Interview: Composer Jason Gallagher Gives ‘Z Nation’ Fans Mercy And Music

Jason Gallagher

Fans of Z Nation love the series not just for its blood, gore and zombies, but also because it inserts humor into the zombie apocalypse in unusual ways. Not only has the series featured zombie babies (because why not?), it also introduced zombienadoes and irradiated undead.

But the series isn’t just about what fans see on the screen: it is also about its music, which does the perfect job of setting up the show’s post-apocalyptic world, as well as highlights the themes of each of its characters. That score comes courtesy of Jason Gallagher, who created all the music you hear on the series, including the unforgettable theme song, “Have Mercy.”

In an interview, Gallagher discusses his process in approaching the music of Z Nation, as well as talks a little bit about what fans can expect in season three.

One thing that fans love about Z Nation is that it’s a different kind of zombie show from others we’ve seen, such as The Walking Dead. When you first got the job to compose the music for it, how did you decide to set it apart through its soundtrack?

Yeah. I don’t think we had those shows in mind at all in terms of the musical score. We referenced movies like Dead Man with Johnny Depp and Full Metal Jacket. We came to the decision ourselves to either be like other zombie TV shows or not being like them. We saw what the show was, a dirty on-the-road kind of gritty comic book and we went from there.

Now that the series is on its third season, what has changed, as far as the music goes from the first season?

I think it’s become a little easier for me: I think the first season is maybe the hardest thing that I’ve ever done in my life. Musically, I just keep trying to push the limits of what is possible in terms of the music of the apocalypse. One of the things that Karl [Schaefer], one of the co-creators and showrunners, said to me was that he wanted the soundtrack to sound like it could be created in this post-apocalyptic world: so a lot of banging metal and grinding metal, guitars that sound like it’s coming out of a battery-powered amp that’s broken. I think continuing to find ways to make those sounds work and make that musical is a challenge and it’s different every season.

What is the main focus, both thematically and musically, this season?

Oh, I would say so. This season goes off the rails. When I was reading the scripts before the season started, I was pretty excited to dig in because I knew it was going to get pretty weird and we were going to reference a lot of other movies and bigger themes and things just get a little crazy and that’s always fun for everyone.

You also appeared as zombie Keith Richards in the first season. What was that like? Also, that zombie is still out there somewhere, so will we see him return?

I keep telling them, “I’m not dead.” I’m ready. I’m on standby to come back and re-emerge as Keith Richards. Yeah, that was awesome. I wish they would bring me back. It was so much fun because everyone is so great up there. The crew is amazing. I don’t get to see everyone at all when I’m scoring because I’m very far away. So it was nice to actually shoot with them and it was a blast.

Each character sort of has his or her own musical theme on the series: which is your favorite character to score for and why?

It depends. I think I have a different answer for this question depending on the week. But, lately, it’s been Warren because she is always leading the way, she’s always giving some speech about pumping up her troops and forging ahead. It’s always drama with her. There’s always this moment where we get to that speech of hers and the director’s like, “You know, I think she really needs a powerful military type thing that’s going to inspire these guys.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I know. That’s Warren. Again.”

There is also a lot of death on the series, usually accompanied by music. What’s your favorite death scene that you’ve scored?

Death scenes are right up my alley. I love scoring a good death scene. It’s like the home run of the musical score. It’s my favorite thing because you get the moment: you get the moment of death, the stillness, there’s a lot of space in that, a lot of slow motion. It’s so ripe for musical scores. I loved scoring Garnett’s death in the first season. That was the first time I really dug into this guitar piece that I had written and I used like this resonating metal guitar that has a great vibe to it.

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