Kevin Costner On Screenwriting and Songwriting The Music Of 'Yellowstone' (2023)

Ever since his directorial debut, 30 years ago, Kevin Costner hasused music as vocabulary to help articulate his life onscreen — for himself, asan actor, but also for the audience and for those involved in making the film,as a director. Whether through the score of late composer John Barry, which wonDances with Wolves the 1991 Academy Award for Best Original Score, orthe orchestral music he played on set for 200 extras involved in one of theOscar-winning film’s memorable scenes, he found, from the early start of hiscareer, music to be a second language, a valuable shorthand way to convey moodand tone. “When I can’t exactly find the words, I go, ‘Listen to this; this iswhat I mean,’” he tells American Songwriter, from his home inCarpentaria, California.

Listening to the 16 tracks on Tales from Yellowstone that Kevin Costner and the Modern West have created gives even the most casual of fans a good sense of what the Paramount Network series Costner stars in, and the character he has played since 2018, is about. Yellowstone, which was originally intended to be a TV movie but ended up becoming a show that’s now in its third season, sees Costner play John Dutton, the patriarch of a modern ranching family, protective of his family and the land he’s inherited.

(Video) Kevin Costner talks the making of 'Yellowstone'

While the songs on the album reflect the character’s mood andfeelings, they also parallel some of the experiences Costner himself has hadwhile filming the show. “It’s really a concept record,” he says. “Sometimesthere are songs that aren’t really necessarily about John Dutton. I have my own muse when I’maway from home, for when I’m making a movie, and there are songs that kind ofblend in and also complementwhat’s happening.”

Costner citesFeeling Like the Last Timeas an example, a song about the last time he saw his dad, at the airport, saying goodbye after a hunting trip — and feeling it might very well be the last time.

“I’d done that with him since I was a little boy and he told me when we say goodbye at the airport that this will be the last time. And as he was telling me that, there was some security person yelling at us to get our car off the curb, when we were trying to say goodbye to each other. I was looking at this man that had raised me, and all I could see when I looked at that security guy was the whistle in his mouth. And he was talking, but I couldn’t hear his voice. I could just see my dad. He said, ‘we’ll never do this again.’ So I just picked my eyes on him. And eventually, he had to go and I had to get on the airplane. And he was right. So I started writing about that on the plane.”

He took the idea to his band, and they exchanged thoughts about their own families and children to complete the song. The rest of the songs on Tales are created in much the same way too, as a collaboration between Costner and his band, along with other songwriters.

(Video) The Sun Will Rise Again

“I’m not as gifted as John [Coinman] and Park [Chisholm] and Teddy [Morgan]. And Blair [Forward]. What I do is, I just keep trying, when it seems to be so effortless for them. For me, I really have to dig, I have to try and most of the time everything is not making it to the top.”

Although he was playing music before he became a full-time actor,Costner admits he finds film somewhat of a more comfortable process.“Sometimes, when I go to my next movie, I think I’ve forgotten everything Iknow about acting,” he says. “Then you get there and you realize that you knowall these things that you’ve built on — they start to come back. Music is,like, I never, we never, know.”

But with his band, which has been playing together since 2007, get it back they do. Whether it’s touring together or making new music that’s been inspired by Costner’s work as an actor. Tales was born out of a similar approach the band took to the album they created for his previous TV role, as the Emmy-winning ‘Devil’ Anse Hatfield in Hatfields & McCoys too. It’s not the official music of the series, but it enhances the viewer’s experience of it and it keeps the band together even while Costner is at his day-job.

The lead single off Tales, Won’t Stop Loving You, is about the loss of Dutton’s wife.

(Video) Kevin Costner & Modern West - " Turn It On "- #Yellowstone

“It begins to sum up how he feels,” says Costner. “This man is about the land. And when you share the land with your partner, every place you ever go, you see her on it. He’s a man going forward, but you never forget that moment; it’s immovable. I didn’t have to look any further than my own life to find what was the strength of it for me.”

But the song took some work before it became the track that madeit onto the album. Won’t Stop Loving You was written first as “amainstream country radio pitch,” according to co-writer Jack Williams, who sentit to Costner, as he usually does with the material he writes. “I sendeverything I write to Kevin because either I just want to share it with him orthere’s a project he’s doing that I hope he might consider it for. When I senthim this song, it was simply to share what I thought was an emotionally greatlittle country song.”

Costner liked the track but asked Williams if he and the other co-writers would be willing to re-write it to fit more in with Yellowstone.

“We set up a time for Kevin to call me. I put the phone on speaker and Kevin went into the character he plays, John Dutton, and just talked to me about how he felt about losing his wife early on and raising his family. I wrote everything down he said. Then I took that conversation back to my co-writers and together we used his feelings, thoughts and words to re-write the song and thus Kevin became a writer on the song too.”

(Video) ‘Yellowstone’ Official Theme Music Composed by Brian Tyler | Paramount Network

The track has resonated with fans who’ve also lost loved ones andhave been sending messages of thanks to Costner and the band on the YouTubepage of the music video.

Songwriting may not come as easy to Costner as screenwriting but he still has a solid sense of what he wants to say or where he’d like the song to go. On The Man I Am, he says he recorded the song a cappella.

“You won’t know it, but that was not done to a click track. I sang it two or three times and then Teddy laid music in behind it. It was just a choice I wanted to make. It’s kind of like when I asked Whitney [Houston] to do I Will Always Love You a capella in The Bodyguard. I just had a feeling about why a person would, if they’re singing about somebody they love that they don’t feel like they ever had a chance to tell it to them, sing it as bare bones as possible. To let you know, somehow, that it means more.”

Just like his love of music, Costner’s appreciation for the Western has also grown over the years. He’s working on telling more stories in this genre. “I like to look at the moments that define us as people. How hard it was to make a living out of something that wasn’t there, the displacement of the people who were there before you, and then the fight that resulted from it. It’s the fingerprints on our expansion. They’re understandable, they’re ugly, they’re heroic, they’re shameful.”

(Video) Kevin Costner and Taylor Sheridan YELLOWSTONE Interview! ( Exclusive)

As Costner continues to tell these stories, so he’ll keep singing them too.


Who writes the music for Yellowstone? ›

He scored seven installments of the Fast & Furious franchise, and the soundtrack for the Paramount TV series Yellowstone.
Brian Tyler
OccupationComposer songwriter multi-instrumentalist conductor arranger DJ producer
Years active1997–present
Musical career
Also known asMadsonik
6 more rows

Who sings most of the songs on Yellowstone? ›

Fans of the hit Paramount series Yellowstone recognize Ryan Bingham as Walker, the ex-con ranch hand who fills the bunkhouse at Dutton Ranch with music. But many music fans already knew the country and Americana singer-songwriter for his critically-acclaimed albums, such as 2007's Mescalito.

Does Kevin Costner write his own songs? ›

Costner is also a singer-songwriter, and he and his band, Kevin Costner & Modern West, wrote and recorded an entire concept album based on the characters from the show.

Who wrote the music for 1883? ›

With that in mind, fans can now listen to 1883: Season 1, Volume 1, the show's soundtrack. Composers Brian Tyler and Breton Vivian are behind the almost entirely instrumental, symphonic soundtrack for Taylor Sheridan's Yellowstone origin story.

Does Kevin Costner write Yellowstone? ›

First, creator Taylor Sheridan and Kevin Costner actually met before Taylor wrote Yellowstone.

Is Walker on Yellowstone a real singer? ›


This is Ryan Bingham, who plays tender-hearted Walker on Yellowstone. He's a known singer/songwriter who provided so much of the great music for the Jeff Bridges movie Crazy Heart (2009). He's not the only one from the franchise to work alongside Bridges however.

Is Lloyd on Yellowstone a real cowboy? ›

As it turns out, the actor behind the long-time Dutton employee, Forrie J. Smith, is a real-life cowboy with decades of experience under his large-buckled belt.

Who plays guitar on Yellowstone? ›

Ryan Bingham
BornGeorge Ryan Bingham March 31, 1981 Hobbs, New Mexico, U.S.
EducationWestfield High School
OccupationSinger songwriter musician actor
Years active2007-present
11 more rows

What country singer is in Yellowstone? ›

Lainey Wilson will play a musician named 'Abby' in the upcoming season of "Yellowstone," which will premiere on November 13. Country singer Lainey Wilson is getting ready to teach the cast of “Yellowstone” a few things.

Where is Yellowstone filmed? ›

Believe it or not, the stunning scenery portrayed as the Dutton family ranch is the real-life Chief Joseph Ranch. That's right! Yellowstone is filmed at the Chief Joseph Ranch in Darby, Montana. Read on for everything you need to know about the Chief Joseph Ranch, including how you can spend a night.

What song is played on the piano in 1883? ›

Viewers of Ep. 4 of 1883 found Elsa Dutton (Isabel May) at a piano playing Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" as (unbeknownst to her) her mother (Faith Hill) was fighting for her life.

Does 1883 and Yellowstone have the same theme song? ›

28 but you can listen to the show's main theme exclusively on TheWrap right now. In the video above, you can stream the 8-minute “1883” theme by composers Brian Tyler and Breton Vivian, who collaborated on the score for the first season of the “Yellowstone” prequel series.

Will there be a season 2 of 1883? ›

After some confusion surrounding the future of the 1883 television series, we finally have some clarification. There will be a second season and it will revolve around real-life lawman Bass Reeves with David Oyelowo in the lead role.

How much does Kevin Costner make per episode of Yellowstone? ›

According to Variety, the Oscar-winning actor, director and producer is pulling in $1.3 million per episode for Yellowstone, which is currently filming its much-anticipated Season 5 on location in Montana.

Is there a real Dutton ranch? ›

The 2,500-acre Chief Joseph Ranch in Darby, Montana, which doubles as the show's fictional Dutton Ranch, is not only a real-life historic landmark, family homestead and working ranch—but, it's also a guest ranch with cabins available for rental (when the show's not filming, of course).

How realistic is Yellowstone? ›

Yellowstone comes from the mind of former Sons of Anarchy star Taylor Sheridan. The show is fiction, but it has some real-life counterparts. The new Yellowstone spinoff 6666 is based on a very real ranch.

What happened to the guitar player on Yellowstone? ›

After quitting, Kayce drove him out of state to a train station in Wyoming, warning him never to set foot in Montana again, especially knowing that Rip would have killed him.
Portrayed by.
First appearanceLast appearance
"The Unravelling: Part 1""Grass on the Streets and Weeds on the Rooftops"

Is Ryan Bingham actually a cowboy? ›

Ryan Bingham is a real-life cowboy. He grew up riding horses and doing a lot of cowboy stuff with his family, who ranched out in New Mexico. He would rope and bull ride, with bull riding becoming a big part of his youth.

Does Kevin Costner play guitar? ›

Costner, who had grown up singing in church choirs and playing piano and guitar, effectively put music on the shelf for almost two decades.

What does John Prine have to do with Yellowstone? ›

The third episode of Season 4 of Yellowstone paid tribute to the legacy of John Prine, the iconic singer-songwriter who passed away in 2020 due to complications related to COVID-19.

Who came up with the show Yellowstone? ›

It's just one of a handful of projects "Yellowstone" creator Taylor Sheridan is making for Paramount. "Yellowstone" is the biggest series on cable and a fifth season is in the works.

What is the theme song for Yellowstone TV show? ›

What's Yellowstone theme song? The song featured as theme song in Yellowstone opening credits is titled Yellowstone Main Title and it's composed by Bryan Tyler, who is the official author of the soundtrack.


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