Last Thursday night, I spoke to music supervisor Chris Mollere about his work on The Vampire Diaries and the show’s unique musical style – “unique” in that the show is really not tied to any specific musical style. He discusses the upcoming Vampire Diaries soundtrack, which is scheduled to drop on EMI/Virgin on October 12th, and a myriad of other topics, including his favorite episode of Season 1 (music aside), the placement of certain songs, and why he’s on Twitter every Thursday night posting up that night’s song list.
Big thanks to Chris for chatting, and an extra special thanks to Angela and Willie of the great Vampire Diaries podcast, Bite On This. They posted their own interview with Mollere last Thursday – a few hours before I was due to conduct my own. I ended up scrapping a bunch of my original questions and winging it, so I highly recommend giving their interview a listen before reading this; we make a lot of references to it throughout the interview.
You can follow Chris on Twitter at @cmollere, and he’s not just being nice when he asks followers to pass along music recommendations! He really digs the feedback, so give him a follow and let him know about artists/songs you’d love to hear on The Vampire Diaries. And you can check out all of the music featured on the show on our Music in the Series page, which includes links to legal downloads on Amazon U.S. and U.K. and iTunes U.S. and U.K.
Vee: The one thing I was most interested in talking to you about – and Bite On This totally covered it – was what your job entails because I know that you deal a lot with legal clearance and it’s not just you sitting around, listening to music all day.
Chris Mollere: I wish we just got to sit around and listen to music all day. “Oh, this is a great song! I dig this. Yeah, let’s put that in the show. Yeah, that can fit there.” I have to work into the night quite a bit because, during the day, the phone rings so much – talking to people, trying to negotiate fees, or just keeping in touch with people, finding out what else is out there that I should be checking out. And a lot of the people become friends along the way.
V: That’s something I was going to ask you about – I used to work in college radio and the pressure that we got from labels and negotiating with reps… I’m assuming you deal with that as much as a radio station would.
CM: Yeah, I get everything from everwhere. Every label, every publisher, every music rep – because there’s lots of indie artists nowadays, which is the changing climate of the music industry. So basically they have these film and television reps, and [that rep] will make a percentage off of their placement if they make anything, but they don’t make any money if they don’t do anything for them. So keeping in touch with them – artists, managers… You know, everything. I’ve been getting millions of emails of, “You should check out my song, it’s perfect!” And sometimes they’re awesome but, you know, a large portion of the time they are much to be desired and it’s like, “Ehhhh, that’s not that good.” ‘Cause everybody’s got an opinion.
V: Are you seeing a lot of interest from labels and bands who want their music specifically on Vampire Diaries? Is there a lot of interest in the show and it easier to clear songs now that the show is a hit? Do you have more cache as far as that goes?
CM: Well, I mean, yeah – there’s definitely interest and there’s people specifically targeting The Vampire Diaries because it’s a show that – it’s got a sound… Well, it’s a sound that’s all over the place, but we try to do each episode as each episode and service each episode musically to accentuate what’s going on, what’s happening, or add to the vibe, or add to the performances. Because we don’t have to – ’cause there’s some shows out there where you have to cover performances; it’s like, “Oh, wow, that was terrible. Wow, we’ve gotta make that a little bit better.” This show, the actors do such a great job that it’s fun because we get to just accentuate it, not cover it. Kevin and Julie and all the writers write fantastic scripts. I’ll read them before we go into production to make sure there’s no musical issues, but I was telling Julie the other day [that] these first three scripts have been great! They’ve been awesome. I enjoy reading them; it’s been fun to see where the characters are going and, at the same time, thinking of what’s going to happen next and this and that. It’s interesting because, being on this side of it instead of being somebody watching TV, this is definitely one of the shows that I really enjoy working on. Great people, great cast, great people behind the scenes, great people in every facet, so it’s just a fun one.
V: You mentioned [on the Bite On This podcast] wanting music to be another character on the show and [that] before you started filming you had an overall vision in mind for the beginning that was discussed with the producers. I’m wondering, in general, what distinguishes Vampire Diaries‘ musical palette – for lack of a better term – when you went in to initially start pulling this together, was there anything in particular you had in mind?
CM: Yeah, when I first met about the show, and talked to Julie and Kevin about it briefly, I basically just went into, “Okay, who’d be cool artists?” And White Lies jumped out to me right away, and Placebo, and Bat For Lashes, and TV On the Radio – even though we haven’t gotten any TV On the Radio stuff – that was another band, like “Wolf Like Me,” which could be interesting…
V: [laughs] Yeah, that could! Definitely.
CM: And there were just a bunch of bands that jumped – and they’re also bands I love listening to anyway, like The Raconteurs and The Dead Weather, and stuff like that. The Black Keys, or – I’m a huge fan of all those bands. So it’s another fun show because a lot of the bands that I just listen to personally were able to work into the show. But it’s also one of those things, too, that we had an opportunity to go a little bit darker on stuff, and have darker-tinged stuff, but still music that people listen to in their car on a normal basis and things that maybe hadn’t made it to the radio or hadn’t been exposed to people. We didn’t have that stigma of, “Oh, we have to have the big bands in, they have to be on the radio, it has to be known…” We basically place music and let it help tell the story.
V: I think the thing that surprises me most about the show a lot of the time is there isn’t any tie to a particular genre, and as much as you’re not tied to genre, you’re not tied to any time period – I can hear The Birthday Party Massacre right next to something more modern. You don’t seem to be going out of your way to keep it all new and current – I mean, there’s plenty of new and current – but using Placebo in the pilot… I was like, “Oh, wow.”
CM: Yeah, the cover’s been out for a couple years [It's been out since 2003, and I now feel old. - V.]… I love them. [We go on brief tangent about Placebo live and the new, yet-to-be-released Interpol album, which Mollere describes as "very cool. It's got [those] still-dark tinges but it’s more orchestration.” Album’s out September 7th.]
V: Since there doesn’t seem to be that tie… Instinctually, for you, how do you know when something isn’t right for the show?
CM: Um…. I just… I have no idea, that’s a good question. [Vee laughs] I don’t know. I’ll just listen to stuff and I’ll be very opinionated on it – because that’s my job – and, yeah… I don’t know. I have no idea. I don’t know if I could say, “This song isn’t right for Vampire Diaries because of this.” Honestly it has to be good music and we have to find the right scene, the right sequence, or the right moment… Who knows? It’s more kind of intuitive, just feeling it out and figuring it out. There are scenes – and I think we talked about it in the podcast with Angela and Willie – that: “Oh, were there any scenes that you just saw and were like, ‘I know the song!’” And there’s been mutliple of them but the football sequence [from episode 3, Friday Night Bites] and then Uncle John going into the mansion [from episode 21, Isobel] and then the minions dancing; we used an Anya Marina track which, for some reason, it was like, “Try that!” And he’s like, “Perfect!” And it just worked.
V: Talking about your collaboration between the producers and you – I’m sure there has to be a lot, because I’m sure they have opinions as well about what they like and don’t like.
CM: Oh, no, definitely! They do, and I love that they do, and I love how there’s times where maybe I see something and I’m like, “Oh, I really like this.” The thing you strive for is to have that moment of, “This is perfect. No other song can beat this. This is amazing.” And that’s a very tough one to hit because you’re still going to be uncertain of yourself and, “I dunno, maybe there’s something else out there.” And there have been times where you keep searching, searching, searching, and it’s like, “You know what, I think we already hit, but we just ran right by it.” That one we had in, and then we keep trying to change it out, but we already hit it, so why did we keep trying? And that’s because we all care about the show.
V: You feature a lot of international artists – is that conscious? Is that something that you strive for, and is it difficult to get clearance for a lot of that?
CM: [amused] During the summertime? Yes. [Vee laughs] It’s funny – we’re trying to get clearance for the soundtrack, for one of the artists we used in the first season, and they’re a foreign artist, and we got back an auto-reply of: “Oh, I’m on holiday.” That’s always interesting. For the most part, everybody’s really receptive, barring it’s not summertime and they’re on holiday. [laughter] But no, everybody’s pretty quick, and labels and publishers and everything have kind of streamlined things, too.
V: You mentioned doing music breakdowns for the scripts. I know there’s the whole component of – you mentioned [in the Bite On This podcast] about if somebody sings “Happy Birthday,” that requires clearance –
CM: Yeah, that’s owned by Warner/Chappell.
V: When you get the scripts, and you’re reading through it – how much of it is “pre-” to you actually seeing –
CM: How much of it is pre-production, or sent to production from the set –
V: Yeah. I’m wondering how, when you watch it, it might change.
CM: Yeah, yeah. How much – well, everything changes all the time. You can read a script and picture it in your mind of how this is going to be shot, I can envision this, and then they shoot it and it’s like, “That’s completely different.” Either the tone of the scene’s different, or just the background, or the scene overall, or the way it’s played… There’s so many different aspects that could be different. Then that kind of changes. Honestly, our big emotional sequences or montages or stuff like that, we figure that out in post[-production]. That’s after the episode’s shot, pieced together, and we just figure that out in post. I’ll mark down spots on music breakdowns – oh, this could be a possible montage, or this could be this, or we could fit your song here. The Mystic Grill and certain places always have music. Each place has its own vibe. Pretty much the only places that we will send music [to the set] for sure will be a party or a dance or something like that, just so people can have a tempo, a vibe – and it might still change out after that. But that way we at least have a starting point instead of the lead actors dancing in 4-4 time and then the background’s dancing in 3-4 time and then somebody else created a new timing… [Vee laughs] Then you’re like, “Oh, cool, what are we gonna do here? Hip hop? Because that’s about all that might fit here.”
V: So when you are making the selection, how much is it influenced by scene or atmosphere? Or is anything ever influenced by character? Is music sometimes functioning like a wardrobe for particular characters?
CM: Yeah, definitely, each character’s got their own type of vibe, and each actor has their own personal music. And it’s kind of interesting, too – I was looking through [the cast's] personal playlists a while back, and it’s kind of funny because some of their stuff is pretty much along the same lines of what their character would probably listen to. So that was interesting. But, no, we had a scene with Caroline where she was looking for Damon in the city center and we used a Dragonette song [episode 2, Night of the Comet], and that was more dance-y, girly, and that definitely guided that a bit. Damon when he’s driving in his car, of course we’re gonna have to have some kind of dirty rock, Southern rock kind of stuff that he would be down with – probably – for his character. With Stefan and Elena, there’s definitely some sweeter moments, there’s been some very sad moments… We’re kind of all over the place. That’s what keeps it interesting, I think.
V: Do you find yourself stockpiling music selections for particular characters or relationships?
CM: No, not really. What I’ve been doing since we broke between Season 1 and Season 2 – which was not a very long, actually [both laugh] – we’ve been working on the soundtrack. From there, I’ve been listening to a bunch of different songs, exclusive stuff, unreleased stuff, remixes, all kinds of things. So basically trying to figure out what could be good music for the second season. So at the same time I’m looking for cool tracks to show Julie and Kevin for the soundtrack, to work into Season 2, I’m also keeping in mind that this could be a cool track somewhere, who knows? Or this isn’t probably good for the soundtrack but it might be great for the next season.
V: So there might be stuff on the soundtrack that isn’t in the show.
CM: [pause] There is a good, decent chance of that.
CM: We’re still wrapping up the soundtrack right now, so there’s a good, decent chance of that, yes.
V: And you said that has a projected date of October 12th, correct?
CM: It’s locked.
V: It is locked. On EMI, right?
CM: EMI/Virgin, yes.
V: I don’t know if you can answer this, but is there any chance the Vampire Diaries mix for “Bloodstream” by Stateless is gonna make it on there?
CM: [pause] I don’t know if I can tell you that.
V: Okay. That’s fine. I thought I would ask. I hope so! That was an awesome –
CM: Alright, fine, I’ll give you one – yes.
V: There are going to be a lot of people very happy about that.
CM: No, yeah – it’s an awesome song, and they were so kind to go in and do the piano for us, just ’cause it felt like… I love the original version. I think the original version’s amazing. But the affected keys were very much intrusive into the scene. It was too much for the moment we were having, so them going in – and they did it in a couple of days. They did it over the weekend, very kindly, and then had Air Studios in London mix it for us and master it, and then send it back. And they’re like, “Is this cool?” And it was like, “Thank you! You guys are ridiculously amazing.”
V: When you’re doing song selections, do you always have one or two back-up tracks in case you’re not able to clear something? Do you have to have a back-up plan?
CM: Well, you always gotta have a back-up, but you don’t necessarily have to have THE back-up plan. You know the vibe, you know this and that, and it’s one of those things where we can turn around something pretty quick, and I have my resources, too: “Okay, this isn’t clearing, we need this now.” But honestly, through the amount of time that I’ve done this, I pretty much know how difficult things are going to be, and if something’s going to be pretty difficult, I’ll make sure to be prepared with a back-up. For the most part, that’s why I talk to people all the time; that’s why I’m always like, “Oh, what’s cool, what’s this or that?” and people pitch stuff for this and that. And also knowing the temperature of the artist, as well as their management, and label and publisher, etc. We don’t encounter that too much, but it has happened!
V: Is there such a thing when you are placing these songs where you’re afraid of something being too recognizable, to the point where it does overwhelm a scene, and you do want to shy away from that?
CM: No, that can definitely be an issue, and it’s always on my mind. We’re not making a music video, we’re making a TV series. We’re trying to tell a story, episodically. I mean, sometimes we make a music video within the episode, but overall we’re trying to make the best episode and series that we can, and want the music to help convey that story, vibe, feeling, emotion, etc. It is something to watch for, and it’s also the same thing with having too many vocals during a dialogue scene. There’s many things you have to watch out for, but it’s a balancing act on that fine line. Trying to find the best thing that conveys the emotion and the feeling and the thoughts, and adds to the scene but doesn’t overtake it. And, yeah, we can also tweak it out in the mix. If something’s too hot, let’s pull it down a bit, or waving in and out, volume-wise, or “effect’ it. We can have it be more organic within the scene. But yeah, you put a big, huge song in there and – honestly, there’s TV shows out there that put huge songs in there ’cause their shows have bad performances, or they have scene issues, or they have different things like that. They want you to listen to the song. We want you to take it all in at one time. And yeah, no matter what project you’re working on, you’re going to come across where we tried to band-aid stuff here and there. Oh, we didn’t get that shot that we needed, or we didn’t get that transition, so we’ll cover it with music, score, or a song – something like that.
V: I actually hadn’t even thought of using [music] in that context.
CM: Yeah! Even outs like: Oh, that’s a really weird cut, or we have to cut to this scene that’s really weird. Like having a drum hit out with a ring out of a chord to go into that next scene makes it so much more organic than just cutting and dropping a song out.
V: When you’re given permission to use a song, are you also given permission to manipulate it in any way? For instance, if you wanted to drop out the vocals during a scene…
CM: Well, we did that with Sanders Bohlke’s song, “The Weight of Us.” [Closing track in episode 7, Haunted.] Actually, Jason Walker ["Down," closing track on episode 6, Lost Girls], we also did that, too, where we started off just instrumental and then we went into vocals later. Sanders we actually played vocals, and then we went out it, and then we came back, and then we went out of it, and then we came back, just to kind of guide us through because it was such a long sequence; it was very dialogue-heavy, there was a lot going on. Yeah, we defiitely do that, and we have the right to do that. Basically, the rule is you can’t desecrate the copyright, or the song. You can’t make it sound like shit. It’s got its intro, verse, maybe second verse, chorus, or chorus, verse, bridge – it’s got its structure. So you have to keep the structure of it, but you might [decide], “Oh, we don’t need the bridge, let’s take out the bridge.” Or, “Let’s skip to the third verse instead of the second verse.” Or, “Let’s take the first chorus out and go into the second verse and then go into the chorus after that one.” You can’t just go, like, you’re halfway through the verse and you threw the chrous on there – well, you could, if it sounds right and it’s musically proper.
V: So you have to keep the integrity of the song intact.
CM: Precisely. Precisely. Yeah. Basically, you can’t make the artist look bad, or the song. You need to respect the song as it is and do what you can to make it meld and mend with the sequence you’re playing it in, with respect to it.
V: I was wondering what your working relationship is with Michael Suby, who does the score. Because you work pretty closely with him, right?
CM: Yeah, I actually work with him on Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars right now, and we did Kyle XY a while ago. He’s awesome; Mike’s an amazing person. It was fun when he got started on the show, I just went over to his studio and hung out, and he’s like, “Hey, check out this, check out that, check out that.” Then we’d be like, “Let’s try this, let’s try that, let’s try this, what about this?” – when we were doing the Pilot actually, to figure out the pallette for him to create the great score he does time in and time out. He’s awesome. He’s a great person. He keeps very busy. [laughs] He constantly puts out great music and he’s great to collaborate with and work with, and he’s a good friend.
V: You mentioned [on the Bite On This podcast] not having favorites, but is there an episode you’re particularly proud of as far as how the entire vision of the music within the episode came together?
CM: Honestly, this is the first show that I can say I’m proud of every episode. It’s one of the first projects I’ve worked on and we’ve gone an entire season that I can say I am proud with everything that we’ve done with it – through the first season, and we’re gonna continue that through the second season. We hope. [laughs] I will do everything possible to do that. You know, honestly, right now? It’s hard for me to –
V: [laughs] Is it all a blur?
CM: It kind of is. It was such a whirlwind kind of thing. It was a long year, but it was a great year, and I think we made something very special, from the top down. Everybody did our part.
V: We’ve been running this site [for a while], and the one thing that really caught our notice right off the bat was the active interest in any and all music related to the show, since the very first promo. I know you don’t choose the music in the promos –
CM: Well, we give recommendations to the network about it. Like they asked us initially what kind of artists are you thinking of using for the show, and I think we told ‘em the Raconteurs, Metric, White Lies, stuff like that. There were a couple ones that they thought were good ideas and dug themselves, so we have some synergy there, but they know exactly what they’re doing. So if they find stuff that they think works, as a network, and I’ve seen a bunch of the promos and they’ve done an awesome job with those.
V: The interest in the music from the fan base… I can’t think of another show where – you are on Twitter every Thursday night after the West coast airing putting up the song list for that night’s episode.
CM: Sometimes doing it from a music festival, sometimes from New York, sometimes from – yeah, wherever I am! I remember in November, I was in New York for the premiere for The Box, a movie I worked on with Richard Kelly, and we were out and I was like, “Oh, wait – what time is it? I gotta do this!” And he’s like, “Alright, cool, go for it, man.”
V: People clamor for it! It’s not even aired on the West coast yet, and East coast people are like, “What’s the song playing in this scene? I gotta know it right now.”
CM: And that’s why I wait for it to air on the West coast, because I don’t wanna ruin it for people, because people lose their minds over it…
V: And considering most of the other shows a lot of people watch, it’s like pulling teeth to find out which songs are played in what scenes…
CM: Yeah! That’s another why I post it, because I know they post is on [the CW's website], but it takes a day – I don’t know when they do it, actually. But I want it to be out there immediately, so if people dug a song: “What is that song? What is that song?” I know I’ve done that same thing, watch a show and wonder, “What is that song?” You want that song and you kind of lose your mind trying to find it. [You're doing] lyrics searches on Google, or all kinds of crazy things, so why make things difficult for people? I like to share – here’s a song, check it out, please go support the artist.
V: And everybody benefits.
CM: Yeah – we benefit from having great artists on the show, the artists benefit from having their song in the show, and getting some exposure, and then the fans get to hear great artists and great music. Well, at least we think so.
V: Have you gotten a lot of feedback from the artists you’ve selected?
CM: Yeah. I know Vampire Diaries is one of, I think – some record label, or some conglomeration of record labels, was going through all of the TV shows, and we’re in the top five of music being sold off of the TV show; bumps after airing.
CM: In the world.
V: In the world? That’s insane!
V: Do you enjoy getting the feedback from the fans?
CM: Yeah! It’s been cool – I’ll go check out stuff people throw up [on Twitter] and, you know, it’s busy and crazy and I can’t get back to everybody, but I try to, as much as possible. There’s different people that have some cool ideas and it’s kind of fun to check it out and be like, “Oh! Wow! I didn’t know about them.” ‘Cause there’s so many artists out there and even though I am seeing artists live all the time, and listening to music all the time, there’s so much music out there that it’s cool to get recommendations from people. So, people, please send those along.
V: So can you tease us on any artists that might be in the Season 2 premiere?
CM: I can’t, we’re working on it right now. [laughs] Honestly, I can’t even tell you ’cause we don’t know. We’re working on it. Plus it’s one where we kept it pretty open-ended. We have a lot of stuff to answer, so I don’t know if it’s going to be the most song-driven episode we’ve had. I think we have a lot to answer. But we’ll get back into it quickly, I promise.
V: Music aside, do you have a particular favorite episode from the first season?
CM: Um… It was funny; it was probably one of the toughest ones for us, but the Halloween episode came out really well, I thought. Where Vicki was killed by Stefan?
CM: Yeah. I thought that one came out really well. I dunno, there’s a bunch of ‘em. I think there was a bunch of cool stuff.
V: Actually, the one song I remember the most from Haunted is Bat For Lashes’ “Sleep Alone” that plays over the school bus sequence. I was a huge fan of that album before the music was on Vampire Diaries, and to hear that song in that context was like – wow. Now I hear it and I think of that scene from the show.
CM: Yeah, definitely, definitely. I know we had the ’50s dance [episode 12, Unpleasantville] – I thought that was a great episode. I thought the road trip episode was fun, with Damon and Elena [episode 11, Bloodlines].
V: There was a lot of songs in that episode, too. I think that was the most songs other than the Pilot, or possibly more than the Pilot?
CM: Something like that, yeah. The episode when Grams dies [episode 14, Fool Me Once]. I thought that was a cool one. I thought we got some cool stuff in there, like The Soft Pack, Tokyo Police Club, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, A Fine Frenzy, Leona Lewis‘ cover of “Run.” The episode where we had Sounds Under Radio‘s original song – episode 17 [Let the Right One In], where they did the break-in of the house and –
V: That’s on tonight, actually. That’s airing right as I speak.
CM: Kinda cool! Like we got The Black Angels – been a fan of theirs for a long time. The Love Grenades track, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club again. Where Sounds Under Radio was, we almost put in A Fine Frenzy’s “Ashes and Wine” which is an awesome song, and there was a couple of times in the season we almost used that song. I’m pretty sure we didn’t use it. [laughs]
V: Maybe in Season 2…
CM: “Wait, do I remember that song?” No, we didn’t use it. But there were two scenes in particular, big scenes, that we almost went with “Ashes and Wine.” And they were kind enough to clear it for us both times and we didn’t use it both times. But Alison’s voice is ridiculous; that’s such an amazing song. We’ll see – maybe we’ll get it in to this season! Third time’s the charm for us. I thought the Lockwood Mansion party was cool [episode 18, Under Control], where Tyler lost his shit and beat up Matt. ‘Cause that was fun with Phoenix –
V: Yeah, Stefan dancing to Phoenix.
CM: Yeah, and Katy Perry, and Paramore, and The Postelles, and The Virgins, Airborne Toxic Event, etc. Then, yeah, we had fun with the 21st episode [Isobel] too – Vampire Weekend, The Cribs, Neon Trees, Cage the Elephant, Band of Horses, Anya Marina. The finale [Founder's Day] I thought was pretty good too. I dunno. There’s a lot of stuff we’re proud of.
V: Well, you have a lot to be proud of. The music’s been amazing in every episode, and we get a lot of feedback on it, too.
CM: It’s been a fun collaboration with the editors, with Julie, with Kevin, with the writers, with everybody. It’s been fun collaborating with Suby and with Stuart, our Music Editor. It’s been a fun collaboration working with everybody on everything.
V: Do you have projects coming up that you want to plug?
CM: [mock disbelief] Projects coming up?! [both laugh] No, I’m working right now on Pretty Little Liars, Greek – we finished up our second of 10 episodes, which is gonna to be our last 10 episodes of Greek. Started on Chase recently, which is U.S. Marshals in Texas for NBC.
V: So that’s going to be a very different musical palette.
CM: Yeah, it’s been quite interesting. It’s been cool though, because I grew up in Texas, so – junior high, high school… I’m all over the map in the music I listen to and have listened to. But it’s been cool to get back to Hank Williams, Jr., and Jerry Jeff Walker, and Robert Earl Keen, and stuff like that. It’s been a lot of fun. But yeah, polar opposite musical styles, but it’s cool, it’s good to keep it diverse, and not be stuck in the same stuff, even though [with] Vampire Diaries, we’re all over the place anyway.
Which is another favorite part of the show, really; that we can just find what the best songs are for the show, and collaborating with everybody on it, just to make it sound as good as possible. And we definitely appreciate everything all the fans have done, all the artists that have allowed us to place their music, the managers, all the publishers, all the labels, all the indie reps, everybody. People go out of their way to help us and we’re so appreciative for everything.
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