Chances are you already know Tyler Bates’ work. If you’ve seen any number of Hollywood blockbusters like 300, Guardians of the Galaxy or John Wick, all of these acclaimed films were enhanced by the creative, musical mind of Tyler Bates.
As a composer, Bates always focuses on capturing the emotion of the movie with his music to create a visual immersive experience for everyone involved, with his most recent work being the soundtrack and score for the hit action movie, Atomic Blonde, starring Academy Award winner Charlize Theron. .
Film scores aside, Bates is currently on the road with Marilyn Manson on his ongoing “Heaven Upside Down” Tour, and he recently sat down with us to discuss working with the shock rocker on his new album, film scores, Monsters After Dark, and more!
What’s that like writing/recording while you’re on tour? Is it harder?
Oh yeah. It’s completely distracting, but I have to do it in order to make everything work. I do have a team that works with me in L.A. but at the end of the day it still has to come from me. They help me with a lot of the details, but all of the thematic gestures and style is what I’m mainly responsible for. It’s a lot and right now I’m cutting a song I did for a trailer, so it’s exciting. It’s a really cool opportunity. Hopefully that all comes to fruition the way it looks like it’s going to.
You were pretty excited about the opportunity to write music for the DisneyLand Guardians of the Galaxy attraction because you follow a lot of musical avenues, but this is a new one for you, what was that like?
It was so fun working with Disney Imagineering. The process is very team oriented and very solution oriented. It was a great environment and writing music for a ride is a completely different paradigm than any other medium I’ve ever worked in. [In] the first [part] of the Guardians attraction at California Adventure, my music is written for people standing in line and there are a couple videos that provide some context and information that make the ride really make sense. It’s all the expository accent of the story that occurs during the ride.
We got the opportunity to do Monsters After Dark, which is the Halloween version of the ride and that was fun because the thought going in was that they would find some sort of Halloween themed, known song, and after riding the ride with several songs the director asked me if I would write something. Then it turned into a punk/thrash song that’s fun and he gave me the lyrics to sing into the song and before you know it, it becomes Monsters After Dark and it really makes the ride a thrill ride.
The challenge with writing music to an attraction is that it’s in an elevator shaft that’s careening [laughing] however fast it goes and it’s dark… it was really awesome. It was a learning experience and it was also very fun.
It must have been cool too, because they bring it to life on a ride like that.
Yeah, what was great is that my song is scored to the ride very specifically, so there are drops and there are rivals and story telling. It was great to see the original song/score have a stronger impact on the ride experience than just playing a song. It was exciting and we all worked together as a team, so it was really fun. How it worked was a lot of meetings after midnight because the park, in order to ride the ride, the park has to be closed and they change the media over. So to do the Halloween version of the ride, we were at DisneyLand at two in the morning many, many times.
That must be cool, seeing it after dark.
It’s trippy! They don’t turn the lights off or the music, it just stays on. It was kind of strange to be there, it was almost post-apocalyptic in a way. It was a lot of fun and it was great to be able to explore the Guardians of the Galaxy universe in a different context. I enjoyed it a lot.
What’s it like transitioning between doing the music for a movie like Guardians of the Galaxy, creating an original score for Atomic Blonde, and playing lead guitar in a rock band?
I don’t know how to describe what it’s like, but I’d say that one experience informs the next. I come from live performance and guitar playing and it’s been a while since I’ve re-engaged my ego as a guitar player, in a way where it’s guitar centric. In the context of performing, it has to become that in order for me to do my job well, but all of my experience working in film over these past couple of decades has had a positive influence on my collaborations with recording artists, especially Marilyn Manson. He’s a storyteller, as is James Gunn, Zack Snyder, [and] Rob Zombie. They all have their own way of being and their own style of storytelling, but at the end of the day that’s what I’m doing in music. Helping them tell their story. I think a lot of the film work has prepared me to work with different artists in a way that I was not equipped to a while ago.
Moving from one project to the next is always a tremendous challenge and a lot of stress and they overlap because the schedules are never 100 per cent set in stone, so it gets pretty crazy. I do work insane hours, but I’m lucky I have the support of a great team, a great family, and friends. They understand when I go dark for a little while. The opportunity to go out and play the music [that] I write with Manson is just a great way to blow off some steam, punch some walls, and then get back into my studio in a more disciplined environment and focus my energy in a different way.
It would be too easy if it all synced up like that too, I don’t think it would be as much fun.
I’m very thankful for everything that’s happening right now, because I am lucky. I’m working on great TV shows with awesome people, great movies, and at the same time writing and producing music with I think one of the most important and probably the last icon in Rock N’ Roll right now. The music is making an impact and we both really love working together. People may draw their assertions about what they think working with Manson is like, but he and I together work very well. He brings something out of me that’s fun and exciting in my love for music and conversely, I do with him as well. I focus my career on working with people who challenge me and bring out the best in me and hopefully in return, I can do the same with them. It’s more about that than anything else.
I think people, with his image, because it’s so harsh, they tend to forget that there’s still a person there. There’s a guy that used to be a music journalist, he has all of this different stuff that he does and they just attribute the image that is Marilyn Manson to him and forget about the rest.
Manson is challenging people to deal with the stuff that they’re trying to cram into the back part of their psyche and pretend that it’s not there. If you look over the past 20 years, look at every artist that’s out there now, you’ll find very few who can match Manson’s output of interesting, challenging, metaphorical lyrics. Maybe Tom Petty and a couple other artists, but not many, certainly nobody that we ever play with on tour, has the significant body of work that he has created as an artist. On top of it he’s an excellent painter and he’s funny as hell.
He always wants everyone to be laughing in the room with him. The experience of working with him has been really good. It brings some perspective and balance to the other things that I’m working on. There’s nobody that has the opportunity that I do, to score big films and then go out on tour and put make up on my face and break guitars. [laughing] It’s not lost on me believe me.
What was your reaction to Bieber saying that he made Manson relevant again?
That’s a young person who skyrocketed to fame before he even knew who he was and he probably grew up with a bunch of people telling him who he is. He doesn’t really have any basis or any experiences to have accrued enough wisdom to even understand what he’s saying. I know when he said that, I know that night, because I saw Manson the night after those two got together, but Manson is always going to be relevant.
An artist will have their highs and lows over the years, especially someone like him, who’s not a traditional singer/songwriter. His body of work is going to last forever. People will always remember Marylin Manson’s songs. Not all of them, but there are definitely some that will be remembered. I don’t know if Justin Bieber has the right to say anything about Manson, because I don’t think he has a song that anyone is going to remember.
In time he’ll probably gain a little perspective and realize how immature it was to say something like that. He could’ve handled that situation completely differently and formed a friendship with someone that would’ve been good for him to be friends with. You just can’t throw on a t-shirt with Manson on it, or Aerosmith on it, or something, and say that you’re making them relevant. You’re talking about people who’ve sold tens of millions of records. Even though times are different now, that’s still a massive accomplishment.
Manson’s sold 30 or 35 million records or something. Relevant again? I don’t even know what that means. I know the guy lives his life truly as an artist and he’s living exactly how he wants to live his life. To me that’s relevant.
If you’re still going out on tour and selling records, I don’t see how you’re not relevant.
Oh yeah. This whole European tour coming up, he’s doing numbers right now that he hasn’t done in a long time and it’s because of the music, it’s not because fucking Bieber wore a t-shirt. The music that has been made in recent history and his excitement, his verve for performance… our work together has lit a fire in him that has definitely become apparent in the music and his performance and in the recordings. He’s giving spirited performances in the songs and usually when an artist has been around as long as Manson, it’s rare that they’re going to create new music that’s even close to the classic stuff that everyone knows them for. I think the stuff that we’ve made, especially this record, has every bit of fire that everything he’s ever done has had and I’m excited to see that.
I wouldn’t expect anything less from him.
He’s had his down ticks, but he’s very excited about the future, very excited about right now and the music that we’ve made. Heaven Upside Down is an excellent record top to bottom. I loved the last one, but this one is going to be… I think it’s going to have a more immediate impact when people listen to it. We’re playing several of the songs live and even before being released, people are really responsive to the songs. It’s all very exciting stuff and he’s not using any tomfoolery or trickery or gimmicks to try to get people to like the music, we just go out and play the shit out of it and people are responding to it, it’s cool.
You’ve always seemingly had affection to that dark/obscure concept. Dating back to Alien Avengers and living in an old haunted house that was previously owned by Al Capone while you were digging graves. I’m sure that made it an ultimate pleasure to work with people like Rob Zombie and now Manson. How did it progress from you guys meeting on the set of Californication to writing, producing, performing, and recording music together?
[laughs] That’s true.
We just got to know each other for about a year or so and then it came time to [us saying] “okay, let’s see what it’s like when we’re in a creative space together.” The Pale Emperor was something that we met in my studio [for] two or three nights a week for about three months and when the record was done, we weren’t even setting out to do a record. We were just having a creative conversation, so to speak. The songs came to us and it was a solid body of work that we loved, so that became The Pale Emperor. It’s an album that I find to be really interesting. I think in that record there’s another dimension of Manson that’s been revealed to not only his audience, but to himself, that I think no one had really seen before and felt. I was excited to be part of that. We did it purely out of friendship and curiosity as artists, my work with him is not commissioned work.
Did the writing and recording process differ from this album to the last?
No, we do it in my studio. Generally, he comes over to my studio and he’ll tell me what’s going on in life. We talk a lot. Whatever needs to happen that day, whatever the song is, it’ll come into my head and then we go. I just start making music, he starts working on lyrics, and we do it all on the spot.
You seem to like coming up with things freshly and organically. I read about you starting off a new interaction by making music about the initial conversation. Does that happen with the two of you at all?
We all have these milestones in our lives or these periods in our lives where we feel that we’re in a certain emotional cycle, or psychological cycle, or there’s a series of events in our lives that impact what we’re focusing on. That’s what initiates the tone of what we’re going to do as artists, together. The music we create is something [that] is going to be imbued with that. It’s somewhat cathartic to explore those thoughts, experiences, and emotions through creating music. There’s a lot of humour involved, it’s dark humour, but there’s a lot of humour involved in the way we make music. We are laughing as much as we are cynical. Manson and I have had a pretty interesting history together. It’s been a pretty impassioned collaboration. We’ve had our ups and downs, but we always make the music that we want to make together, we never feel that we’re short of the creativity to make the music that excites us.
Again, it’s like working with James Gunn in movies, it’s impossible to be around James and not be sparked, stoked, creatively, to do something that’s outside of everything that you’ve done before. I’m not a doom and gloom person, I’m very monotone. I don’t get extremely excited on the outside, but I think I’m comfortable experiencing the full gamut of emotion. So writing music for Guardians of the Galaxy is as natural to me as writing music with Manson or Rob Zombie. I relate to people’s stories and that’s what I get into. I don’t get stuck in one style. I think I have a voice, but I’m comfortable approaching many different styles of music.
It would be hard if you got stuck, doing as many different things that you do.
That’s why I do it.
Back to that ups and downs comment you made. In recent interviews, Manson mentions an incident where he threatened you with a box cutter on stage. Are you willing to share your side of that?
[laughing] Alright. The funny thing is that my publishing company in association with Manson is called Box Cutter Music. When we did The Pale Emperor, over time, we ended up being together A LOT. Then he convinced me to become a part of the band and then I helped put the band together, rehearse the band, and it was getting to a point where we were in Canada and I was coming up on the last of the shows I was going to be able to do with the band because my other career was demanding too much of me to sensibly continue touring. He was just fucking around on stage, he kicked a beer can at me because I’d gotten really upset about him breaking bottles on the drummers hardware because he was getting shards of glass stuck in his skin and I didn’t want him to get injured or go blind or anything. So there was no more glass on stage, so Manson kicked a beer across the stage, I think it was a big mouth can of Coors Light, and he hit me and drenched me.
I had just had enough; we were on each other’s nerves. It was like “what the fuck Manson?” He had just pulled out his green box cutter because he was going to cut himself with that and I was giving him shit about cutting himself anyways, saying “you look like a confused 17-year-old.” [laughing] So he’s like “you want me to slice you up with this here box cutter? You take one step towards me and I’m gonna cut you up with that box cutter.” It’s a brotherly love fight; we’ve always been cool. There’s no way that if we had any toxic bullshit between us that we could answer the last record with this one. This one is even more powerful, more focused, and more fun. Even though I love The Pale Emperor, I totally love that record top to bottom, but I think the thing is with Manson is if he senses that something is going to break, he’ll break it before he lets it break. I think there was a little bit of that going on, but we’re cool. I don’t have any problems at all with anything that’s ever happened between us, we’re great.
I mean, I doubt he was actually going to cut you with the box cutter.
[Laughing] I know he wasn’t. I want only good things for him. My purpose is to help him and to help him in his life all together, not just in his career. To me he’s somebody who’s important in Rock N’ Roll and Rock N’ Roll is pretty boring. The idea of his presence not being prominent disturbs me. I just want to participate with him, to help get him back into the station he should be in. I’ve gone on tour with him all over the world and some of the bands that we open for, I just can’t understand how that’s the case.
It’s the disappointing state of music today.
I mean his music, his lyrics; it’s just so far superior to so much of what I’ve heard in many of the bands that we’ve played with on the road. They’re many great bands, but still. At this point I’m really excited to see that the venues are often times a lot larger than they were when I started touring with him. This whole European tour is sold out, it’s exciting. He was recently on Howard Stern, that’s something that hasn’t happened in a long time. I’m excited for him to see all of this great stuff coming together at this point.
I haven’t gotten a chance to, but I really want to listen to that. The old interviews are just priceless. Their communication and their comradery in the interviews, you don’t see that anymore.
They had a great conversation. I didn’t hear it live, but I had a number of texts. I was pretty busy that day, we had a listening party for Heaven Upside Down at my house that night, that was a pretty intense event to host. I was pre-occupied with that and The Exorcist on that day. I got a bunch of texts, “I think you should listen to this Howard Stern interview.” I forgot he was even doing it to be honest with you, until I got the text. It was great though; he was very topical, very deep, very funny and completely on point. I was happy to hear that happened, because when that happens it’s a sign that an artist really believes in what they’re doing. You can tell just by listening to the conversation with Stern that Manson is really excited about what he’s doing right now and the music that we’ve made together.
The video for “We Know Where You Fucking Live” has been released and “Kill For Me” is rumored to follow, with your background being in film scoring, is it different for you to put together a music video?
I think there’s a cinematic element to everything that I write, because that’s the medium that I’m in all the time. What that video is, “We Know Where You Fucking Live”, is not exactly the treatment that I had discussed initially with Manson, but that’s the video he wanted to make. They shot a video for “KILL4ME” and “SAY10” and I think you’ll see the video for “SAY10” soon. It’s fun. I told Manson it’s about time we do a band video; the fans are always asking me when we’re going to do that, so hopefully we see that in the not too distant future. He’s having fun making videos and he has a good team around him with people who are really in step with him. We’ll see what these videos become because I have no idea. [laughs]
It’s hard for me, because I work with the best filmmakers in the world, so music videos, I can’t even begin to put my mind into it. I’ll get too crazy. I work with geniuses, so it’s hard for me. I’m not involved in the music videos. I think I was in one shot of “We Know Where You Fucking Live”, driving that limo. Manson was joking about that and I’m like “you know what man? I asked them to shoot me out of Guardians of the Galaxy because I didn’t have time to go to re-shoots.” I don’t really give a damn about being on camera. I’m better off camera and I really hate to hear my voice. I prefer to do things a little more under the radar.
He’s making much better videos than the last record. Those were not acceptable. I told him that the videos to the last record were debasing my music. So step it up. [laughing] Luckily he found the right people to make videos with and he’s made a step in a very positive direction, so I’m excited for that.
John Wick 2, it really combines all of your realms. It sees you working on the score, it sees you writing and performing, and writing the final song with Jerry Cantrell. What was it like to get to combine all of your passions into one project like that?
The director, Chad Stahelski, his energy is really intense and fun and kick ass. He asked me to come to Rome to be a part of that and two of my other friends are in that ensemble. It’s great because Chad is a lover of Rock N’ Roll and Keanu (Reeves) is as well. Keanu is involved in every aspect of John Wick and they’re just really good people to work with. When it comes to music, while I love writing rock songs and playing guitar, I really look at the big picture and what needs to happen. I’m equally satisfied with the opportunity to make interesting music for our film, work with an orchestra, or whatever the situation requires. I keep my mind open about everything, but at the core of it I’m mostly interested in working with great people. You cannot get through an experience like any of these movies without leaving a kidney on the table if you’re going to really do a good job. You hope that you’re expending that passion and that energy with people who are going to be a positive influence to your story.
I know it sounds a little altruistic, but that’s how I focus my energy and how I navigate the various opportunities in my life. John Wick introduced me to both Chad and David Leitch, who did Atomic Blonde, and then Deadpool is next with him. Chad told me the next couple of things that he’s planning on doing, but I don’t think I’m at liberty to talk about any of it. [laughs]
Like you said, it’s pretty stressful, especially the film scoring process – with it constantly evolving and the music having to adjust to that, for a Blockbuster film like Guardians or John Wick, on average, how many minutes of mocked up music do you usually produce?
It’s unpredictable because it depends on each movie. Guardians is such a massive film franchise and it’s still just a pixel in the Marvel Universe, so there’s so many factors that have to be considered into what that film ultimately becomes. Therefore, they’re experimenting with the structure of the movie, then there are many visual effects that change throughout the process and in lieu of that, and something is introduced. Every visual changed to the movie, every part of the progression is something that the music has to respond to, whether it winds up in the end product or not. And it’s the same as filming because not all of the film that is shot ends up in the film we see in the movies.
The challenge to keep up with that tempo and to stay in the immediate conversation with James Gunn and the editors and the executives requires some intense conditioning. It’s like competing in a triathlon or something. You have to be prepared for that before you begin, because if you’re not, you’re not going to make it. I always want my collaborators to feel a never say die sensibility with me, that regardless of whatever they’re asking, whatever tempo they’re working at, that I can handle it. It’s so difficult to make a great movie, I want to be a part of that success, and I don’t want to be a part of a failure because I was unable to give them their absolute best.
It would be cool to hear the director’s cut of a soundtrack, because you watch a director’s cut of a movie, and they can be over an hour longer.
Yeah, Watchmen out of all of the movies I’ve done, you can really see a whole additional score in the director’s cut. Especially because there’s a movie inside of a movie in that film, so there was a separate score for the Tales of the Black Freighter. Guardians we might mock up, it depends, maybe 1,000 minutes of music. I can recall one part of the prison escape from the first Guardians movie, which is a three minute 45 second cue; there were 18 versions of that. They weren’t all completely different, but to program it and adjust all of the tempos and measures of music so that they’re readable and playable and so that the demo version of the music sounds great, it requires a re-draft. With 18 versions of three minutes and 45 seconds, you’re already at over an hour of music there mocked up, for one cue. So there are 50 starts in a movie like that, 50 cues. They’re not all that long, intense, or detailed, but it’s still a lot. It’s part of the job and you have to be prepared to do it. Obviously on that scale, I have an expanded team of people who work with me to help keep pace and carry all of my thematic gestures forward throughout the film.
I like to finish off my interviews by asking for a funny character trait or something of that sort from the person that I’m talking to because I feel like that gets lost in a lot of interviews. Is there anything that you can think of that would surprise people about you or make them laugh, that you haven’t really talked about before?
You mean besides the grave digging for the mafia? [laughing] Living in Al Capone’s haunted house and having exorcisms take place there while I was a kid?
It’s honestly stuff that I would never believe if I hadn’t experienced it. I can’t talk about myself objectively from that point of view. I am excited inside, even if I sound completely monotone from the outside.
You can definitely hear the character thorough it.
Yeah, I’m up to no good.
You wouldn’t expect anything else on a tour like that. You’ve got box cutters, glasses being broken, and what not.
Yeah, we are having fun. There are so many stories, there’s stuff that you couldn’t even write. “Did that just really happen?” That’s not even on stage, so it’s always interesting and for me it’s about enhancing my life experience and continuing to bring more inspirational experiences to my life so that I have more depth in my capacity to tell stories through music. That’s really what it is and not too many people have had the opportunity to go out and do this, coming out of a long film-scoring career. I’m thankful for that.
It’s definitely a pretty different world.
I think it’s funny that you said that about the off-stage experience, because I saw a clip of Manson walking through the hallway after one of the shows and I think he just went to tap a light or something, but he hit it and it completely shattered all over him.
Oh that clock. I think we were playing in Finland or something, I remember that. He took that clock home with him; God only knows what it cost him. There are just so many things that happen. I don’t want to divulge too much. Honestly, had there been cameras inside of my studio during the making of The Pale Emperor it would’ve been the greatest reality show of all time. I don’t really share any of those details through social media or publicly, because I think that whatever happens in my studio is sacred and is up to the artist to divulge, but it was a lot of fun and this last one was a lot of fun too. The album was split into two chapters because we did a lot of touring in the middle of it. We were midway through the record, I think we had written six songs already, then we went and did a summer tour with Slipknot and did some shows over in South America and Asia. Then we picked it up again and finished it up. We’re really excited about this record and I really hope that people respond to it the way we feel about it.
You’ve got to keep some stories for yourself too, you can’t share it all.
No, that’s exactly right. I’m just not that type of person anyways. I’m pretty boring on social media with whatever I’ve posted. James Gunn opened up an Instagram account for me I think in 2009. I remember the day he’s like “dude, you’ve got to have an Instagram” and I’m like “why?” He’s like “you just do! Just open it up and immediately you’ll have hundreds of followers.” I’m like “whatever that means.” I think he posted the first thing I ever posted, maybe it was his post on my Instagram or something, I don’t know. I think I still have like 30 posts. [laughs] I should probably post more. I just don’t like to divulge that much about myself personally. People don’t need the vomit of my life forced upon them.