Finding A Space: Interview with Composer Nathan Whitehead

By Niy Birden

Composer Nathan Whitehead

What do you expect from the composer of Keanu, the hilarious animal-friendly film starring two of the most recent breakthrough comedians of the era, Key and Peele? Would you expect the same things from the composer of The Purge series, which recently made waves not only for its inhumane storyline, but currently rather the political messages in it- or even the person who also did work for Desperate Housewives?

Nathan Whitehead happily lives in a contradiction of music creation. While he mentions that he does have more of a comfortability for horror films, his intention to consistently learn and adapt to new genres is what has helped his sounds thrive in various forms of media, whether it be video games, major films or even reality television.

In the sequel to the blockbuster hit Beyond Skyline, Nathan has found a way to cleverly create a space of unique (and we do mean incredibly unique) soundscapes fit for action movies, without the assistance of big budgets, but rather with the help of an elk bugle, of all things. Tiny breakthroughs like this show the real tenacity of a musician, whether they are in control of the music or not. Looks like the guy who had an identity crisis in his pop punk band has truly made a lane for himself.

Q: How did you get interested in film music, and who inspired you?

N: I got interested in film music I think in just always being a big movie fan and I started experimenting with music at an early age. Just playing the family piano. And that led to guitar. So I played guitar for years and wrote songs, got interested in punk rock and played in a pop punk band, but all of this time I think, the idea of just creating my own music-writing music rather than learning covers off songs, was much more appealing to write stuff. And it probably set me back in a way because as soon as I learned three chords on a guitar, I started writing music instead. I would rather write material with those 3 chords than practice some new chords.

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It was through the punk band that I got introduced to working in a recording studio. We recorded like a 6 song ep- I was fresh out of high school actually, and shortly after that it sort of clicked that if I wrote music for movies or tv shows, or anything like that I -would get to be in my studio all the time. I really loved the studio process and I really loved writing.

And another thing that always popped up when I was in the band was sort of this identity crisis, like what is this band gonna be and what are we feeling? For whatever reason I felt like I had to figure out what the band was, which I don’t think was really important,but you know.

Q: Did that cause a lot of problems for you and the band members, or do you think that it made you guys stronger in a sense and more connected?

N: I wouldn’t say it caused problems, sometimes it caused mild disagreements, mostly it just made our songs all over the place style-wise [laughs], but that was that- it clicked- writing music for film, I could write in tons of genres. Maybe whatever the film needs. That’s easier said than done. You never know what opportunity you’re gonna get. I’ve done a lot of horror music, Beyond Skyline is this big action score. I’ve done big-band music . And back in my assistant days I wrote on Desperate Housewives for 2 and a half years.
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