Q&A with Tyler Bates
Friday night I found myself backstage at Stage AE surrounded by black leather-clad, heavily makeup-ed, world-class musicians. These were not just any musicians, they were the members of Marilyn Manson’s band. Among them was Tyler Bates, a highly sought-after rock guitarist who has proven himself a master at creating astounding musical narratives.
Bates is a life long musician who transitioned from the world of touring and live performances into a prolific career composing television and film scores. He has created musical landscapes for films such as Dawn of the Dead, 300 and more recent blockbusters including Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 1. and Vol 2, John Wick, and Atomic Blonde. Throughout his career, Bates has forged partnerships with countless artists, including film directors Zack Snyder and James Gunn, and musician Marilyn Mason. Currently on tour with Manson in support of their latest album, Heaven Upside Down, Bates spends his time delivering killer guitar performances, composing music in makeshift hotel room studios, and trying to get some sleep. Humble, immensely talented, and fully enamored with his craft, Bates hopes that this new album will excite and impress fans and that he can continue to craft stories through composition both on screen and on stage.
You’ve worked on numerous projects as a producer, composer, and musician. How do you see those roles as similar to or contrasting each other?
I would say all three roles overlap. For film composition I need a serious degree of production skills and for production, my work is informed by my experience as a musician. Everything has started to intersect in my life, so all of my projects, no matter what role I’m approaching them from, are about understanding my collaborators and telling their story through music. The core is about storytelling and emotion, and that carries into every space I inhabit.
What does the physical process of composing for the screen look like? Is the score informed by the movie or is the movie informed by your music?
Every single project is a triathlon. And each one is constantly evolving, with certain scenes getting compressed or drawn out and the score changing to fit those adjustments. So it might end up being a 90-minute score, but there were well over 100 minutes of composition that changed as the process went on. And that’s the crazy thing; I might end up producing more hours of music for one film than most musicians produce in their entire career.
And the give and take between the visuals and the composition differs project-to-project and person-to-person. For Guardians of the Galaxy, I worked with James Gunn who I’ve known for years and collaborated on tons of projects with, so we were able to approach the process a bit differently. I actually composed the score based off the script and certain pre sketches, so I was writing to the film sequences before they even existed. The actors would act with ear buds in so every one would move to the tempo and the emotion of the composition.
You’ve worked on incredibly distinct and unique projects with talents in both the film and music industry. How would you describe your creative process, and how is that process informed by collaboration?
I’m always open. My creative process is never the same twice, and it’s never about just making music. It’s about creating a conversation. It’s about understanding people. Music is a vehicle, it’s how I get through things, so I’m always looking for projects that teach me and challenge me where I can continue to grow and maintain some relevance.
I never really know what to expect because there’s always some new direction I’m able to take my work. Recently I worked on the composition for the Guardians of the Galaxy attraction at Disney California Adventure, and I got to work with their team of Imagineers. The spirit they brought was definitely not Hollywood, and I found it really refreshing. We got to work in a team, so I knew that I needed to bring my skills and point of view to the work but that ultimately we had a job to do and we would do it together.
So when it comes to collaboration I would say it depends on what you’re working on. If you’re working on an indie film versus a project for a large studio, the experience is completely different. The size of the team changes, so the whole process and feeling changes. But I try to make my collaborators feel comfortable so that they can feel what I’m trying to convey even if they don’t have a technical understanding.
What do you look for in a collaborator, and how do you go about forming those partnerships?
I just ask the universe to bring good people into my life. I don’t know if life is too long or too short to work with people you don’t like, but I have had the good fortune of working with people who elevate my game. I mean, James Gunn is a genius. Zack Snyder, Rob Zombie, both geniuses. And I’ve been lucky enough to work with them on multiple occasions. Ultimately, I like to work with people who are excited and striving.
That’s why I’m so appreciative of all my time working in film and television. That process of iterating and meeting deadlines is what gave me the ability to articulate ideas quickly, and that’s what has allowed me to collaborate with people like [Marilyn] Manson. Those experiences gave me the stamina and capabilities needed for us to work well together, and I didn’t have that before working in the film industry.
Could you elaborate on what it’s like working with Marilyn Manson and how it may be different from other collaborations?
Well, [working with Manson] is different because there’s nobody else like him. And it’s different than my film score work because no matter what, I will always love to write, record, and play rock music. Rock music is hurting so badly right now, and Manson is the last bastion of real icons, so I want to do my part to help the cause. We’re like brothers; the first time I met him I never would have expected to be writing or playing with him, but somehow it works. He challenges me and we feed off each other’s energies.
You’ve worked on such a diverse range of projects across different mediums and genres. Is there a certain tone you’re trying to convey in all your work, or does it change depending on the project?
I think the me of it, whatever project it is, is identifiable. People who know me can recognize my guitar playing or sense it’s my work immediately. So in a sense I think there is a signature in all my work. I’m looking through the lens of my life experience, and that authenticity and sincerity is what I hope is transcendent to the audience. I’m trying to convey emotion, not an impression of emotion, in all my work.
What advice do you have for young artists?
Be in touch with your spirit, and pursue your art for that reason and purpose it gives you. It’s easy to get jaded to the value of your work, especially when certain industries aren’t paying as much or there isn’t as much demand. But you can’t pander to the climate of the industry. You can change things. You just have to be willing to do whatever it takes so you can do what you love. Music has been my whole life; it’s all I’ve known. I’ve had other jobs, but they were never instead of music, they were so I would be able to keep doing it. Ultimately, I would say a backup plan is a bad idea. Because if you have one, you’ll take it.