T Bone Burnett on Lera Lynn and Music in True Detective Season Two


As we count down the hours until tonight’s episode of True Detective, why don’t we take a closer look at that Entertainment Weekly interview with T Bone Burnett? The veteran composer was pretty much destined to return to score True Detective season two even before the first script was penned. As creator Nic Pizzolatto mentioned in the commentary track for episode four of True Detective’s first season, “your voice is as indelible to me for whatever brand we’re trying to create as my voice.”

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This isn’t the first time that T Bone Burnett has been interviewed in Entertainment Weekly. Last time around he wasn’t too keen on talking details, but things are a tad different this time. Not that he’s going around spilling any beans, mind you.

Burnett has contributed to the tone of season two in some interesting ways so far, particularly with Lera Lynn’s barroom performances. Fans of True Detective season two have for the most part enjoyed her beautifully dismal melodies. They conjure the inner despondency and heartache of Semyon and Velcoro, making poetry of the unspoken melancholy we see in their eyes.

There is a mythic quality to these scenes that feel removed from the world of the show, as if they take place in some other reality; a space between spaces. Lera Lynn is central to invoking this otherworldly atmosphere. As T Bone Burnett says in the interview, “the words [she sings] are mystical. I don’t know exactly what [show creator] Nic Pizzolatto is doing, but he had short descriptions in the scripts.”

“Part of the show is,” Burnett continues, “the heart of the show, I think — is all happening in that bar. That’s the beating heart of the show. It’ll become clearer. But to me, that bar is where True Detective happens. That’s the psychosphere. Something feels central about it.”

It’s almost like Lera Lynn is to True Detective as the chorus was to ancient Greek theatre. You had these actors, anywhere from a dozen to fifty, dancing around and singing about what was going on in the play. You know, help the audience follow along. But instead of catching us up on important events, Lynn acts as our emotional guide for the story, not as the disembodied voice of a “needle-drop,” but as a living, breathing character. As Aristotle said in the Poetics, “The chorus too should be regarded as one of the actors; it should be an integral part of the whole, and share in the action.”

Pizzolatto may very well have borrowed from the Greek tradition. During Burnett’s conversation with Entertainment Weekly, Kevin O’Donnell asked Burnett if Lera Lynn was playing a character on True Detective, to which he replied, “We wrote a junkie singer who was way too good to be in this horrible dive. That is her gig.” When asked if she was some form of apparition, Burnett said, “I don’t know. Maybe. All I can tell you is that it gets very emotional.”

“Something strange happens in the second half. The score asserts itself in a new way.”

Burnett went on to talk about the direction the music is taking during the second half of season 2. O’Donnell noted how the score in the first four episodes was fairly quiet, which, according to Burnett, was intentional. “The first half, the music is very subliminal. Everything has to be incredibly gossamer. You can’t hit anything very hard. But something strange happens in the second half. The score asserts itself in a new way. I’m loving this whole world of electronic music right now. You get some killer vibe or some killer tone and you get it to a good place. The score is also mixing with the loud ambience of Los Angeles. We’re using a lot of found sounds. But it becomes fuller and more prominent.”

The mixture of ambient, found sounds and electronic music suggests that Burnett will be taking the score in a heavier direction for the remainder of season 2. If there is any sort of dialogue between the story and the music – and so far there has been – we can expect things to ramp up just a wee bit in the coming episodes.

Next: This Week in True Detective: Week of 7/13/2015

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