Producers and stars chat – Billboard

“I’ve been surrounded by divas all my life and I’m probably the biggest of them all,” Nashville manager Jason Owen says with a robust laugh, explaining why he was more than qualified to be one of them. executive producers on Monarchthe delightfully soapy new Fox series which premieres Sunday, September 11 and chronicles the musical exploits and over-the-top misadventures of country music’s fictional first family.

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Starring Susan Sarandon and Trace Adkins as Dottie and Albie Roman – the matriarch and patriarch of the multi-generational Roman family – the frothy melodrama often tests credulity. But there were some areas where Owen insisted that credibility reign.

“There has to be a real guideline with some of the business decisions and the way the characters rotate. The way they work has to be authentic,” says Owen, whose management clients include Kacey Musgraves, Little Big Town and Dan + Shay. “There can be all the craziness that maybe never exists in real life, which makes it a great soap opera, but there has to be some reality – and that, coupled with the music, was really, really important for me.”

Monarch features a few original songs, but 90% of the musical selections performed by the cast are covers, focusing on classic country songs from the 90s and 2000s. The show also sprinkles country on contemporary hits like Lizzo’s “Juice,” “Watermelon Sugar ” by Harry Styles and “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga. Think Joybut for country fans.

The show – created by Melissa London Hilfers, who also serves as executive producer with Owens and famed TV/film producer Gail Berman, among others – shares another musical connection with “Glee” in Adam Anders as executive music producer . Anders began his career in Nashville, spending eight years in Music City as a musician, songwriter and producer. “It was really an opportunity for me to come home,” he says. “People know me better since rock of ages and Joy, but my musical roots are in Nashville,” he says.

In fact, he had a full-circle moment when he was in a Nashville recording studio tracking music for Monarch and hanging on the bathroom wall was a photo of him, circa 2001, playing on bass with Shania Twain, who makes an appearance in the second episode.

Because Monarch focuses on three generations of Romans, Anders offers a wide range of songs. “You have your matriarch and your patriarch, and that’s kind of where I go more traditional for the most part,” he says. “So you have [middle generation] with Anne [Friel] and Beth [Ditto’s] characters, which are more in the world of Faith Hill in my head. Then you have the grandkids and you think of Dan + Shay and the new generation of country music, modern country.

Additionally, the show features current pop songs in a country setting to appeal to a wider audience. “I want people to watch the show who may not be familiar with country music either, [so] let’s give them an entry point,” says Anders. “The point is that if you don’t know country music, I hope that by the end of this show, you’ll be in love with country music.”

Among the lessons Anders learned from Joy that he brings to Monarch any song choice “must land emotionally,” he says. “If it connects with the story, it’s going to work for the most part. And obviously it’s helpful for a new show and a musical to have songs that people recognize. easier to get in. Then you sort of earn the right to make originals.

Although they were initially working remotely due to the pandemic (the show was even delayed from its original launch in January due to difficulties caused by COVID-19), Anders worked closely with the writers to choose the good songs for each episode. “For the most part, we were able to get the songs we were looking for,” he says. And for those he couldn’t, he doesn’t name names and he holds no grudges. “I actually don’t blame anyone who doesn’t want to license their song to a show,” he says. “It’s your baby, do what you want with it.” But if you let us use it, we’ll be careful. We will try to do something good with it. »

The show is set in Austin, Texas, but records in Atlanta. While the actors recorded their voices in Atlanta, Anders recorded all the music in Nashville – unlike Joy, where he followed in Los Angeles. It gives a big boost to work in Nashville. “I love, love recording in Nashville,” he says. “I love bringing musicians together in a studio, the creative process, you exchange ideas with each other. The bigger, brighter, and more creative the musical minds, the better. In LA, if you’re doing pop music, there’s more programming involved, it’s less live instruments, it’s a completely different process.

The need for authenticity extended to the cast. “I felt like we had to make someone from this family into someone who was really a real country singer,” Owen said. One of Owen’s staffers suggested Adkins, as the country hitmaker has plenty of acting experience, including Lincoln’s lawyer and the miniseries, To Appomattox. “I thought 100% so,” Owen said upon hearing the name. (Ditto was also formerly the lead singer of rock band The Gossip).

The country star auditioned on Zoom while sitting in his tour bus. “And 10 days later, I was ready,” Adkins says.

While the characters can find themselves in absurd situations and the script takes liberties in claiming that the Romans first recorded classic country tunes, Adkins has sometimes served as true north when it comes to making sure that the musical history is accurate. “I remember one day I was reading the script and [a character says], ‘Well, Johnny Cash has written three number 1s while he’s in prison.’ I went to the director and said, ‘You can’t say that. That’s not true.’ They were like, ‘Well, you know…’ and I was like, ‘No, come on man. We can do all this other stuff and make it look like we’re all crazy about country music, but you can’t just take historical facts like that and make stuff up. » The script has been changed.

The show ticks many boxes for Adkins, including Albie singing classics of some of his heroes. “I have so much fun recording songs that I would never have touched. Songs like “A Country Boy Can Survive” by Hank Williams Jr. or “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” by Merle Haggard. Stuff like that,” he says. “These are standards. These are hallowed ground. I would never have been there myself – but as Albie Roman, damn it, they claim these are his songs and he wrote them.

Adkins calls playing “a completely different colored horse” singing, but what he loves most about music – working with creatives to create something new – he’s also found with the collaborative process of creating a television show. “You’re just surrounded by these incredibly talented people — everyone from the key handle and groomsman to the cameraman and other actors you work with — and you just take a kick out of it,” he says. . “It’s just a stimulating environment. I like this feeling. It’s a great medicine. »

Adkins can also pretend to be married to Sarandon, who plays his wife. Going with the Oscar-winning actor “terrified” him at first, he says, but she quickly put him at ease. “She was very, very personable and went out of her way to make me feel comfortable,” he says.

True country royalty passes through the series to give the show a taste of authenticity: Twain, Martina McBride, Little Big Town and Tanya Tucker all make cameos during the first season. “I wanted it to feel like the Romans actually existed in our world,” says Owen, who helped lure the guest stars. “So I thought it was important in the script and Melissa [London Hilfers] agreed that we bring these characters real as themselves, and sometimes too exaggerated, as in the case of Shania. He suggests that should Monarch be renewed, Twain could make a return appearance.

As Joynew songs released weekly on Monarch will be available on digital service providers within hours of the episode ending via Arista/Monument. (Owen is co-president of Monument). A few songs have already been released to build anticipation, but Owen says some songs may play on the radio depending on the reaction. “Once these shows start airing, I think we’ll see some of the songs naturally rise to the top,” he says. “And then we’ll take advantage of it.”

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