American composer Pat Irwin has one of the most varied and interesting careers in his field. Spanning decades in the entertainment industry, Irwin has gone from animation like Rocko’s Modern Life to Nurse Jackie and Feed the Beast.
Irwin recently took on the challenge of Dexter: New Blood, the limited series that picks up years after the original series. Originally set in Miami and scored by the late Daniel Licht, Irwin finds Dexter in an isolated, snow-filled life that explores unfamiliar terrain for the character and the audience, allowing Irwin to build a whole new sound palette to highlight the new Dexter.
When speaking to Awards Focus, Irwin discusses his creative process, giving a nod to Licht’s original work, and his long-running collaboration with showrunner Clyde Phillips.
Awards Focus: Can you talk about your approach to composing Dexter: New Blood and the key strategies or approaches you used to preserve the desired tone?
Pat Irwin: I knew before I composed a note that I had to acknowledge that Dexter was a character with a history. There were eight seasons of this show, and that’s eight years of scores that were beautifully composed by Daniel Licht.
For Dexter: New Blood, I needed to create a new theme with a unique sound that would somehow recall the old Dexter but make it clear that this was a new show and that we weren’t in Miami anymore.
Dexter now goes by Jim Lindsay, and he’s creating a new life for himself in the small, cold, remote upstate New York town of Iron Lake. The score needed to put us in this new place and help establish Dexter’s new identity.
AF: You’ve worked previously with showrunner Clyde Phillips. How was it collaborating and communicating with him again?
Irwin: I first worked with the showrunner, Clyde Phillips, on seasons five through seven of the Showtime series Nurse Jackie and Feed The Beast for AMC.
Clyde came to my studio when we first started working together, and we talked about guitars, records, and favorite bands. He’s wonderfully passionate about music, and I appreciate his likes and dislikes, particularly that he’s open to all sorts of ideas and a generous collaborator.
Clyde and the three other Executive Producers, Marcos Siega, Scott Reynolds, and Michael C. Hall, compiled a playlist of songs they shared before I started composing the score. I responded by compiling a library of music cues that could possibly belong in the show.
AF: Did the music feature more character motifs or emotional undertones? What was its role in the series?
Irwin: There are some character motifs, but the score for Dexter: New Blood is more about the atmosphere. It’s cold and austere in Iron Lake, and we wanted the score to reflect that and have an ambient sound.
In some ways, we wanted the score to create some distance between the viewer and Dexter. Sure, he may be a nice guy and a good neighbor, but we didn’t want you to get too close.
AF: Tell us a bit about your background. What inspired you in your early years to preserve this craft, and what was your first job in entertainment?
Irwin: I first came to New York City in the late 1970s with one thing on my mind, I wanted to be in a Rock and Roll band. All I wanted to do was play either Max’s Kansas City or CBGB’s, and I got to do both. My first band in NYC was 8-Eyed Spy, and shortly after that, I helped form The Raybeats.
I’ve got some formal training, and I took courses at the Juilliard Extension school, but my real training is Rock and Roll. Around the time I started to play music, I discovered the James Bond soundtracks, and that music meant everything to me. So was the soundtrack to the Exorcist. I wore that record out. Later, it was Nino Rota and the soundtrack for Juliet of the Spirits.
I joined the B-52s in 1989 and played in the band for 18 years. In the early days of the Cosmic Thing tour, when Love Shack was first released, we used to make our entrance to the Juliet of the Spirits soundtrack. It was thrilling to hear that music as we took the stage.
My first job as a soundtrack composer was to score a handful of episodes of Tales From The Darkside. I later started to compose the scores for some fantastic cartoons, including Rocko’s Modern Life and Pepper Ann.
AF: With Emmy voting starting just around the corner, what would awards recognition for Dexter: New Blood’s score mean to you?
Irwin: I’ve been following the Emmy Awards for soundtracks for as long as I can remember and to even be considered for an Emmy nomination is a thrill. It’s an honor to be able to create music for a show like Dexter: New Blood. The show had so many fans anxious to find out what happens next. To possibly be recognized for my work in composing music for film and TV takes it all to another level.