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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!

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SAG Life

Rappers Act Up

Watch the Yo! IFC Acts Movie Marathon Memorial Day Weekend.

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Everett Collection (and the '90s)

Memorial Day weekend: how to celebrate? Nothing quite says “screw spring—let’s do summer” like blockbuster movies starring rappers who ditched lucrative music careers in order to become actors. It happened a lot, remember? Especially in and around the ’90s. Will Smith, Eminem, Ice Cube, Ice-T, Marky Mark Wahlberg, Ludacris…icons with the hubris to try the silver screen instead and have it totally work out.

But what if more rappers had made the leap? That’s a rhetorical question—movies (and life) would’ve been better, obviously. To prove it, here are some movies that would’ve been more memorable with rappers.

The Godfather

Starring Biggie, not Brando.
Godfather-BIG

Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

Only Coolio could improve upon Gene Wilder’s performance.
Coolio-Wonka

Billy Elliot

Billy Elliot, with a dose of Missy Elliott.
Missy-Billy-Elliott

Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Low hanging fruit, Hollywood.
Robin-Hood-and-Lil-Jon

And of course…

Kanye-of-The-Lambs

See NONE of those movies and a whole bunch of real ones this Memorial Day weekend on IFC’s rapper-filled movie marathon.

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Brock Hard

Brockmire’s Guide To Grabbing Life By The D***

Catch up on the full season of Brockmire now.

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“Lucy, put supper on the stove, my dear, because this ballgame is over!”

Brockmire has officially closed out its rookie season. Miss the finale episode? A handful of episodes? The whole blessed season?? You can see it all from the beginning, starting right here.

And you should get started, because every minute you spend otherwise will be a minute spent not living your best life. That’s right, there are very important life lessons that Brockmire hid in plain sight—lessons that, when applied thoughtfully, can improve every aspect of your awesome existence. Let’s dive into some sage nuggets from what we call the Book of Jim.

Life Should Be Spiked, Not Watered Down.

That’s not just a fancy metaphor. As Brockmire points out, water tastes “awful. 70% of the water is made up of that shit?” Life is short, water sucks, live like you mean it.

There Are Only Three Types of People

“Poor people, rich people and famous people. Rich people are just poor people with money, so the only worthwhile thing is being famous.” So next time your rich friends act all high and mighty, politely remind them that they’re worthless in the eyes of even the most minor celebrities.

There’s Always A Reason To Get Out Of Bed

And 99% of the time that reason is the urge to pee. It’s nature’s way of saying “seize the day.”

There’s More To Life Than Playing Games

“Baseball can’t compete with p0rnography. Nothing can.” Nothing you do or ever will do can be more important to people than p0rn. Get off your high horse.

A Little Empathy Goes A Long Way

Especially if you’ve taken someone else’s Plan B by mistake.

Our Weaknesses Can Be Our Greatest Strengths

Tyrion Lannister said something similar. Hard to tell who said it with more colorful profanity. Wise sentiments all around.

Big Things Come To Those Who Wait

When you’re looking for a sign, the universe will drop you a big one. You’re the sh*t, universe.

And Of Course…

Need more life lessons from the Book of Jim? Catch up on Brockmire on the IFC App.

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Oh Mama

Mommie May I?

Mommie Dearest Is On Repeat All Mothers Day Long On IFC

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The cult-classic movie Mommie Dearest is a game-changer. If you’ve seen it even just once (but come on, who sees it just once?), then you already know what we’re talking about.

But if you haven’t seen it, then let us break it down for you. Really quick, we promise, we’ll even list things out to spare you the reading of a paragraph:

1. It’s the 1981 biopic based on the memoir of Christina Crawford, Hollywood icon Joan Crawford’s adopted daughter.
2. Faye Dunaway plays Joan. And boy does she play her. Loud and over-reactive.
3. It was intended as a drama, but…
4. Waaaaaay over-the-top performances and bargain-basement dialogue rendered it an accidental comedy.
5. It’s a cult classic, and you’re the last person to see it.

Not sold? Don’t believe it’s going to change your life? Ok, maybe over-the-top acting isn’t your thing, or perhaps you don’t like the lingering electricity of a good primal scream, or Joan Crawford is your personal icon and you can’t bear to see her cast in such a creepy light.

But none of that matters.

What’s important is that seeing this movie gives you permission to react to minor repeat annoyances with unrestrained histrionics.

That there is a key moment. Is she crazy? Yeah. But she’s also right. Shoulder nipples are horrible, wire hangers are the worst, and yelling about it feels strangely justified. She did it, we can do it. Precedent set. You’re welcome.

So what else can we yell about? Channel your inner Joan and consider the following list offenses when choosing your next meltdown.

Improperly Hung Toilet Paper

Misplaced Apostrophes

Coldplay at Karaoke

Dad Jokes

Gluten Free Pizza

James Franco

The list of potential pedestrian grievances is actually quite daunting, but when IFC airs Mommie Dearest non-stop for a full day, you’ll have 24 bonus hours to mull it over. 24 bonus hours to nail that lunatic shriek. 24 bonus hours to remember that, really, your mom is comparatively the best.

So please, celebrate Mother’s Day with Mommie Dearest on IFC and at IFC.com. And for the love of god—NO WIRE HANGERS EVER.

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