'Nashville': Sam Palladio on Gunnar & Scarlett's greatest hits
- TV Show
Today, The Music of ‘Nashville‘ original soundtrack is released, but there’s a good chance you already own the two songs it features performed by British actor Sam Palladio (Gunnar) and Aussie actress Clare Bowen (Scarlett) — their duets in the season premiere (“If I Didn’t Know Better”) and midseason finale (“When the Right One Comes Along”). Below, Palladio takes us behind the music of the five Gunnar/Scarlett songs heard in the first half of season 1. For more stories behind this year’s top TV and movie moments, click here for EW.com’s Best of 2012 (Behind the Scenes) coverage.
As told by: Sam Palladio
“If I Didn’t Know About Better,” written by John Paul White and Arum Rae: Speaking to Callie Khouri, the writer, and R.J. Cutler, our executive producer and director of the first two episodes, I believe the story goes that they were at the real-life Bluebird Cafe one night [with fellow exec producer Steve Buchanan]. They’d been spending weeks trying to find the song that would close the pilot and sum up all the emotions and leave the audience with something slightly unexpected from what was billed as very much a country music show. Callie got an email from John Paul White, who’s one half of the fantastic Civil Wars, with suggestions. This song, “If I Didn’t Know Better,” was on the list. They started listening to these songs on the way back from the Bluebird that night, and the second it came on and they listened to the sentiment of it — the struggle and the sexiness of it — they were like, that’s the song. Straight away, they knew. So it was a struggle to find the song, and then I think it was a blindingly easy choice when the song finally came through.
A few weeks before, a friend had introduced me to the Civil Wars, and that kind of music is so in my world. The music that I write is very much that sort of folk-alternative, beautiful harmony. So I was loving listening to the Civil Wars’ album, and I got sent the demo track, and I was like, “Damn, this sounds just like the Civil Wars.” And it was. [Laughs] So I was kinda blown away by how it’d all fallen into place. Listening to the track, my first impression was, “God, I’ve got to sing high notes. I hope my falsetto works.” [Laughs] That’s something that I hadn’t really used before, that super high, haunting falsetto that John Paul White is a master of. “What an incredible song. I hope I can do it justice, and I don’t ruin it.” We ended up in the recording studio finding out that oh yeah, I can hit these notes with a little bit of tutoring.
Even though I’ve been playing music for a long time, and songwriting for a long time, and have a band back home [Salt Water Thief], I’d always made my main focus acting and my music was just a passion on the side. I hadn’t actually been in a professional studio before to lay down a track. It’s always sort of been bedroom demos and recording at friends’ houses with home-gear set up, so it was quite a moment for me. We knew, informed by the story and by the characters’ relationship, that this is a real moment. It’s the first time we really see Scarlett and Gunnar sing together. It’s such a fantastic song for sowing the seeds of that desire, and that want, and that passion that’s kind of bubbling away in those two characters for each other. I don’t think they realize until they sing together for the first time how powerful that is.
For Clare and I — they cast me first from London. I hadn’t met Clare, I hadn’t screentested with anybody. It was incredible: I sort of skipped the whole LA process [Laughs] and they cast me straight from my audition tape, and I was the first guy to be cast in the show. The first time we actually had to sing together was with Buddy Miller, one of our fantastic music producers, in a hotel in Nashville having only met Clare about five minutes before going up to a room and working on this song. But there was something about the tones of our voices and the background we come from that really, really worked.
The Bluebird Cafe was the first place the production team took us as a cast. A couple of nights, I think, after we all arrived to start shooting the pilot, we were all taken there to hear a great artist named Gary Burr, who’s a fantastic songwriter I’m actually now going to be doing some songwriting with myself in real life, which is really cool. We spent this evening listening to him in this really intimate environment that the Bluebird is, and getting a real taste of the magic of that place and all it demands. It’s a place for music lovers to come and watch songwriters, so there’s no talking, no using mobile phones. So to go there and absorb that atmosphere, and then come back and shoot there was really helpful. We were actually shooting in the Bluebird for the pilot and not on our soundstage, where we’ve now had to replicate it. It just gave that scene all the more power. It was a spine-tingling moment for Clare and I as well, because even though we’re playing characters, we were making our Bluebird debut on film. [Laughs] There’s something about that space — it has an energy to it, we were just trying to recapture that.
I think the first time I saw the scene, I went into my agent’s office in L.A. and sat down and they put it on. I think it’s such a great counterpoint to what a first impression of a show called Nashville might be. It could have so easily ended with something that sums up the country-pop culture there, but to go for the educated, slightly unexpected choice, I think, is what made audiences suddenly switch on and go, “Oh wow, I wasn’t expecting this slow, sexy, country-folk ballad to close the pilot.” The funny thing was, I thought — because Clare has such a fantastic voice, and I always felt like I was just trying my best — well, they’ll keep Clare’s bit, but they’ll probably cut my verse. [Laughs] It looks fantastic, and I can see why they kept it in — it’s all eyes and lips. So I was really proud to be a part of the thing that everybody talked about at the end of the pilot.
NEXT: “I Will Fall”
“I Will Fall,” written by Tyler James and Kate York: The complexities of “If Didn’t Know Better” gave us this starting point of intrigue, and that minor key was haunting. Then you switch to “I Will Fall,” a beautiful, simple melody song where we’re in this sweet harmony world. It’s major keys. It’s a soothing track, as opposed to a more emotion-driving song that “If I Didn’t Know Better” was. It’s a great little scene of the two of us attempting to forge that Scarlett-Gunnar relationship. We’ve taken their songwriting partnership away from the public domain of the Bluebird and into a domestic world when we find them singing that song, which, of course, causes instant conflict when Jonathan Jackson’s character, Avery, comes home and sees that connection the two of them have when it comes to music. They have this nice, sort of awkward energy around them when they’re talking to each other [Laughs] and then it comes to singing, and all those walls drop down, and they find themselves in this little bubble for a minute. Then that bubble instantly pops when Avery comes home and drops his keys on the table.
NEXT: “Fade Into You”
“Fade Into You,” written by Trevor Rosen, Shane McAnally, and Matt Jenkins: Clare and I recorded this in L.A. We were about to return for the start of the season once the show had been picked up, and I found myself in L.A. and having just been booked on my first movie, Runner, Runner, with Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake. I was absolutely hyped up and was imminently going to be leaving for Puerto Rico to start shooting this movie for a few weeks. And, of course, we’re trying to sort out contracts and things, and “Fade Into You” is delivered to us, and again, it’s an incredible song, with so much metaphor and imagery in it. “If you were the ocean, and I was the sun…” It was a nice step from the more personal, direct approach of the other two songs. We’re like, “Wow, this another beautiful, beautiful song.” I think I was planning to fly to Puerto Rico on Thursday, and this song came in on Tuesday. The emails were sent across [Laughs] “Right, we need to get you into the studio and recording this song — maybe we do it next week.” I’m like, “Ohmygod, I’ve got to be in Puerto Rico, let’s try to get this done as soon as we can.” So there was a bit of stress trying to balance these two projects.
Clare and I spent the day before [recording] really working it through. We went to [music supervisor] T-Bone Burnett’s personal studio to record it, where Led Zeppelin has recorded, and where Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon had recorded the soundtrack for Walk the Line. T-Bone floating around offering coffees — it’s just the most amazing relaxed vibe. That’s why I think the music [on the show] has such an authenticity to it, because we’re not being forced by networks and time constraints to churn out music without a thought process to it. It was scary though: We needed to record it Wednesday, since I had to fly out Thursday morning. “If we can’t get a shot at it on Wednesday, you’re gonna be late for the movie.” Because we’d done our homework, and Clare’s got this voice that mine just seems to go nicely with, we got it done in a couple of hours in the backroom of T-Bone’s studio. They sent it to R.J. and Callie that evening, and I think by 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. that night, we got the “Okay, Sam, you can go and do the movie. It’s all good.” I think it came out pretty nicely.
NEXT: “Loving You is the Only Way to Fly”
“Loving You is the Only Way to Fly,” written by Jedd Hughes, Sarah Buxton, and Rodney Crowell: In the original demo, there’s the backing vocals, but it was such a stroke of genius by T-Bone and Buddy to throw Avery’s line [“loving you is the only way”] in there. That was a fresh line that was written for the purpose of giving the scene that great little comedic moment. [Laughs] As Scarlett’s singing, “Loving you is the only way to fly” to Gunnar, it’s Avery’s jealousy just boiling over. We played it as if it really was completely unexpected, so Gunnar slowly turns to Avery like what the hell? All it takes is that little glance back to show the audience that that’s not supposed to happen. As we’re in the full swing of shooting now, scripts can be a bit last-minute sometimes. Sometimes we get the script a few days in advance, and a lot of the time, it’s “Okay, here’s the script, and you’re on tomorrow.” That song, I think, came through with a couple of days’ prep time, and it was the first time we recorded in Buddy Miller’s studio in Nashville. Buddy has this great home studio that’s full of history, and he has an amazing collection of antique guitars on the walls. It’s where he’s been working on the Robert Plant and Alison Krauss albums. I just love the fact that Robert Plant’s frequently singing into the same mics that I’m singing into at Buddy’s house. [Laughs] I did say to Buddy a couple of months ago, when Robert was coming into town the following week, “You know, if Robert ever needs a fellow Englishman to go and have a pint with, if he’s feeling a little bit lonely or homesick, you can point him my way. I’ve got no problem with that. I might be able to make some time for Robert Plant.”
NEXT: “When the Right One Comes Along”
“When the Right One Comes Along,” written by Justin Davis, Georgia Middleman, and Sarah Zimmermann: It’s an incredible song that’s written by a local songwriting duo, the Striking Matches [Davis and Zimmermann], and another great Nashville songwriter [Middleman] married to Gary Burr, who was the artist we all saw that fateful first night at the Bluebird. The Striking Matches just released an EP [on iTunes], and “When the Right One Comes Along” is a track on that. These two really are almost the real-life Scarlett and Gunnar — maybe minus the love square that’s going on. [Laughs] They’re a great young duo who sing beautiful harmonies together and have that real flavor that Scarlett and Gunnar’s music emulates. This song comes in an episode when Gunnar makes a lot of mistakes. There’s a moment where he makes a move on Scarlett that maybe should have been thought through some more. Later on that night, he sets up another Scarlett-and-Gunnar Bluebird open mic night session. They announce the two of them, and she refuses to go sing with him — even though they’ve written this song as a duet. So it’s the first time we actually see Gunnar singing one of their compositions up there by himself. It’s a really exposing moment for him. It has all the emotions that he’s going through, counterpointed with Scarlett rejecting him. The version on the cast recording is the duet version, which has some beautiful harmony work and is really interesting and unexpected. It’s not Gunnar doing it all alone, in a slightly different key.