Ten-gallon hats, spurs that jingle-jangle, blood-spurting gunfights, the occasional scalping, Soundgarden and Radiohead. The first two episodes of HBO's much-hyped Westworld have had plenty of all the traditional Western trappings, and, to the surprise of some viewers, a saloon player piano that plinks out eerie versions of '90s alt-rock classics. It's all part of the mood-setting plan from the team behind the Wild West-themed show, about strangely sentient robots and the horny, blood-lusting humans who pay to kill and bed them.
"All credit goes to showrunner Jonathan Nolan... he came up with that idea, and he was pushing those songs," explains Westworld composer Ramin Djawadi. He's specifically talking about the inclusion of Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" and a mind-bending remake of the Rolling Stones' "Paint it Black" in the series premiere, and the taste of Radiohead's "No Surprises" that cameos in Sunday night's (Oct. 9) second episode. "It's been incredibly fun doing those arrangements on the piano in the saloon. It's a little thing in the background that you might pick up on and then you think, 'Hey, wait, that doesn't belong there!' It makes it contemporary and fun."
Djawadi -- who also serves as in-house composer for HBO's other dramatic behemoth, Game of Thrones -- says he was excited to cook up a "big orchestral" arrangement of the Stones classic for the pilot, where we first meet the humans behind the theme park where anything goes. "I liked the idea of using known music to enhance [the scenes] rather than writing my own music," he says, though plenty of his spooky, atmospheric instrumental themes also show up during the show.