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The Man Behind the Music of HBO’s “True Blood,” Gary Calamar, Part 2

The Man Behind the Music of HBO’s “True Blood,” Gary Calamar, Part 2  (photo)

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Part 2 of a conversation with music supervisor Gary Calamar. Part 1 can be found here.

Creatively speaking, where do you draw from other than the script itself, do you have a wall of records you talk to or how do you generate your ideas?

Yes. Sometimes I actually do that. My last resort, I just stand next to the wall of music and just sort of close my eyes and hope for a miracle. But, yeah after I read the script and we see a rough cut, different scenes just kind of reach out and kind of call out for different types of music. You know, a fight going on at Merlotte’s or if there’s some sort of party at Lafayette’s or whatever it happens to be. I have that idea of what the overall sound of “True Blood” is so I… find the right songs. Then I’ll play them for Alan Ball and he’ll kind of make the final decision of what he thinks works. And then the next step for me is actually clearing them, and getting the license and negotiating the deal and all that.

Right, the glamorous part?

Yeah, it’s not that bad but I guess you could say it’s less glamorous, but definitely a huge part of the job.

I suppose your other job, DJ’ing at KCRW must help with your approach to finding the right songs.

Yeah, I’ve been at the station for a good, not quite 15 years yet, but probably 13 years or so. I’m always listening for new music to play on the show. The big difference between the radio show and the TV work is that I don’t have to work by committee on the radio show. I’m the DJ, I can play what I want and suffer or get praised by that. With a TV show it’s much more of a collaboration and the song that I might think is perfect may get shot down and vice versa. But yeah KCRW is an amazing thing for me to have been doing all this time. On “Six Feet Under” there was a song that got a lot of attention by Sia called “Breathe Me,” the final song on the final episode. That was actually a song that I had been playing on KCRW for a good 6 months before we used it in “Six Feet Under.”

Is your process with “True Blood” any different from what it was with say, “Weeds” or “Six Feet Under?”

It’s pretty similar to “Six Feet Under.” There’s some different players involved. I had a partner at the time who did great work, but it’s sometimes easier to work without a partner. Each show kinda has it’s own little rhythm, and different producers like to work different ways. Ultimately, it’s the same thing but, different shows have different budgets, [some] take music a little bit more seriously. [“True Blood”], it’s a music intensive show.

Composer Nathan Barr writes the original score, do you two put your heads together a lot or is it left to Alan Ball to put the pieces together that you both pitch depending on whether a scene is scored or soundtracked?

It’s definitely more between him and Alan, but we are at the meetings together, the spotting sessions. That’s when we sit down and we decide will there be a score here, or will we use a song here? If it’s a song that leads into score, we have make sure we’re both aware of what’s going on so his score will be in the same key. We’re in the formative stages of the show when we’re in the same room talking, but basically when it gets down to business, he’s doing his thing and I’m doing my thing.

Do you have different distinct themes in your head for the characters?

Yeah, each character definitely has their own taste and their own type of music that might be playing along with their theme. It depends on what’s going on in the scene, but Jason’s taste is much different than Sookie’s and Sams’ taste is much different than Lafayette’s.

I understand you have a nice budget, but it’s not unlimited. Is there someone you’ve thought of using that just wasn’t worth it in the end given the limitations?

Yeah, usually when I see the rough cut there’s like temp music in the show. Music that the editor put in until we find the right stuff. And I believe it was this season — and it’s come up in the past where someone will temp in a Led Zeppelin song that works absolutely perfectly. But they’re just way too expensive and you know, don’t really do television unless you want to pay them an exorbitant amount of money. No TV show could really afford to have Led Zeppelin [Mutual sighs]. Then it’s my job to find something that’s even better for a fraction of the price.

It must be painful.

Yep it is [laughter] and especially, like I say, with producers that may not really think about the music budget or the think about the music supervisors job will just say, “Oh yeah let’s get ‘Stairway to Heaven’ in there!”

I know that there was Stone’s cover used, and I thought it was pretty awesome, but it prompts me to wonder if the original wasn’t because of budget?

I think you’re referring to, “Play With Fire.”


[Cobra Verde – “Play With Fire” from “True Blood”]

Yeah, that’s the one.

That cover is much different than the original. It’s much spookier, and much more twisted. There was a fire theme in that particular episode, but the Stones’ version, which is obviously a great version, to me, wouldn’t have worked as well. And, the cover is, you know, half the price, practically. But, in this particular case, it was more just the mood and vibe of this particular cover that moved me into pitching it and everybody agreed.

It is way spookier [than the original]. Is there a band you would love to get that you haven’t tapped yet in “True Blood?”

Let’s see. Who would I tap? Well, we’ve just used this artist Karen Elson, who’s great. She’s a new favorite artist of mine that we used in, in this season. Hmm,The Avett Brothers, I like a lot. I’d like to use them in “True Blood.”

I hear you have a love for record stores?

I have a book out now, have you heard?

Yeah, “Record Store Days: From Vinyl to Digital and Back Again,” it piqued my interest because I’m kind of an analog guy. I’m sure technology helps you amazingly in your job but, I get the sense that you’re nostalgic for the analog age. Are you a part of what seems to be a backlash [against digital?]

I definitely love record stores. And worked in many over the years. Having said that, it’s not necessarily that I love vinyl per se. I mean I’m happy to use CDs and MP3s, to me it’s the music that’s top priority. I do have a good collection of vinyl, but I rarely actually pull it out. I’m not one of those guys who thinks the vinyl sounds better or anything like that. So no I disagree with uh, your theory there. [laughter] But I do certainly miss more record stores and greatly appreciate the ones that are still hanging around — where you can just thumb through the bins whether they be CD or vinyl, and hear music over the in store speaker and see the people enjoying the music — just that community of a record store, that’s what I love.

I believe a record store is a crucial part in a healthy community. I had one that I used to stop in every day just to see what was new just hang out. Is there a place like that for you now?

That’s the thing, people like you and me would stop in a store every single day, you know, as how you’re walking by, may as well see what’s new. Got any new posters? Got any new releases? What’s that song they’re playing!? Whenever I go to a new city, whether visiting or vacationing, I would always make that a point to get to the record store early on, just to get my bearings and see what was going on around town. There’s the big granddaddy, Amoeba, which is here in Hollywood, which is an amazing supermarket of music of all types and it’s like going into an amusement park. But there’s Freak Beat around here in San Fernando Valley which is great. And Fingerprints in Long Beach. There are some stores that are hanging on and doing an amazing job.

Do you think we will have lost something as a society, if we completely lose the record store?

I don’t think it’s going to change our lives, you know, in the big picture, but I think it’s just a nice oasis in one’s day to go visit a record store and hear some new music. I think that very enjoyable activity will be, sadly, lost.

What’s your favorite musical experience so far with all these shows? Is there something you just nailed and it was just bliss for you?

I would say, well, there’s definitely a lot of great musical moments. Hmm. If I was gonna pick one right now, I would say the theme song for “Men of a Certain Age,” I’m very pleased with because it just captures these guys. Ray Romano and his two buddies are in their fifties, and you know, dealing with issues that men of that certain age have. Since it’s on every show I’m reminded of it all the time, and I’m very happy with the way it turned out. [The Beach Boys] “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)” just seemed to really nail it.


[The Beach Boys – “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man),” theme from “Men of a Certain Age.”]

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

via GIPHY

IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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