Music to Vamp By: An Interview With Gary Calamar

September 21, 2010 by  

A picture of Gary Calamar.Gary Calamar is the music supervisor for HBO‘s hit series True Blood. In an interview with IFC, Gary explained that the specific songs and music are a delicate balance when chosen for an episode, or scene location. For example, tunes for Merlotte’s is “upbeat bar music, rockabilly, southern rock”.

For the most part, Gary says the music for True Blood “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.”

Asked if it was true that show creator Alan Ball said he did not want opera music in a vampire show, Gary could not confirm it. However, Alan did tell him he wanted non-traditional music without the overly dramatic type heard in previous vampire movies.

Actually, Alan found Jace Everett‘s “Bad Things” to use as the theme music and Gary said they got lucky with it. During a writing break, Alan found it 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.”

Every episode of True Blood is named after a song. According to Gary, this is difficult due to budget concerns. Some licensing can be too expensive or just not available. In a few cases, the episode titles were changed because the song didn’t work out as planned. But, as music supervisor, this touch makes his job more fun and interesting.

And it’s actually the writers who provide the song ideas. With the mood they set, sometimes they’ll write a song into the script.  But it doesn’t work 100% of the time. Gary said that putting the song up against the picture will sometimes show it’s just not a good fit. That’s when Gary provides the “Plan B” music.

In one example, Gary talked about a song titled “Hitting the Floor”, which was to play during a scene of an actual severed head hitting the floor.

“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.”

Working at night as a DJ, Gary listens to a lot of music, which helps him with ideas for True Blood. Now that he has the feel for what the series ‘sounds like’, it’s a little easier for him to read the script and find the right song to recommend. Once the music is approved by Alan, it’s Gary’s job to check on the license and negotiate the deal for use.

Nathan Barr is the show’s composer for original score and often it’s a song that leads into the score. So both Nathan and Gary need to be in sync. But what about the show’s 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 Sam’s taste is much different than Lafayette‘s.”

In discussing the budget for music, Gary sighs when he thinks about a Led Zeppelin song that worked perfectly for a particular scene.

“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. Then it’s my job to find something that’s even better for a fraction of the price.”

I, for one, think he’s doing a really fine job.

Source: ifc.com (1st part2nd part) – The Man Behind the Music of HBO’s “True Blood”

(photo credit – ifc.com)

Share