Best of 2012 (Behind the Scenes): Sam Palladio on Gunnar & Scarlett's greatest 'Nashville' hits

Nashville

Image Credit: Katherine Bomboy-Thornton/ABC

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”


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