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Roadies: Cameron Crowe talks dream guests, music

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Neal Preston/Showtime

Cameron Crowe — he who wrote and directed Almost Famous — is entering a new arena (TV) to revisit a familiar one (the rock arena) with Roadies, an hour-long Showtime comedy debuting June 26 about the support crew of an Avett Brothers-like band on tour. Here, the ultimate music geek explains how he has cued up his show, musically speaking.

It starts with a playlist or two. Or 102.

Crowe, the show’s creator/executive producer, curates scads of playlists — he believes he has made over 100 — matching music to his characters, from genres ranging from soul to acoustic rock to electronica. “It’s like having a big lab set to play with all the chemicals,” he says. He often has songs by his actors’ favorite bands playing on set and even during takes. “There’s a little thing that happens in your eyes if the music you love pops on,” he says, noting that when Imogen Poots (who plays electrician Kelly Ann) hears Kurt Vile, “she just heads for deeper waters.” Luke Wilson, who stars as tour manager Bill, tends to be all-Americana: Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard. Though he hails from the hip-hop world, Machine Gun Kelly, who plays manny Wes, has been getting an education in Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin from Crowe. Meanwhile, Carla Gugino, a Father John Misty/Cat Power/Spoon fan who plays production manager Shelli, “always turns me on to stuff I’ve never heard,” says Crowe. “We joke about Carla Radio. I just want Sirius to pick up Carla Radio so that I can hear all this stuff that I didn’t know.”

The show will favor hidden gems over hits.

As sound mixer Donna (Keisha Castle-Hughes) spins a song of the day for the crew, keep an ear out for more obscure tracks from familiar legacy artists like John Mellencamp as well as songs from newer ones like Yeasayer, Miami Horror, Best Coast, and Kurt Vile, and even some new music from Reignwolf and Jim James. “I really want the show to be the kind of radio station that plays stuff where on first listen you say, ‘What is that? I want to take the journey and learn about this band!’” says Crowe.

There is even a flow of Pearl Jam running through the series.

The first trailer featured Eddie Vedder’s “Hard Sun” while  the pilot includes “Given to Fly” and namechecks the band, specifically guitarist Mike McCreedy (who might pop up on the show). In addition, Crowe tapped PJ manager Kelly Curtis (who worked with him on Almost Famous and Singles) as a producer and a member of the all-star guest-star recruitment team. “Between Kelly and [manager] Irving Azoff and even J.J. Abrams [a Roadies exec producer alongside Winnie Holzman), we’re all guys that have loved music together unofficially,” says Crowe. “It’s cool to officially be pooling our resources to let people know, ‘Come on in… Let’s go on a ride together.’”

Musical guests get an immersive experience.

Artists taking that aforementioned ride include Lindsey Buckingham, Halsey, Jim James, Lucius, and Joy Williams, while Crowe’s dream guest roster is filling up. “A couple of them have been fulfilled, I’m happy to tell you,” he says. “Alt-J is definitely on the wish list. Bob Dylan is on the wish list, because I’ve written stuff for him to act. If that ever comes to pass that’d be great. Kate Bush is just definitely a dream, that would be amazing. Stevie Wonder, I want to get Tom Petty to get in front of the cameras again, Ryan Adams for sure…” And he is offering these artists a chance to do more than just a cameo. “I want to tell our musical guests, ‘The actors will make you feel like you’re in a warm bath, you’ll face the fear of acting, you’ll play live and score the episode so that by the end, you’ll feel like you’ve been on the road with these people,'” he says. “You’ll feel like you’re part of a community.”

Songs become scenes.

Long entranced by Buckingham’s acoustic demo of Fleetwood Mac’s “Bleed to Love Her,” Crowe wrote a scene in which Kelly Ann sees Buckingham playing it backstage, and though she starts to record the moment, decides to let it be a private, ephemeral one and hits the “stop” button. What was Crowe’s reaction while watching Buckingham film that scene? “I was jumping around, being embarrassingly enthusiastic,” he says. “It was like, ‘There it is! That’s the show — the private ways and public ways that we love music.'”

Roadies premieres Sunday, June 26 at 10 p.m. on Showtime.