Inside the Wallander Theme Song

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Back in 2008, Australian native Emily Barker and her band the Red Clay Halo recorded their song, “Nostalgia,” in relative anonymity. But when the crime drama Wallander premiered, accompanied by the song, “Nostalgia” became an instant hit.

As told by Emily Barker herself, this is the story of “Nostalgia” from its chilly inception to its eventual fame.

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Jace Lacob (Jace): MASTERPIECE Studio is brought to you by Audible. For a free trial, go to

MUSIC: “Nostalgia” performed by Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo from Wallander
Tram wires, cross Northern skies
Cut my blue heart in two

Jace: Over three seasons, MASTERPIECE’s Wallander has cemented itself as a top-notch crime drama that — in addition to murder and blood– offers up picturesque Swedish settings, captivating performances from stars like Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hiddleston, and an addictive theme song.

MUSIC: “Anna” performed by Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo from Wallander
From the wind and the waves

Jace: Penned and performed by Australian native Emily Barker and her group The Red Clay Halo, “Nostalgia,” has become an award-winning hit.

But back when Emily first wrote the song…

Emily Barker: I have to admit, I didn’t know any of it. I didn’t know Henning Mankell. I didn’t know Kenneth Branagh. I didn’t know Wallander.

Jace: I’m Jace Lacob and on this episode of MASTERPIECE Studio, I sit down with Emily Barker to hear the story of how the Wallander theme song came to be.

MUSIC: “Anna” performed by Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo from Wallander

Jace: Welcome.

Emily Barker (Emily): Thank you.

Jace: Now you’re an Australian singer. Wallander is about a police detective in Sweden played by a Northern Irish actor.

Emily: (Laughs)

Jace: How on earth did your song “Nostalgia” become the theme for Wallander?

Emily: That’s a very good question. I am from Australia. I’m from a little country town in the southwest called Bridgetown, and I started traveling when I was 20 and came over to the UK as a backpacker, and like, uh, lots of Australian backpackers, ended up staying. So I formed a band.

We were called “Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo,” and we made a record called Despite the Snow, and we went along and played this show, and at the show was the composer, Martin Phipps. He heard my song “Nostalgia,” and he happened to be working on the British version of Wallander, and he asked me to pop down to his studio a couple of days after the party, and I popped down there and recorded a version of “Nostalgia,” and they really enjoyed it so it ended up becoming the theme tune to the series.

Jace: Were you familiar at all with the Henning Mankell Wallander books before being approached by Martin?

Emily: I have to admit that I wasn’t fam- He rang me. He rang me two days after the concert and said, “I met you at the party. I’m working on this adaptation of Henning Mankell novels for a BBC drama series called Wallander starring Kenneth Branagh,” and I have to admit, I didn’t know any of it.

I didn’t know Henning Mankell. I didn’t know Kenneth Branagh. I didn’t know Wallander, but I sort of said, “Uh-huh. Uh-huh,” and then went and did some research and was like, “Oh, wow. This is a great opportunity.”

Jace: What has the response been to the song since Wallander started airing in 2008?

Emily: It’s been a really great response. At that point in my career, I was completely DIY, and Wallander came out in the UK, and it was so popular. I think there were 13 million people watching it in the UK alone. And this is back in the MySpace days, and I had a few texts come in from friends and saying, “You’re on the front page of MySpace,” and I got loads of order come through. I really didn’t know what had happened and then I worked out that Wallander had happened, and… (Laughs) I didn’t really know what I was doing at that point so it took, a few more episodes for me to get myself together. But it was great. I just noticed people starting to come to the shows more, and it also led to sort of further opportunities in TV and film.

Jace: Now have you since watched the show, and if so, what is your take on the show’s opening titles?

Emily: Yeah. I, I really love the series. I think that Kenneth Branagh and all the other actors, Tom Hiddleston and everybody in it’s great. I love… It surprises me every single time it begins and I hear my voice come on. It’s still a shock.

Jace: I’d love to find out more about the backstory of the song, which seems very rooted in Melbourne. Where was “Nostalgia” written, and what is it about for you?

Emily: I did write it when I was in Melbourne. I was visiting Melbourne for the first time, and it was a strange thing because, I felt really far away from home still even though I was in my country of birth. And I fell in love with Melbourne completely. It’s such a wonderful city. Really … So much culture going on, but but I’d been away for quite awhile, and I was sort of having this confusion over home and where that was and who I was missing and what I was missing and… I mean, it’s quite an open text as well, and I know that quite a few people have read different things into it, so I like that as well, but for me, there were sorts of themes going on.

MUSIC: “Nostalgia” performed by Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo from Despite the Snow
Twelve thousand miles away from your smile
I’m twelve thousand miles away from me

Jace: I mean, for me, the lyrics definitely allude to being separated from one’s lover…That feeling of homesickness for a home you cannot return to or that never was.

MUSIC: “Nostalgia” performed by Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo from Despite the Snow
Oh whisper me words in the shape of a bay

Jace: Was that something that you wanted to achieve?

Emily: Yeah. Definitely. Capturing that mood and….yeah…and that feeling of sort of longing and missing and… I think cause I’ve lived away for such a long time, but I revisit. Every year, I go back to Bridgetown and go back to my family, it’s this constant question of, “Where should I be?” Should I still be far away or should I move to Nashville? Should I … (Laughs)

I think once you’ve started traveling a lot and lived away and your life– you live life elsewhere for many years, you sort of start to be of two worlds, and it’s not simple to return either.

Jace: Now there’s a haunting quality to this song, which blends together elements of English folk and country. It, it feels chilly and cold, which actually quite suits the Swedish setting of the series. Now “Nostalgia” came off of, as you said, your 2008 album “Despite the Snow,” which was recorded in a 16th century barn in Norfolk. Is that correct?

Emily: That’s correct. Yeah. It was about this time eight years ago actually, and it was quite unusual weather for the time of year, but it just, you know, out of nowhere, started really tipping down the snow, and we only had four days to make our album. We were in a barn, and the only heating in this barn was this big, like, it looked like a jet engine, sort of, and it was really noisy, so we had to turn it off when we were recording, and with violins and all these wooden instruments, it meant that everything went out of tune, and although … And our fingers just weren’t working properly, and we were freezing cold. So it’s called “Despite the Snow” partly because of that but also because there’s a Robert Graves poem called, “Despite the Snow”, “Despite the Falling Snow”, something like this, beautiful, beautiful poem. I ended up writing a song for a friend who’d done a short film inspired by that poem so there’s sort of lots of layers to the title and to the whole experience.

MUSIC: “Despite the Snow” performed by Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo from Despite the Snow
She tells her love half asleep
She tells her love half asleep

Emily: I’m really inspired by…mostly by strong characters so– I also get my stories from other people that I know too; my grandparents on my … My mother’s parents in particular have been been really intriguing to me because they’re from the Netherlands, and they immigrated in 1952 over to Australia having never been there before, and they were very private and very much wanted to leave behind their past, so we were constantly looking for clues as to who these people were. We sort of were able to piece their lives together a bit more. So it’s real people around me as well as being inspired by sort of films and novels as well.

Jace: I heard that last year, you traveled to Ystad in Skåne, Sweden to visit the places that Wallander was shot and that you’re making a documentary?

Emily: Yeah.

Jace: What can you share about your experiences in making the documentary?

Emily: Well, I was on tour with a fantastic singer-songwriter called Christian Kjellvander, and we were passing nearby Ystad, and… There’s a man in the UK called Ian S. Bolton, and he’s introduced himself to me at various shows that I’ve done, and he’s a location expert or geek if you like.

He basically finds all the locations in various films or television series that he loves. And he did it for BBC Wallander and so he knows the people who own the houses where the scenes of Wallander were shot.

So he ended up coming over and meeting me. We had two days there, and we drove around to all these different locations, and I met lots of the people who had hired out their houses like Wallander’s first home and his second home, and … So I basically just documented my time there, and gonna be … I won’t tell you too much about it actually, but it was very intriguing to sort of go around to all these places, and it’s such a beautiful area as well, so … It was pretty cool.

Jace: Now for me, I can’t think of Wallander without thinking of “Nostalgia.” Is that strange at all to you that it has become so synonymous with the show itself?

Emily: No. I mean not really because when I watch that … There’s a great series, The Bridge, I’m not sure if you’ve seen that, but…

Jace: Yes.

Emily: … the theme tune to that… Yeah. It’s so… It’s so beautiful and fitting, and I can’t … I think I’d be really disappointed if another theme tune took that. They’re quite important, I think, to a series and that somehow triggers your memories of everything that’s come before and what’s gonna happen and gets you in the mood.

Jace: The version of “Nostalgia” that, that was used as Wallander’s theme is slightly different than the version on Despite the Snow.

MUSIC: “Nostalgia” performed by Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo from Despite the Snow
Tram wires cross Melbourne skies
Cut my red heart in two

Jace: What makes it unique from the original song in terms of both the lyrics — I mean, you substitute “my blue heart” for “red heart” — and the music itself?

Emily: Yeah. So, well obviously, the original is set in Melbourne, so “Melbourne skies,” “Johnson street,” these things I had to replace.

MUSIC: “Nostalgia” performed by Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo from Wallander
Tram wires cross northern skies
Cut my blue heart in two

Emily: And then, “the blue heart” we changed because of the color of the opening titles is with the blue and yellow, so it looked wrong. It wasn’t working. So I changed that.

And also, the original has definitely got more of a folk vibe; so there’s, instruments — the accordion and the strings — and it wasn’t quite working with the sort of, Swedish landscape. It seemed too English in a way, and … Yeah. Too pastoral or something. So it was good to take those out and put the piano in there. And it left it a bit more open and a bit more spacious, which I think it needed.

Jace: Now “Nostalgia” obviously was never written with the intent that it would be the theme for Wallander — it was obviously discovered — but more recently, you wrote a number of songs, both for Daniel Barber’s 2014 film, The Keeping Room, which you mentioned…

Emily: Yeah.

Jace: … and then you wrote the score for the 2015 British film, Hector. Do you foresee composing more for film and television in the future?

Emily: I would love to do more. I just love it. I really … You know, as a songwriter who mostly can write about whatever they want, like I can…

It’s really great to be given a brief, like have some sort of boundaries in a way and… So it was great to be given references to start with and then also, um, uh, for me, just trying to understand characters and trying to bring out certain moods in the film through writing. I really, yeah, I really enjoyed that, so I’d love to do more.

Jace: Emily Barker, thank you so much.

Emily: Thank you so much for having me.

Jace: The Season 4 premiere of Wallander airs Sunday, May 8th at 9 pm ET, but you won’t have to wait until then to hear “Nostalgia”… Without further ado, here’s Emily Barker and The Red Clay Halo’s complete rendition of the song.

MUSIC: “Nostalgia” performed by Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo from Despite the Snow
Tram wires cross Melbourne skies
Cut my red heart in two
My knuckles bleed down Johnston street
On a door that shouldn’t be in front of me

Twelve thousand miles away from your smile
I’m twelve thousand miles away from me
Standing on the corner of Brunswick
Got the rain coming down and mascara on my cheek

Oh whisper me words in the shape of a bay
Shelter my love from the wind and the waves

Crow fly be my alibi
And return this fable on your wing
Take it far away to where gypsies play
Beneath metal stars by the bridge

Oh write me a beacon so I know the way
Guide my love through night and through day

Only the sunset knows my blind desire for the fleeting
Only the moon understands the beauty of love
When held by a hand like the aura of nostalgia

Jace: MASTERPIECE Studio is hosted by me, Jace Lacob. Kathy Tu is our editor. Rachel Aronoff is our production coordinator. Special thanks to Barrett Brountas and Nathan Tobey. The executive producer of MASTERPIECE is Rebecca Eaton.

You can find this podcast on iTunes and Stitcher.

MASTERPIECE Studio is brought to you by Audible.

Sponsors for MASTERPIECE on PBS are Viking River Cruises, Audible, and The MASTERPIECE Trust.



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