Following up on our interview with Mitchell Travers, the Costume Designer for Showtime’s hit show George & Tammy, today we talk to Music Supervisor Rachel Moore.
In the show, Oscar winner Jessica Chastain plays legendary country music star Tammy Wynette and Michael Shannon is George Jones, her life and business cohort with whom she shared a decades-long, tumultuous relationship and career.
The series also features Steve Zahn as Tammy’s ex-husband, manager, and songwriter George Richey; Tim Blake Nelson as country music singer Roy Acuff; and Kelly McCormack as George’s second wife Sheila Richey, and was created by Abe Sylvia and directed by John Hillcoat.
See what Rachel had to say about adapting the duo’s beloved music to the show about their lives, loves, and careers.
Below the Line: How did you get involved with this show and how did you start preparing for being the music supervisor?
Rachel Moore: The project was Abe Sylvia’s dream child. He had this idea for about 10 years and he had been working on it for a while. He had the script written with Jessica Chastain in his mind, who had been involved for about seven years. And he wanted it to be music heavy and the legendary music producer T Bone Burnett was involved with them as well. And then I met them and the director John Hillcoat about two years ago when we decided it was time to just record the music and see what it sounded like.
I skipped a step, which is that I am a protégé of T Bone Burnett. I have known him for about five years or so, and he really encouraged me to take this on. My background is from Nashville, as a producer, mixer, and engineer in the music industry. I had worked on a few TV shows and this is country music, so it all felt natural. I had not done that much film and TV shows, but felt like the concepts were similar for recording records.
Once I got into it, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was in fact a bit like making a record. I came on and recorded all the pre-recorded songs. Abe had a bunch of songs that he had already written into the script, so he had an idea of the songs he wanted to start with. As we started recording, he started rewriting scenes and writing more. This all helped us get an idea of how to formulate all of this. That part was fun, to create as we went based on what the music sounded like.
BTL: Generally speaking, what were you going for with the music here?
Moore: The music was something we did not want to overthink. We wanted it to be timeless, but we know people know these songs in and out. And then there will be people who have never heard of them. So, we kept the classic bits of the music but also with relevant sounds you can listen to now. We balanced keeping the classic elements of the 1960s and ’70s, with slight modern twists.
BTL: What role did Jessica and Michael play at this point?
Moore: We recorded all the tracks during two weeks in the studio. We recorded between 25 and 30 songs that first time, sent them to Jessica and Michael. They had been working with a great vocal coach for the past year getting into shape for this. We had decided early on that even though it was a huge risk, it was important to everyone that the two of them sing. Of course, big shoes to fill — Tammy and George — with diehard fans that are very opinionated. It was a tall order, but it was decided that for the audience to be able to connect with these very human characters, the two of them singing was crucial.
We then decided to be even riskier and have them sing live on set, but it was another one of those things that felt necessary, important for the characters. It ended up being very much worth it. The two came to Nashville after we had the music recorded and sang in the studio. We had them do two or three rounds of singing for all the music, and it was almost a boot camp for them to get ready to sing on set. Now, we had the pre-recorded tracks should something happen on the set that did not work.
I was on set for two months with them and coached through these music scenes. We were really delighted that because they had done all this preparation, they were killing it on set. We were able to keep 90-95 percent [of] what they did on set. Most of what you see is them actually singing on set, singing directly into the microphone.
They were so dedicated, and I would remind them on set that we only need 3-5 takes for a good one on set. And they were adamant [about] doing it, and doing more, singing [for] 12-16 hours. They wanted to nail every single set. They felt like they were cheating or giving up if they did not sing every single set. Hats off to them.
BTL: What relationship to George & Tammy’s music did you have before working on this project? How did that play into how you felt working on this project?
Moore: Well, I live in Nashville, so I certainly knew their music. I know the people who were around George & Tammy. I’m a big fan of Billy Sherrill, a god in the recording and producing industry. It was surreal to see all of this. Their studio is a temple in Nashville, which they had recreated from a warehouse. The show wanted to get all the details right about the places where they recorded.
I was nervous knowing that I was going to have to be answering to country music legends and their fans. They are great fans but they know what they want. Georgette Jones, their daughter, was on set as executive producer. She was thrilled and cried. I was relieved when she said they looked like her parents, and that it felt real.
Afterward, the general consensus and feedback was, “Do they sound exactly like George and Tammy? No. Nobody can. But they are incredibly talented in their own way.” And we did not want to risk them sounding like a parody or an impersonation. If you watch He Stopped Loving Her Today by Michael Shannon as George, he hits that high note, and that is when he sounds the most like him. I got chills.
Of course, it’s not note for note, but was also important for them to insert themselves into these characters with their own voice. Otherwise, they would have gotten killed by the country music community.
BTL: In terms of modernizing it a bit, what kind of sounds are we talking about here?
Moore: Timeless is probably a better word. We recorded it in a very classic way, with microphones that they would have used. We used a lot of the instruments that they would have used. We just did not want something that made it sound immediately dated, so it was a bit about guitar tones that they used from the era — we shied away from those. The goal of good music here is to not be able to tell when it was recorded, which should make anyone want to listen to it. It was about having good musicians in the room, too. We had the top people in Nashville. These instruments transcend decades or any boxes.
BTL: After this experience, do you want to do more TV or movies? And if so what projects are you working on?
Moore: Yes, I’ve caught the bug. I am a believer that the best things happen outside of your comfort zone and five years ago I did not know that this would be a path I would do. Jessica has encouraged me a lot and I’m into it. The whole project was problem-solving –here is a situation and how do we solve it. It was fun connecting with them on set, and it was gratifying putting all the work in and seeing the results and the recognition.
Right now, I’m trying to find projects out of country music. I just produced the score with T Bone Burnett for an indie movie called Nighttime Owl that may go to Tribeca or come out this year. And so, yes, I am looking forward to projects like that. But I am still making records, by the way!
BTL: So, what was the most fun part and the most challenging part of this series for you?
Moore: The payout for the depth of this project — 26 to 27 songs, plus score and source music. It was the largest project I have ever been a part of, and that was the most fun for me in the end. The satisfaction of seeing it all work. At the same time, that is the most challenging [part] too.
I also really loved going to set. As I said, I spent two months on set in Wilmington with them, and they consulted with me on other stuff like making sure things were authentic and telling the assistant and musicians what to do. That was very meta for me, and being consulted on all that was great fun.
George & Tammy’s six episodes ran on Showtime between December 2022 and January 2023.