Nathan Barr

American composer Nathan Barr is undoubtedly a musical genius. Nathan has scored more than 25 feature films and currently writes and performs the music for HBO’s epic True Blood. 

Nathan ownes “well over one hundred” instruments from around the world, such as human bone trumpets from Tibet, dismantled pianos, a rare Glass Armonica and gourd cellos, among many others. FAULT caught up with Nathan in LA to talk of his love for Led Zeppelin, Yo Yo Ma and discover that all important FAULT!

FAULT: How has 2011 been for you?

Nathan: Gratefully, 2011 has been a very busy year for me.  In addition to scoring Season 3 of True Blood, I also scored four films: A wonderful documentary called Hood To Coast, a drama called The Ledge (just accepted into competition at Sundance,) and two horror films, the first entitled Open House, the second called The Last Exorcism.  2011 has also been an exciting year for me because I was able to explore scoring outside of the horror genre with films like Hood To Coast and The Ledge.

FAULT: How did your obsession with music start?

Nathan: Led Zeppelin and Yo Yo Ma were all musicians I greatly admired growing up while learning to play guitar and cello.  I was smitten with guitar from the very first time I picked one up, and became smitten with the cello after meeting the most important teacher of my life, a wonderful cellist in New York named Maxine Newman.  Like all great teachers, she brought life into my lessons, and lessons into my life.  I think having all of these extraordinary musicians to listen to and learn from is what got me so excited about music.  In addition I was very excited about film from an early age, whether it was Akira Kurosawa or Steven Spielberg.  Thus my love affair with film and music was solidified.

FAULT: What were you doing before you were a composer?

Nathan: Before I picked up my first musical instruments, I was actually running around with my parents’ camcorder making short films with all of my friends.  Once I picked up a guitar, my focus became music, though film was always right there beside me.  Following college, I found myself a bit burned out on cello, so I returned to my roots and headed to Hollywood where I was an assistant to a film producer before meeting Hans Zimmer.  I knew my life’s work had to revolve around film and music, and so I feel very blessed that so soon after arriving to Hollywood I was given such wonderful opportunities in the business.

Musical Genius: Photographed by Dove Shore

FAULT: What was the most poignant thing you took away from working with Hans Zimmer?

Nathan: I’m not sure if it’s the most poignant thing I took away from Hans, but it is certainly the most important thing.  Shortly after I started working for him, I played him some of the music I was writing in his studio and he told me that he believed I could achieve great success as a film composer if I chose this road for myself.  He is not one to dish out idle compliments, so this gave me the courage and confidence to strike out on my own and I have never looked back.

FAULT: Eli Roth told us you played a leg bone as well as many other instruments on The Last Exorcism film score… Is that the most unusual instrument you own?

Nathan: The human thigh-bone trumpet in certainly the most bizarre instrument in my collection.  I also own a Glass Armonica, which is fairly rare given their expense and scarcity.  I can also think of an African bagpipe made from a whole goat, which is quite unusual.

FAULT: How many instruments do you own?

Nathan: Honestly I’ve lost track at this point of how many instruments I own but certainly well over one hundred.

FAULT: How would you describe your working relationship with Eli Roth?

Nathan: I love working with Eli.  We’ve worked on five films together, three of which he has directed, and we have a short-hand established at this point, as well as a mutual understanding and respect for one another’s work and the process.  We also share the same sick and twisted sense of humour and a very similar taste in films.  All of this makes our working relationship one of my very favourites.

FAULT: Do you have a personal favourite piece of music that you have composed?

Nathan: I have many compositions that I have made over the years which are dear to me, though as a growing composer, I always hear what I could have done better even in what I consider my best work.  If I had to single one out today, it would be the end title suite I wrote for Hostel 2 called ‘Amid A Crowd Of Stars.’  It is orchestral, and perhaps a bit more traditionally classical than a lot of my other work, but I feel like there is a level of emotionality in parts of the work that is very true to me.

FAULT: How do you feel when you watch a film/episode that features your music?

Nathan: If I am not cringing and beating myself up over things I wish I could have done better, I really enjoy it.  Sitting in a dark theatre and listening to your music explode from the theatre speakers all around you is a thrilling experience on every level.  More often than not, even before we see the first image in a film, our music as composers is there to tell the audience what kind of movie they are going to be experiencing, and this is always exciting.

Nathan Barr: Photography by Dove Shore

FAULT: Is there anyone you would love to work with?

Nathan: I think one of the greatest living directors is Danny Boyle and I would absolutely love to score one of his films someday. Darren Aronofsky is another director I admire.  But honestly the list goes on and on and on…

FAULT: What are you currently working on?

Nathan: I am currently preparing the soundtrack release for Hood To Coast.  It’s a very different score for me because the film needed music that is very upbeat, driving, melodic, and uplifting.  A wonderful percussionist named Quinn laid down these incredible beds of percussion over which I played guitar, mandolin, cello, harmonica, psaltery, dulcimer, dilruba, guitarviol, and thumb piano.  I am also finishing the main title sequence for The Ledge, which premieres on January 21st at Sundance this year.  I then have a break and start up with Season 4 of True Blood in February.

FAULT: What can we expect from you in 2011?

Nathan: I look forward to another exciting season of True Blood in 2011, and perhaps a couple of films to follow…

FAULT: What is your FAULT?

Nathan: Feeling like I’m never pushing myself hard enough.