May 29, 2013


‘True Blood’ Music Supervisor Reveals Stories Behind Show’s Killer Collabos

Photo Credit: Gary Calamar
Photo Credit: Gary Calamar

HBO’s blockbuster series True Blood recently released its fourth soundtrack, an eclectic collection including an awesome Iggy Pop/Best Coast collabo, a moody duet between former Animals frontman Eric Burdon and Jenny Lewis on “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” and a previously unreleased Alabama Shakes track. 

With the show’s sixth season kicking off in just two weeks, Fuse chatted with music supervisor Gary Calamar—a veteran of Six Feet Under and Entourage—to find out the stories behind the show's unexpected collaborations. We learned how a song he wrote on the fly got into Iggy’s hands, what new bands he’s excited about and what exactly a music supervisor does on a daily basis.

So last season featured a collaboration between Iggy Pop and Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino called "Let's Boot and Rally." How did that come about?

Every show is named after one of the songs in the episode. We had a relatively new writer and she had put in a song called "Let's Boot and Rally" and as it turned out, the song wasn't really appropriate for the show; it wasn't working as well as we'd hoped. So we thought of various alternatives: Either change the title of the show—which we'd done in the past—or have somebody write a song called “Boot and Rally.” I said that not really realizing it would be me—I'm a weekend songwriter. But I went back to the office, picked up the guitar, banged it around a little bit and called up my friend James Combs and we worked on it and came up with a song we were very happy with.

How did Iggy get involved?

Separate from that, Iggy Pop had reached out to us saying he was a fan of the show and if something came up, he'd be happy to write or perform something. He was just saying to keep him in mind. And we thought our song would be perfect for Iggy. So we sent him our demo, one thing lead to another and we got it done. We did the backing track in L.A. and sent it to Iggy, who was touring at the time. He went into the studio in Seville, Spain and recorded his part and it was fantastic as only Iggy can be. And then we brought in Bethany to do some backing vocals and we were very happy the way it turned out. I like the idea of the old school and the new school coming together to keep the timeline moving and I'm a big fan of Best Coast, so I reached out and she loved the idea.

How does it feel to have a song you wrote, your first song on a TV show, performed by a legend like Iggy Pop?

It feels absolutely amazing. It’s something I would never have dreamed would happen. I'm a big rock n’ roll fan and to tip my little toe into the world of the real guys is amazing. Since then I've become more of a songwriter and I take it more seriously, but that is my one miracle that’s happened so far. I still can hardly believe it.

You also have Eric Burdon and Jenny Lewis performing “Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood” on the Season 6 premiere. Did that come together similarly? 

That’s kind of a funny story. The first script we got for Season 6 came to me and it was called “Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood,” so I immediately knew what we were talking about. There was talk of using the original Nina Simone version but I knew Eric had put out a new album and was back on the road. Plus he had gotten some press after the Bruce Springsteen keynote speech at SXSW in 2012, when Springsteen went on and on about how every song he'd written was a rip off of Burdon. “Born to Run” is “We Gotta Get out of This Place,” and that gave him a big push. So I reached out to him and he was down. Then I started brainstorming people who could do it with him. I’m a big fan of Jenny and it worked out. 

Did you get in the studio with them or was that long distance as well?

Yes, I was in the studio with Eric and Jenny [see picture above] and it was fun. Eric has played the song thousands of times over the years but he had never done it as a duet. And he was aware of what we were trying to do but it was a little uncomfortable at first. They had only met for two minutes and when we started to record it wasn't coming together right off the bat. Eric was thinking, “Maybe this doesn't lend itself to a duet,” but I said, “Let's give it another try,” and after a few takes it started sounding great. It was rough going at first but it eventually came together.

The final result sounds great. Was he a fan of the show like Iggy?

I think he's now a fan of the show but [at the time], I think he saw it as a nice opportunity.

How long does the process take for one episode?

It takes maybe about a week or 10 days. In the beginning of a season we have a lot more time than when we get close to the final episodes. Then the schedule gets crazy. When we worked on the first episode of this season, we had time to do this whole recording of “Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood,” to record it and remix it.

The funny thing is with that song, after all was said and done, they decided not to use that script. I don't know what went into it but they decided it wasn’t working and went a different direction. So the whole reason for making this song went away, but we still had this great song and needed to find a place for it. But it worked out; we're re-purposing it now.

It can be frustrating, but it's not that unusual. It happens frequently, so it’s not a big deal. Even dating back to Entourage or Six Feet Under, I would sometimes think I'd have the perfect song for the scene and it wouldn't get picked. It’s kind of heartbreaking, but that's part of the job.

How did you get started in this field?

Back in the day I was just very interested in becoming a music supervisor. I worked—and still do—at KCRW and some people there were already in the field, like Chris Douridas [American Beauty]and I was impressed with that. So I hooked up with a guy named G. Marq Roswell and told him I'm trying to learn the game here. Then Slums of Beverly Hills [1998] came to me through a friend, but I didn't have any real experience. So [Roswell and I] decided to do it together and he mentored me through that. And then Varsity Blues [1999] was when I broke off on my own.

Was it daunting to do Varsity Blues on your own?

It's always a little daunting because everybody is kind of a music expert in their own way. So everybody has an idea for themselves of what works best, and there's no one right answer for any of these spots. So I'm not just trying to find what I think works best, but please the producers of the project as well. But now that I've been doing it a while, it's not quite as stressful as it was back then.