Clare Bowen and Sam Palladio, two stars of ABC’s Nashville, will never forget their Grand Ole Opry debut.
Although they portray an aspiring duo on the primetime drama, Bowen and Palladio were greeted by the same enormous applause and blinding flash bulbs as any real country sensation would be when they sang at the Ryman Auditorium.
Bowen and Palladio play the roles of Scarlett and Gunnar on the soapy drama. Early in the script, they meet at the Bluebird Café, where she is a waitress. With a performance slot opening up at the last minute, he pulls her onstage, even though she has never sung into a microphone before, and they are promptly discovered by a high-profile producer. (Remember, this is only on television.)
Although their characters are not romantically involved — not yet anyway — their musical chemistry is unmistakable. Fans of the Civil Wars or the film Once might be drawn to the pair’s poetic songs, more so than the mainstream material sung by Nashville’s primary characters.
Bowen is a native of Australia who landed the part despite being two hours late to her audition after getting caught in a Los Angeles rainstorm. Palladio is a London actor who had never been to the U.S. He filmed his audition scenes in his bedroom and emailed them to his American manager.
Moments after their first Opry appearance, Bowen and Palladio chatted in their dressing room about the first time they met, the success of the show and their fondness for the city of Nashville.
CMT: What do you remember about the first time you sang together?
Palladio: We were at the Hutton Hotel here in Nashville. We’d just met that morning for the first time. … Buddy Miller turned up, as he does. He’s obviously an incredible singer and producer. He took us up to one of the hotel rooms while sort of gritting his teeth. And we were doing the same because the audition process hadn’t involved singing together. They’d just thrown us in the deep end. Buddy started playing the riff of “If I Didn’t Know Better,” and Clare started singing and sounded incredible. I thought, “Oh, my God, I’ve got to up my game because she sounds great!”
Bowen: But then he started singing, and it sounded beautiful. We looked each other and started thinking, “OK, it’s working.” … A grin spread across Buddy’s face, and he said, “Well, that was all right.” (laughs)
Palladio: I hadn’t been used to harmony singing. I’d been doing bits of it in my group back home, but I hadn’t really sung a duet with a female voice before. So we were very lucky that somehow the timbres in our voices worked really well together.
You both have a theater background, but how often have you interacted with songwriters?
Bowen: This is a totally different experience than anything I’ve ever had before. I’m a classically-trained singer, I’ve worked in musical theater and I started off in operetta. (laughs) So this is very different. You don’t get as much vocal license [in those other areas]. You’re pretty much told what you’re doing. But here, there’s so much room for your own creativity. And the people that we’re working with are the most generous, genuine, talented people. They are so willing to appreciate your art and share theirs. It’s wonderful.
Palladio: The whole Nashville co-writing thing is a whole new world for me. I’ve been writing music for about five years, but it’s been very much a solo thing. That’s just the way it worked. It kind of stemmed from poetry into music. Now, of course, we’re in this rich and incredibly diverse music world here. From the success of the show, it’s put us in these fantastic music circles. … The music community has welcomed us, and now I’m getting the opportunity to start doing some co-writing with some great Nashville songwriters.
What went through your mind when you found out there would be a soundtrack to the show?
Bowen: Oh, that maybe we’d get to perform here! (laughs) And it came true! It’s such a privilege. To be on a soundtrack with the talented people we’re working with and the caliber of artists is an honor.
Palladio: Exactly the same. The power of the music hadn’t really crossed my mind until the airing of the pilot episode. Then 12 hours later, Clare and I were on the iTunes country charts with “If I Didn’t Know Better,” which suddenly rocketed up to the Top 10, then the Top 5. And that was the first indication that, wow, this is going to be a crazy ride.
Before the show came along, what did you think of when you heard the word “Nashville”?
Bowen: I didn’t have a preconception of the place. I knew that it was an amazing music town and I knew that this was where a lot of American music started, but I could have never prepared myself for what we’ve been given and what we’ve been welcomed into.
Palladio: And for me, it had a kind of bluegrass image that I was aware of, but coming here, you find such a cosmopolitan city and a melting pot of so many different styles of music. I sort of associated it with very traditional country and bluegrass. I thought I knew what I was going to get when I thought of Nashville because it was probably going to be like that. But it’s so far removed from that in terms of the scope of talent and the music that’s happening here. My eyes were opened.
What do you think of now when you hear the word “Nashville”?
Bowen: Home. (laughs) And a dream come true.
Palladio: Yeah, it’s now going to have a huge significance in my life, I think, when somebody mentions the town in the future. It’s where dreams are being made for songwriters and certainly [represents] a huge jump in my career.
Bowen: It’s changed our lives.
Palladio: Yeah, it has.