Kristian Nairn found success as a musician long before his acting career took off. He toured Europe and, for 11 years, held down a DJ residency at one of Belfast's most popular gay clubs, Kremlin. But if it wasn't for Game of Thrones, Nairn may never have been able to bring his signature beats to an American audience.
"There was no other way for them to know me, really," Nairn says in a phone interview with the Observer from England. "I've done fairly well as a performer and a DJ in the U.K., so Game of Thrones really just opened up a whole new market for me."
The Northern Ireland native played Hodor, the smiling, giant servant for House Stark whose innocence and very limited vocabulary made him one of the show's more endearing and beloved characters. That meant it was only a matter of time before Game of Thrones creator George R.R. Martin would find a way to kill him off, which happened last season.
"It's humbling," Nairn says. "People are showing you real emotions. Hodor is like a real person to me, which I always thought was a bit strange. But reading and hearing the reactions from people, it's nice to know it's just not me."
Hodor has been reborn in a sense through Nairn's Rave of Thrones tour that's taking the actor and DJ on his first American music tour, including a stop at The Bomb Factory in Deep Ellum on Saturday.
Nairn credits his mother for setting him on his musical path. She was also the same person who convinced him to audition for the part of Hodor. "My mother started me on the piano when I was 3 years old," Nairn says.
He studied piano through his childhood, eventually taking up guitar when he was a teen. "I played with local bands and ended up touring with bands like the Scissor Sisters and Calvin Harris. Then it actually changed to a love for electronic and dance music," he said. "I'm a singer as well, although I very seldom sing these days. I did some musical theater and studied a little bit of acting as well. I was just running both careers at the same time and seeing what happened."
Nairn's transition to deejaying seemed like a natural fit because the sounds he can produce for a room of dancing fans are rooted in some of his favorite styles, he says.
"I was always very into heavy metal, and heavy metal is full of emotion and extremes, and I think that's the same in dance music," Nairn says. "It's full of euphoric emotions and really the bass lines and hypnotic rhythms of house music just make me feel a certain way and really sort of resonate with me the same way that rock music did and still does. I've always loved the '80s for the synthesizer-heavy music and I love how that was reflected in dance music, as well."
The sounds of music acts like Gary Numan, New Order and Kraftwerk sneak their way into Nairn's repertoire, especially Numan, who Nairn says "has been extremely influential to me."
"There are some ethnic tribal beats and I definitely like to put a tribal snare in there," Nairn says. "I also love soul and blues. That would really affect the vocals I would write or have someone sing. I've always been a fan of soul singers."
Nairn says he likes to experiment with different types of musical voices in his tracks and, because of his love for soul, he'd love to loop in "a really gritty, gravelly voice with a huge personality, someone you really wouldn't expect to be in dance music."
"I love Audra Mae," Nairn adds. "She is an amazing singer and that's the kind of thing I'd like to go down, putting in people who aren't necessarily known for dance music."
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He even likes to experiment with his own non-musical performances depending on the reading he gets from the crowd. Nairn notes that Game of Thrones fans can expect to hear something that might sound familiar to them during his set.
"It's mostly pure music," Nairn says referring to his concerts, "but there's a little surprise in the middle."
Nairn says he splits a lot of time between his acting and music lives and he says he owes a lot of it to the fandom he's built on Game of Thrones.
"I'm focused on everything," he says. "If you saw my diary, you'd see that it's so varied. It's a little bit of this and a little bit of that. It's so varied and extremely busy. I'm just very lucky that Game of Thrones has added a little bit of clout and it's really sort of supercharged all the areas of my career. I think a lot of the actors involved in Game of Thrones, we all kind of enjoy that, so it's been fantastic."