'Pulp Fiction' music consultants open up about the friendship, mixtapes that helped start a soundtrack revolution

In 1987, when Chuck Kelley took a job at the Southern California movie rental store Video Archives shortly after graduating from high school, he had no idea how his friendship with a certain charismatic co-worker would alter the course of both his life and the life of his girlfriend at the time, Laura Lovelace — or that it would help shape one of the most iconic movie soundtracks of all time, Pulp Fiction, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this week.

Back in the day, Kelly, Lovelace, and star employee Quentin Tarantino formed a tight bond over cult movie binges and mixtape exchanges, and it was in fact those handmade compilation cassettes — lovingly curated jumbles of surf music, exotica, garage rock, cowpunk, R&B, and plenty of Urge Overkill — that led to Kelley and Lovelace getting credits as music consultants on Pulp Fiction. Lovelace even landed a small but memorable acting role in the opening diner scene.

The trio eventually drifted apart. (“It was like the end of American Graffiti, just everybody going off to do their thing,” Kelley tells Yahoo Entertainment.) But the memories Kelley and Lovelace share, in this fascinating oral history of their friendship — of hanging out with Tarantino at the Viper Room and Video Archives; of watching the eccentric director write (and even act out) movie scenes in their suburban living room; of Tarantino’s dealings with Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, and Neil Diamond; and of the many songs (including Cobain’s) that almost made it onto the soundtrack — are, in typical Tarantino fashion, epic.

Chuck Kelley: Laura and I would go rent movie at Video Archives in Manhattan Beach, just a few miles southwest of Hawthorne where I grew up, and that's the first time I saw Quentin.

Laura Lovelace: It was a really great video store. It was a little more expensive than the store I used to go to, but it had better movies, classic movies.

Kelley: Quentin was kind of a rockabilly-ish guy in a trench coat with a messy pompadour and rockabilly buttons on his lapel. But he didn't really seem like a music type of rockabilly guy. He seemed more like he was influenced by movies he watched, if that makes sense. La Bamba had recently come out, and we had a conversation with Quentin about whether or not it was a good movie. I recall he liked it.

Lovelace: I was looking for my Video Archives check-out card. In my wallet, I had Buddy Holly pictures. So Quentin was like, “Oh, are you excited about the new La Bamba movie coming out?” I was like, “Yeah, but I love Buddy Holly more. I like that era.” At that time, he was a total rockabilly guy. Later, my sister Grace worked in that video store for a while, too, and she dated Quentin. She used to call it “Fonzie music.”

Kelley: At the time, I was hanging out with the Redd Kross guys, Jeff and Steve McDonald, who were also from Hawthorne, and my hair after high school started growing. It was down to my shoulders, and back then, it was hard to be a freak and find a job. So I applied at Video Archives. I ended up working there, with Quentin, from fall of ‘87 to sometime in 1991. And after Quentin started dating Grace, he and I became even closer. We called each other “brothers-in-law." Once I picked Quentin up from L.A. County Jail. He'd have parking tickets that he didn't pay, so he was in L.A. County for a week. Actually, I think his roommate, who also worked at Video Archives, was probably too high to pick Quentin up, so I was the second person he called. But what I'm getting at is, we were pretty close.

Lovelace: Quentin he told Chuck and me later that all of the Video Archives people used to think we were a really cool couple, because we always picked good movies. A good blend of classic films and cult-y ones, because those were our interests.

Kelley: Quentin was the buyer at the store, providing direction on what films to buy. And so, in addition to buying whatever, 20 About Last Nights and 30 Blind Dates, he'd buy a lot of genre pictures. They had all the Russ Meyer VHS tapes, John Waters. The thing about working with him was he was very, very popular. People loved to talk to him. Even before he was ever a famous director, he just had a presence to him. He had soccer moms and businessmen, guys that worked in aviation, all these normal people coming in to rent their videos — they'd ask him for a recommendation, and he wouldn't be recommending About Last Night or Mannequin. Instead, he’d say some crazy picture, some Vietnam-veteran-gone-crazy film, like one called Thou Shalt Not Kill…Except.

He was really into Roger Corman, Martin Scorsese, Brian DePalma; those were really the big guys with him. In the store we'd be watching Dementia 13, Francis Ford Coppola's first movie, or we'd be watching Big Bad Mama, or the Evil Deads, or A Bucket of Blood. Mean Streets, After Hours, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Taxi Driver, Rio Bravo. But in addition to that, what we would every night at 7 p.m. on the big-screen TV was Love Connection with Chuck Woolery. That was a regular thing with us. And if it was a Saturday or Sunday morning, we'd be watching GLOW: Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling — the original one, from the ‘80s.

Lovelace: Quentin was very fun, and I learned a lot about movies from him. He was a total action movie guy. At that time, I did not like action movies at all, so he said, “I'm going to find an action movie you'll like. There are good ones out there.” He was actually the first person who showed me The Terminator. I ended up liking it.

Kelley: The weird thing was I remember the day I started working at Video Archives, everybody was talking about leaving. Seriously, I thought that I would be the manager of the video store in two months, because every single person that was working there was talking about quitting and going off to do something else, including Quentin. He had just made his first film, My Best Friend's Birthday. So everybody was just spinning their wheels at Video Archives. It was a great job, it was fun, but it was just a way to make money while you figure out what you're going to do next. You're going to move on to bigger and better things.

Lovelace: I think at that time, Quentin was more interested in being an actor. He was taking acting classes and going out for acting calls and things like that.

Kelley: Every week, there was some new thing that he was going to try to become famous. He was just trying to figure out any way to find success in Hollywood. He wrote Natural Born Killers and True Romance at the video store, while working at the store. I read those scripts. And one time, his big idea was to have Steve McDonald and Steve’s girlfriend at the time, Sofia Coppola, play the leads in his Natural Born Killers. It would've been shot on 16mm film. So that's something nobody knows. In the original script of Natural Born Killerswhich has been published, they make a book out of it — Jeff and Steve McDonald and I are written into it. We were supposed to be these Manson Family-esque court groupies, hanging outside of the court, fans of Mickey and Mallory.

Anyway, I just watched Quentin over the years, trying to make it. I read the scripts, and he’d ask me what I thought of them, and a lot of them had the N-word in them. They were fun to read, but it seemed like it was too harsh. It was certainly nothing I'd ever seen come out of Hollywood before, really — at least not by a major company. So, it was like, "Yeah, this is great, Quentin. I don't know how you're ever going to make it in Hollywood, but good luck to you."

But somebody recently asked me, "Did Quentin ever worry about not becoming famous? Did he ever think that he wasn't going to be famous?" And the answer is no. He had all the confidence in the world. I think as far as he was concerned, it was just preordained. The gods were looking down at him and saying, "Eventually, it will happen. You just have to wait." And what's weird about it, too, is the world changed for him. He didn't change for the world. He didn't change anything about himself to get the success. It's just like the world changed for him, just opened up its arms and said, "Here, we love you. Give us your movies." So it was a really weird thing to experience. I mean, it happened for him when he was just 27. That’s when he did his first feature. And then, of course, Reservoir Dogs happened.

Lovelace: At that time, Chuck and I lived in this funny little bungalow with no air-conditioning. Quentin had been telling us about all these really fancy hotels he'd been staying in.

Kelley: He was basically just crashing on people's couches post-Cannes Film Festival. So he stayed at our bungalow in Pasadena for a week, and slept in our guestroom. And at that time, he was writing Pulp Fiction. And I remember in our living room, he was reading Pulp Fiction to us, acting out scenes. We experienced the film with just him living at our house, writing it in our bedroom, acting it out in front of us.

Lovelace: We were both like, “Why are you staying here and not in a hotel?” He said, “Well, because I live in hotels now, so it's kind of nice being in a home environment with my friends, where I'm comfortable.” I said, “OK, you can stay here — but if it gets too hot, none of us would mind if you pay for a hotel!”

Kelley: The whole thing was weird, having Quentin Tarantino stay at our house at that time. Harvey Keitel would call. This was the days of landlines. I’d pick up the phone: "Yeah, is Quentin there?" "No, he's not. Who is this?" "This is Harvey. Tell him I called." "Oh, of course, Mr. Keitel. Sure, I'll have him call you."

Lovelace: Quentin had always said stuff like, “Someday I'm going to be a famous movie director, and I'm going to have you all do the music.” We were like, “Ha, yeah right, sounds good. We'd love that.” Of course, we never thought it would be true.

Kelley: This time, he was like, "I want your ideas. Give me some ideas for Pulp Fiction."

Lovelace: We were friends, and as friends did back then, we used to make mixtapes for each other. That was when we had no money. For Christmas, we'd make mixtapes for people. We'd been doing that with Quentin for years.

Kelley: It's so weird when you talk about things that happened 25 years ago, how much things have changed and now it's like, "What's a compilation tape," you know? You put a lot of love into this tape and you make nice graphics. Quentin made tapes for us, we made tapes for him. And so, that's how it got started. Quentin called us and said, "You guys are going to be music consultants on my film. I'm going to make sure that you guys get lots of work." Which always kills me, because he didn't make sure that we got lots of work after that.

Lovelace: There was a tape that Chuck and I had made him when he was writing Pulp Fiction that he listened to all the time. One side had a lot of the surf music, which was Chuck's main thing at the time, and the other side had Urge Overkill, which I really liked. So Pulp Fiction, when Quentin was getting it made, he was like, “I just want to use that as the soundtrack!”

Kelley: Laura and I were huge Urge Overkill fans. We turned Quentin on to Urge Overkill, but he found “Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon.”

Lovelace: My memory is, originally Chuck suggested Urge Overkill’s “Emmaline” song. To me, that would just have been overkill, to have [Uma Thurman’s character] Mia overdose to a song about someone who wanted to be a star but then OD'd. That's not that clever. That's hitting them on the head.

Kelley: Some of the other OD-scene song suggestions, some but not all of which came from us, were “Dixie Chicken” by Little Feat, “Soda Poppin' Around” by the Collins Kids, “Emmaline” by Urge Overkill, “I Dreamed” by the Exciters — that was one of Laura's favorite songs — “Riot in Cell Block Nine” by Wanda Jackson, “High Time for a Detour” by k.d. lang, “The Rose of Love” by Gene Vincent, and “This Whole World” by Spring, which was Brian Wilson's wife's group with her sister. Even back then, I was a huge Brian Wilson fan, so I was really hoping that song would make it in.

Lovelace: At first, Neil Diamond didn't even want to give them the OK [to use Urge Overkill’s cover of “Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon”]. He didn't want it used in a drug scene. I think they might’ve had to show Neil the scene, to convince him it was actually an anti-drug scene. He didn't want to have his music played in anything that promoted drug use, but he was willing to have it played in an anti-drug way.

Kelley: “Fairytale of New York” by the Pogues was another suggestion for that scene.

Lovelace: The funny thing is, when the Viper Room opened in 1993, Quentin invited us, but Chuck had to work, so I went alone. I had given Quentin, on a previous mixtape, "Fairytale of New York.” It so happened that Shane McGowan from the Pogues was singing that night at the Viper Room, and Maria McKee was singing that duet with him. Quentin decided, after hearing that live, that he really wanted Maria on the soundtrack. But I guess her record company really wanted an original song, a single. So that’s how [McKee’s original Pulp Fiction soundtrack song “If Love Is a Red Dress (Hang Me in Rags)”] happened.

Quentin had said Kurt Cobain really wanted to do an original song too, but Kurt didn't want Quentin to have the final say — and Quentin wanted the final say about any song used in the movie. So it didn’t happen. Later, Quentin was like, “Man, we could've had the last Kurt Cobain song. That would have been really good.”

Kelley: If I recall correctly, Courtney Love was jockeying to be in Pulp Fiction. Laura and I liked Nirvana, but we hated Hole. We saw them early on and we thought that they were the worst.

Lovelace: I had seen one of Hole’s first shows, at Al’s Bar [in downtown Los Angeles]. They were horrible.

Kelley: So, Laura told Quentin to just forget it, don't use Courtney Love. Basically it’s all because of Laura.

Lovelace: I think Quentin is friends with Courtney Love now, but my sister Grace told me this story about when she and Quentin went to the Vanity Fair party after the Oscars. Courtney Love was really drunk and was yelling at Quentin, “Now that you're famous, you’re dating supermodels!” My sister was not a model at all. He was like, “No, she's a PhD student.” My sister said Courtney almost tried to hit her with the Oscar — picked up the Oscar and really threw it at her. She dodged it.

Kelley: Regarding other songs in the movie, Quentin had always known that he wanted surf music in it, so I made him a compilation tape. “Surf Rider” by the Lively Ones was on there, and Dick Dale’s “Misirlou,” along with a bunch of other stuff. … And then surf music just took off [after Pulp Fiction]. You watched something on TV, you heard surf music. You listened to the radio, you heard surf music, mostly in commercials. But the weirdest thing was going to Disneyland and having them redo the music for Space Mountain — and Dick Dale doing the music for that. Going on that ride, I thought, "Well, this is something I definitely helped happen. This is me, right here: Dick Dale at Disneyland."

And then there was the Revels’ surf song “Comanche” for the gimp scene in the pawn shop. That was my personal favorite. “My Sharona” by the Knack was considered for that scene. But Karyn Rachtman, the famous music supervisor, was working both on Reality Bites and Pulp Fiction at around the same time. And so, “My Sharona” went over to Reality Bites. I’m sure the Knack would have much rather been in Pulp Fiction, in retrospect.

There were so many artists and songs that were considered, some suggested by us and others not. I actually just pulled out from the archives some papers that are on Mind Your Music's letterhead — Mind Your Music was Karyn Rachtman's music supervision company — with lists of a bunch of songs: The Butthole Surfers’ “Some Dispute Over T-Shirt Sales,” “Blow You a Kiss In the Wind” from Bewitched [which Redd Kross also covered, and Tarantino later sang on Saturday Night Live], “Los Angeles” by Frank Black, “Medicine” by the band Christmas, who went on to be Combustible Edison. For Jack Rabbit Slims, there was “Come Back to Me” by Peggy Lee, “Lonely Weekend” by Charlie Rich, “Raunchy” by Bill Justice, “Dirty Days” by Rodney Lay & the Wild West, a lot of Gene Vincent, Ricky Nelson. “Let's Get Together,” by Hayley Mills from The Parent Trap, was one of my suggestions. And then there was a guy named Jon Wayne, just a weird obscure 1980s country record that we were all obsessed with, “Texas Funeral.” I got a Jon Wayne song in another project that I worked on, From Dusk Till Dawn. Jon Wayne eventually made it into that.

The funny thing is, when I worked on From Dusk Till Dawn, which Quentin wrote and acted in and Robert Rodriguez directed, I asked Robert, "Hey, what sort of music do you want in this?” Robert didn't know how to describe the music he wanted. So I'm like, "Basically, you're saying you want Pulp Fiction-y type music?" "Yeah, yeah, Pulp Fiction type music." And then of course, when I started giving him “Pulp Fiction type music,” it was not what he wanted. What he wanted was ZZ Top and Stevie Ray Vaughan. So that was kind of a bummer.

Lovelace: Meanwhile, I became mostly known as the waitress in Pulp Fiction. That was my other job on the film. Quentin really wanted me to be an actress. He actually wanted me to go to acting school, to learn how to cry on cue. But I never wanted to be that.

Kelley: Laura got the first close-up in Pulp Fiction, as the waitress at the Hawthorne Grill in Hawthorne, saying, "‘Garcon’ means ‘boy.’" She made way more money off of Pulp Fiction than I did, because she actually got an acting part in it!

Lovelace: Quentin had me sit down all calm when he told me about it, because he knew that I don't really like people looking at me. He was like, “I wrote a part for you. I'm hoping you'll be OK with it. It's not a big part.” I said, “Come on, you know I'm not an actress. I can't cry on cue!” He said, “You don't have to. It's a waitress part.” He knew me as a waitress; I’d waitressed all the summers when I was in college. I said, “All right, I can do waitressing things. That I can do.” Like, I can play a waitress, or I can play a teacher. Those are the two things I know how to do.

I was a teacher back then. I still am a teacher today. I was teaching, and I wanted to keep teaching, so I told him, “I have to keep my clothes on, and I can't cuss. As long as I keep my clothes on and I don't cuss, I'm fine with it.” At the time, though, I thought, “This is just Quentin making art.” I did not think that that many people would ever see it. Now I have students who are like, “We looked you up… were you in a movie?” With my last name, I tend to be a little sensitive; I immediately say, “I'm not that Lovelace! I’m not Linda!” But my students, they’re kind of impressed when they find out I was in Pulp Fiction.

And I made more money in my one week of just SAG-based pay, acting with one line, than I made in a month of teaching. Later, Quentin did put me in Jackie Brown; I played a waitress again. But I was cut, because my scene didn’t move the story along. Quentin told me, “Don't be offended. You're still in the credits, and you get residuals.” Oh, I was fine with that!

Kelley: I don't know why I didn't go on to work with Quentin more. After From Dusk Till Dawn, that was pretty much it. I thought that I would be the Robbie Robertson to his Martin Scorsese at that time. It just seemed like that's what was going to happen. But that's not what happened. I gave him music for Jackie Brown and Kill Bill, and I got thanked on the Kill Bill soundtrack, but I don't think he specifically used any of the music that I gave him. He did use a song [in Death Proof] that I was always telling him to use, a song by Jack Nitzsche, “The Last Race,” that I was obsessed with.

We never had a falling out. Quentin just got sucked into Hollywood. I'm sure when you're making movies and everybody's your friend, it's hard to remember the people that you basically grew up with. He didn't really keep up with many of his old friends. I was surprised a few years ago, when he Facebook-friended me. The last time I communicated with him was on Facebook, and I told him that I would love to work on Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, since that whole time period is right up my alley. I mean, I was written in as basically a crazy Manson follower in one of his scripts 30 years ago; he knows what I'm an expert in. So, I was a little sad to not make it into that film. But I still think of him as a brother in a way. He's like a long-lost relative. We were very close, and I know what his personality and ego are like. I knew that he would turn out this way if he had success.

I didn't become the big music supervisor that I was hoping to be, but it did work out in the end. It was a springboard for other very interesting things. I founded the Luxuria internet radio network with Michael Cudahy — aka the Millionaire from Combustible Edison, who did the score for Four Rooms, the first thing Quentin did after Pulp Fiction. Through Luxuria, I went on to do so many things that I dreamed of — like, I've gotten to go to Brian Wilson's house — and I spent 20 years promoting the sort of music that became popular because of Pulp Fiction. I never made the big-time from it, and it was certainly hard to survive at times, but I was always true to the cause. So, I did take the whole Pulp Fiction aesthetic somewhere, and I made a career out of it.

Lovelace: When people talk about Pulp Fiction’s influence, they’re amazed, like, “Did you ever imagine this?” My answer is always yes, I did. I've always had the opinion that the public has good taste. They were just not exposed. I always thought people were exposed to good music, and good film, they would like it and embrace it.

Kelley: Sometimes I still recall how Quentin and I used to go Denny's in Hawthorne after work, just shoot the s*** about what we were going to do — how we were so tired of working at the video store and how it was such a dead-end job, and how someday we were going to make it. And boy, did it happen for him. It happened in the biggest way. I would say he was one of the first nerds to find stardom. He's definitely the first director who ever became a rock star. And that’s probably partially because some of the great music that he's had in his films.

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