Fans of the series “True Blood” have been treated to a plethora of great music for the last six seasons and with the upcoming seventh season, they will be completely spoiled thanks the the musical mind of Nathan Barr. For those who don’t know who Nathan is, he is a musical genius who has created the exceptional and terrifying musical landscapes for his friend, Writer/Director Eli Roth’s cult horror films, “Cabin Fever”, “Hostel” and its sequel, “Hostel Part 2”. Roth and Nathan have teamed up once again to paint another horrific vision for Netflix’s “Hemlock Grove”, in which he’s received a well deserved Emmy nomination along with his other series, “The Americans”.
Nathan has also scored some comedy amidst the dark worlds he has created with the films, “Dukes Of Hazzard” and “Beerfest” for the comedy troupe, “Broken Lizard” and recently scored the star studded romantic comedy, “The Big Wedding” starring Oscar Winners Robert DeNiro and Diane Keaton which was just released on Blu-Ray and DVD earlier this month. Nathan’s soundtrack for “Hemlock Grove” will be getting release in September by the renowned soundtrack label, Varese Sarabande.
For this interview, we get to know about this excellent composer and we’ll discuss about his works on “True Blood,” “Hemlock Grove,” “The Big Wedding,” his relationships with directors Eli Roth & Justin Zackham as well as his soundtrack releases. So sit back and read into the mind of this fun and musical genius.
Hi Nathan, how are you and thank you very much for granting me the time to conduct this interview with you today. It really is an honor to do so.
NB: Thanks for the interest Danny!
Please tell the readers about what made you become interested in music.
NB: My parents started me on violin very young, which I wasn’t crazy about, but once I began to study cello and guitar, I became obsessed with music and musical instruments. Film music in particular was something I paid attention to from a very early age, not so much outside of the movie theater, but more during the movie. And so I would say that both movies and music were early obsessions of mine, and finding my way to work in both is the ultimate dream.
I’d like to personally congratulate you on and talk about your Emmy nominations for “The Americans” and “Hemlock Grove”. How did you feel about being nominated for each project?
NB: I was very happy and honored to receive two nominations in the “Outstanding Main Title Theme Music” category, apparently a first in Emmy history. I was proud of both main title themes, felt that they each brought something new to the table, and so was excited to be recognized.
“Hemlock Grove” is your latest series on Netflix. Tell us how you came on board the project and your musical approach to the series.
NB: Eli Roth is a director with whom I have worked for years, and we have always had a great collaboration on movies like “Cabin Fever” and “Hostel.” Since he was one of the producers/directors on “Hemlock Grove”, he brought me in to meet with the creative team. I pitched them my thoughts on music for the show, and got the job. The story is dark with gothic elements, takes place in locations as diverse as trailer parks and mansions, and has a very cinematic look to it, all of which helped inform the music.The Main Title’s visual elements were beautifully imagined by Justin Stephenson, and I heard a cello sonata as the perfect accompaniment to all those colorful wisps of smoke.
Tell us how you came on board the project and your musical approach for the series, “The Americans.”
NB: The showrunner Joel Fields and I had worked together many years before on a CBS show called “Kate Brasher.” He and Americans creator Joe Weisberg asked me if I would be willing to write a demo, and given the strength of the pilot which completely sucked me in, I went ahead and composed about 7 minutes of music which landed me the gig. I love prepared piano (as is evident in “True Blood!”), and thought I could use it in a way that harkened back to 70’s scores by Lalo Schifrin, Jerry Fielding, and David Shire.
Are these shows musically different than what you’ve already written for? “True Blood” for example?
NB: I think that while all three shows use piano, cello, and guitar as central musical elements, each score has its own sensibility and approach that distinguishes it from the other.
Varese Sarabande is releasing an album for the “Hemlock Grove” in September. Please tell us more about the album and how it came to be.
NB: Bob Townson at Varese Sarabande has previously released several of my scores, and since the music for “Hemlock Grove” has received positive attention, we thought an album made sense. It also allows the audience to experience the music outside the show.
Now let’s talk “True Blood.” The series is now in it’s sixth season. Please tell us about your experiences on the show so far and how your music has made an impact on it.
NB: “True Blood” has been a real game changer for me in terms of career and musical growth. I think the show’s creator Alan Ball has done an amazing job of creating a world that fans love experiencing each week.The music in the show is very much a part of the journey the audience experiences, and thankfully it gets mixed in a way so that it gets heard. I think the music compliments the drama, the excitement, the romance, and the gore nicely.
I love the gothic approach you took for it. Were you scoring in the show’s Louisiana setting or was that part of the charm that you added for its’ rather eclectic group of characters that Alan Ball created?
NB: Part of the reason I think I got the show was because I pitched a score for the show that did not play specifically to the story’s southern setting. That task was given to the music supervisor Gary Calamar who has done a great job of giving the show its Southern roots.This freed the score up to explore a musical identity that wasn’t steeped in overtly Southern instruments.
Was it hard for you to come up with fresh material as the series went along?
NB: The story in “True Blood” has gotten bigger and bigger in scope, and so, more often than not, what worked musically in the first and second season, no longer works in Season 6. The score is largely orchestral now, a necessity given how huge the story has become. I think recognizing that the score needed to get bigger with the show made coming up with fresh material easier.
Varese Sarabande has also released two volumes of your music from the series to date. Was it hard to assemble the albums that have been released?
NB: At the end of a typical season of “True Blood,” I have a couple hours of new music to explore and pull from for the score album. As I compose throughout the season, I often finish a scene and know I would like for it to go on a score album, so really assembling a score album is fairly straightforward.
Were there pieces of music that you miss not being on these albums?
NB: The length of a score album typically allows for me to get all the music I most enjoy onto the album.
Will there be another volume or volumes released in the future?
NB: I would guess that once the show is over, we might put together a “best of score” album that encompasses all the seasons – now that might be more difficult!!
Let’s talk about your latest film, the romantic screwball comedy “The Big Wedding” starring the all-star cast of Robert DeNiro, Diane Keaton, Robin Williams, Amanda Seyfried, Susan Sarandon and Topher Grace which was released on Blu-Ray and DVD on August 13th. Please tell us about the film and what attracted you to it?
NB: I scored Justin Zackham’s first film as a director many years ago, and at the time, given I did the film for free, he promised when he landed his first big film he would hire me and so he did! The film is a large-ensemble Romantic-comedy and so it was fun to compose music for that world.
Tell us about the approach you took in writing the score for the film?
NB: I actually wrote more or less two completely different scores for the film. The first pass suited early cuts of the film before the studio became involved. The second pass went for a more derivative, orchestral feel, which some people felt better suited the movie.
This is the second time you’ve worked with Director Justin Zackham as you mentioned before, who wrote the hit film, “The Bucket List” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. Did he have a specific musical plan for you in mind in regards to the score?
NB: Justin really let me run with the creativity and knows what he likes when he hears it, so there was no specific musical plan going in, though I do believe he mentioned liking the ukelele early on. and that element did become a part of the final score.
What was it like working with him?
NB: I love working with Justin. As with Eli Roth, we just have a great time working together, try not to take ourselves too seriously, and do the best work possible.
Will there be an album released of this score?
NB: I don’t believe that “The Big Wedding” will get a score album release.
Let’s talk about your collaboration with the fun Eli Roth, who you’ve worked with on “Hostel”, “Hostel Part 2” and now the Netflix series, “Hemlock Grove”. Please talk about your feelings and experiences working with him.
NB: I have also scored Eli’s first film “Cabin Fever,” and done several films he has produced like “The Last Exorcism.” I love working with Eli…I think his sense of humor around dark material is brilliant, and always end up pleased with the finished result.
Does he give you a specific idea to work with or does he just give you free reign or just wing it when it comes to writing your music for his films?
NB: Eli and I were both subscribers to Fangoria as kids and so we very much speak the same language, understand the history of horror films, and therefore are most always on the same page. Eli definitely knows what he likes musically and so working together is fairly effortless.
It is hard for you do films as opposed to “True Blood” for example?
NB: Television shows are really just extended films, so the process is virtually the same.The biggest difference is much more space to explore in tv over the course of an entire season.
Do you find it easier to work in television than film?
NB: They both have their challenges, but generally speaking, my experience in TV can be slightly easier because once I have established a sound for the score, it continues along those lines throughout the show. With film, once you have the sound established, you never use it again after the 90 minutes is up.
Do you feel that you have more of a free hand when scoring for television than in films?
NB: I think the boundary between films and television is blurring enormously right now, and we are really in a Renaissance of television where the quality of shows has never been better. Whereas television was once by reputation more restrictive creatively, I think that is no longer the case. In fact, I think there is more creative freedom in my experience in TV these days.
What was the hardest film or show you’ve had to score to date and why?
NB: The most difficult projects are the ones where the director does not know what he or she wants, and/or they are unable to express themselves clearly. I generally find the successful directors always know music’s role very well, and even if they do not speak in musical terminology, they know what they want and more importantly they know when I have given it to them. Some directors do not know when you’ve given them what they’ve asked for and these are the most challenging projects.
Name a composer who has influenced your career other than yourself?
NB: Thomas Newman, Danny Elfman, John Williams, Alexandre Desplat, and on and on and on!
What is your favorite film score that you haven’t written?
NB: “The Third Man” by Anton Karas.
What is your dream project?
NB: Any project that reaches and moves the most people possible is a dream project. Add to that a director who pushes and inspires me to do something that is new for me, and I have the ultimate project.
Please tell the readers about any future upcoming projects you may have.
NB: I am composing the music for four TV shows this year (“True Blood” Season 7, “The Americans” Season 2, “Hemlock Grove” Season 2, and a kid’s show called “Tumbleaf”), in addition to a Broadway musical, and also have a couple of possible films, so it’s going to be a very busy year!!
Very special thanks to Nathan for being very gracious for his time in letting me interview him and you’re a cool cat man! Keep it up! Also, very special thanks to Jana Davidoff-Morrison for the great support and going the extra mile for me! God bless!
Please head over to Nathan’s official website at http://www.nathanbarr.com/ for updates on his latest projects and announcements.
The soundtracks to True Blood, True Blood Season 2, Hostel, Hostel Part 2 and the upcoming Hemlock Grove are available from Varese Sarabande: http://www.varesesarabande.com/servlet/StoreFront
The soundtrack to Shutter is available via iTunes download online.