Nathan Barr Interview: ‘The Great,’ ‘Hollywood,’ ‘Carnival Row’ composer
Emmy-nominated composer Nathan Barr has been busy this TV season, composing the score and main title theme music for three projects in three distinctly different genres. He provides the playful, melodic score for Hulu’s uproarious period comedy “The Great,” the dense, emotional cues for Amazon Prime’s “Carnival Row” and the charming, nostalgic music for Netflix’s limited series “Hollywood.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Barr above.
“The Great” is an edgier, more contemporary take on the rise of Catherine the Great, featuring razor-sharp dialogue, hilarious performances by leads Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult and lavish production and costume design befitting the period genre. “It’s super edgy, super irreverent,” Barr explains about how he approached the music for the genre-bending series. “We wanted it to be really contemporary and not strictly period because of the comedy sensibility of the show. It skews more contemporary as it plugs into the idea of Catherine being a very forward thinking leader.”
The series, while very funny, irreverent and rude, becomes more dramatic as the season progresses and Catherine’s plot against her oblivious husband begins to crystallize. It was a great way for Barr to give the score more dramatic touches. “Throughout the season there’s this increased seriousness as to who she is going to become, despite all the comedy and the slapstick,” he explains. “It’s really hard for a show to get the tone right to set up an ending like that.”
Barr’s music also features prominently in the visually striking fantasy noir drama “Carnival Row,” which follows mythical creatures who have fled their war-torn homeland and gathered in the city against a backdrop of social tensions between the locals and their otherworldly neighbors. It gave Barr the chance to experiment with a number of new instruments we don’t often hear on television. He also brought something new and fresh to the old-showbiz vibe of Ryan Murphy‘s “Hollywood,” in which he composed not only the sumptuous opening main title theme, but the dramatic underscore for the series and the fictional film “Meg,” the subject of the series.
Both series beautifully utilize string instruments in emphasizing emotion, which Barr says is often down to how string instruments like the cello and the violin resonate with audiences. “They say that the cello is the closest thing to the human voice in terms of the range, from the low to the high,” he explains. “The way it recreates a choir but with a different sound could be a reason why it plugs into human emotion so much. A cello is such a deeply emotional instrument. It’s rich and soulful.”
Barr has received two Emmy nominations in 2013 for his scores of “The Americans” and “Hemlock Grove.”