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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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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.
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Charlie And The Chocolate Factory

Only Coolio could improve upon Gene Wilder’s performance.
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Billy Elliot

Billy Elliot, with a dose of Missy Elliott.
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Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Low hanging fruit, Hollywood.
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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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