Nathan Barr (Composer - 'Dukes Of Hazzard')
'Put 'em Up: The Art of Musical Dukes!'
Nathan Barr began studying music in Tokyo, Japan at the age of four. He grew up surrounded by eclectic music ranging from Kabuki Theater, to the sounds of his mother performing on the koto and piano, to his father playing the banjo, guitar, and shakuhachi. His interest in music was further influenced by extensive travels around the world, where he experienced music ranging from Bali's Kecak Orchestras to China's Beijing Opera. During the summer of 1993, he toured Italy and Switzerland with the Juilliard Cello Ensemble.
Upon graduating from college, he joined the industrial alternative rock
group V.A.S.T. (Elektra Records) for a short time, playing guitar and
electric cello. Looking to explore a career in film music, he moved to Los
Angeles in 1996, where he met Academy Award-winning film composer Hans
Zimmer, who invited him to join him as his assistant. After eight months
with Hans, Nathan landed his first feature and struck out on his own and has been working constantly ever since.
Chatting recently with Nathan, I first wondered how he first became involved with this 'Dukes Of Hazzard' soundtrack? "Director Jay Chandrasekhar and I worked together on 'Broken Lizard’s Club Dread' – we had a great time on that film and so he asked me to be a part of 'Dukes Of Hazzard'."
Was it your decision to bring in ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons? "Billy Gibbons was a guitarist that Jay and I had discussed even before he started shooting the film. We were both fans of ZZ Top and he seemed like such a natural fit for a film that was going to have a couple of ZZ Top tracks in it. Once Jay was done shooting and I was scoring, we
got in touch with Billy and he said he would love to be involved!
Working with Billy was definitely one of the greatest experiences
of my life. We spent the day in the studio together over at
Ocean Way in Hollywood and he laid down a bunch of tracks. I think that Billy did not know what to expect from me since he had no idea who I was, and I didn't know whether Billy would have any of that "rock-star attitude" that you hear of with some players. As it turned out, Billy had zero attitude and was one of the kindest, most gracious, most professional musicians I have ever worked with! He was completely enthusiastic about
the score, and had all sorts of great ideas to contribute. I had him
double up with my performance on Boss Hogg's introductory cue
on the baritone guitar to give it - as he called it - "a bit of that bearded-boy attitude!" Billy only has to play about 2 or 3 notes before you know it's Billy playing, and that's one of the aspects of his playing I like best - he's one of a kind! Billy did lend his incredible voice to a track on the CD, but unfortunately that track did not end up in the film
because certain camps at the studio felt the scene needed a famous song
and not score - their loss!"
Prior to starting, what criteria did you know you would have to incorporate into the score, based on the popular '80s TV show? "Jay and I both understood that we would be taking the score in a completely different direction from the show, so there were no real criteria for me to follow. We did however understand that we wanted the score to sound like good old 70’s rock n’ roll.'
How much influence on the final musical outcome did director Jay Chandrasekhar have? "Jay is all around a very cool, confident individual whose directing style (in my experience) is very much to let people run with their ideas before getting too involved. I like the fact that he doesn't take himself too seriously, so it's never about his ego, but rather about what's best for the film."
How many instruments that we hear in this score did you yourself create or play? "Five. I played most of the acoustic guitars, all of the baritone guitars, all the bass harmonica parts, a bit of cello and
a bit of "fiddle." I put fiddle in quotes because I have to hold like a cello to pull off a part that sounds half-way decent! The other parts were all replaced by musicians in an awesome band I assembled with the recommendations of my friend and fellow film composer Tyler Bates. Roger
Manning (Keys) and Justin Meldal-Johnson (Bass) come from Beck's
band and I had two amazing drummers - Greg Ellis and Butch Norton
who really drove the score. Guitarist Bernie Locker rounded out the
band with his amazingly solid playing."
What makes your score stand out from any other score that could have been done for this film by any other musicians? "I don’t know how to explain what precisely makes my music mine, but I know I can hear it when I listen."
Is it true that you are where you are today in the industry due to working for the great Hans Zimmer back in 1996? "There is really no truth to this statement at all. I believe the only film where I actually used his name in the hopes that it might help me was my very first feature, and since that film did nothing for my career, every other film I have landed sice then has been because of who I am and what my music sounds like – and also because I have a wonderful agent in Rich Jacobellis at First Artists Management."
To your mind, what is the greatest composed film score that you know of ... and what makes it so? "There are so many film scores that I love so this is a very difficult question. I probably have a different favorite film score every month. Anton Karas’ score to 'The Third Man' is pretty fantastic – the entire score is played on the zither – and what a theme! So are many of Nino Rota’s scores – obviously 'The Godfather,' 'Romeo And Juliet,' and 'Casanova'."
What cheesy '80s song would you love to re-imagine as a Composer if asked ... and why?! "Elton John’s 'I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues.' Why? Your guess is as good as mine!"
If there were just 3 words that described Nathan Barr, what would they be? "Integrity, creativity, energy.'
Finally, if you were asked to record a single for charity, and had to choose 3 other musicians to aid you in the project (including a vocalist!), who would they be, what instruments would they play, and what would the name of the song be?! "The vocalist would be - without a doubt - my wife Lisbeth Scott. On cello would be Yo-Yo Ma, and on piano (back from the other side) would be Bill Evans. The name of the song would be 'The Unanswered Question'."
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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