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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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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…

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A-O Rewind

Celebrating Portlandia One Sketch at a Time

The final season of Portlandia approaches.

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GIFs via Giphy

Most people measure time in minutes, hours, days, years…At IFC, we measure it in sketches. And nothing takes us way (waaaaaay) back like Portlandia sketches. Yes, there’s a Portlandia milepost from every season that changed the way we think, behave, and pickle things. In honor of Portlandia’s 8th and final season, Subaru presents a few of our favorites.

via GIPHY

Put A Bird On It

Portlandia enters the pop-culture lexicon and inspires us to put birds on literally everything.

Colin the Chicken

Who’s your chicken, really? Behold the emerging locavore trend captured perfectly to the nth degree.

Dream Of The ’90s

This treatise on Portland made it clear that “the dream” was alive and well.

No You Go

We Americans spend most of our lives in cars. Fortunately, there’s a Portlandia sketch for every automotive situation.

A-O River!

We learned all our outdoor survival skills from Kath and Dave.

One More Episode

The true birth of binge watching, pre-Netflix. And what you’ll do once Season 8 premieres.

Catch up on Portlandia’s best moments before the 8th season premieres January 18th on IFC.

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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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