Fans of top TV dramas like Breaking Bad, Ray Donovan, The Walking Dead, Six Feet Under, and Halt and Catch Fire might owe a significant portion of their music playlists to Thomas Golubić, the music supervisor for those series, i.e. the guy who so many times has found the perfect musical accompaniment for a memorable, or even classic, scene.
“Crystal Blue Persuasion” in Breaking Bad’s “Gliding All Over”? That’s just one example of Golubić’s handiwork, as is the soundtrack for the first season of Better Call Saul, another Golubić production. The Saul CD, which will be released on Nov. 6 and is available for pre-order now on iTunes and Amazon.com, includes the extended-version of the infectious Little Barrie theme song — which you can listen to in the clip above — as well as the great Junior Brown “Better Call Saul” promo tune.
Golubić, whose character-specific Halt and Catch Fire Spotify playlists are something you should treat yourself to right now, talked to Yahoo TV about Saul music, including The Ink Spots’s “Address Unknown,” the song that introduces us to the post-Breaking Bad Saul Goodman at that Cinnabon in Nebraska. He also breaks down the song that helped Jimmy McGill catch the Kettlemans in their embezzlement scam, talks about how tough it was for everyone on the show to find the series’ tone, and shares how he’s approaching music choices for Season 2 of Jimmy’s evolution towards Saul Goodman.
Leading up to the Better Call Saul premiere, we had seen Junior Brown’s “Better Call Saul” video, and a lot of people assumed it would be the series theme song. Was it ever intended to be the theme?
It was always meant to be a standalone. I have to give huge respect to Sony and AMC for letting us do that. It’s an expensive thing to build a song from scratch, and shoot a music video, and all that stuff. It was really fun and exciting when they said they were up for it. Vince [Gilligan] was the one who had Junior Brown in mind. He had seen him perform live years ago and absolutely loved him, and felt he was going to be perfect for this… it was written by Vince and [Better Call Saul co-creator] Peter [Gould] and then Dave Porter, our composer, worked with Adam Dorn, who’s a producer. Then we brought Junior Brown into the studio in Glendale, for vocal sessions and guitar. He was just great. It was such a pleasure for all of us, because he’s such a lovely guy and such a talent. It was a really fun, fun project, but it was always meant to be a promo.
When it came to the main [theme], that was a whole process where Dave Porter was putting together different ideas for it, I was putting together different ideas for it, and in the end, Vince and Peter really fell in love with two different tracks, neither of which we were able to license. Then we [wondered] if we could possibly hire [one of the artists], Little Barrie, to create a new song… luckily we found them right between touring schedules, and we just brainstormed through Skype for several evenings. We would brainstorm and throw ideas together … the next morning I’d wake up and there would be 30 different demos. Then I would call him back and we’d talk about the demos, about the parts that really worked, about the character of Saul, and how he’s Jimmy right now, and how he has a improvisatorial quality to him. He can improvise kind of easily and really loves doing it. Jimmy’s very talented, but there’s a humility to his talent. He’s not a show off. He’s somebody who gets thrown into a situation, and he talks his way out of it. He’s always able to find a way to find a solution that works, and that ability to both improvise, but also to be very talented is really important. And that’s why [Little Barrie] really nailed it with the main title. They captured something that feels like it was thrown away, but it’s so perfect that it’s not. I think when Vince and Peter had that wonderful idea to cut off the final note in the main title, which I love… every time I hear it, it makes me laugh. It’s one more element of our roughshod, small men’s hero.
Will the theme song remain the same throughout the series, or will you change it up as Jimmy becomes Saul?
I think we’re going to stick with it. We are changing the visuals. Each episode has had a different set of visuals, and I believe that that tradition will continue in Season 2. Well, I can’t say that definitively, but I believe we’re going to be sticking to the main title. I think it works really well, and it captures Jimmy in a really distinctive way, in the same way that I think Breaking Bad… Dave Porter made just a brilliant main title for Breaking Bad. What I think was particularly great about it was that it was establishing who Walter White was at the end of the story, not the beginning. That was something we were trying to do also with Little Barrie, capturing not just where Jimmy is now, but where he’s heading to when he becomes Saul. I think that’s why it really resonates, at least for me. I think it’s trying to capture the fundamentals of who Jimmy is, and I think it will continue as he becomes Saul. He may have better times and worse times this season than he’s had so far, but he’s at the same time going to always be bouncing back stubbornly. That’s kind of why we love him so much. He’s irrepressible, but not in a “Bugs Bunny, I’m always ahead” kind of way, but more like somebody who is always used to being at the jaws of defeat and somehow manages to get away from it.
One of the other great songs from Season 1 that is included on the soundtrack is “Address Unknown”; even aside from how fitting the lyrics are, the song so perfectly sets the mood for “Gene” when we meet him at that Cinnabon. How was it chosen?
Well, that song, you know, The Ink Spots always start every track with this “happy trails” sound… literally, almost every one of their songs starts like that. It’s almost like the running refrain, and in a very sweet way it almost immediately introduces you to this sweet, slightly hokey, slightly Podunk… you can almost imagine somebody on a horse just moving [along]. It starts off with that and then we get into this very sweet and mournful [song] “Address Unknown”… it’s such a beautiful, really charming song. Of course, the lyrics are doing so much about [Gene]. Then we’re getting introduced to him with his mustache, and he thinks he’s going to get killed, and [the audience] just thinks, “Oh my God. This is what his life is like now. This is what his life has become.” It’s absolutely terrifying, but we didn’t need to over play that. In many ways, there’s something really nice about giving a little bit of remove for the audience and letting them just ride along on the journey. I also really adore how it got mixed at the end, the way the ice cubes inside the glass take us out of the song and the snow plow going past. Again, everybody who works on [Saul] is just so talented. Even us being able to be players on the team… It’s always nice to be like, “OK, we just hit a really great double, but the person next to us is going to now hit a homerun.”
On Breaking Bad, we had the cinematography by Michael Slovis, and we had Bryan Cranston and Aaron Paul’s performances. By the time we got to [the music] in post-production, it was like everybody had brought such an A-game that it was really up to us, and pardon my language, not to f–k it up. Part of the great joy of the job was that they were all so open-minded, and it was very much a collaborative journey to get to the right answers. The right answers came from everybody. It came from all over the place… “Address Unknown” is one that Vince pulled. We had pulled a whole bunch of different ideas, but that one was his. Vince can do pretty much all of our jobs if he had time to do it. That’s why when you have a leader like that, it’s really great, because you know your job is to surprise him, so that he himself is like, “I never would have thought of that. That’s f–king fantastic.” That’s sort of how we all work. The best idea comes from somewhere, sometimes it comes from us, sometimes it comes from the editors, sometimes it comes from Vince. That sort of team plays really nice for the show, and we have a warm camaraderie.
Is it an extra good day when you can surprise Vince?
My favorite thing in the world is to get that phone call: “I don’t know where you got that from, but it’s magic.” Because you know after that, people are going to be studying these things and trying to figure out what they mean, enjoying the different layers of them. They do have different layers. That’s a great joy of the job, that with a thing that’s this emotionally and intellectually complicated, and so careful, it does mean that you have to put more thought into those answers. Everything is held to that same high standard. The performances are at a very high standard. The cinematography is at a very high standard, the art direction, every element. The music also has to be like, “Oh, I never even thought about that part of it. That’s fantastic.”
The Bobby Bare song, “Find Out What’s Happening,” was a surprise, that retro, Elvis-kinda sound, like something you’d hear in Ocean’s Eleven, but then as the soundtrack of Jimmy’s search for the Kettlemans in the woods, it also felt perfect.
We stumbled into that one. That was one I found really late at night. It was a tricky sequence, because I was, for whatever reason, concerned that we were getting too retro. I think that was our third episode. Each of the episodes was very different from the one before. I think in many ways you can say we did 10 pilots. It was incredibly challenging for everybody, everyone from Bob [Odenkirk] and Michael [McKean], to the writers, to us. We all really struggled to figure out what the tone was. We knew it was not going to be Breaking Bad. We didn’t know what the parameters were, and in the first episode, we ended up with a track by an artist name Shook, who is a Dutch DJ. It was literally the first track he’d ever released. I happened to find it off of his SoundCloud page. I stumbled into it and it was just kind of great. It was basically underlying the whole sequence of the skateboard kids, the brothers, [Lars and Cal]. That was very much a Rockford Files kind of sound. It was a little bit self-aware, funky. When it came to the second episode, we had that amazing Vivaldi piece [“Concerto for Strings and Continuo in G, RV 151 Concerto alla Rustica”] which was a concept that Peter Gould had.
With the Bobby Bare song, I was looking mostly into contemporary stuff, and I wasn’t terribly happy with what we were finding. Nothing really spoke to me, and spoke to Jimmy. When I started going through some of my older tracks, I remember I just searched under 1966 to 1968 — I was born in '68, and a lot of great music happened in 1968 — just to see what I’d land on. When I landed on the Bobby Bare track I was like, “Actually, this kind of works.“ I looked at it against the picture and it worked really nicely against the picture. It does have that sort of Elvis swagger to it, but not quite at Elvis levels. And it’s also between genres. It’s not an obvious country song, it’s not an obvious pop song, it’s kind of in between them, in the same way the show is in between genres. It just felt really, really right, a nice way of getting to the Kettlemans and also playing up Jimmy’s small heroism. I think that’s a really big part of it. We didn’t want to overplay the heroism of what he’s doing. He’s just basically in a suit and loafers, walking around in the hillside, and his stubbornness is going to get him to the right solution, which is finding the Kettlemans. It’s the right kind of energy for what he’s actually doing. It tells you a little bit more about his stubbornness.
Given how Season 1 ended, we’re going to find Jimmy in a different place going into Season 2. Does that change your approach to the music of Season 2?
I’m always very cognizant of the fact that when you see a character having made a decision to change, they haven’t necessarily actualized that change. Even though we have a sense with Jimmy, with his wonderful Deep Purple moment, that he’s never going to make the same mistakes again, the truth is, he’s not going to be able to actualize that completely yet. So I always try to be careful to not unrealistically readdress the persona of a character based upon them having a moment of clarity. I think he had a moment of clarity, but he still has to work his way through it. In many ways, we’re tapping into other aspects of his personality and other aspects of his struggle. There’s sort of a romantic Jimmy that we’re playing with and trying to figure out. I think it’s going to be interesting to see how does he deal with the fact that he’s been rejected by Kim, that she will not be his law partner, which is one of the saddest, but most beautiful scenes of the entire season. When he’s kicking the s–t out of the office door, you just realize this poor guy never gets what he wants.
In a lot of ways, that’s very informative, to me, of where he is. He hasn’t quite gotten there yet. He knows that he wants it now, and he knows that he’s not going to try as hard as he did in the past to fulfill some idea of what his brother wants him to do, or the person everyone expects him to be. At the same time, I don’t think he’s “broken bad” yet. He’s still in his process. One of the things that really surprised us is what an influence jazz and even easy listening music played in Season 1, and I think we’re continuing some of that in Season 2… [we realized] that Jimmy’s a performer in many ways, and a performer who is usually a soloist in some respect. He’s working with other people, but there’s an aloneness to him. I think the aesthetic of easy listening and jazz performers, players really came into it. We had “Season of the Witch” by Al Kooper in there, with Stephen Stills’s guitar solo in it. It’s so unique, and so extraordinary, but it feels really right, because there’s something about the playing in it that subverts the fact that it’s a Donovan cover. It subverts the fact that it’s Al Kooper, who’s a record producer. It becomes something completely on it’s own… and I think the only reason we got to that song, which plays in the bar when Jimmy goes back to Chicago [in the season finale], was simply because of this idea of the performer.
Another good example: Dave Brubeck’s “Unsquare Dance” [from “Hero,” when Jimmy’s trying to save his billboard], another track that has extraordinary musicianship, but is totally unusual. It’s like it’s a percussion song, [for] tap dancing. The piano plays a very small role in it, until it climaxes. It is very unique, and it’s very catchy, and has a real charming quality about it. All qualities that Jimmy McGill has.
Better Call Saul: The Original Television Soundtrack: Season 1 will be released on Nov. 6 on iTunes and Amazon.com.