Music

How Regina Spektor Wrote The "Orange Is The New Black" Theme Song

The singer discusses her jailbird inspiration, how she was introduced to the show, and how she still hasn’t finished the first season.

1. So you’ve probably heard “You’ve Got Time” by now.

It’s Regina Spektor’s infectious theme song for the Netflix runaway hit series Orange is the New Black, and chances are you can’t stop singing it. BuzzFeed spoke with Spektor about how she came up with what has to be the catchiest song about prison in quite a while.

What direction were you given from the show’s producers before writing “You’ve Got Time”?

Regina Spektor: There wasn’t anything given to me. Jenji [Kohan, the show’s creator] is really cool and she knows my music. She understands that I’m not a “this is the direction that we want” kind of a writer. While they were still casting the show, we had a great meeting in person in New York and she told me what the show was about and her feelings about it and some of the stories from the episode, almost the way you would tell your friend what happened in the show. She said, “It would be great if you could write an opening song for it,” and that was about it. I said, “This sounds really amazing, I’ll try.”

I had some ideas and then, as they would get certain episodes done, she would give me a password so I could go and watch it in a little bit of a raw, unmixed state. All the episodes were there and they were edited. Then I wrote the song. I went ahead and produced it with Rob Cavallo and just made it heavy — what seemed right to me for the show.

After we did that, it sounded really great to us, so we thought it was great for the show. But I was very much prepared that Jenji would hear it and say “This is not was I was thinking.” Me and my husband drove to her house in L.A., and she’s such a great person, she’s got such a great family, and we had a lot of fun there. Then the moment came where we took out the rough mix and listened to it with headphones and sort of held our breath, like, “Is she going to like it?” And then she said, “This is fucking awesome, I love it! It’s going to fit really well!” And that’s how it got on to the show. It really could have gone any way. It really gets to me… I’ve only watched a few episodes, but the more I watch, the more it fits the show.

Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images

How did Jenji originally explain the show to you?

RS: She told me about the premise, she told me about Piper, she told me about the book. She told me what happened to her. She told me some of the story that happened. I don’t want to give anything away for people who are watching, but she told me the chicken story. She told me little stories of what they’re going through so I could get the feeling of what kind of environment they’re in, what they’re dealing with.

Was that your main inspiration for writing the song?

RS: It was mostly just that and thinking about the idea of what it must be like to be in prison and the different states of mind. One of the things she told me when we had lunch that first time was that it might be really cool to use ideas that obviously come to your mind if you’re thinking of somebody in prison. It wasn’t anything super duper out of the ordinary.

Have you watched all of the show?

RS: I’m up to episode nine. I watched up to episode seven, but in the rougher states. I was waiting for my husband to catch up so we could watch it together. We watched episode eight like two days before going on tour and we watched episode nine in the airport. And then we were like, “Oh shit, we don’t have Netflix in Europe,” so we’re stuck at episode nine. We’re gonna have to finish it when we come back in September! Now I have to be really careful whenever I’m being asked about it. I have to say, “Don’t tell me anything!”

What do you think will happen — if you had to guess — at the end of the season?

RS: I don’t know! The thing is that I’m actually really excited. Even before the show came out, they already got picked up for a second season. That never happens — it’s super rare. I think that it’s sweet and funny and touching. One of my pet peeves with television is that people look boring and are the same. I don’t watch much TV, but sometimes you’ll walk into a place and the mom looks like the daughter looks like the neighbor. There’s a type. It’s nice to have a show where people look interesting and diverse and cool. Female characters that don’t just all look like they’re working out models in L.A.!

What have you been doing to kill time between shows on tour? If not watching Netflix…

RS: On American tours, there’s satellite TV and everyone is watching movies, but on the British tour there’s not really any working media. There’s no Wi-Fi, it’s kind of a little bit ancient. We’ve just been hanging out, it’s really cool. The band and the crew just kind of hangs out on the bus and has snacks and drinks. Old-school socializing! It’s really fun.

Is your husband with you?

RS: Yeah. We perform a song together that we wrote together and he has his own band and he opens the show with his band Only Son. It’s really fun. We get to run around Europe and hang out and keep our minds off the ending of the show.

What else are you up to right now? Are you writing new music?

RS: Right now I’m doing road things. I’m really excited to play these shows and we’re going to a lot of new places that I’ve never played before. I’ve never played in Prague; I’ve never played in Budapest. It’s really exciting! Oh and then I think we’re gonna go back and I’m definitely going to write more music. It’s hard to tell. When you’re on the tour bus all you can really think about is the next show.

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