We talk Six Feet Under, Dexter, True Blood, and more with KCRW DJ and Grammy Award-nominated music supervisor Gary Calamar.
Hi Gary, can you tell us how you got into the business?
I’ve always been a record geek and a music lover ever since I was a kid. I’ve always tried to stay in the business however I could so I’ve managed bands, worked in record stores, and I heard about this music supervisor job and was very curious. I met a guy named G. Marq Roswell through a mutual friend, I was working at KCRW at the time and he came in one day to watch a live session.
He’s a very experienced music supervisor and we started talking about collaborating on some projects and I had gotten a tip about this movie Slums of Beverly Hills. I had met with them about working on the movie but had no experience at all so I said well maybe I can bring in my new friend Marq Roswell to co-supervise it. They were thrilled to have him on board so we did that project together and he taught me quite a bit. He was my mentor, he showed me the ropes and introduced me to a lot of the players and he was very generous in allowing me to be the co-supervisor as opposed to just an assistant. After that we did Varsity Blues together and then I was kind of off and running.
Those must have been some great projects to get started on
Yeah, well Slums of Beverly Hills was a much smaller project so that was a good one for me to get my feet wet, and Varsity Blues was a great opportunity for me, I found that Foo Fighters song “Hero”. As I said Marq was very generous in allowing me to be the co-supervisor on those projects and at that point it was just a matter of gaining confidence. I would have some ideas and I wasn’t quite sure if I should pitch them, and I was working with a lot of very experienced people. But over the projects I started to get a little more confidient and be more forthcoming with my ideas and fortunately it worked out.
It’s definitely a learn-on-the-job kind of deal
Yeah, absolutely. There are classes you can take here in Los Angeles, UCLA has an extension class for music supervisors, but a lot of it is learning on the job and the information being handed down from other supervisors.
You went on pretty quickly to a major project working on Alan Ball’s Six Feet Under with your then partner Thomas Golubić, how did that come about?
Well Thomas starting volunteering at KCRW, I was the music librarian at the time and we hit it off immediately. We had a good time and a lot of common interests and he was also very interested in getting into the music supervision game, so I introduced him to Marq Roswell and he was Roswell’s assistant for a while.
We had gotten a tip from an assistant editor about this new show Six Feet Under and we were very interested. We met with Alan Ball and Alan Poole, and I know they met with other more experienced music supervisors, but I think they liked the fact that we were a little hungrier and greener and that we worked at KCRW. So I knock on wood thank goodness they went with us.
Alan Ball and Alan Poole are geniuses and it was such a great experience in that they love to use a lot of music. HBO take music very seriously and have a good budget, which some networks don’t, and we were able to have a great time and find some great music for that show.
Alan Ball takes music very seriously – even if there’s just some musak playing in a department store or something he wants to have exactly the right emotion coming out. So they put us through the hoops from time to time but it was all a great learning experience and to work on a show with Alan Ball is a blessing. After five years on Six Feet Under we knew what we were doing!
What were some of the placement highlights on that show?
Of course the biggest highlight was the final song Sia’s “Breathe Me”, which was just such an amazing scene and finale to this amazing show. Alan Ball gave me an overview of the final scene and that all of the characters were going to be on a journey, and I had been playing that Sia song on my KCRW show for a good year or so at that point. But her career was not going all that well. I knew her work as a vocalist for Zero 7, but I think that the record label was not planning on releasing her album here in America. So I pitched the song to Alan Ball and fortunately he loved it and it’s been my crowning achievement – I plan on having that play on my tombstone after I’m gone.
We also had a great scene with Death Cab For Cutie’s “Transatlanticism”, that was one of my favourite scenes, and we got Arcade Fire to write something for us. We got them a little early on in their career and they wrote a beautiful song for us, so yeah there were many highlights throughout the five seasons.
You’ve worked on shows with some amazing opening sequences (Dexter, True Blood, Six Feet Under) – how involved are you in the music selection for this?
Sometimes a good amount, sometimes not so much. With the Thomas Newman theme for Six Feet Under I can’t say I was very involved except that I love it. Obviously Alan Ball had a relationship with Thomas Newman and got him to do the opening theme. I did suggest Rolfe Kent for the Dexter opening and that turned out really well.
There’s a funny story with True Blood and the Jace Everett song “Bad Things”. Alan Ball told me this story that when he’s writing he’ll write for a few hours and then take a little iTunes break, and $100 later he’ll get back to writing. At the time he was writing True Blood, Jace Everett’s “Bad Things” was a free song of the week so he downloaded it and liked it quite a bit as a theme song, but he wasn’t necessarily sold on it at that point.
So my first job on True Blood after he hired me was to find the theme song, this one was kind of a placeholder. But as we went along HBO fell in love with it and we ended up falling in love, we did try some other things and nothing worked as well. It just had the right combination of menace and sexiness and humour and we couldn’t top it. And actually that was my template for finding music for the rest of the show – not to take it too seriously. I remember early on I was finding fairly serious songs for True Blood and Alan Ball said, “hey, this is a show about vampires so let’s just have some fun with it.”
Why did you set up your own company GO Music?
Well Thomas Golubić and I had put together our company SuperMusicVision and we had a great working relationship but after Six Feet Under and being in the trenches on that, we decided to each do our own thing. We both have a lot of respect for each other’s work but we do have different styles of working, so he kept the name SuperMusicVision and I decided as a name I wanted something short and sweet so I called it GO Music.
Music supervision is kind of a freelance thing so I was lucky enough to find a colleague in Miss Alyson Vidoli who works with me on all my projects and is a music supervisor herself. It’s basically just the two of us and we have a couple of interns, we work out of my garage here in Laurel Canyon and we’re very happy with our relationship. And Thomas is doing great as well, he’s got a couple of great shows that he’s working on and we’re still good friends so it’s all good.
Can you tell us about your Mimosa Music series?
Yeah – we have one coming up this Sunday. We used to do it out of my house here in Laurel Canyon in my living room, and my house is not a big house. We had some amazing artists play here from Donovan to Robyn Hitchcock to John Doe. I would just invite people to come to the house and we’d have mimosas and bagels and finally my wife said it’s getting too big for the house, so we moved it to this great venue in North Hollywood called The Federal Bar and roughly once or twice a month we do these shows.
We have one coming up this Sunday with this band Motopony as well as a great new LA band called The Bad Years and yeah it’s fun. If you’re in LA you’re cordially invited to come down or drop me a line and I’ll put you on the invite list. The shows are free and it’s a nice little industry hang that’s open to the public as well.
What was your approach on the show Dexter?
The approach was really based on the locale and regionality of Miami and the Latin sounds coming from Cuba. It was different having to learn about that because I was not really a Latin music expert, and I’m still not a Latin music expert, but that was the vibe of the show. Dan Licht was the composer on that show and I think he really led the way with his score and I kind of added a little flavor here and there with the Latin songs. We didn’t really use source music as heavily in Dexter as some of the Alan Ball shows. I love the show and I’m very happy with the work we did there but it wasn’t quite as intensive as some of the other shows I’ve worked on.
Were you rooting for Dexter?
Of course. It’s funny you know Pete Townshend from The Who is a big Dexter fan and when The Who came to town his people reached out to me and said hey is there any way we can get Michael C. Hall to come down to the show? And I reached out to Michael and he said well of course I want to go and see The Who, so we went to show here in town and it’s funny because Pete was meeting various music business people and then he came across Michael C. Hall and Pete was like a big fan. It was really interesting to see him change his attitude when he met Michael, it was a great meeting.
Can you tell us about your role at KCRW?
I’m thrilled and honoured to be working at KCRW. I met Chris Douridas there who was the music supervisor for American Beauty and I started volunteering for a few hours a week in the music library. I’d always grown up with a transistor radio under my pillow in New York listening to WNEW and I’m a big radio fan.
At one point I was working in the music library and Chris Douridas mentioned that they might be looking for someone for this 1am to 6am overnight shift and I got out of my chair and literally begged him to give me a shot. Fortunately he did and I get to work with amazing people over there – Liza Richardson, a very succcesful music supervisor, and Jason Bentley who’s done some great projects over the years. So yeah it’s nice hub for LA to hear new music and I listen to my fellow DJ’s radio shows and it’s just an inspiring place to be.
It must be relaxing to play what you want and not have to cater to directors and producers!
Absolutely – it’s my favourite job because I get to play what I want and I don’t have people second guessing me. And again that’s how I found the Sia song because I was playing it on the radio, and I’m constantly looking for new music to put on my show each week. All that music just kind of gets filed in my head, in my iTunes, and I have files and CDs all over the place right now, it’s great. Obviously it’s a very popular station so I have a lot of people listening and I’m very fortunate to be there.
Check out Part 2 where we discuss True Blood, Gary’s own music and his current projects! Don’t forget you can also listen to our full interview with Gary on our SynchStories podcast.
Photo credit for picture of Michael C. Hall & Pete Townshend: Gary Calamar