The first real mystery in season 2 of True Detective came back in April. HBO released the show’s teaser trailer with a haunting, previously unheard song underscoring the moody action.
Online musical sleuths were able to identify the voice behind the track, called “The Only Thing Worth Fighting For,” as singer-songwriter Lera Lynn. But even hardcore devotees of the show were probably surprised to see Lynn appear on camera in the season premiere as the hollow-eyed bar singer who performs for Ray (Colin Farrell) and Frank (Vince Vaughn).
EW spoke with Lynn over the phone about her collaborations with T Bone Burnett on original songs for the second season and her big acting debut.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did this all come about?
LERA LYNN: My manager, Sheri Sands, worked with T Bone on the Raising Sand record, the Robert Plant-Alison Krauss record, and they stayed in touch. She thought that T Bone and I would hit it off creatively, so she sent some of my music to him. We met for lunch in Nashville. I think he was interested in using a song from an EP I released last year, called “Lying in the Sun,” for True Detective. But T Bone asked if I would like to do some writing for the show. Before I knew it, I was on my way to L.A. and sitting a room with a couple guitars and writing songs with T Bone.
Was there a specific sound you were going for, or was it something you figured out along the way?
I think with all music you’re kind of figuring it out as you go. T Bone certainly has a better idea than I did. I remember he sent me a record by Lydia Mendoza, who was popular in the 1930s, and I think she was from Texas. I think he wanted to capture this old-timey Mexican-American folk.
Obviously, it didn’t turn out to be anything like that. Maybe that wasn’t his direction, either. I just remember him sending me that record to prepare me for writing. I remember getting that and listening to that and thinking it was beautiful, but also going, like, “How the hell am I going to translate this into something that I would sing?”
What was the experience like, writing for television?
I’ve never really written music for film. I think most writers have a movie playing in their minds when they write, but this was definitely the first time that I had been given the opportunity to write music for film. It was really exciting, but also liberating because I think when you’re writing from your own personal identity, you’re kind of married to the message. Being able to write for a fictitious identity opens up a lot of doors.
And the show is so dark. T Bone said, “Go as dark as you can. Just do it. Make it sad. Make it f–ked up.” So that’s great. I think for a lot of musicians, in the back of your mind, there’s always this voice going, “Do you think this will ever get played on the radio? Are people going to want to listen to this when they get off work or trying to unwind?” I think when you’re writing for film, you don’t have to pay attention to those pressures so much.
It was also nerve-wracking, sitting alone in a room with T Bone. I remember he gave me a few song seeds, and I went to my hotel and worked on some things. I came back the next day, and he was like, “All right, what do you have? Play it for me.” I was like [makes nervous noise]. But he was really easy going and easy to work with, and he made me really comfortable. He was very encouraging and supportive. It was a very natural collaboration.
What was it like watching that first trailer debut with “The Only Thing Worth Fighting For”?
I didn’t even know it was coming out that day. I woke up to a bunch of tweets. It was really exciting. I think any time you get to see or hear your music synched to film, it kind of takes on a whole new meaning. Just that, in and of itself was really cool. It was really great to see so many people responding to the music.
You kind of became the first mystery of the new season. Everyone tried to figure out who was singing, and some people figured you out.
They did, and I saw all kinds of guesses too: Aimee Mann, Fiona Apple. It was pretty entertaining.
When did the idea of featuring you on camera come into play?
T Bone wanted to see first how we would do musically collaborating. Then he invited Nic [Pizzolatto] and the producer over to the studio. I think we had written and tracked four songs in the matter of two days. They listened, and they loved all of it. I think once it was obvious that we could write the music together easily and that Nic liked it, T Bone said, “Well, what do you think about Lera being the singer?” They said, “We’re going to have to do something to her to have this make sense.” [Laughs] Nic was saying that they were going to have to give me a third eye or something.
Well, you look very strung out.
Thanks. I’m glad it wasn’t a third eye anymore. Oh, the irony!