Nashville creator Callie Khouri has been making movies for years (Thelma & Louise, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood), and she’s now foraying into TV with her ABC drama. Along with her husband, Grammy-winning producer T-Bone Burnett, Khouri has uncovered some amazing music for the country-soaked series, but she’s also created some strong, if imperfect, characters with Rayna Jaymes (Connie Britton) and Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere). She spoke with Vulture about the new show, Carrie Underwood, and why she’s not a fan of pop music.
The idea for Nashville, and Rayna’s character in particular, came to Khouri while she lived in Nashville. She explains, “Tanya Tucker and people like that were coming up, and I’m sure that Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette were going, ‘What’s that noise? That’s not country.’ It’s always been this battle where whoever comes up behind the reigning stars isn’t country enough. There really is a lot more crossover now.”
In Khouri’s opinion, “if you listen to a Carrie Underwood song, for example, you could hear that anywhere. It doesn’t dawn on you immediately that that’s a country song. I don’t know why they bother to call it country. Why don’t they just call it a song and leave it at that?”
But the showrunner admits she doesn’t listen to much pop music. “There’s something that’s real high and kind of razor-y about it,” she says, citing the vocal quality. “From Madonna on, it’s not for me.”
Of course, on the show, Juliette is the reigning queen of crossover. There’s been speculation that she’s based on Taylor Swift, and with her recent foray into shoplifting, perhaps someone like Lindsay Lohan.
Khouri explains where Juliette is coming from: “Her mother has reared her ugly head, and she’s going to regress right back to what she did when she was a kid. That’s the danger of having her mother around for her. It’s not just that it’s a person to take care of and a person who scares her and a person who makes her feel bad about herself. It’s a person who causes her to regress.”
And while Khouri thinks Juliette isn’t a one-note villain, she “needs a serious talking to about the way she deals with people and the way she so happily exploits herself, all of that.”
In addition to powerhouse presences like Rayna and Juliette, the music itself is practically a character on the show, and Khouri explained the process for finding songs, saying, “We’re constantly looking for songs that we love, and then we write towards them. We go, ‘Here’s where we’re starting, story-wise,’ and then as we go along, we get a bunch of songs that we know we want to record, and we record a block of them. Then we just start folding them into story at various points.”
Based on the way fans are responding to the music (Gunnar and Scarlett’s duet made it to number seven on Billboard’s Country Digital Songs chart), it’s clear that the approach is working.