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How Riley Keough and Sam Claflin went from actors with no musical experience to bona fide 1970s rockers

From the moment Riley Keough heard about “Daisy Jones & the Six,” she felt it was her destiny to play the title character.

“I just knew I was going to be Daisy,” she says Variety about Prime Video’s adaptation of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s bestseller, chronicling the rise and fall of a 1970s rock band. “It was very weird.”

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And then the fear started. Despite having music in her blood — she’s Elvis Presley’s granddaughter — Keough says she had no professional singing experience when she came on the show. That seems almost unbelievable upon hearing the first note she sings, her voice velvety yet erratic, in the debut episode.

“I was like, I don’t know if I can do it,” Keough says of playing Daisy, a Stevie Nicks-inspired singer-songwriter who falls in love with her bandmate Billy Dunne (Sam Claflin). “I think early on there were discussions of, ‘Can they sing it? What do we do if they can’t?’”

Not to worry, “Daisy Jones,” backed by Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine, recruited a stellar music team to bring the band to life. All-star producer and multi-instrumentalist Blake Mills co-wrote and produced the 25 original songs featured in the 10-episode series, including the band’s 11-track debut album, “Aurora,” which was released Friday. Music industry veteran Tony Berg provided additional production and served as chief music consultant, and “Nashville” alum Frankie Pine was the music supervisor.

Berg admits he had his doubts whether two non-musicians could do what the show’s original music — full of intricate vocal riffs and intricate guitar chords — demanded.

“Our first concern when Sam and Riley were cast was that it would put a lot of pressure on two people who had never sung professionally to be responsible for singing 25 songs. I mean, that’s discouraging, isn’t it?” Berg says. “The first sounds they ever made for me and Blake, we looked at each other like we were going to say ‘uh-oh’ because it just wasn’t something they’d done.”

Claflin says there were even early discussions about having vocal doubles sung on the tracks.

“I remember that conversation. Like, ‘We’ll find someone else and maybe we’ll have a stunt vocalist,’ they said,’ Claflin says. “I was like, what does that mean? That was the kick in the ass I needed.”

“I was like, fuck that!” Keough agrees.

Riley Keough (Daisy)

Riley Keough (Daisy)

Enter Pine, who, along with a pair of musical coaches, led an intensive three-month band camp during which the actors (Keough and Claflin were joined by bandmates Suki Waterhouse, Will Harrison, Josh Whitehouse, and Sebastian Chacon) learned how to sing and play the original music. Their training was interrupted by the COVID-19 shutdowns in the spring of 2020, forcing rehearsals to move to Zoom. In a fortuitous twist, the delay in production gave them a year and a half to hone their craft before shooting
started in September 2021.

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“Honestly, one of the best things that ever happened to this production was the fact that we got delayed,” says Claflin. That meant we could all get up to speed and get on the same page.

Musical skills were key, but just as important, the actors had to perform and communicate like a real band would.

“[Bands] spend so much time together that they know what everyone is going to do,” says Pine. “We wanted that experience for our actors so that doing those performances was like a second hat to them, and then all they had to worry about was the acting part.”

While Pine says the band’s playing style wasn’t modeled on any particular group, she showed the cast members videos of iconic 1970s acts like Fleetwood Mac and Grace Jones to get them in the groove. Claflin took cues from Bruce Springsteen and Lindsey Buckingham for his stage swagger, while Keough’s inspiration was much more abstract.

“I watched tons of live performance videos and just really tried to understand what the movement would have been like and what that world would have been like,” she says. “But I also really felt like Daisy was her own person, and I didn’t want to model her after one person. I think she was actually a combination of many women and men.

For Keough and Claflin, much of the band camp worked one-on-one to establish their vocal chemistry, as almost every song is a duet. Somewhat surprisingly, the two did not sing together during the audition process.

“We met once, and then we walked into this room and had to sing ‘Aurora’ together, which is kind of hard to sing,” Keough recalls. “They wanted us to work on our singing chemistry very early on, from day one. So we kind of met and then got placed face-to-face and they said, ‘Sing to each other!’”

“Being in Love!” adds Claflin. “At that time, the pressure was also increased a bit. It was like, ‘OK, it’s not just all on my shoulders. I’m not miles behind the rest.’ Like we’ve got this done.’

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For Berg, it was imperative that Daisy and Billy didn’t sound too distracted.

“What we wanted to do was find their real voices and make them sing like they would if they were the singers of the biggest rock band in the world,” he says. “And to Riley and Sam’s credit, they stepped up.”

Led by Mills and Berg, the show’s original music blends classic rock sensibilities with an effortlessly modern feel. This was an important balance for creator, co-showrunner and executive producer Scott Neustadter, who was drawn to the duo because they shared his vision that the soundtrack should not feel like a “fake Fleetwood Mac album.”

“It wasn’t something that was supposed to sound like a lost record of the moment,” he says. “It’s his own thing that you could believe they were playing on the radio at the time, but that didn’t sound like a parody or some kind of fake version of that.”

To give the music even more originality, the team made the decision not to use the lyrics already written in Jenkins Reid’s novel, but to write the songs from scratch.

“I think what everyone felt was let’s get to the essence of what that era was without being too imitative or too limited, so that it would meet Blake’s songwriting criteria while doing what the show needed,” says Mountain.

Mills and Berg, who run the historic Sound City Studios in Los Angeles where legends like Elton John and Neil Young recorded, engaged the studio’s vibrant community in the project, resulting in writing credits for notable artists such as Marcus Mumford, Phoebe Bridgers and Jackson Browne.

Mumford, who co-wrote ‘Look at Us Now (Honeycomb)’ – the Six’s first big hit, featured in Episode 3 – was recruited while working with Mills on his solo record ‘Self-Titled’.

Mumford first heard about “Daisy Jones & the Six” from Mills nearly four years ago, and was happy to support his friend on this “epic quest” that he knew was quite a challenge. Working on the track, a heated back and forth between Daisy and Billy masquerading as a feel-good anthem, was a welcome distraction for the Mumford & Sons frontman, who believes “writing begets more writing”.

“Writing this somewhat contentious dialogue between these two characters was just a really fun exercise,” says Mumford. “And then it was about making the song as cool as possible, and the melody feels like it’s one that could survive for a long time and launch a band…I remember it being extremely collaborative, candid, and with the free spirit that I think is ultimately conveyed in the song.

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To find inspiration, Mumford says he and his fellow co-writers — Mills, Jason Boesel, Stephony Smith, and Jonathan Rice — listened to Paul McCartney and Lindsey Buckingham’s early solo records, as well as the 1976 album “Hejira.” by Joni Mitchell.

“That stuff is in the walls, you know?” he says of Sound City, where the show also filmed tape recording scenes. “You can feel the essence of Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac in those walls because so many of those records were made there.”

When Mumford heard Keough and Claflin sing “Look at Us Now” for the first time, he was extremely impressed.

“It’s funny, the first time I listened [the song] I was like, ‘Oh that’s weird, they used Blake’s voice.’ But that is not it. Sam only studied Blake’s vibrato so perfectly that it sounds like Blake’s vibrato,” says Mumford. “I was amazed by that. And I think Riley understands the swearing spirit of that lyric so well. It is quite radical what they have been able to do, I have enormous admiration for them.”

He pauses, then adds with a laugh, “It kind of pisses me off, actually.”

Near the end of their practice, Pine had the band perform live in front of a roomful of execs and the show’s crew as a final test of sorts. But she says her dream is to see the group perform at one of LA’s iconic venues from the series, such as The Troubadour.

“I feel like we made them so good, you know, that they could get up there and play it live,” she says. “I really want everyone to believe that this is a real band.”

So, is there ever any hope of a real Daisy Jones & the Six tour? Keough and Claflin aren’t ruling it out.

“I think we’d all be happy to do that, if it was the right time,” says Keough. “We want a comeback show!”

“And we canClaflin adds. “That’s the beauty.”

“Daisy Jones and the Six” is now available to stream on Prime Video.

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