×

‘Justified’s’ music shows its roots

Music for Screens: Summer 2011

Justified,” the Peabody Award-winning FX drama, sports an earthy musical style as distinctive as its hard-edged plots, thanks to music supervisor Greg Sill.

Over the course of two seasons, the show – which stars Timothy Olyphant as Waylan Givens, a U.S. Marshal grappling with murderous clans in the backwoods of his hometown of Harlan, Kentucky – has developed a unique, and uniquely integrated, sound of its own.

“It’s Americana, without a doubt,” Sill says.

Sill – whose music supervision credits include work on such series as “Cane,” “American Dreams,” “Friends” and “ER” – says the show’s musical style evolved year to year.

“The first season, the editors had a tendency to use country and western music,” Sill explains. “People started to fall in love with that style of music. I said, ‘Look, guys, we’re not in Tennessee. We’re in Kentucky, and once you cross the border the music changes.’ We had knock-down, drag-out arguments, seriously.”

Season one’s approach resulted in some strikingly deployed cues – most prominently, a cover of Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man” by L.A.-based vocalist Quincy Coleman, recorded by “Justified” composer Steve Porcaro. But Sill thought a shift was in order.

“I went and talked to the writers,” Sill recalls. “I had looked around to see who had the biggest amount and the biggest variety of bluegrass music and rock ‘n’ roll and rootsy stuff – ballsy music, stuff that made sense for the show…I said, ‘Let’s try to use as much roots stuff as we can.'”

An early-season, on-camera appearance in a barroom scene by veteran L.A. roots rocker Dave Alvin established the season’s musical style.

“Dave fell in love with the show, and he actually wrote a song, ‘Harlan County Line,'” Sill says. “That was the song we wound up using. We’d already picked a song of his, called ‘Out of Control.’ (Show creator) Graham (Yost) is a huge fan of Dave Alvin – that’s like his favorite guy. Dave sent me ‘Harlan’ and said, ‘What do you think?’ I flipped out. I sent it to Graham, and he flipped out. We actually integrated the song into the story. It worked really well.”

Alvin’s stint set the tone for the rest of the year. The soundtrack for “Justified” employed music by a host of Americana artists, including Gillian Welch, the Drive-By Truckers, Amelia White, Justin Townes Earle, Cliff Wagner, Lynda Kay and Jesse Dayton & Brennen Leigh.

One lesser-known act actually used their “Justified” fandom as a gateway into the show’s soundtrack.

“The producers went down to Harlan,” Sill remembers, “and this band, the Cumberland River Band, was so enamored with the show that they had written a song called ‘Justified.’ They played it for the producers, and Graham said, ‘Look, we’ve got to put some of your stuff on the show.’ I wound up putting like nine of their songs in the show.”

Sill takes no credit for one potent musical moment in season two: a rousing performance of “High On a Mountaintop” by Emmy-nominated actress Margo Martindale, who played hillbilly matriarch Mags Bennett.

“It was Margo’s idea,” says Sill. “She wanted to sing. It’s a public domain song that Marty Stuart wrote the lyrics to. She had heard the song, and read the script, and she said, ‘This is the song we should use.’ Tony Goldwyn directed the episode, and he called me and said, ‘I’d like to do it live.’ I said, ‘Are you crazy?’ She sang it live, and it was spot-on. We used her live version as the playback.”

Sill says the highest compliment paid to his work on the show came from writer Elmore Leonard, whose short story “Fire in the Hole” inspired “Justified.”

“He actually called me and congratulated me,” Sill says with a smile. “He said, ‘Listen, man, I never actually knew what music supervisors did.’ He thanked me. Very cool.”

Popular on Variety

More Music

  • U2, Seattle 14 May 2017

    U2 to Finish 'Joshua Tree' 2019 Tour With Band's First Gig in India

    U2 is wrapping up its 2019 “The Joshua Tree” tour with a concert at Mumbai’s DY Patil Stadium, on Dec. 15 – the first time the group will have performed in India. The newly added date comes at the end of an Asia-Pacific tour that was announced months ago. The tour is a continuation of [...]

  • Crime Placeholder

    Former AEG, First Access Exec Adam Lublin Charged With Sexual Abuse, Burglary

    Adam Lublin, a former executive at AEG and First Access Entertainment, was arraigned Monday morning in Manhattan Criminal Court on two counts of burglary and one count of sexual abuse, according to the New York Post. The executive allegedly snuck into a neighbor’s apartment, sexually abused her and stole her undergarments. According to the report, [...]

  • Kendrick Lamar House Manhattan Beach

    Kendrick Lamar Drops Nearly $10 Million on Manhattan Beach Mansion

    When he’s not performing to packed arenas worldwide — the international “Damn” tour wrapped up last year with over $62 million in gross receipts — Kendrick Lamar has long resided in L.A.’s South Bay region, specifically in the posh seaside city of Manhattan Beach. And after a reported long spell as an area home renter, [...]

  • Benjamin Wallfisch - scoring session, Abbey

    Composer Benjamin Wallfisch Signs With Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency

    Composer Benjamin Wallfisch has signed with the Gorfaine/Schwartz Agency (GSA) for worldwide representation, in partnership with London-based agency COOL Music Ltd. A top composer, whose scoring credits include “It Chapter Two,” Shazam!” Hellboy,” “Hidden Figures” and “Hostile Planet,” among others, Wallfisch has worked on over 75 feature films and is a member of the BAFTA [...]

  • Spotify logo is presented on a

    Spotify VP Paul Vogel Talks Subscription Prices, Label Licenses, Podcasts

    The annual Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference gives representatives from major companies the opportunity to present to the investment community, and Paul Vogel, Spotify’s VP and head of financial planning & analysis, treasury and investor relations, spoke on the streaming giant’s behalf on Tuesday morning. While many of his comments were statements frequently heard in the [...]

  • Def Jam, Astralwerks Launch Label Divisions

    Def Jam, Astralwerks Launch Label Divisions in South East Asia

    Universal Music Group today announced what it calls a significant expansion of its recorded music operations across South East Asia with the launch of two new label divisions: Def Jam South East Asia, to focus on the hip-hop scene within the region, and Astralwerks Asia, a label “with a true focus on nurturing talent within Asia across [...]

  • WME Nashville Promotes Becky Gardenhire to

    WME Nashville Promotes Becky Gardenhire to Co-Head

    Becky Gardenhire has been elevated by WME to the role of co-head of the Nashville office, making her the woman holding the highest rank at any agency rooted in the city. Gardenhire joins three other co-heads of WME Nashville, Scott Clayton, Joey Lee and Jay Williams. While Nashville agencies have been caught up in a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content