If youuuu didn’t know better, you probably wouldn’t realize there’s a new maestro behind the music of Nashville‘s second season (bowing Sept. 25 at 10/9c).
And that’s just how the ABC drama’s recently promoted executive music producer Buddy Miller wants it.
Miller, a Grammy-winning record producer and songwriter, has been involved with the country-music series from its inception — he even presided over Claire Bowen and Sam Palladio’s first crack at Scarlett and Gunnar’s inaugural duet. So when music-biz legend T Bone Burnett decided to step down after the Season 1 finale, Miller had an easy transition to his new role.
“After T Bone came in to executive-music-produce, I would produce the bulk of the songs with him,” Miller tells TVLine. Of the roughly 100 tracks laid down for the drama’s freshman run, he adds, Burnett “produced some on his own, I did a few on my own. And there were a few outside producers, too.”
What that means: Miller knows Rayna & Co. right down to their bass lines — and he’s got no intention of changing the show’s signature sound. “The standard was set last year for using really great songs,” he says. “We’re trying to continue that.”
Read on for Miller’s insight into Nashville‘s song-selection process, which mixes up-and-comers’ cuts with country classics, and his thoughts on which Music City newbie has “just a beautiful voice.”
TVLINE | Your music has been used on other TV shows, and you’ve done soundtrack work before, but when did Nashville become a regular gig for you?
Last year, when T Bone stepped in to oversee the music. T Bone is married to Callie [Khouri, Nashville's creator]. I’d worked with T Bone, playing guitar on several records he produced. And actually I was on tour with him on the Robert Plant/Allison Krauss tour. That’s how I met Callie.
TVLINE | Can you walk me through the song-selection process? Does it start with the script? Or do you go to Callie and say, “I have a great song, let’s see where we can work it in?”
Frankie Pine the music supervisor, myself, [showrunner] Dee Johnson, [EP] Steve Buchanan and Callie — when great songs come our way, we’ll just get excited about it and send it to the other person and say, “Hey, listen to this.” It may not apply to what we’re doing right now, but if it’s a great song, we’ll hold it and keep it in our memory bank and wait until, “Oh, this song can fit this scene.” Sometimes you get a script and you can see where the songs lie.
TVLINE | Is it ever a matter of – to make things very basic – “Juliette needs to sing a sad song in this episode,” and you commission one?
We haven’t commissioned songs, but last year, I’d call up a lot of friends – I’d call up Lucinda Williams and Gillian Welch and Patty Griffin, Sarah Buxton and Kate York. T Bone called up Elvis Costello – we just kind of called people we know who are great writers, and we’d get songs from them.
TVLINE | Let’s go back to the pilot for a moment. There was a lot of great music in it, but the breakout song was Scarlett and Gunnar’s cover of “If I Didn’t Know Better.” Did you have an inkling that the tune would be so popular?
I knew it was something special. I produced that track and was there when Scarlett and Gunnar – Sam [Palladio] and Clare [Bowen] – met. I was really concerned. It’s a difficult song to sing. John Paul White from The Civil Wars wrote it, and he has a range that goes beyond my hearing. Especially for a guy, he sings really high. I was concerned because I thought, “Well, we’ve got these folks coming in and they’re actors, they’re not singers primarily, and this is a difficult song to sing.”
So I went to their hotel the day that they got in – I was there actually when they met – and found a room to go in, a little conference room. I brought a guitar and sat down for a couple of minutes and they sang, and I was completely blown away. They were great. I knew there was a real chemistry between them, in their singing, and that came through in the studio, too. So yeah, I knew it was something really special when it was happening. We were all – Callie and everybody that was in there while they were singing – getting goosebumps. We knew it was pretty special.
TVLINE | In Season 2, are Scarlett and Gunnar going to have more duets? They haven’t sung together in a while.
I hope so. [Laughs] All I can say for sure is that they will be singing together again.
TVLINE | You are a busy guy. You put out your own album last year (Buddy and Jim with Jim Lauderdale) –- how are you fitting Nashville in?
It remains to be seen how I’m doing it. [Laughs] I do a lot of songwriting. I sing on a lot of folks’ [albums], Miranda Lambert’s record. I sing and play and produce… I just like doing it. Hopefully I pull it off.
TVLINE | You’ve got a few new actors joining the show this season. For instance, Chaley Rose, who plays Scarlett’s friend Zoe: How would you describe her sound?
It’s deep. She’s got a lot of depth to draw from. Just a beautiful voice. And restrained, in a good way. She doesn’t oversing. She’s just got a lot of heart, and I think it’s going to come through.
TVLINE | Do you go to open-mic nights, like Watty does in the pilot?
Well… it’s remarkable in that every day someone new and great is moving [to Nashville], and word gets around pretty fast. I’ll hear folks every once in a while, but I also know a lot of great writers in town, and producers, and I play on records. A lot of my friends are session players, too. I’ll just ask them, “What have you heard that’s good?” That’ll start the song-collecting process.