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INTERVIEW: Nathan Barr

PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 25: Composer Nathan Barr poses for a portrait during the 2011 Sundance Film Festival at The Samsung Galaxy Tab Lift on January 25, 2011 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Sundance Film Festival)

Composer Nathan Barr has built a career out of being the busiest musician. Take a look at his filmography to see the scope of his brilliant work, ranging from the FX hit The Americans to Amazon’s Aaron Paul-starrer Sneaky Pete to HBO’s fan favorite True Blood. We catch up with the hard at work composer a few years after our first interview. There are a few of the same (The Americans going strong at season 5), a few changes (farewell, True Blood), but all in all a great time for television score.

In the past two to three years, what has been the bulk of your work?

I’ve done a couple films. I did a movie called The Boy Next Door at Universal Studios, which Rob Collins directed. Then, I just finished a movie at GM called The Domestics, which comes out later this year with Kate Bosworth. Then there’s a new show called Greenleaf. We’re working on season 5 of The Americans, this new show called The Son, and on Amazon, a show called Sneaky Pete, which is Bryan Cranston’s project. So, there’s a combination of television and film, which is really exciting. Also, we’re developing True Blood for Broadway, a musical.

Wow. Can you talk a little about that or is it too early?

It’s a tiny bit too early, but we’ve been working and it is exciting. We’ve been working on it for a couple years. We essentially have the green light to move forward with it. So that’s been really exciting. That’ll be ongoing for the next couple years, as you may know, Broadway takes years and years to mount.

Yeah, and I know it must be crazy undertaking, so I have to ask you, is it your first time in theater?

It is.

So it’s a huge leap, huh?

It is. We did a presentation in June to HBO and to Alan Ball, True Blood’s creator. Based on the strength of that and what they heard, they gave us the green light. So it’s really exciting.

Yeah! With that being said, would that require you to conduct live music?

Not necessarily. That would be our music director. I’m going to write the songs with my songwriting partner. Together, we would hand them to the musical director for that actual performances.

Very exciting stuff, man. Congrats on that.

Thank you!

You mentioned The Americans earlier. Congratulations on season 5.

Yes. Then there’s one more season, season six next year, then it’s a wrap.

It’s one of the biggest dramas on television. We see it on Billboards everywhere. How’s your work varied from season one to now? Has the musical landscape of the show, in your eyes, progressed or differentiated between the first season and season five?

Yeah, I think it seems a little bit. It still exists in the world of what we set up in season one. But new themes and new characters obviously come up and then looking for slightly new approaches to new themes and deciding whether themes have been overplayed and letting go of that theme and finding other material. Like the main title is Elizabeth’s theme for the show and it’s a pretty recognizable tune. And so, that obviously, pretty early on, discussions about maybe moving away and not using that as much because that was used quite a bit whenever it was on camera in seasons one and two. Now we sort of steered away from that.

We have coming up, The Son, on AMC, which I look forward to. I always see the commercials when I watch The Walking Dead, so I look forward to that. What should we expect from you, musically? I’ve read that it’s a western, so what can we expect from it, musically?

Yeah, I guess you can expect something that doesn’t play into the traditional western music we come to know. So it’s kind of a little bit less off center in terms of the approach. There’s some unusual instruments that I usually like to use; they’re all in there. There’s some male vocal work with Americana music. And then there’s this really exciting collaboration with me and ZZ Top for the last episode of the season. So yeah, we had to do things to take the musical ideas away from traditional western.

Can you talk about the storyline without spoiling anything, of course?

Yeah, it’s based on the book, which is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated book called “The Son” by Phillipp Meyer. It’s just a really amazing story set in the early 20th century and mid to late 19th century. Eli McCulloughis a boy growing up in the commands and sees the man that he’s become in the early 1900s. It sort of goes back and forth between those times with family and him trying to hold on to his legacy.

Comes out this April, right! You mentioned Sneaky Pete earlier, which is on Amazon. So you’ve been busy. Tell us about work with different genres. Is there a different approach to each show you have?

Yeah, I mean I guess there’s a different musical approach to each show and I really like it. I think it’s the most exciting thing for composers because you can mix it up. For a long time, I was doing pretty much strictly horror films and over the past couple years, I really moved away from that. It keeps everything really fresh and I’m not writing the same stuff over and over again. So it’s about mixing it up, like Sneaky Pete is sort of an electronic-based score and I usually stay away from that kind of thing because I like the acoustic instruments, but it was just a feel and a vibe that worked really well for Sneaky Pete.

There you go. Very cool, man. Last time I talked to you, you talked a lot about your instruments at your house. Have you added any cool, off the wall instruments to the collection?

Yeah, I’m building a pretty big recording studio, it’s about 8000-square feet, down in the valley. And that will have a theater organ. So it’s an organ that was built for boxed studios on the score stage back in the 20’s and stayed there until the 90’s and I just had it restored and I’m going to make my studio a new home for it. It’s just an exciting instrument. So much amazing history in film music. It was largely forgotten about when it was pulled out back in the 90’s. So I’m really excited to get it back into film and television.

That’s excellent. I want to know, this is kind of a fun one, are you watching nowadays and kind of go, “I wish I made that song or I wish I scored for that show?” Is there anything that you watch that really inspires you?

I mean I love a lot of shows. Musically, it’s a subtle show, but I love Sean Callery’sscore to Homeland. I like Fargo quite a bit. I loved The Crown, thought that was great. That was one of the shows that I watch where I wish I filmed.

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Find Nathan Barr at nathanbarr.com and on Twitter at @ComposerBarr.

by Erman Baradi

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, play guitar, music geek, movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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