Country music takes over on The Brokenwood Mysteries
"Country music provides the best three minute crime stories ever sung," once said The Brokenwood Mysteries' Detective Mike Shepherd. As viewers of the show will know, Mike has a well-documented love of country music, a passion he is often seen trying to share with his bewildered colleague, Detective Kristin Sims.
This week on the final episode of the show's second season, country music takes centre stage with Mike's favourite country musician Holly Collins coming to town to perform – but the show turns out to be her final performance.
It makes perfect sense then that the crime drama's score was written and performed by Canadian-born Kiwi-based country music artist Tami Neilson and her brother Jay Neilson. Country music just seems to fit the bill, says Neilson. "I think it does for Brokenwood because it is set in a small country town," she says. "I mean it is true what Shepherd says, that country music has always been known for telling real stories and whether that's stories of heartbreak or murder ballads or love, it's always been the voice of the people."
While Neilson has been writing songs since she was 16, creating a score for all four episodes of The Brokenwood Mysteries was an entirely different proposition. "So the difference between writing a score and writing a song, I guess it would be like for a journalist, writing an article and writing a novel," Neilson says. "It's very different. Just two different mediums altogether really… I definitely couldn't have done it if I hadn't been doing it with my brother Jay. We worked really well together and with him being in Canada and me being here I thought at first, 'This is going to be a real challenge'."
But the time difference and geographical separation actually worked in their favour. "I'd basically write an entire brief about what we wanted for each piece," Neilson says. "Then I'd e-mail it to him, go to bed and I'd wake up in the morning and half of it would be tracked because he'd gotten started on it because of the time difference. It's like having the shoe-maker's elves tinkering through the night."
This isn't the first time Neilson and her brother have worked together. In fact, Neilson's family toured around churches singing gospel music as the Neilson Family Band before she decided that country was her passion. "We all started gravitating to different genres because what you grew up in is definitely not cool any more and you're singing it with your parents," Neilson says. "It wasn't until I guess I was 16 that I saw Coal Miner's Daughter, the movie about Loretta Lynn with Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones and watched that and I just fell in love with Loretta and I thought 'This is what I want to do'."
Although moving to New Zealand might not seem like the obvious choice for a country musician, Neilson moved for love and was determined to make the best of the situation. "When I first arrived here almost 10 years ago now, 'country' was a bit of a dirty word, you know. It had this kind of stigma attached to it," she says. "People are now discovering (New Zealand country music) through The Brokenwood Mysteries. How many series actually champion the underdog genre of the country and just take it all over the world and expose it internationally? That's pretty special to be a part of."
The Brokenwood Mysteries, Prime, Sunday
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- TV Guide