Interview: Tyler Bates
Mon, 23 Feb 2015 11:05:40
Tyler Bates might very well be some kind of a musical mystic. He can conjure up an elegantly eerie soundscape for Salem or immense, immersive, and invigorating cues for the likes Guardians of the Galaxy. Not only is he one of film and television's most visionary composers, he's one of the most rock 'n' roll. So it makes perfect sense that he and Marilyn Manson would form the ultimate creative bond and yield the best album of the artist's career since Antichrist Superstar in the form of The Pale Emperor. Now that he's made a landmark record, all that's next is that much deserved Oscar...
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Tyler Bates talks composing, John Wick, Guardians of the Galaxy, THE PALE EMPEROR and so much more.
How much of what you do musically for a film is influenced by the plot and script itself versus the actual characters?
I don't know that there's a ratio. It really depends on the type of film. Some films call for the music to really underscore the specific –events even down to the gestures of a character. Whereas in other movies, the style of the score is designed to play alongside the film—which is a little bit more of the European approach as opposed to American approach. The American approach to filmmaking is really hitting cuts hard, being very specific with underscoring gestures, and really nuancing the twists and turns emotionally of every beat of a scene. So, it's truly about understand the sensibility of the filmmaker and the film and what their objective is. It varies from film to film.
Did that transfer to making THE PALE EMPEROR?
You want to talk about something relatable to making a record with Marilyn Manson that I would do in the context of a film score are as follows. One, I want to know the director's specific sensibilities. Obviously, the same script, same movie, and same cast would be different if it were executed by any number of directors. It would not be the same. It's not just about just their filmmaking sensibilities either. It's about whether they're golfers or their favorite music is bebop versus Radiohead [Laughs]. Having an understanding of those things factors into my decision-making and what I'm imagining would be a great extension of their brand, or their voice, as filmmakers and still addressing the necessary aspects of the storytelling through music. For instance with Manson, I knew him casually for a little over a year or something. It got to the point where we got together for the second or third time and we talked about making some music. For me, it was really about understanding where he was at that moment in his life. For instance, it would be ludicrous to think that Manson, at the time at 45-years-old, is the same guy he was when he was thirty or thirty-six. There are things that happen in life that inform us as people, and we change. Some people evolve more than others, but there is that experience that informs who we are now. What I wanted to do if we were to make music together was to make a record that's a clear expression of who he is now, what he's going through in his life right now, and what his thoughts are. I wanted to get him to do it in a way that's inspiring instead of more destructive without reducing the amount of intensity. There's that correlation. I want to understand what a director's about and what he or she is going in life that will inform the attitude or objective as far as telling the story of a film.
You definitely captured that on the album.
Well, that's what I wanted to understand with Manson, going into making the music. The music was made in my studio side-by-side. I wasn't writing a bunch of tracks for him to sift through. It was me writing music, literally on the spot, based on conversations we were having about whatever was happening in life. We'd be talking about Faust, The Walking Dead, or whatever [Laughs]. Those conversations inspired what the music became.
The record feels unlike anything else in rock 'n' roll right now. There's a blues spirit...
Thanks! Manson was interested in exploring the blues. I don't think a literal exploration of the blues would be appropriate. It's a rock record, but there's broken blues that's the undercurrent or underpinnings of the music. I try to express that in a way that wasn't overt or too obvious. The storytelling on this record is still about Marilyn Manson. It's not "Marilyn Manson Does Blues" or "Marilyn Manson Does Dubstep" [Laughs]. It's a Marilyn Manson record. This is where he is now. This is the stuff he's relating too personally in his own life. It's the kind of music that he likes to listen to and so do I. Another relatable concept to film, as far as actors and their voices, I write around the timbre of any given actor playing a character role. So, if I'm writing Keanu Reeves in a role as opposed to Chris Pratt playing the same character, I would write the music differently because their voices are different. I don't think it's entirely conscious at this point because I've been doing film and television for a long time, but that probably factored into the writing with Manson. In my mind, I probably felt it would be most impactful or most effective to put his voice in a certain register. I orchestrated the music so he would naturally go there without me saying, "Hey, can you sing up here?" He naturally took that space for himself. I think that's why on some places in the record, he's singing in vocal registers that are not necessarily normal for him, but they also offer the opportunity for him to share a new part of his self or a new dimension of his voice.
"Killing Strangers" fits both THE PALE EMPEROR and John Wick so well.
The record was written and recorded at that point. However, the version of "Killing Strangers" is not the mixed version. Let's call it "the demo." It was the unmixed version from my studio. The directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch had worked as stunt coordinators on several movies I'd done in the past. They were already fond of my work, and clearly I loved what they did. They're Manson fans, and they wanted to have something Manson in the movie. So, the music supervisor is somebody I've known for a long time and when he looked into bringing some element of Manson's music into the film, he was led to me. Then, he came over. "Killing Strangers" was the first song he heard, and his jaw dropped. A couple of days later, the directors, Keanu Reeves, the supervisor, and Manson were over at the studio, and we cranked the whole record like a rock concert. They really wanted "Warship My Wreck" also in the film, but via osmosis, there wasn't really an appropriate place for that song. They just loved it so much. "Killing Strangers" was the one immediately, which they thought would be a great song to work as a main theme. So, they did the best they could to work it in there in that way.
Which song from THE PALE EMPEROR resonates the most with you right now?
Well, I love all of the songs obviously. I wrote them with Manson, and there's an interesting story behind every one of them. To be honest with you, "The Odds of Even," which we're not playing live right now, might be my favorite song to listen to. "Warship My Wreck" is up there as well. We played "Slave Only Dreams to Be King" on the first show of the recent tour. I'd love to play that song more. I think the vibe in a big place with an audience is really fun and powerful. Live, "Deep Six" is so much fun to play and open the show with. I think it's a fortunate song to have on the record because I think people like to hear that when we open the show. Even people who might be more resistant to hearing new material from an artist as opposed to the classics even embrace the song. I see everybody singing when we play it, which is pretty cool. Our first tour date was the 21st of January. We played a few of the new songs. People knew "Deep Six" because it was released and "Third Day of a Seven Day Binge." They were familiar with "Cupid Carries a Gun," because it's in the title of the show Salem. I do, but they didn't really know the whole song. From show to show, I'm seeing a larger percentage of the audience start to sing the lyrics to the new songs, which is cool. It makes you connect to the songs more as the person playing them and who wrote them. It's not just one song though.
There are all of these Faustian references throughout the album. Those classical resonances must open it up musically for you.
Yeah, there's no doubt, but if you spend time in a room with Manson, you're going to hear a lot of different things [Laughs]. He's very funny. A lot of the lyrical content on the record relates to funny stories of occurrences on that given day before he got to the studio or what-have-you. When I write for film, I don't just write a shit ton of music, throw it against the wall, and see what sticks. Subconsciously, that's the way I approach all projects so I'm not going to write thirty songs for a record. I'm going to pay attention to what's going on with my collaborator and try to bring these stories or headspace they're in to life and give them a vehicle to express themselves with whatever thought they're on at the time. THE PALE EMPEROR is the first ten songs Manson and I wrote. Each one of them specifically pertained to something going on in our lives on that day we got together to work. We've written more music. I'm sure if we wanted to we could put out another record later, but we've never been at a loss for creativity together.
When did the vision become clear for the album?
I'd hate to get people to think of it as a concept album because it's not, but it's like a story where one song leads to the next. I think that has something to do with the nature of how we did it. When he first discussed making the music together with me, I said, "Let's not talk about a record. Let's just have a conversation in music and see where the conversation goes." I said, "My life is great. I don't want anything out of this situation. Let's just see where the art takes us. If it's cool, then it becomes a record. At some point if it doesn't, it's all good." It was really about having this conversation and learning about each other, inspiring each other, and pushing each other a little bit based on getting to know each other, being able to joke with each other, and getting to understand each other. That's what this is about. I didn't have a predisposed or preconceived idea about what is Manson-esque. I'm cultured in all styles deeply enough to really understand the intent of his volume of work that he's created. I wasn't ignorant to it. There wasn't this "Manson Agenda." It was about us talking, me understanding where he's at in his life, and maybe some of the things he feels he's been lacking in life musically as far as being able to express himself the way he wants. I just tried to pick up on that and create a process that felt invisible to him. To him, we were in a room having a conversation. When it was time to sing and make music, it happened. We were side-by-side and made it as seamless as possible. In the film business, I have directors in my studio constantly, and I have to make music on the spot for them. Sometimes, they're talking about an idea, and I need to be able to harness whatever it is they're saying and reiterate it back to them in a musical form so they have a confidence we're all speaking the same language and they have a confidence I can do my job. They feel good about it, and they've contributed to the process. It relates to how Manson and I worked together.
Outside of THE PALE EMPEROR, do you have a favorite Manson record?
Yes, this one [Laughs].
Not counting this one...
[Laughs] I do really like a lot of the songs he's done over the years. Personally, my favorite music he's done in the past is the body of work Twiggy Ramirez has been essential too like "The Dope Show." "Coma White" is a great song. I love those. When we play those songs, I'm happy to play them. Obviously, my personal connection to music will be greatest through this record. I felt his excitement, I felt his inspiration, and I felt it was something genuine. There's a very personal thing that happens when you delve into the creation of something without people watching. Sometimes, you get on this wheel that spins so fast that you don't allow yourself a process, the time, or even remember what it is that got you excited about the creative aspect of making music. I think this was a no-pressure situation for him. We just wanted to have fun and see what happened. It didn't have to be his record.
What's next for you?
I've been having a lot of fun playing live. I think we have a really exciting band of people who really enjoy playing music together. Twiggy has been phenomenal to work with so it's been such a huge bonus to be able to bring this music to life with his support. His interpretation of the music live has taken it to another level. I'm back to work on my show Salem. That's always fun. The people are great, and I'm super excited about that. I have a few more shows that are happening beginning throughout the year. I'm looking forward to another Guardians of the Galaxy.
The music you did for Guardians of the Galaxy really stands out.
James Gunn is one of my favorite people, let alone one of my favorite collaborators. This is something I've said many times before he even got the job to do Guardians of the Galaxy, I think he's brilliant and he brings out the best in people around him. Any opportunity to work with James is going to be a great challenge. It's something you know when you get through it will make you a better person when you get through it. To me, that's exciting in life. I'm looking for challenges of that nature to continue to grow. He's definitely one of the people I've had the great fortune of working with who's helped me grow as an artist.
What's your favorite song from THE PALE EMPEROR?
See our feature on why THE PALE EMPEROR can save rock 'n' roll here!
See what Slayer, Korn, Rob Zombie, The Pretty Reckless, and more have to say about Manson here!