'Archer': Why the FX Series Created Country-Superstar Character Cherlene
Currently in its fifth season, FX's animated series releases its first soundtrack, thanks to a new storyline for a country-minded character.
Archer has gone country. Well, sort of. Viewers of the popular FX series have watched this season as the animated series has featured a plotline that follows the character of Cheryl Tunt into "Cherlene," a full-fledged country superstar. The plot has proven to be so popular with viewers of the series that Cherlene: Songs From the Series Archer has just been issued via a digital-only release.
Archer executive producer Matt Thompson said that the series – now in its fifth season – needed a little bit of a jolt. "This season on Archer, we decided that we were bored. The first four seasons had a mission of the week, whether it was going against Russian spies or a drug cartel down in Cuba. We kind of flipped everything. The show usually revolves around a spy organization or intrigue kind of stuff, so from episode one of this season, we decided that we would find out that it was never legal for us to be spies at all. So, now we're basically a drug cartel."
For some of the characters, that was an easy fit, but there was one whom Thompson didn't feel was right for the story. "We have one character – who is fabulously wealthy and insane," he said with a chuckle. "Her name is Cheryl. It didn't make sense for her to be caught up in this money-making scheme because she's got a half-million dollars. She just wakes up one day and decides she wants to be the world's No. 1 country music singer. When we did the first episode, we got the rights to 'Baby, Please Don't Go,' and we redid that. After we put the song together, we thought about how much we liked hearing her sing this song and what it could do for us."
The creative team behind the show liked where the story took the series -- and the fact that the music was real. "We've never done a soundtrack before, and we liked the fact that it wasn't a joke – it wasn't a Weird Al song with parodies. Then, it made sense to us that we needed to do it for an entire season."
That led Thompson and co-producer Adam Reed to enlist the help of Kevin Kinney (Drivin' 'N' Cryin') to produce the record. "We had lunch and told him what we wanted to do. We gave him our parameters – we wanted to do 'Danger Zone' because if we made an album and didn't do it, our fans would kill us, because it is such a part of the show. The same thing for 'East Bound and Down,' because Archer has a love of all things Burt Reynolds. From there, we said, 'Let's take some of your songs we like and then write some others.' He hired the band, found the lead singer. We were really happy with her. The trick was she had to sound like Judy Greer, who voices Cheryl."
Whom did they find? The answer to that question is Jessy Lynn Martens, whom Kinney had high praise for. "She is a classically trained prodigy on the violin, mandolin and guitar. She's also a great singer-songwriter who has her own record out. I knew she was going to be the utility girl. On the way to the airport to pick her up, I was listening to her record, so I asked her to sing a song I had written, but she didn't know I was auditioning her. It turned out perfect. She's not over-the-top Southern, which is what I was looking for … so I thought 'This is going to work.' It turned out really great!" The track of 'Danger Zone' is made even more special as a result of a guest appearance from Kenny Loggins himself.
Writing three of the songs from the soundtrack was Aaron Lee Tasjan, who told Billboard that he enjoyed getting into the mind of the character.
"Cherlene has a little bit of an attitude, and you have to put yourself in that mindset," said Tasjan, who will be releasing his first solo record later this year. "Sometimes as a writer you have to get into the head space of somebody else -- but you can do it. I think of a writer like John Prine, writing a song like 'Angel From Montgomery' as an old woman. That's what I try to do."
For his part, Kinney said that he enjoyed the process, saying that it took him back in time. "My first record was The Archies. I always wondered what it was like to write for cartoons, like Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. It was so much fun to get to use some of my sarcasm that I don't usually do with my music."
This article originally appeared on Billboard.com.