his makeup done. I just clammed up instantly: ‘Oh my god I’m going to be on The O.C., and there’s Ryan sat next to me!’

During rehearsal we were given these little earbuds, and they explained that through those we’d hear the song, but nobody else on set would. We had to play along so they could match the music to the scene. All the actors would be moving, but to total silence. Apparently it was so they could record the action without overloading the microphones.

In the first performance we were so self-conscious, it was the weirdest thing. The extras in the front row of the ‘gig’ couldn’t stop giggling. Clearly, the ridiculousness of the whole thing occurred to them as much as it occurred to us. We’re used to everything being real and visceral, getting sweaty and bouncing up and down and knocking things over; people jumping about and crowd-surfing. But this was all very precise.

After we’d finished filming, we went to watch some of the other scenes. Rachel Bilson [who plays Summer] saw us, came over and was like: ‘Hey, guys, I saw you filming your scene. That was really cool. How are you? I’m Rachel.’ And I was like, ‘I know!’ And she didn’t just chat with us for a little while, she hung out with us for the whole day!

Thanks to appearing on The O.C., we were able to do a huge headline tour, zigzagging across America playing to full capacity venues with these wild audiences. We did that for a couple years – and we can still go back now and play America.

You can tell when The O.C. is airing, because we suddenly get an influx of new fans. If it’s rerun in the States, we will suddenly get this interaction from a completely new generation. It’s amazing – and makes a change from the usual process of being in a band, releasing albums and going on tour. It feels like we’re part of a different culture that goes beyond music. It changed everything for us.”

As told to Hannah Mylrea

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