Friday, July 13, 2012

I'm fighting for my soul

Long Hard Times to Come ("Justified" theme) - Gangstagrass

"There are only two types of music: good and bad."

This famous quote is usually attributed to Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong, but occasionally to others.  What matters most is that it's true.  The songs I choose to feature on this blog all fall into my personal definition of "good" - which means anything from 1970s bubblegum pop to a country song from the 40s, a just-released alternative tune or an instrumental version of something written centuries ago.  My tastes are broad, though I do tend toward melodic songs and interesting harmony.

"Long Hard Times to Come" falls into a few very interesting categories besides "good music."  First off, it's a television theme song, a genre which encompasses a wide range of music over the last 60 years.  Funny, but it seems the best shows often have the best songs - or maybe it's a Pavlovian process whereby we associate something we hear repeatedly (the song) with something that gives us pleasure (the program).  

"Justified" is one of the best dramas on television, up there with "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men."  Each episode starts with an compelling cold open, leading to a dramatic moment and then, satisfyingly, the THUMP... THUMP... THUMP of a bass drum that kicks off "Long Hard Times to Come." 

Besides being a theme song, LHTTC is distinct because it sounds fresh - it's a blend of bluegrass and hip hop.  Certainly a polarizing genre - some people don't like it at all.  But many more do.  If you haven't heard it, take a listen to the full version of the song and decide for yourself:

After the jump, Rench, the singer/producer/songwriter behind Gangstagrass, answers seven questions about "LHTTC." 

1. Your song "On The Run" with T.O.N.E-z was used in "Justified" promos when the series started and "Long Hard Times to Come" wasn't the theme song initially.  How did that whole process happen?

Rench: It was the promotions department at FX Network that found Gangstagrass for u sing in a commercial for the show - I think they just googled blugrass hip-hop and found the initial Gangstagrass stuff I had put out. They picked out "On The Run" to use for the commercials. When the show's producers saw those commercials they wanted that for the theme song, but it made more sense to write something for the show that hadn't been used already, so we made Long Hard Times To Come to be very similar to On The Run.

2. From what I understand about the composition of LHTTC, you recorded a beat and a bass line that you sent to T.O.N.E.-z who then added the words. What feel were you going for when you created that foundation for him and for "Justified"?

RI was basically using the existing Gangstagrass song "On The Run" as a template. I created a similar beat and chord progression, and that's what I sent to T.O.N.E-z. He wrote his parts that night and sent me back the vocals the next day! It just fell together. We got advance copies of the pilot, and I knew the feel they wanted based on "On The Run" - an outlaw song. I didn't have to go to too much trouble to get the sound right, because what they wanted was the Gangstagrass sound so I just did my thing on it, and brought in a dobro player, banjo player, and fiddle player to fill it out.

3. What is your favorite TV theme song of all time?

RI haven't thought about other theme songs much, but I would say that you can't mess with the Aqua Teen Hunger Force song that was done by Schooly D. We have gotten some requests from fans to do a version of
the theme from Firefly, and that is a cool track. Joss Whedon wrote it himself.

4. Besides "Justified," what TV show (past or present) would you have enjoyed creating music for?

RNow that I am thinking about Firefly, that would have been cool. I did try to pitch some music for the theme to Dollhouse. It would have been cool to do music for The Wire or Battlestar Galactica, or Punky Brewster.

5. Have you ever been to Harlan County, KY (where "Justified" takes place)?

ROnly in a dream, where I was working in a mine but a UFO showed up, and Gram Parsons came out of it and played a version of "What You Know About That" by T.I.

6. The song has gotten plenty of well-deserved praise for its fusion of country and hip-hop, a combination you've been pioneering for a decade.  But anything new and innovative also inspires some negativity.  Has the reaction from the bluegrass and rap communities been similar or has one been more welcoming than the other?

RWe don't get much of a negative reaction from the hip-hop community, cause hip-hop is always mingling with other things, it is part of its DNA. Hip-hop heads mostly just don't know what to think of it, so they either like it or they say whatever. There are some purists on the Bluegrass side that hate what we do with a passion - for them it is a crime against nature to be doing this to bluegrass. But mostly we get positive reactions from hip-hop and bluegrass fans alike - people are a lot more ready for mixing things up than you think.

7. Your new album, "Rappalachia,"came out June 5th.   What can folks who only know Gangstagrass from "Justified" expect to hear?

RRappalachia branches out in a lot more variety than the last album and from the them song - I experimented more with different processes - some songs are more of a jam, some songs are more loop based where the fiddle and banjo are sampled and cut up more, and there are different rappers on every song (including Kool Keith and Dead Prez!) so we got to play with a lot of different styles.


  1. Rench is a genius and his wife is mad foxy. And also a genius. And cookies.

  2. Great song. Justified has good music, scored by Steve Porcaro (of Toto fame!). Not to mention Brad Paisley's "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive." I like Rappalachia, too, especially "Our Life."