When the new multi-part series CIRCUS premieres on November 3 on NPT and PBS stations nationwide, the first music viewers will hear will come from right here in Middle Tennessee. Nashville’s own The Features contributed four songs to the soundtrack, including three from its latest album, Some Kind of Salvation. The band was also contracted to record a version of “New York, New York” for the closing montage in episode three.
An abbreviated version of the song, “Whatever Gets You By,” by Features songwriter Matt Pelham, opens each episode of CIRCUS.
But The Features aren’t the only Middle Tennessee act to grace the series’ soundtrack. Most notably joining them are singer-songwriter and folk troubadour Rod Picott, whose song “Circus Girl” appears in Episode 5, and songwriter/violinist Caitlin Evanson, whose track “Circus” shows up in Episode 1. And there’s plenty of Nashville-connected artists and songs, with Conway Twitty, the Dixie Chicks and Nora Jones all appearing the soundtrack. Alongside tracks from iconic film composers Danny Elfman and Nina Rota, they’re in good company.
How the Features and other Nashville artists found their way onto the soundtrack has much to do with Carter Little, a music supervisor with 35Sound, who along with 35sound founder G. Marq Roswell, were responsible for acquiring the music for CIRCUS.
“Musical diversity (in a film soundtrack) is important because you don’t want to pigeon-hole the circus experience as being ‘da da danta danta da da.,’ says Little in a posting on the CIRCUS website. “Circus folks have different cultural proclivities, different musical tastes, and we wanted to represent that.”
In digging into music libraries and their own respective music collections, Little and Roswell searched for songs that related to circus life and several themes kept reappearing, such as survival and life on the road. “They also cast a wide net,” explains the description on the site, ” looking at music in all genres — from blues to country-western to soul — that might deepen the scope of the musical experience.”
Little went back to The Features, a band he had discovered years ago when he was a musician in Nashville and playing some of the same venues. He was a fan, and, when he heard their latest album, “he was sure the band’s quirky instrumentation and haunting sound was perfect for CIRCUS.”
“Carter did such an amazing job in that he found a theme that matches the feeling of (the documentary),” says Roswell. “Everything from the tempo and the instrumentation … it felt like it captured the feeling of the documentary. As soon as we played (“Whatever Gets You By”) for producers Maro (Chermayeff) and Jeff (Dupre), they loved it.”
The real coup, and fun for The Features, was the cover of Sinatra’s iconic “New York, New York” cover.
“We hadn’t done anything like that before,” says Pelham. “You’re never going to compare to the original (song), but we stripped it down and used our own instrumentation. I think it came out pretty well.”
Come back and let us know what you think of the show, the music, and how much you love The Features, in the comments.