Nathan Barr is the amazing composer behind much of the recent horror films in the last few years. He has worked a lot with Eli Roth on “Cabin Fever”, “Hostel” and most recently “The Last Exorcism”. Nathan has also composed most of the scores to Broken Lizard’s films, most recently “The Slamming Salmon”. Besides movies, Nathan is also currently prepping for season four of “True Blood”, he has composed and performed all three past seasons. Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Nathan about his process for creating music and doing what he loves.
Mike Gencarelli: Where do you get inspiration when creating the “True Blood” score?
Nathan Barr: “True Blood” is one of those shows where Alan Ball (the creator) has everyone on the show do what they do best, which is their own thing. He is not looking for anything besides you bringing your own unique style and sound to the show. It is a wonderful place to start with a project when they are not asking you to imitate someone else. It was more about inspiration from all of the character and the stories. If I had to say what inspired me, I would have to have say Appalachian, Americana and probably Civil War music. That is only possible because of characters like Bill, who is from the Civil War. I drew inspiration from that due to the time period.
MG: Tell us about your craft for composing the “True Blood” score, you do not always the usual soundboards and mixers?
NB: In addition to being a composer, I am also a musician. I wouldn’t consider myself a strong performer. I certainly love the process of laying down tracks as a musician. The way I play the cello or the way I play the guitar are part of what makes me have a specific sound. In addition to the way that I compose for “True Blood”, I also get to play the instruments as another layer to bring out my uniqueness. Because I was forced from an early age to play cello and fell in love with guitar. I grew up with a foot in rock-n-roll and a foot in classical. Having familiarity and experiences in both of those genres is part of what allows me to compose and perform the music for “True Blood”. It is really just about watching a scene, picking up an instrument and starting to improvise what is up on the screen.
MG: How did you get involved with Broken Lizard to compose their music?
NB: It was just one of those fairly uninteresting industry stories. My agent submitted me as part of a group. The guys liked that I worked with Eli Roth and they were fans of “Cabin Fever”. They were about to do “Club Dread” which is a horror spoof. With the score to “Cabin Fever”, it certainly spoofs many horror films as well and has a great sense of humor about it. I think that they were looking to do the same thing with “Club Dread”. So from that were interested in working with me and we have stayed in touch, and have worked together many times.
MG: Do you find that composing music for a comedy is different than creating horror?
NB: General speaking the process for scoring a film, whether a comedy, horror or even documentary. It is pretty much the same. The job of a composer is to take your impressions of characters , the story and figure out how to musically support what is going on on-screen. If you are doing a horror film there are different tools or tricks you can lean on to create tension or a scary moment.
MG: Do you find that you have a lot of freedom with the scores or do you follow a path?
NB: It depends on the particular filmmaker or producer that you are working with. A composers worst nightmare is to come in on a project where the director or producers are wildly in love with the temp music an editor has used. It is then an uphill struggle to get them to let go of what they have had in their heads for so long during the editing process. Fortunately I haven’t dealt with that too much. In my opinion, the really strong filmmakers are always willing and open to let you explore musically what you feel like you need as a composer, instead of imposing you. I think also good filmmakers are able to admit where their music knowledge ends and let you take them on the journey and trusting you with that.
MG: What was the hardest project you have worked on?
NB: In some ways, some of the projects with Broken Lizard have been the most difficult. Often times it is not doing something completely new and unique. It is about leaning on some music or traditions from music that they are spoofing, for example “Club Dread”. For that it wasn’t about making some incredible unique score. It was really about spoofing all of the horror movies that has come before it. I think those situations are very hard for a composer if you goal is to get your own unique sound out there. It took me a while to learn to look for those projects where you are going to be able to explore your own sound. Something like “True Blood” is a perfect venue for that.
MG: How did you start working with Eli Roth being you have scored all his projects?
NB: I hate to say it but it is kind of another semi-boring industry story. There was a producer I worked with on an earlier film, she was going to be producing “Cabin Fever” with Eli. She set up the meeting for us to meet. When Eli and I got together, he we walked into my studio and one of the first things he did was look at my DVD collection. Every horror film that was beloved to him was on that shelf. We kind of both knew right away that based on his reaction to my DVDs, we were going to get a long really well. The friendship and work relationship developed from there.
MG: Tell us about working on the “The Last Exorcism”
NB: Eli brought me on to that project. I took a look at the film and right away I knew it was really good. One of Daniel (Stamm)’s great successes was creating an amazing atmosphere at which the story was evolved. I thought it was a really good scary movie. The main challenge though for all of us was they were making a faux documentary and so we wanted to tread as lightly as possible throughout the film. The minute the audience realized there was a score that was going to remove them from the fact that this is not a real documentary. The challenge was knowing where we can bring the score into the film and then how heavy handed we could be. I think we ended up finding a good balance there so it doesn’t distract the audience.
MG: What is your next project that you will be working on?
NB: I am in the middle of working on a project now called “The Ledge”. It is a drama with Liv Tyler, Terrance Howard and Patrick Wilson and directed by a wonderful director Matthew Chapman. I go back on “True Blood” season four in February.