Long Time No Spree
October 26, 2022
Pat Irwin: Making A Donation in Music to DEXTER: NEW BLOOD
Interview by Randall D. Larson
Pat Irwin has been living in and making music in New York City since the late 1970’s. He writes music for film and television and recently composed the score for DEXTER: NEW BLOOD which premiered on the Showtime Network on November, 2021 and became the most watched show in Showtime history. Pat was a founding member of two bands, 8 Eyed Spy and The Raybeats; in 1989 he joined The B-52s on keyboards and guitar from 1989 through 2008. He currently records and performs as a founding member of ambient instrumental band SUSS, who have released several records on the Brooklyn based indie label, Northern Spy Records.
In addition to Dexter: New Blood, Pat’s numerous television credits include the Netflix series THE GOOD COP, starring Tony Danza and Josh Groban: Showtime’s NURSE JACKIE; and HBO’s BORED TO DEATH.
He has composed the music for many independent films and documentaries, as well as scoring many cartoons including ROCKO’S MODERN LIFE (Nickelodeon); PEPPER ANN (Disney); and CLASS OF 3000 with OutKast’s Andre 3000 (Cartoon Network.) His contributions to the SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS soundtracks were awarded ASCAP Film &Television Awards in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. The Cartoon Music Book referred to Irwin’s music for Rocko’s Modern Life as “astonishing musical cues that hold up with the best of Raymond Scott.” In 2012, Pat received an honorary doctorate from Grinnell College. He currently teaches a seminar in film music composition at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts Graduate Music Theater Program as well as Music for Film and Television at CUNY, Brooklyn College, Feirstein School of Cinema.
Q: You’ve been composing for films and television since the late ‘80s. What brought you into scoring for TV?
Pat Irwin: I had been in a band called the Raybeats, and I lived around the corner from where a TV show was being shot, called TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE. A producer from that show recognized me on the street, and he liked my band The Raybeats. He asked me if I wanted to score an episode of TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, and I said, “Yeah, I’m in!” I scored four of them, and that was my first television scoring experience, and it unfolded from there.
TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE (1983-88): A horror anthology series where the viewer is taken through ghost stories, science fiction adventures, and creepy, unexplained events. Irwin scored four episodes from the final (4th) season.
Q: I loved that show! What musical palette were you able to accommodate on that series?
Pat Irwin: At the time, I was producing a record down at Atlanta, and I had a couple vintage synthesizers, so I went for a real basic synthetic sound, and we cut it in. It seemed to work. I remember there was some back and forth – it was my first experience, but it was thrilling.
ROCKO’S MODERN LIFE (1993-96): The wacky misadventures of an Australian wallaby and his friends as he finishes his transition to American life.
Q: You began scoring a number of animated TV series in the early 90s up to SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS where you won several ASCAP awards. What can you tell me about your experiences and challenges scoring these animated shows?
Pat Irwin: It was fantastic. ROCKO’S MODERN LIFE was the first one that I scored. I put together a live band. At first I received storyboards and drawings, and I just started to send in ideas. We sent notes to one another via fax, and I had a live band. We kept the band together for five years! It was just fantastic. Really good musicians: the trombone player, Art Baron, had played with the Duke Ellington orchestra; the drummer, Kevin Norton, was with Anthony Braxton. I had worked with Dave Hofstra, the bass player, who also played with John Zorn, and many other New York luminaries, if you will. Rob DeBellis was a woodwind doubler who is now in the pit of THE LION KING – we just had a great group of musicians, and they made it work.
Q: How did you approach scoring these animated series, in terms of what they needed and the kind of style you used in scoring them?
Pat Irwin: It was Dare To Go Wild! It was just like an overflowing glass of water. The director on ROCKO wanted sensory overload – he wanted chaos, he wanted, almost, too much! We’d look at the drawings – there were no straight angles, everything curved, colors were really fruity, and we just made the music fit into that. I took a lead from Warner Bros. cartoons as well as cartoons that I loved like TOP CAT, FLINTSTONES, and it was just fun!
Q: What was it like with the feature film version of the animated series ROCKO’S MODERN LIFE? How did this allow you to expand your musical elements from the TV show?
Pat Irwin: We didn’t necessarily expand it as much as we just got the band back together. We used the same musicians, it was great seeing everybody. We had a really good thing going on here, and we had a ball. I really don’t know that it was expanded too much, it was just continued where we left off, practically.
Q: Just expanded to a greater length, then, I guess.
Pat Irwin: Yes. It definitely had to be more cinematic, if you will. But forget it – it wasn’t cinematic! It was just Dare to be Crazy!
PERVERTIGO (2012): Lloyd, a lonely Peeping Tom, is propositioned to murder a woman. Armed with a hammer, he sets about the grisly deed, only to discover that his mark is a Peeping Tom herself.
Q: PERVERTIGO is an interesting film with both thriller and comedy elements. What were its musical needs and how did you score its various story nuances.
Pat Irwin: The director, when he contacted me, he said he wanted it to be a cross between THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY and THE FIGHT CLUB. I had no idea what he meant – except I love both those movies and I knew the music. What he was really responding to, when he came over to my studio, was a really gritty analog sound. He liked real hand-made grit – not smooth. It was closer, maybe, to what THE FIGHT CLUB would have been, with those title cards from the beginning of THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY. He was great to work with, he was super together, he had definite ideas of what he wanted and didn’t want. It was the first time I’d ever worked on a movie like that. I’d never seen that kind of humor, really not even in TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE.
NURSE JACKIE (2009-2015): A drug-addicted nurse struggles to find a balance between the demands of her frenetic job at a New York City hospital and an array of personal dramas.
Q: You scored the last three seasons of the dramatic TV series NURSE JACKIE. What brought you into that project and how did you step in to make the show your own after the original composers left at the end of Season 4?
Pat Irwin: I was brought in by the showrunner, Clyde Phillips, who wanted to make it his own. The person who was responsible for introducing us was the music supervisor, Michael Hill. He and I had a long history, back to the late ‘70s in New York City. Michael was a writer, he wrote for the NY Rocker and SoHo Weekly News, and later went on to Warner Bros Records where he was in the AOR department; he signed The Replacements. We had kept in touch through the years and worked together, and he recommended me to Clyde. The first thing Clyde said to me was, “It’s got to be guitar.” And the first thing I said back to him was, “Why?” I didn’t understand! But what we had was that in common, and he wanted it to be as if the music was being played – he didn’t really want it to sound like a score, he just wanted it to be played. We tried to bring a little of that sensibility into NURSE JACKIE. It needed much more than that, but that’s where we started.
DEXTER: NEW BLOOD (2021-22): Set 10 years after Dexter Morgan went missing in the eye of Hurricane Laura, he is now living under an assumed name in Upstate New York, Iron Lake, far from his original home in Miami.
Q: And that brings us to DEXTER: NEW BLOOD. How did you get involved in this series and how were you able to give it your own musical voice apart from the previous DEXTER series?
Pat Irwin: Again, Clyde Phillips was the showrunner, so we had worked together. We were comfortable with one another, even though the music was completely different – but we needed to acknowledge the original score. A lot of people had watched that show, and a lot of people got really invested in it, and invested in the music as well, composed by Daniel Licht, who did a beautiful job. His theme is wonderful. We knew that we had a new show, we knew we wanted to make it clear we weren’t in Miami any more. We were in upstate New York, where it was cold and isolated; Dexter has a new identity, he’s Jim Lindsay. It’s a new sound. One of the producers, in particular, was really adamant about it having an ambient sound, and we went with that direction, with the textures of the sound of the environment, whether it be wind, or the sound of the snow crunching into the sound of the score. It was a great experience.
Q: Were any of Daniel Licht’s themes from the original DEXTER carried over into this series in any way?
Pat Irwin: Yes. I directly quoted from his “Blood Theme,” but not on the violin. I brought it into a more intimate sounding, quieter, slightly dissonant bed with a piano.
Q: How did you create a new sound for DEXTER that reflected the character and his nuances but evoked the new environment and situation he finds himself in upstate New York?
Pat Irwin: Really, just through experimentation and looking at the picture, reading the script, getting to know the character. Just who is this guy and why is he doing these terrible things?! But it was really just being aware of who Dexter really was and where he was. There were some songs that were used throughout the season, whether it’s Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” or Blondie, whether it’s from the soundtrack or whether it’s playing in the bar, so Radiohead, The National, Sigur Ros. I wrote around this music as well. It wasn’t as thematically driven, it was more the ambiance of a simmering rage.
Q: What were your other thematic designs for this series that were developed across the season’s arc?
Pat Irwin: The first challenge was when Dexter’s son, Harrison, appears in the very first episode. We don’t know who he is. He’s a shadowy figure; all we see is a foot and then a little bit more and we see a shadow in the background. He’s stalking Dexter, but we don’t know who he is. I knew, because I read the scripts, that Dexter wants to have a relationship with his son, and I developed a piano theme for them – very simple, very fragile and emotionally direct. And it kind of gave it a thread throughout the whole series. There’s a podcaster named Mollie Park [Jamie Chung] who is essential in exposing a sort of a tear underneath the icing in this small town, and I developed a theme for her as well.
Q: How did you treat Dexter’s “Dark Passenger” in your score for this show?
Pat Irwin: In terms of music, I set up a couple electric guitars here in my studio, amplifiers all around, I turned them on, and I let the guitars feed back. It just created this roar, and you can hear it inside the score. It’s not a dominant melodic instrument, it’s more like a simmering rage. That creeps throughout and you definitely feel it, and that was how I treated his “Dark Passenger,” with dissonance.
Q: How did you come up with and develop your instrumental palette for the new series using vintage and new synthesizers?
Pat Irwin: It’s really what I had at my fingertips. But it wasn’t until I got that guitar sound together that I knew that I was going to be ok. It was Michael C. Hall [“Dexter”] who helped with that. I had done a couple sketches but nobody really seemed to think it would work. I was playing Daniel Licht’s theme, but instead of a violin it was on a slide guitar and it just wasn’t working. But underneath it was this feedback, and Michael C. Hall heard that and he recognized it and he said “Let’s develop that!” And it really took off from there.
Q: What was most challenging – and most interesting or rewarding – in scoring DEXTER NEW BLOOD?
Pat Irwin: There were several challenges. One was creating this new place and a new sound for a character that so many people were invested in. They really wanted to know what was going to happen to this guy. And I really had no idea that so many fans were invested in it! They really wanted this character; they wanted to know where he was going to go. So I had a certain responsibility. There was this emotional father/son dynamic that I needed to treat delicately – not to the point where it was melodramatic, but to the point where it took the show to a new place. That was a big challenge.
Special thanks to Kate Twilley and Elizabeth Forrest of Impact24 PR for facilitating this interview.
For more information on Pat Irwin, see his website here https://patirwinmusic.com/
The soundtrack to DEXTER NEW BLOOD releases digitally via Lakeshore Records on October 28th. Pre-save/Pre-order the album here.