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The Man Behind the Music of HBO’s “True Blood,” Gary Calamar, Part 1

The Man Behind the Music of HBO’s “True Blood,” Gary Calamar, Part 1 (photo)

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HBO’s “True Blood” is great TV for many reasons, not least of which is it’s music, and the dangerous, swampy vibe it often amplifies. Much of the music compliments the show’s main location, and music supervisor Gary Calamar even employs local musicians from Louisiana like Allen Toussaint and C.C. Adcock to lend the show an authentic regional sound. When not working on the soundtrack for “True Blood,” Calamar, who also was behind the music of “Six Feet Under,” music supes for other shows like “Men of a Certain Age,” and “House M.D.” He’s also a working DJ who has had a nighttime show on KCRW for something like 13 years, spinning pop, roots rock, blues, and soul. As you can imagine, he gets a lot of soundtrack ideas for his day job, during his night job. He’s a busy man, but he found the time to get down with me recently about the impossibility of using Led Zeppelin in TV, the cultural importance of the record store, and of course, the music of “True Blood.”

What is the sound of Bon Temps?

It’s got a few different sounds. I mean, it’s got the sound of Merlotte’s, which is a little bit more, upbeat bar music, rockabilly, southern Rock. And then in the first season we had some music for Sookie playing at her house, which was like the Watson Twins covering The Cure and stuff like that. But, yeah, all of it has sort of a dark undercurrent to it like a lot of New Orleans blues seems to have. Those classics Slim Harpo, Willie Dixon, and Howlin’ Wolf. Those are what really kind of speak to me as the sound of Bon Temps.

I heard [series creator] Alan Ball say a rule of his was to “Never use opera music” in a vampire show, one of the things he decided early on along with not giving them cheesy contact lenses…

I don’t remember Alan actually saying that to me. But I think his goal was to have a non-traditional kind of sound to the show. And not use, you know, sort of overly dramatic types of music that have been used in vampire series in the past, or movies in the past.

Which is made clear right away with the theme, Jace Everett’s “Bad Things.” It sets the tone brilliantly for the show.

Yeah, we got lucky with that. Alan actually found that.

[“True Blood” Opening credits, featuring Jace Everett’s “Bad Things.”]

I heard it was first just a placeholder – how did you decide on keeping it?

It was just a placeholder. Yeah, you know, Alan’s method of writing is when he’s on his computer he’ll write for a while and then he’ll take an iTunes break. 100 dollars later he’ll come back and finish up the script [laughter]. But apparently that song, “Bad Things” by Jace Everett, was like the single of the week on iTunes. We all liked it but we all kind of thought that we would eventually find the one. But the more we placed other songs against it we realized that it actually was the one. It was perfect and it had just that right combination of menace, romance, sexiness, and humor to it.

So Alan Ball’s pretty hands on then?

He is pretty hands on! He’s definitely very smart about music and has great taste. Yeah, he’s absolutely hands on in pretty much all aspects. Every meeting that I’m at, he’s always there. And he is always very opinionated. You know, he’s open to everybody’s ideas but, he knows what he likes and he knows what will work for the show.

Each of the episodes are named after a song that’s used in the episode, aren’t they?

Yep, that’s true. Which sometimes, as a music supervisor, can be… some extra work for me.

How maddening is it to make that work all the time?

Yeah, it’s difficult, especially if we’re thinking about a budget. You know, maybe initially they’ll name it after a song which for some reason is too expensive for us or we can’t license it for whatever reason. A few time we have gone back and changed a title of an episode just because the song didn’t work out as originally planned. But I think it’s a nice little feature, makes [my] job a little more fun and interesting.

So it’s the writers initially, who throw these title song ideas out, and they’re like “Alright Gary, make this work for us?”

The writers, yeah.

And then, you may end up changing it?

In the first season we didn’t go back and change titles, we just found a way to make it work. This season, we have changed the title a few times as we got down to the wire and realized the song title that the writer originally had was not working for whatever reason. But, yeah, the writers are very involved with the music choices. Oft times they will write a particular song into the script. Or they will have a song in mind when they choose the title of the episode. They obviously have some great insight into the vibe and the energy that’s going on in that particular episode. Having said that, sometimes the songs that they pick initially make it and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes we’ll see the song up against the picture and we’ll realize it looks good on paper but, it’s just not quite working. [laughs] That’s when I come in and provide alts for them.

What’s one of those episodes where it wasn’t working?

There was one song that was written in the show called, “Hitting the Floor,” I forget exactly who the artist was. We had our spotting session, which was where we all sit down, Alan Ball, myself, the writers, the editor, and we talk about the music — what we like and don’t like. And “Hitting The Floor” was not working, even though there was a scene in that episode where, very strategically, a head, a chopped-off head hits the floor. [laughter] But the song was not working. Well, I actually knew of a great song by P.J. Harvey called “Hitting the Ground.” So, we changed the title [from “Floor” to “Ground”], and it still worked thematically.

P. J. Harvey & Gordon Gano – “Hitting the Ground”

Stay tuned to IFC News for rest of the interview with Gary Calamar — Read Part 2 here!


Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at


Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.


Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.

Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…