The Music of “The Righteous Gems”

Aside from the misdeeds and greed of the beloved televangelist family starring in HBO’s The Righteous Gemstones, one of the most distinctive elements of their co-creators’ rude, enlightened, and hilarious series is their music.

As with every series creator, writer and actor Danny McBride has worked on — including 2009’s “Eastbound & Down” and 2016’s “Vice Principals” — The Righteous Gemstones’ unique musical tone stems from their long-standing friendship by college pals McBride, composer Joseph Stephens and music supervisor Devoe Yates.

As far as the musical mix of “Gemstones” goes, it’s a truly fresh mix of new or rare sacred songs that are closely tied to, not to mention, an equally invigorating, worldly brand of rock, blues, country and soul their poignancy and sacred original music and nuanced arrangements.

Orchestrator composer Stephens’ often souped-up synth-wave vibe also matches the hyperactive tone of Yates’ Needle Drops, creating a character all of its own.

“The music and the score are such an important part of what we do because our shows tend to jump around tonally,” says McBride. “One second there’s a serious sequence, the next something exciting or wildly silly.

So the score is what the audience needs to know: “Yeah, you feel right here. You can laugh about it or you can be scared.” Music lulls the audience into what we want them to think.”

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

“This is a perfect example of how we’re collaborating on something I didn’t even know I could do,” he says. They didn’t think it could work, especially in a different version than you might are used to,” says Yates. “Especially with the religious songs, I like to get off the radar, maybe a different version of a traditional hymn or a newer piece that not too many people know by heart.”

“When we started this series we were all pretty green – lots of needle drops, a real Scorsese-Tarantino approach and my songs had to fit the palette of the other tracks used,” says Stephens. “If Yates determined that a song was too expensive to license, we would pull out one of my songs that we could take apart and use in different ways.”

No matter what music Stephens, Yates, and McBride used or what fresh tracks they made, everything had to help the jokes work — without ever feeling obvious or comic-centric.

“Our music can be cool and energetic or sad and melancholic. It just didn’t feel like… like we were doing a comedy.”

McBride, Yates and Stephens, who worked on Vice Principals, wanted something actively synth-wave and Tangerine Dream-ish for it. The co-creator had an idea of ​​a military aspect of the process. “Danny had the drumlines in mind for ‘Vice Principals,’ something that’s more score-centric than ‘Eastbound,'” says Stephens. “Everything was synth-heavy, dark, percussion-heavy and driving.”

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

“This second season of ‘Gemstones’ was a bigger, more epic season, so we geared up for that,” he says. “There was something cinematic, operatic and mysterious about that feeling of this final season that was discussed by the team early on… unlike our previous series. We wanted to have character themes that recur throughout the show. I came up with unique tonal palettes, chorale stuff you would associate with sacred music but gave it a dark, dramatic twist.”

To that end, Stephens says, the score of Righteous Gemstones has no overtly sacred melodies, but employs elements one might find in religious music, such as undulating organs, large soaring voices, and tubular bell tones.

“We felt that sound in our guts,” he says. “We wanted it to feel legitimate, straight out of the Christian rock manual and not like we were making fun of it. It has to feel serious and legitimate, never farce.” Adds McBride, “We want these scenes to feel big and real. Something about it is fun to use and tear at. The music we use is another way of building that world.” With that, Stephens adds that his goal is to play for drama, not laughter. “We let the comedy emerge from the absurdity of these characters,” he says. “My job is to pay attention to the story rather than the performance of the characters or their buffoons.”

McBride insists he’s one of those guys who always puts him off when he sees a script with a certain song written in it.

“How can you even know that this song is going to be the best that can be for this very moment? It always feels pretentious to me, so when I write I feel like I’m going to use music to inspire tones. Before I start a season, I go to Devoe and Joey to talk tone, feel and what I want, and they put together a playlist of things that inspire us. As we get into it and get our hands on the footage, Devoe and Joey have a strong sense of what the mood is that we’re even aiming for, so it informs Joey’s songs and orchestration and inspires what Devoe is going to select and present to us.

“We’ll get too specific later. When that mood fits the picture, we get more concrete.” Mention what Yate and Stephens call McBride’s love of a good montage and accompanying up-tempo edit-driven music, and McBride says, “Since our stories feature characters with overblown egos and wild confidence act, a montage scores all that a character imagines as they see themselves.”

How does McBride see himself and his old musical friends Stephens and Yates in this explosion of ideas that freshly bridges the dots between the sacred and the mundane?

“As we focus on what we want to do in ‘The Righteous Gemstones’ and how we want to do it, ideas that 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 don’t think would be possible on our own. It’s the alchemy of Joey, Devoe, me and Jody’s influences merging to create something cohesive. This thing is set in a world of religion and mega-churches—places known for these musical numbers.” The Music of “The Righteous Gems”

Charles Jones

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