Composer Kris Dirksen Talks Scoring Cinemax’s Fan Favorites BANSHEE & QUARRY
Cinemax, owned by powerhouse HBO, has become known for its darker, noir like programming with hits such as The Knick, Outcast, Banshee & most recently Quarry. One major contributing factor to this niche genre is the project’s score. Composer Kris Dirksen has become known for his gritty, signature sound, so when director Greg Yaitanes first approached him about scoring Banshee, he already knew it would be a perfect fit. Four successful seasons later, Banshee has come to an end and Dirksen is now experimenting with different sounds, in a different time period with Cinemax’s latest series, Quarry. Quarry takes place in 1972 Memphis and is based on the novels of Max Allan Collins. In the exclusive interview below Kris explains creating the very specific tones for both Banshee and Quarry.
-How did you pick the initial tone for Quarry?
The producers and network really wanted to avoid having a funky, ‘70s retro-leaning score. The show already had access to the Stax Records catalog and a ton of great music from the era, so the idea was to keep the score relatively modern sounding. Greg Yaitanes, the director and showrunner, wanted to take a grounded approach to the period and not make it a distraction from the story being told.
My concept for the score was to take my modern sound and put it through the sonics of ‘70s recording gear and instruments. The goal wasn’t to create a ‘70s-influenced score but rather utilizing the gear to touch on the warm, dusty tones of the era. I surrounded myself with old tape machines and instruments that would have existed in a recording studio in 1972 Memphis.
-If there were to be a season 2 of Quarry, what would you like to see happen?
Quarry’s based on a series of books by Max Allan Collins so there is a bit of a roadmap in place if the series continues on. Michael Fuller and Graham Gordy did such a great job crafting the first season, hopefully we’ll get an opportunity to see where they take us. Personally, I’d like to see more of Buddy and his mom.
-Quarry takes place in the 1970s. If the show was set in present time would you have scored it differently?
The only thing that would have changed for me was the set of tools I used, the underlying approach wouldn’t have changed much. From what I understand, Michael and Graham did look at potentially setting the story in the present. Elements like PTSD, racial tension, the election ended up being very timely and relevant in 2016. 40+ years later we don’t seem to have progressed much unfortunately.
-Hitfix and other outlets have greatly praised the Season 1 finale. There probably was a lot more preparation for this episode than others. Was that true of the score too?
Not really to be honest, I dove into episodes as they were ready. TV composers generally aren’t given much time to prepare in advance, we’re usually seeing episodes with a fresh pair of eyes and ears and only have a week or two to finish the score. I had a general sense of where the season was headed but that was about it.
-The main title sequence for Banshee is very hard & dark. Why did you choose this direction?
The rough visuals, created by Tin Punch Media, were in place by the time I got involved so it was a case of reacting to the work that came before me. Both the main title theme and the visuals changed and were adapted to each of the 38 episodes. If the opening sequence was relatively high energy, the main theme would start in a much more aggressive place. In terms of the heavy guitars and hybrid elements, that was an extension of the work we had been doing in the trailer world.
-You score a lot of trailers. What initially first attracted you to Banshee?
It was the other way around actually. Greg had seen some of the work the trailer music company I co-own, Methodic Doubt Music, had been doing and approached us to work on the show.
-Was there anything musically, that you didn’t get to experiment with on Banshee that you wanted to?
Banshee had so many different characters and plot lines that I never felt trapped within a certain set of limitations. I was given a lot of room to experiment within confines of the Banshee world so it never got boring.
-What would be your dream project to score?
Banshee and Quarry have both been great situations where I’ve been given the latitude to do my thing and carve out unique sonic worlds for each show. I’m always excited to work with people who are open to exploring unexpected directions rather than just copying whatever the popular sound of the day is.
You can learn more about Kris at https://www.krisdirksen.com//