Exclusive: Gary Calamar Spins a True Blood Tale!

September 22, 2009 by  

Gary Calomar True Blood Music Talented spin-meister Gary Calamar, HBO‘s True Blood Music Supervisor sat down with to talk about music, his work and the creative process involved in developing the musical pieces for True Blood. Hi Gary, thanks so much for making time for us tonight!
Gary: Hi! In other articles you’ve mentioned that you had an interest in music that began at an early age. What was it that drew you into the music world?
Gary: You know, music is just a beautiful thing. I just remember hearing it. My family was listening to music, my brother was interested in music. It seems like most kids love music. They don’t always follow it as their career throughout their lives. But it’s just fun and it stuck with me. And certainly getting into music a little more seriously I’d watch The Beatles on Ed Sullivan and that had a profound effect on me so that’s when ,even as a child, that I started getting to be a serious fan. And you personally, what types of music do you like.
Gary: I like all kinds. I have a radio show and I play a lot of the stuff that I like and I call it Adventurous Pop Music both timely and timeless. I like Pop Music, I’m not a jazz guy or a classical guy. I like stuff that I hear on the radio but I like it to have a little bit of a twist to it, a little bit left of center, a little unique and unusual but Pop music. If I’m in the store and I hear Barry Manilow over the loud speaker I’ll groove to it for a few minutes. Do you select all the music for your radio show?
Gary: Yes, for the radio show I select all the music. and its the one job that’s all me, especially compared to the film and TV stuff where it’s a committee that makes the final decision. On the radio show I get to do it all by myself, nobody gets to second guess me or tell me that’s not necessarily the right song. That’s Awesome! How did you make the move from having your own radio to becoming involved in making sound tracks for movies?
Gary: I just worked at a radio station, KCRW, and there were some other people doing music supervision and I became aware of that field. I did some networking and some schmoozing, I took some classes at UCLA and just landed a small gig here and there and just grooved from there. The first real job I got in that department was a relatively small movie “Slums of Beverly Hills”. I had hooked up with another music supervisor, a more experienced music supervisor at that time named Marq Roswell. We did the project together and he mentored me and taught me some of the ropes and introduced me to some people so I learned as I went along. I’ve always loved movies and TV and I’ve always loved music and it seemed like a natural progression . I got lucky to find myself getting a job there, in that field. Moving on to TB. Do you see the scripts before hand and, whom do you consult with before choosing the music?
Gary: Yeah, it’s a process. I see the script initially and read the script and loosely map out where music is going to be. Often times, in the script there will be a little note that there’s going to be music in the scene, especially if it’s at Merlotte‘s or some place like that. You know there’s going to be music playing in the background. Sometimes the writers will actually write in a song that they think should go in a particular scene or just something to give us an idea of what they’re thinking as they’re writing so that’s step number one. Step number 2, we all sit around, Alan Ball and myself and Nathan Barr the composer and usually the writer of the episode, we will sit and go through the entire show. It’s called a spotting session and we basically go through it and decide, “Well Nathan, you’re going to do a score piece here and Gary we need a song in this spot.” That’s whatever the description happens to be. We’ll look at it and discuss what kind of mood Alan is going for. After, I’ll go back to my office with my notes and put together 3 to 5 songs per scene, work with the music editor and cut the songs into the scene and then go back and have a second meeting with Alan. I’ll show him the different choices and then we zero in on a final choice and at that point we still have to clear the songs, me and my colleague in the office, Alyson Vidoli. We have to send out request letters and actually contact the record labels and the publishers to get the rights to use the songs. Oh! So you make the decisions first and then look into the availability.
Gary: Yeah, pretty much that’s how it works. We usually have an educated guess if something is not going to be clearable. We wouldn’t pitch a Led Zeppelin song for a scene because I happen to know they’re very difficult and very expensive and not very realistic for a TV show. But yes, through our experience we have a rough idea of what we think something might cost and if it’s going to be difficult to clear . But yeah, we usually don’t go clear it until we have a decision made. And sometimes there will be 2 or 3 that Alan will like and he’ll say “I like that and I like that so let’s clear them both and make a final decision.” So for each episode, for each scene, there is usually a different music choice?
Gary: Yes, for each scene there’s usually, roughly, 3 to 5 choices per scene. Wow that’s a lot of work!
Gary: It is good amount of work. Its just funny, everybody just has such a different take on the music and the song that I think works perfectly. Alan might disagree or might think it’s too upbeat or for whatever reason it just may not be right. So I have got to give him a few options. It was mentioned in season 1 that there was an emphasis in choosing local Louisiana style music for the show. Did you have a thematic approach to season 2 as well?
Gary: Not really and I wouldn’t necessarily call it thematic. The show obviously takes place in Louisiana so we are using music that sounds like it comes from that area. It’s not a mandate that we have to use Louisiana music. We certainly like to when we can. The fact that it helps the economy and helps the whole scene down there after they’ve had so much trouble is a bonus. But it’s just something that’s in our minds. That if we can use a Louisiana band that would be great. What is the most challenging aspect in selecting musical pieces in TB?
Gary: The most challenging aspect. I don’t know exactly what’s the most challenging aspect. It’s all got its little challenges. I guess initially it’s just finding the perfect song that fits the scene, especially if it’s a big scene where there’s something really important happening to try and really find the perfect song that’s going to help bring out the emotion in the scene or bring out the drama in the scene and not over power the scene. Basically that’s the biggest challenge: to creatively find the right song. What is the most rewarding?
Gary: The most rewarding is finding a song that I think really works and having everybody else agree with me. Finding a song that I think is perfect, and Alan saying it’s perfect. After it airs people commenting how good it was. That is very rewarding and especially sometimes where I might throw in a song that’s a little different from what we had talked about. We might say that we need a song that’s very serious, you know there are people getting fed on in the scene and it’s bloody. Maybe we’ll talk about it being a serious dramatic song that’s needed and then, instead, I’ll come in with a song that’s 180 degrees different and is actually more of a humorous song. People will look at it and say, “You know, that works even better than we thought!” Bringing in a left field choice and having it really work is very rewarding. We’re going to ask a few questions that we try to ask all of our interviewees and we consider them fun questions so we hope you do too.
Gary: Thank you for letting me know that… Has true blood reshaped how you think of good and evil?
Gary: Yes I think it has actually because in the show not all the vampires are evil and not all the good old boys are good. So yes especially, we have a nice friendly group of vampires that are on the show, so and they want to do good for mankind. So yes, I think so. Do you ever visit fan sites to read about yourself or True Blood?
Gary: Occasionally, I don’t do it all that often just because I’m so busy but I do like to read the fan sites about TB and I certainly like to see what people are thinking about the music. But I don’t do it as often as I’d like, I don’t have much time to do that but I like to do it. Do you have a favorite charity
Gary: The American Cancer Society. I have had some family members…, actually more specifically pancreatic cancer. [Editor’s note: If you want to learn more about pancreatic cancer please go to: or the Hirschberg Foundation at Do you Twitter? And would you like your fans to know what your Twitter is?
Gary: I just joined Facebook a month ago and I haven’t gotten to Twitter yet. I’m easing into it; I don’t want to rush into it. :laughs: Are there any questions you would like to ask the fans?
Gary: Yes I would love to get more feedback on the music and what they’re liking and what they’re not liking; things like that. There might already be a lot of discussions on the web sites about that now, it’s a general question. But yes, I would love to hear what they feel about especially the end title songs. I would like to know how they feel about those. So maybe what was their favorite music moment of the series so far? I’d love to hear that. If the fans want to listen to your radio show, is there a way to do it on line?
Gary: Absolutely yes,, its KCRW that’s the radio station, and its on and yes it streams live but they also play the show all week. I do a show live here in Los Angeles on Sunday nights from 9PM till midnight so they can listen live at that time, Pacific time, or it just gets replayed and its available all week until the following show comes up and town the new shows available. Excellent, would there be any objection to you if we put up a permanent link going from our site going to theirs?
Gary: No that would be great.
Gary: And I also have over the years interviewed various people and they are all archived on the web site. I’ve interviewed people like Lucinda Williams actually who was on the sound track and Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips and film composers like Thomas Newman so people can check them out. The radio interviews don’t have anything to do with TB unfortunately, it’s just sort of more general interviews, a couple of years ago I interviewed Lucinda Williams but that was before TB. Great… The music makes the show!
Gary: Well I don’t know, but the show has just been so wild and crazy and fun this year it’s especially rewarding to add music to such a great show. It’s just been insane from our end.
Gary: It just gets more insane as the season goes on… Great! Are there any other projects you are doing?
Gary: We’re working on a few other shows: We’re working on Dexter. And we work on House for FOX and we’re just starting a new show for the CW called “The Beautiful Life” What’s that about?
Gary: That’s about young models in New York City running ramped at the clubs and taking drugs and having sex. That must be so hard for you to work on… :laughs:
Gary: It is actually hard, It’s wall-to-wall music. It’s challenging but its cool! It keeps me busy. But I will say this; TB is by far my favorite project. Are you the one we have to thank for finding the wonderful Jace Everett, and if so, how did you find him?
Gary: No, Alan Ball found it on itunes. I thank him as well. What movie/television soundtracks that you didn’t work on do you love?
Gary: Pulp Fiction, Almost Famous, I’m Not There come to mind. Is there a movie/tv show that you didn’t work on that you wish you had?
Gary: Californication would be fun. They use a lot of warren Zevon which I love. Have you ever been unable to find the right song and Nathan ended up writing something instead or vica versa?
Gary: In episode 106, we had tried several songs in the scene where Gran dies, and Sookie is eating the pie in the kitchen. Nathan ended up knocking it out of the park with a song he did with vocalist Lisbeth Scott. I remember reading that you have a book coming out soon.
Gary: Yes we’re writing a book about record stores. The history of record stores and all the fun that people have in record stores, discovering new music and meeting people. Then on to the darker days where the stores are closing and a nostalgic look at the record stores and also where they’re going. There’s a lot of new vinyl stores that are opening up these days here, in Los Angeles and I assume the rest of the country. We’re encouraging people to support their local record stores. Do you personally think they’re going to be moving more towards vinyl again?
Gary: Personally, I think its going to be a small part of the business, these days when the record labels put out vinyl, you can buy the new Wico album on vinyl, but you also get a CD as well, it’s a free CD. People love Vinyl, it’s not quite as convenient as a CD but people love the artwork and many people love the sound of vinyl. Especially if they keep on marketing it with a free CD people will continue to buy vinyl. Now you can play it in your car and your house!
Gary: And have a bit of great artwork. I hesitate to call it a fad but I would be surprised if Vinyl really takes over the market share any time soon. But it’s nice that it’s still kickin’. Well thank you very much and you have a great radio voice!
Gary: Well, thank you very much. It’s a shame our viewers wont be able to hear you answering these questions because its been delightful.
Gary: Well thank you. It’s been a pleasure to talk to you and they can always check out this beautiful radio voice on the radio [Editor’s Note: to listen to Gary’s great voice go to] And I really appreciate you guys supporting the show so much and yes I there’s anything else that comes up feel free to check in.

We asked Gary one more important question but we moved it down here so it doesn’t get lost: We received emails from fans asking how they can make music suggestions. Do you have any recommendations or do you take suggestions at all?
Gary: Yes, people do recommend stuff to me often and I’m open to all that stuff. How can we do that, can they write to you? Because some people have great ideas which are very good but I can’t really review personal songs. Not songs that the fans wrote themselves it has to be songs that are already out there.
Gary: And if we ever end up using anything I’ll let you guys know and you guys can be proud of that.

So there you go, here’s your chance to make us, and no doubt your friends, proud! Have you thought of a song that would be perfect for True Blood? All you have to do is send us the band’s name, the title of the track and of the album it’s on. If it’s more obscure include more information like the label, who produced it etc. to help Gary find it. You can also include what character or scene it seemed to suit. But remember, we don’t want your garage band music… if we can’t buy a hard copy, don’t suggest it!

(Photo credit: Gary Calamar)

Transcription: Cyrenna