In HBO’s Sharp Objects, the troubled journalist Camille Preaker returns to her small Missouri hometown to investigate a string of murders—as well as the mystery of her own family’s past. She does so, in large part, as the ominous rock of Led Zeppelin surges from her headphones and car speakers. At the mansion of her mother, Adora, and stepfather, Alan Crellin, more demure sounds play: contemporary classical, mid-century lounge singers, French jazz.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, the series uses music in surprising and thematically rich ways, and its soundtrack is diegetic, which is to say part of the story itself. The director Jean-Marc Vallée executed this distinctive approach with the help of Susan Jacobs, who won the first-ever Emmy for music supervision last year and whose career in film music stretches back to She’s Gotta Have It in 1986.
On Tuesday, I spoke with Jacobs to hear about how she and Vallée created the show’s sonic world. This conversation has been edited.
Spencer Kornhaber: Sharp Objects’ title sequence opens with a record player, and music is part of the show’s story itself. How does that change your job?
Susan Jacobs: Because Jean-Marc doesn’t use a composer, everything is planned ahead of time. A lot of things that are in there are things we were working on before we even shot. And the music always comes from a source [on-screen]. It’s funny, I’ve run into people who challenge me: “That opening sequence is off of a score.” I say, “No it wasn’t. It was something from Camille’s iPod.”