Pete Townshend has written a new song “It Must Be Done” for the TV series “The Americans”. It is scheduled to be broadcast in an episode that airs April 30 on FX. Pete collaborated on the song with the shows composer, Nathan Barr. The song appears in a dramatic scene described as "sex and murder".
Billboard has posted the following interview with Pete that was conducted in his home studio in Richmond:
You spent a couple of months exchanging musical ideas before the song emerged. What was the starting point for you and Nathan?
What I was struck by was that Nate composes on the cello, an instrument my partner and orchestrator Rachel (Fuller) uses, so I have listened to a lot of cello music and I have really fallen in love with it. We exchanged ideas (between England and Los Angeles) and I was immediately struck by this very evocative piece he had written, very plaintive. I added some guitar, then came up with some lyrics.
Obviously you have collaborated with film and theater projects, not to mention the Who, but how does working this way stand out?
It's almost like jazz. I'm responding to something he wrote, he's responding to something I write, almost like live music. I was surprised by the intimacy.You're so focused on what is essential – there are no breaks for cups of coffee – and what seems like it should be impersonal and cold is quite the opposite.
What elements of the show did you want to incorporate into the song?
I wanted to keep it very simple. Here's this couple whose whole life is about duty, duty without honor, duty without explanation. There are no accolades.They're not living a lie but doing things they find hard to do. Everybody has a part of their life that's difficult to explain. For me it's why the fuck am I in the Who?
When it comes to licensing your music for shows such as "Californication," what makes you say yes to offers.
Long before I got into the matter of commercial publishing, it was obvious that I was someone who had spent his life writing these anthems and that they could help me pay for dangerously artistic things -- I wouldn't have spent my time touring constantly. In the early 1970s, I was one of the first to license for commercials and Roger Daltrey was perturbed by it. He wasn't angered by the license, but by licensing without tying the song to the master. Our music, the Who's records, were not being heard. I think I overreacted and for four or five years I stopped licensing songs. Then the Who's music went off the map. This was in the ‘80s -- '83, '84 -- it wasn't even on the radio. After awhile I thought let me try this again and I started licensing music and it has created an incredible interest in our work.
So much of it is through television. How would you compare it to film?
One thing I didn't get was how a handful of songs could get used a number of times and still don't feel overused. The music supervisor is dealing with the familiarity of the song. That's what's essential. It's not that it adds to storyline or the character, it's doing something for the setting. You hear so many great new songs on television. It's really quite amazing to hear a new song, a plaintive acoustic song that adds pathos and reflection to a scene. I believe, and I don't want to make too much out of it, it's why so many people want to work in TV. It's so much more exciting, so much freer than film. The music supervisors do their work weekly, living with new music and old music and they turn into musicologists. When Rachel went to L.A. she became friendly with (former head of music at Disney and Universal Pictures) Kathy Nelson who, when it comes to choosing a song, she just nailed it over and over. She listened to so much music. Music supervisors are the most passionate music fans. The only person I know who wants to hear as much as possible is Elton John. He's obsessive. He keeps at it and is able to talk about new music and who's in which band, a bit like a football fan.
Billboard has posted an interview with Nathan Barr about his collaboration with Pete. Here is an excerpt.
Townshend said your cello work was a key reason he wanted to do the show.
It was the central instrument in the track I sent to Pete, a theme for the character Philip. It began with that.
Where did the conversation start with Pete?
(Music supervisor) PJ Bloom, and (show runners) Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields were looking to do something new with different collaborations across the show for season two. Music was certainly one of them. We came up with a list of people who could fit that mold and I would say it was just a couple of weeks or a month from the first mention to the time we got a response back that Pete was interested.
How quickly did the piece take shape?
I sent him a couple of tracks to experiment on and he really responded to one of them right away. Within a couple weeks he sent back sets of guitar and vocals -- I had no idea he was doing vocals or lyrics so I was blown away. The next step was sitting down with the producers and sussing out the season to determine where a song could drive a scene. We picked out a moment in episode 10 for that. When they had shot that, I took an early cut and started editing and finessing it to the scene. The brilliant thing is that the lyrics Pete wrote really play up the irony of the scene.
Does that open the door to more collaborations? Since this went so well, will you attempt to do others?
There’s no conversation about it or whether that would see a return visit for season three, but I’m open to it. I worked with (ZZ Top’s) Billy Gibbons on ‘Dukes of Hazard’ and he and I have messed around with a couple of ideas since then. I certainly hope that could be the case with Pete. A collaboration like that would have been impossible 10 or 15 years ago. One of the cool things about this track is that it features some lead playing from him When I uploaded the stems and sat and listen to Pete play guitar on this dry track it felt so personal. It’s like you’re looking into the soul of this person from 6,000 miles away. To take that that and work with it the way he worked with my stuff – its one of the greatest musical experiences of my life.
Here is an excerpt of an interview Nathan Barr did with Speakeasy.
“The thing I really admired about him is for someone of his stature one wouldn’t be surprised if there was a big ego there, and there is no ego there,” Barr said. “He is just lovely and humble and so easy to work with.”
What was it like working with Pete Townshend?
It was pretty exciting. It was also very surreal because we still haven’t met. It was a collaboration via digital means. I wrote a couple of tracks when I knew Pete was interested that I knew fit the world of the show musically and that might open some interesting ideas for Pete. I sent them off to Pete really having no idea what he was going to do with that. And one track in particular, which ended up being the song, he really loved. He within a week sent back lyrics with him singing and guitar and it became this whole wonderful song that I never could have imagined. It was just a dream.
How did you hear that Pete was working with the show?
Basically the producers had this idea of getting some collaborations going throughout multiple departments of the show, and music was one of them. So our music supervisor, P.J. Bloom, started reaching out to a list of people who we thought might be interested. The only, sort of, prerequisite was that the name of whoever we were going after was big enough that it could mean something for the show in terms of publicity. And Pete knew my music from the show and from movies and he was a fan. So that was an enormously exciting call to get that he was a fan.
How does it feel knowing Pete Townshend is a fan of your music?
Unbelievable! The whole thing was surreal. I was just sitting at home early one morning and the phone rang and I picked up and he said, “Hi, This is Pete Townshend.” It was just like, “What?!” It’s so nice to know that people are listening and the music is resonating with them. And again I’m such a fan of him as a musician. I think we were both trusting of one another’s process in terms of just sending the tracks over and saying, “Whatever you feel, go for it. Let’s just see where this takes us.”
So you sent him the tracks and he wrote the guitar instrumentals and the lyrics to go with the song and you ended up cutting the song together. Is that how that worked?
The track I wrote I knew could work as a piece of score for the show, but had enough of a flow to it that it could possibly work as a song. So basically, he sent back the two-and-a-half minutes that I had sent him with his lyrics and everything. The producers and I kept an eye out for potential sequences in the show which could be really music driven, and we found this one moment in the 10th episode where it was just absolutely perfect. So Pete’s lyrics are wonderfully ironic in terms of the actual scene, so that was a nice surprise.
Have you spoken with him? Is he happy with the end result?
He is very happy. He was pleasantly surprised with the way I had produced the track. You notice the female voice in there—I felt like since the sequence focuses on Elizabeth in part we needed to have some sort of female presence in the song. That’s why I brought in this singer Lisbeth Scott. She sang that recurring vocal part, which I think worked really well.