Composer Interview: Nate Barr

Composer Nate Barr

Thanks for taking the time to do an interview with us. Tell us a little about yourself Nate.

My name is Nate Barr – I was born in New York, started my musical life studying Suzuki violin while living in Japan as a kid, and then moved back to New York, picked up guitar and cello, spent my entire childhood making short films and playing music, then moved to LA in 1996 and started my career in film and music.

You are the first composer to have ever received a double nomination in the Main Title category in the same year at the Emmys. How does this make you feel?

I was so honored just to have one nomination, but two feels amazing – especially for this category. I’ve always been a fan of main titles and main title theme music. Can you imagine All In The Family without “Those Were The Days” to kick it off?

Where did you draw inspiration from when writing the opening theme for Hemlock Grove?

It felt like something along the lines of a Classical cello sonata would be complimentary to the world of Hemlock Grove and the beautiful visuals created for the main title sequence. To me, the colored wisps of smoke in the main title suggest pipe or cigar smoke in the music room of some 19th century mansion, and perhaps those folks would be listening to a cello sonata.

You originally began your career working with Hans Zimmer. Tell us a little bit about that, and what things you learned working with him.

My time with Hans was basically an 8 month crash course in the life and work of a top film composer. It was like being thrown into the deep end of the pool and learning to swim. I had no knowledge of the technology behind film scoring or the creative process behind composing music-to-picture. He was very gracious to let me sit by his side while he wrote and actually watch him composing. Our styles of composition and the creative process are very different and so he taught me as much about what works for me as about what does not, and for this I am very grateful.

You’re well known for your unusual instrument collections. Tell us a bit about your favorite instruments you’ve collected over the years?

I grew up in a musical home. In one corner of our living room was a Steinway grand piano, and in the other corner, a Koto – and so my interest in all the world’s variations on musical instruments began. My favorite instruments change week to week, but currently I would say among my favorites in my collection are my Glass Armonica, my Calliope, my Harpsichord, and my 1400 pipe Wurlitzer Theater Organ.

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Having scored a number of gore/horror films with Eli Roth including Hostel, The Last Exorcism etc., would you consider this to be your favourite genre to score?

I think at the end of the day it’s less about the genre of film than it is about enjoying working with great storytellers. Eli is a great storyteller. Alan Ball is a great storyteller. I would enjoy working with these two guys in any genre because of the passion and talent they bring to their projects. I think horror has been a very natural genre for me to get started in because I do love it so much, but now with films like The Big Wedding and shows like The Americans, I am branching out into other genres which are just as gratifying.

When beginning to score a film or series, how do you settle on the instruments and sounds you’ll be using throughout the score? How do you stay fresh as a composer?

I think that good composers can watch a film and based on it’s look alone, get a solid sense of what instrumentation might work best. To me, whether a film is orchestral or not is among the very first impressions I get when watching a project for the first time. If the film’s look is not best complimented by orchestra, then the sky’s the limit in terms of what instrumentation might work, and that’s an exciting place to start from. Personally, I find that I approach melody and harmony differently as a composer on different instruments. I might find a particularly unusual chord change on the guitar which I would not stumble upon on the piano. Or I might find a particularly beautiful melody on the cello which I never would have written on the piano. Adding new instruments to my collection and learning how to play them really helps keep things fresh for me.

How long do you typically have to produce the final files for a score once you’re given a film?

The time frame on delivering a score is really varied depending on each projects’ particular demands. I’ve composed and delivered scores in 2 weeks, and I’ve worked on other projects more than a year!

What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time to when you were originally starting off?

Buckle up because you’re about to go on one hell of a ride!

Your studio is on fire and you only have time to grab one thing – what do you take?

I happen to live in a fire-prone area so this is actually a question I have considered many times before!! And the answer is always the same – my dog Butters, who is always sitting beside me. And I’d probably grab my cello too.

Written by: Emmett Cooke

Emmett Cooke is an Irish composer for film, tv and video games. His music has been used around the world by high profile companies including Sony Playstation, Ralph Lauren, ABC, CBS, NBC, Lockheed Martin and many more.

Film and Game Composers

www.FilmandGameComposers.com offers a wide range of interviews, reviews, guides and tutorials for composers and musicians who are interested in writing music for film, TV and video games.

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