The virtuous sounds of “gems” and the importance of a perfect score

Beyond the misdeeds and greed of the beloved televangelist family featured in HBO’s “The Righteous Gemstones,” one of the most defining elements of its co-creators’ crude, enlightened, and hilarious series is its music. .

As with every other series, creator-writer-actor Danny McBride co-concocted – including 2009’s “Eastbound & Down” and 2016’s “Vice Principals” – the unique musical tone of “The Righteous Gemstones” comes down to the longtime friendship of college buddies McBride, composer Joseph Stephens and musical director Devoe Yates.

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As for the musical mix of “Gemstones,” theirs is a genuinely fresh mix of sacred new or rare songs intertwined with an equally invigorating and age-old brand of rock, blues, country and soul, not to mention its warm and holy original music and nuanced arrangements.

Orchestrator-composer Stephens’ often pumped-up synth-wave vibe also matches Yates’ hyperactive needle-drop tone, making him a character of his own design.

“The music and the score are such an important part of what we do because our shows tend to jump all over the place, in tone,” says McBride. “There’s a serious sequence one second, then something exciting the next, or wildly silly.

The score, then, is what audiences need to know that, ‘Yeah, you feel the right thing here. You have the right to laugh or be afraid of it. Music lulls the audience into what we want them to think.

“The Righteous Gemstones” is touched by Yates’ bold witty drops (e.g., Johnny Cash’s “Amen”) and Stephens’ megachurch-inspired scores, compositions, or arrangements of classics, such as “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend by Wayland Holyfield. sung by first-time singer McBride.

“It’s a perfect representation of us working together on something that I didn’t even know I could achieve,” he says. “I think we also go for the unexpected as often as possible, surprising people as to how you wouldn’t have imagined it could work, especially in a different version than you might be used to hearing,” Yates says. “I like going off the radar, especially with religious songs, can – be a different version of a traditional anthem or a newer piece that few people know at first glance.

“When we started these series, we were all pretty green – lots of needle drops, a real Scorsese-Tarantino approach, and score-wise my songs had to fit into the palette of the other tracks used,” explains Stephens. “If Yates found out a song was too expensive to license, we’d release one of my songs that we could split up and use in different ways.”

No matter what music Stephens, Yates and McBride used or new tracks they created, it all had to help the jokes work – without ever feeling obvious or comic book-oriented.

“Our music can be cool and energetic, or sad and melancholy. It just couldn’t feel… like we were doing a comedy.

McBride, Yates and Stephens, who collaborated on “Vice Principals”, wanted something actively synth-wave and Tangerine Dream-like for it. The co-creator had an idea for a military aspect to the proceedings. “Danny had drum lines in mind for ‘Vice Principals, something more score-driven than ‘Eastbound’,” Stephens explains. “Everything was synthesized, dark, heavy with percussion and propellant.”

The composer notes that “Vice Principals” was a logical precursor to the music of “The Righteous Gemstones” and its use of a large original score and orchestrated moments.

“This second season of ‘Gemstones’ was a bigger and more epic season, so we played for that,” he says. “That feeling of this most recent season, discussed by the team early on, was about something cinematic, operatic, and mysterious…different from our previous series. We wanted the character themes to recur throughout the series. I came up with unique sound palettes, choral stuff that you would associate with church music, but gave it a dark and dramatic twist.

To that end, Stephens says, the score of “Righteous Gemstones” has no overtly sacred melodies, but uses the elements one might find in religious music, such as organs, great uplifting vocals and tones. of tubular bells.

“We felt that sound in our guts,” he says. “We wanted it to feel legit, straight out of the Christian rock textbook and not like we were kidding. It should feel serious and legit, never a prank. McBride adds, “We want these scenes to feel big and real. Something about it is fun to use and tear. The music we use is another way of building this world. With that, Stephens adds that his goal is to play the drama, not the laughs. “We let the comedy out of the absurdity of these characters,” he says. “My job is to pay attention to the story rather than the characters’ delivery or their antics.”

McBride insists he’s one of those guys who whenever he sees a script that has a specific song in it, it always turns him off.

“How do you know that this song is going to be the best thing that can be for this exact moment? It always seems presumptuous to me, so I feel when I write that I will use the music to inspire Before we start a season, I’ll go see Devoe and Joey to talk about the tone, the feelings and what I want to do, and they’ll create a playlist of things that inspire us. in it and get our hands on the footage, Devoe and Joey have a definite feel for the vibe we’re even looking for, so that influences Joey’s songs and orchestrations and inspires what Devoe will choose and present to us.

“We don’t get too specific until later. When that vibe matches the picture, that’s when we start to get specific. Mention what Yate and Stephens call McBride’s love of good editing and fast, editing-focused backing music, and McBride says, “As our stories deal with characters with over-inflated egos and wild sense of themselves, a montage marks everything a character imagines, how he sees himself.

So how does McBride see himself and his former musician friends Stephens and Yates in this explosion of ideas that connect the dots between the sacred and the secular in a new way?

“As we orbit around what we want to do in ‘The Righteous Gemstones’ and how we want to do it, ideas you haven’t seen or heard before float to the top,” he says. “We all have different tastes, but when we work together we find a tone that I think wouldn’t happen on its own. It’s the chemistry of Joey, Devoe, mine and Jody’s influences coming together to create something cohesive. This thing takes place in a world of religion and mega-churches – places known for these musical numbers.

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