Hannah Montana's Jeannie Lurie on writing songs for Disney Channel: "It's crazy and kind of surreal."

Hannah Montana's Jeannie Lurie on writing songs for Disney Channel: "It's crazy and kind of surreal."

A wise teen pop sensation once said, “Life’s what you make it, so let’s make it rock.” 

A show full of both wise words and great tracks, Hannah Montana is one of the most iconic and influential series to come out of Disney Channel. And, as someone who was raised by the catchy pop hits and aplenty catchphrases of Disney shows, you can imagine my excitement to work on a feature on one of my favourite childhood series.

I never realised how much of an impact old Disney Channel shows like Hannah Montana, had in my life until I was preparing for this feature. I was perusing through the show’s soundtrack and recognised every track, and could almost pinpoint the exact episode and moment in my life I watched it. 

To think of it, and as dramatic as it sounds, the show was probably one of my first introductions to music. 

Hannah Montana ran from 2006 to 2011, but 15 years later, the show’s cultural and generational impact still remains. Songs like ‘The Best of Both Worlds’, ‘Nobody’s Perfect’, ‘True Friend’, and ‘Who Said’ still hit close to home and have no problem getting you up on your feet. 

To celebrate the show’s 15th Anniversary, I got to interview Jeannie Lurie, one of the songwriters on Hannah Montana. Considered one of the show’s prolific songwriters with a song on all four seasons of the series, Jeannie Lurie was responsible for tracks like ‘I Got Nerve’, ‘True Friend’, ‘Been Here All Along’, and my personal favorite ‘If We Were A Movie’.

In our quick chat, I got to ask Jeannie Lurie about her musical beginnings, her creative process, and her time working on Hannah Montana.  

Hi Jeannie! How did you first get into songwriting?

Hi! I actually first started songwriting in high school, and it's kind of crazy. My high school was very artsy, it was a public school but very artsy. We had a show run by the students, it was called 'STUNTS' and it stood for 'Student Theatre Under No Teacher Supervision', even though there was a teacher supervising (laughs). We took it very seriously – we had a writing board and we wrote the story and songs over the summer, and that was actually the first musical that I worked on.

Jeannie Lurie. Photo by Todd Wawrychuk/Disney.

But then, I ended up not going to school for music, I was an English major, and also studied Spanish. When I moved to LA, after college, I started taking some music classes, worked on projects with friends, and recorded things on my own with other artists. Through friends, I had the opportunity to pitch on the Disney Channel Original Movie, The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, and that was with a whole team – with Adam Cohen, Brandon Christy, and then Michael Giacchino. That was my introduction to Disney Channel, and I started working with him after that.

From your work on The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, how did you start writing for shows like Hannah Montana?

It's always one song at a time. After that Muppets project, through Disney Channel, I met with Steven Vincent, who's the Head of Music. All these opportunities came through him. I met with him and we listened to some of my work on The Muppets Wizard of Oz. I will always remember that meeting because he had two scripts for these two upcoming projects – one was called High School Musical, and the other was Hannah Montana. I didn't know what those were, nobody knew what those were but they ended up being these two huge franchises.

I ended up working on Hannah Montana. We didn't really know who the character was yet but I ended up getting a couple of songs for season one because my writing at the time was coincidentally the kind of vibe they were looking for. It just went from there, starting on season two onwards.

A lot of your songs, especially those in shows like Hannah Montana, have soundtracked a lot of people’s childhood. How does that make you feel?

It's crazy. It's like sinking in more now because, at the time, you're just working a job, you know. I had little boys at the time so there was just no time to even notice what was really going on. But as everyone got older, I started noticing how much people actually took to the songs. Sometimes, my friends would say like, 'oh my gosh, we've been watching the show, and we love this one song' and then sing to me, and I'm like, 'that's my song!' It's crazy, and kind of surreal.

One time, I was in New Orleans for a Jazz Fest a long time ago, and my friends were being really silly in a cab and telling the driver I was a songwriter. And, he went something like 'my daughter and I have a song that we sing at bedtime every night', and it was 'True Friend'. That's kind of how I started to see how big the show was and how far my songs have actually reached. 

Walk us through your creative process, how do you get started on a song? What inspires you?

I tend to take a lot of walks. For film and TV, a lot of times it's by assignment, and you have to consider the scene and what's supposed to happen, so I take a thinking walk. It's different for everyone but usually, for me because I write music and lyrics, sometimes a lyric line comes up in my head that's attached to a melody. I always work with other people so I work with a producer, then I do homework and bring some ideas from there, you just have to get a feel for the song. 

One of my co-writers Gabriel Mann, when we get together we figure out what the pattern is and what the style of the song is going to be first before anything. Like is it going to be an up-tempo party song? Is this a ballad? Is this for a spooky scene? And, I don't know from there, it just kind of gets magically filled in (laughs).

What are some of favourite memories working on Hannah Montana?

There are so many.  One was just the surprise of guest stars on the show, you just never know who is going to be on and who might end up singing your song until it shows up on TV. Once, there was an episode where Dolly Parton and Vicki Lawrence were on, and their characters were fighting in the episode but they all ended up singing 'True Friend' at the end. That was my favourite episode, it was so sweet but then I was like, 'Wait, Dolly Parton and Vicki Lawrence are singing my song like what's happening?' That was pretty amazing.

Then there were some really meaningful moments. As the seasons went on and Miley got older, we got to delve into more serious subject matters, like relationships and family.

There was one episode, it was where Miley was like trying to get out of plans with her dad because she wanted to hang out with her friends, but then she met a friend whose dad was overseas in the military. The song for that episode was 'Been Here All Along' about how even someone's far, they're still with you.

When they filmed the episode, they invited military families down to the set and us songwriters got to go too. There was not a dry eye there and I remember a spokesperson got up and thanked everyone for having them and how it meant so much to them to be represented in the show and how the subject was addressed. It was really great.

Hannah Montana Season 1 - 4 is available to watch on Disney+ in Singapore, alongside Hannah Montana: The Movie, and Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: Best of Both Worlds Concert.

Listen to Hannah Montana soundtrack here.

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