Sam Claflin is the first to admit that when he got the part of Billy Dunne, the co-lead singer of a world-famous 1970s rock band in " Daisy Jones & the Six, " he was no musician.
Claflin was the last person cast. His co-stars had already begun rehearsing at a band camp where the actors learned to play their designated instruments and perform original songs written for the show.
“They said, ‘OK, there’s about 15 songs you’re going to need to learn. Oh, and can you play guitar?’" Claflin recounted. “I didn’t play guitar and I barely had sung. I never recorded anything. It was quite an immediate shock of terror and fear and pressure.”
One might assume that, on the other hand, Riley Keough — inhabiting the titular role in the Amazon Prime limited series premiering Friday — had the music part in the bag. After all, as the granddaughter of Elvis Presley and the daughter of Lisa Marie Presley, Keough practically has music in her genes.
But Keough said singing did not come naturally, especially singing for an audience. She could carry a tune and submitted a “sort of soft” song for her audition but was told she needed to belt out the lyrics to play frontwoman Daisy Jones.
“I sounded awful the first few times I tried,” Keough admitted.
To play a band as beloved as Daisy Jones & The Six is in the universe created by author Taylor Jenkins Reid, lip-syncing to someone else’s vocals was never on the table, co-executive producer Lauren Neustadter said. Neustadter produced the adaptation alongside Reese Witherspoon, who had to sing her own vocals for her Oscar-winning performance as June Carter Cash in “Walk the Line.”
“Reese and I had so many conversations,” said Neustadter. “She knew what a challenge it would be, but she also knew exactly what was possible.”
“Daisy Jones & The Six” follows a band that skyrockets to fame, helmed by lead singers with amazing onstage chemistry and a tumultuous behind-the-scenes relationship. Decades after the band suddenly and inexplicably (to the public) breaks up, they speak for the first time about their rise and demise.
The writers wanted to create a realistic story that would feel accurate to musicians. Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth spoke to the writers room once a week as a consultant.
“She spoke to what it’s like to be onstage and to have this electricity happen around you,” co-showrunner Will Graham said.
And expectations were high for the transcendent songs Keough, Claflin and the ensemble would have to belt. Enter Blake Mills, a Grammy winner who has worked with Alabama Shakes, John Legend, Bob Dylan and Jay-Z and was tapped as the show's executive music producer. Mills wrote or co-wrote 25 tracks created for the series, alongside the likes of Phoebe Bridgers, Jackson Browne and Marcus Mumford. (None of the lyrics included in the book were used.)
Atlantic Records will release an album featuring 11 original songs also on Friday. The first two singles “Look At Us Now (Honeycomb)” and ”Regret Me" are out now. Additional original music from the series will also be released digitally each week.
The unexpected year-and-a-half production delay — induced by the coronavirus pandemic, subsequent filming backlog and a long waiting list to use stages — helped Claflin get to where he needed to be musically.
“Any actor will say, I think, the more time you are gifted for preparation, the better ... but I needed to climb a huge mountain,” he said. of the delay giving him more time to rehearse, both in and outside of band camp.
Suki Waterhouse, who plays keyboardist Karen Sirko, said all the work that went into their music scenes helped make her a better performer.
“The two things that I’m most passionate about, I got to put together in this project. ... I’ve been putting out music for many years, but playing Karen guided me to make the record that I really wanted to make," Waterhouse said. “I’ve now done like 70 shows and two tours and have a label and all these things that I didn’t have before I played Karen, so I have a lot to be really grateful to the show for.”
While Waterhouse was already a recording artist, other actors relished in the opportunity to live out their rock star fantasies. Sebastian Chacon, who portrays Warren Rhodes, played drums in middle school and early high school but the kind of music he learned in band class was very different than the drumming he did on “Daisy Jones.”
“Everybody wants to be a rock star, but it takes a lot of work and hustle," Chacon said. “To be able to just skip the line and pretend to be a big famous rock star, I was like, ‘Wow, amazing, fantastic.’”
Josh Whitehouse, who plays Eddie Roundtree, also had music experience. He began playing with bands at 16 years old and continued performing for 10 years “until acting took over.”
“It felt like a lot of my backstory was done for me and a lot of my prep because I could draw on my own experiences in a way.”
Once the band began to click as a whole, a natural fatigue from rehearsing kicked in as the cast itched to begin filming. Will Harrison, who plays guitarist Graham Dunne, says he would leave marathon rehearsal sessions after playing the same guitar part over and over and opt to blast hip-hop.
“The last couple of weeks of band camp, I was like, ‘Guys, we don’t need to do this anymore. Like, we sound great,'" Keough laughed at the memory.
“We did start getting frustrated, I think," Claflin said.
“Because we were feeling ourselves," Keough, in true Daisy Jones fashion, finished.