Thanks to the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Nate Barr doubled-down on his chances to win an Emmy this year. Nominated for “Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music” for FX’s “The Americans” and Netflix’s “Hemlock Grove,” Barr also made Emmy history with his double-nomination in this category.
When reached by phone, Barr talked about the challenges and joys of composing music for high quality original programming.
As a series, “Hemlock Grove” packs so much information into each episode that I found it necessary to read the original novel. As the main title theme’s composer, what kind of challenges did you face?
There’s a lot of information, there’s a lot of different characters, there are a lot of different motivations. It actually became simpler in a way because I kind of simplified the music as much as possible and really defined the characters with very specific themes.
As it happened, when it came time to discuss the theme as separate from the music in the body of the show, it was decided that this character Shelley, her theme might be a good place to start. A variation of her theme became sort of the sound of the overall show.
In the book, Shelley-who is 7 feet tall-has an incredible inner monologue; her letters and thoughts are witty and often quite saracastic. Did that play into your creation of her theme?
I never read the book . I got the same amount of information that any other viewer did based on what was there. As the show moved forward, her character became quite a bit more fleshed out than I think [the producers] originally intended because she was such an interesting character.
“The Americans,” the FX original series, has certainly been a career 180 for Keri Russell.
It certainly is, from “Felicity” to this spy-killing assassin. I love “The Americans.” I think it’s a really amazing show: it’s well written, well-directed, well-imagined. I thoroughly enjoy it just as a viewer.
That’s sort of the way I try to do “True Blood”, too: I never read the scripts. I just watch the episode for the first time once it’s “locked.” That way, I can really enjoy it. These are all shows I would watch as a viewer, too.
When you are composing the music for “The Americans,” do you receive just a raw cut of the episode?
They give me the final cut, and that’s sort of the perfect world scenario. They give me something that’s already been picture-locked: there’s going to be no frame-changes or trims. That makes my job a lot easier.
A composer’s nightmare is when we write a piece of music that works absolutely perfectly frame-to-frame to every shot in a scene. Then they trim seven frames off one shot and six off the other, and things don’t fit the way they did before. That’s always a great challenge.
I’ve been fortunate enough that basically on all these shows (“True Blood,” “Hemlock Grove,” “The Americans”), I don’t start until each episode has been picture-locked. That is a real luxury.