Actor-songwriter Scarlett Burke is the driving force behind a scripted podcast that tells the story of an ambitious Nashville songwriter.
Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when Superman bounded over tall buildings, The Lone Ranger galloped hither and yon on a fiery white horse, and The Shadow knew what evil lurked in the hearts of men. Make It Up as We Go, a scripted podcast now available on Apple, Spotify and iHeart platforms, is an impressively polished and compulsively listenable limited-run series that entertainingly plays like a country-flavored throwback to the Golden Age of Radio Drama.
Actor-songwriter Scarlett Burke — co-creator, director and executive producer of the podcast — stars to perfection as Charlotte Sayles, an aspiring young singer-songwriter who makes the transition from playing gigs in small-town Texas clubs to navigating the writers rooms of Nashville. While Charlotte struggles to meet professional and personal challenges in Music City and beyond, she encounters such real-life country music figures as Miranda Lambert, Lindsay Ell and Bobby Bones. And she interacts with key supporting characters played by such notables as Dennis Quaid (as Joe Sayles, Charlotte’s father) Billy Bob Thornton (Nashville producer Van Tyler), Bre Blair (Nashville songwriter and hitmaker Emily Taylor), and Rob Mayes (Davis Gabbert, Charlotte’s hometown sweetheart and, initially, musical collaborator).
Take a look a Burke’s resume, and you’ll see how many of her own experiences she has drawn upon to make Make It Up as We Go happen. As a songwriter, she has written for Miranda Lambert, Lindsay Ell, and Tyler Rich, and composed music for some of the biggest campaigns in advertising (including Taco Bell’s “Chasing Gold” ad starring Darren Criss). As an actor, she has appeared in episodes of such TV series as Vegas (where she first met Dennis Quaid), Ray Donovan, Animal Kingdom and Lethal Weapon. And before you ask: Yes, she has written or co-written songs for the podcast soundtrack — including “Champion,” performed by Lambert on the Season 1 finale episode released today.
We recently spoke with Scarlett Burke about Make It Up as We Go. Here are some highlights from our conversation, edited for continuity and length.
Cowboys & Indians: So how did something this offbeat come together? Whose brainchild was it?
Scarlett Burke: It was mine and my co-creator on the project, Jared Gutstadt [co-founder and CEO of Audio Up Media]. And he also produced the music on the album. And the music came first… all seven of the songs in the project came first, and they were written before this series developed. So the series is actually written based around the music.
I had written songs in Nashville, and they weren’t quite mainstream. And so Jared and I had talked about recording the music. He and I had worked together for years in the film and TV sync world, and doing commercial jingles. And so he wanted to produce my EP. And I said, “Well, I don't really know the point in releasing an EP if I’m not touring.” And he goes, “Well, let's just record it, because I think these songs are great and we'll find a home for them.” Because that's what he does in the sync world of music and TV.
So we did it. And then he said, “Well, what about a podcast?” And so I said, “Like a musical podcast?” And we got to talking about it — and here we are. So it was really just a new way of releasing music through story, which is what Nashville songwriting and country music is all about.
C&I: OK, you’re from Amarillo, Texas. She’s also from the Lone Star State. How much of Charlotte Sayles is Scarlett Burke?
Scarlett: [Laughs] Oh, well, quite a lot. I mean, I had a different journey getting to Nashville. I lived in Los Angeles for 13 years, and was acting and still songwriting. But I feel like we share the same core — the same core values — and there’s that struggle with balancing your family and home life with this career that you want to pursue, and really going for it. That’s where I feel like we relate the most: That struggle of learning to balance. It’s really important in life.
C&I: Your character’s first experience in a Nashville writers room is, well, a good deal less than pleasant. Was that part of the story at all autobiographical?
Scarlett: Definitely not. For one thing, I wasn’t writing with a boyfriend. [Laughs]. That’s more like something from a collection of stories that I’d heard, and told [series co-writers] David and Brooks Hudgins. I told them a couple of stories about getting knocked around in a writers room, and guys puffing their feathers and stuff. There’s no room for any creativity with some of the egos that can be in those rooms. And I don’t mean that in a bad way toward Nashville. That happens anywhere in any workplace. But I shared really great stories, and then a few not so great experiences, and they took that and ran with it. So it was just inspired by true events.
C&I: The eighth and final Season 1 episode of Make It Up as We Go drops Nov. 19. Can we expect a sequel?
Scarlett: Yes. We are in pre-production, and we are also working on development as a TV series. And at this point, it looks like our numbers are very good, and it seems like people are really hoping for a sequel, a Season 2. So, we haven't officially announced it, but it is in motion.
C&I: The podcast has given you a great opportunity to showcase your music. But wouldn’t you agree it’s been an invaluable opportunity to hone your acting talent as well?
Scarlett: You know, I do. And I think that I’ve certainly learned a lot — this has been the best acting class. And I’ve learned a lot from directing other actors, like Billy Bob and Dennis, and seeing how they work. And Michael Raymond-James — God, he’s good. He is so good. And Rob Mayes. I mean, watching how these actors work, and are free with it, and dive into it and make choices — it’s been such an incredible acting class, watching them and working with them. And so I think having this experience will help me book roles in the future. Because, before, I didn’t have this experience. And so in that way, yes, I do think it will open the doors for better feedback from auditions that are outside of this project.
C&I: So you don’t think you’ll have any trouble getting cast in any TV version of Make It Up as We Go?
Scarlett: [Laughs] Well, I hope I wouldn’t have to audition for my own show…