NY Daily News 9.16.07

11 questions for the 'SNL' musical director

Katreese Barnes
AGE: 34
JOB: Musical director for "Saturday Night Live"
HOURS/WEEK: More than 30 a week
TIME ON THE JOB: 7 years

You started off as a classical pianist, so how did you end up composing rap parodies and fake pop songs on "Saturday Night Live"?

I was already an established musician, singer, producer in New York, working with a lot of various people, and I was asked to come and audition. That was in 1999. They let me know in 2000 that I'd gotten the job.

What's your average Saturday like?

Rehearsals start at 11 a.m., then we play the music that plays in between the commercials, then we get to the live sketch music and that's how the day starts. Sometimes it can be sitting around for two hours to rehearse five minutes with the host.

Best part of the job?

The best part of the job is being able to play all those different styles. I remember one time mimicking Liberace. I had to practice for it. I would never consider myself that kind of piano player.

How far in advance do you know what's in the show?

Last season, I literally remember writing a new arrangement that had to be ready for the dress rehearsal within two hours. I don't think we ever had a real rehearsal, but no one would have ever known.

What's the worst thing that has ever happened onscreen?

I remember Ana Gasteyer had a Celine Dion sketch and ... she didn't have any music under her. And, even though it wasn't really my fault, I ran and I apologized to her because I thought, "My God, this is national TV."

Are there any guest stars on the show you've particularly enjoyed working with?

Justin Timberlake. It's very easy to work with somebody that musical. He can pick up anything that you come up with. He's also a really cool person. He asked me to write the opening musical number for him at the Kids' Choice Awards. That was a really involved musical number. He came and learned it the night before the show and just nailed [it], which again, is another tribute to his talent.

Speaking of Justin, you just won an Emmy for the song he performed with Andy Samberg on "Saturday Night Live," you know, '**** in a Box.' Who was the mastermind behind it?

The music was done first, then they wrote to what I did. They told me they wanted to spoof a '90s R&B band, so that was the inspiration.

Were you surprised when it became a huge Youtube.com hit?

I thought of it as being an SNL classic, but I didn't know it was going to be that kind of phenomenon. People were telling me they were hearing remixes being played in clubs.

Has Justin been in touch to congratulate you on the win?

Well, it's funny, I texted him right before.

Wait, you've got his phone number?

Yeah, I've been working with him. He didn't know that the awards were happening. He said, "What's going on? Did we win?" I texted, "Yeah, we won," and he was like, "I didn't know they were announcing them." Then he calls me and we got disconnected. I could just hear some noise in the background. I called him back and said, "Did you try to drunk-dial me?"

There was some controversy about the song being too risqué to be performed at tonight's Primetime Emmys. Is Justin going to perform?

I don't know for sure. When his HBO special was taped, at that point, I know he didn't want to perform it if he had to change it. I think if [the Primetime Emmy producers] are smart, they'll think of a way that he can play it.