Having crafted shadowy soundscapes for more than 60 feature films, multiple video games and countless episodes of TV, BMI composer Tyler Bates continues to develop his artistry and take on new challenges. 2014 found Bates expanding his compositional canvas, scoring action blockbusters John Wick and Guardians of the Galaxy, among other projects.
During the filming of Showtime’s Californication, one entry in his long list of credits, Bates found a kindred spirit in Marilyn Manson. Though the alt-metal icon was on hand to act, the two struck up a bond that quickly pointed them to the recording studio. Working closely together, the pair emerged with a bluesy rebirth of Manson’s patently grim pop.
The Pale Emperor was released early this year, to both popular and critical acclaim, with Bates currently holding down lead guitar duties in its supporting The Hell Not Hallelujah Tour. Checking in from the road, Bates connected with BMI to consider how the current rhythm he’s found is impacted by an already accomplished past, and how it will inform his future.
You’ve collaborated with many top film directors. Tell us about the experience of working with Marilyn Manson on Pale Emperor.
As you might imagine, writing and playing music with him is not quite the norm compared to a typical collaboration in film or television. But given that Manson is a devoted fan of cinema and TV, we naturally began making music imbued with a cinematic quality. Much of the success of our collaboration is due to my experience working in film and television. As composer/producers it’s important that we understand the sensibilities of our creative collaborators in an instinctual manner, as much as obtaining the correct information regarding storytelling and emotion is paramount to writing an effective score. Making that into music requires a creative process that is focused but also natural and open for everyone involved to participate.
Composers are required to be both musically prolific and technically proficient on the spot. So with respect to Manson and I working together, we approached our collaboration as a conversation. The key for Manson to open up in the studio is for him to not feel like he’s in a formal studio environment where there are people on the other side of the glass watching him record as though he is in a fish in a tank. That can be unnerving for vocalists especially. I set us up to write and record sitting side-by-side in my studio, so our creative work maintained the essence of a conversation throughout the making of the album. Many of the performances on the record are the two of us tracking together in an open room, so our recorded performances often bled into one another. But that’s the vibe that we wanted this music to have. And we had a lot of fun doing it.
What drew you to this project?
Manson and I met at a rehearsal for a Californication concert that was held at the Greek Theater as part of a season-finale episode. Manson guested as himself on the show throughout that season, so he participated in the live performance. We recognized that we had chemistry playing music together, so we started talking and hanging out on occasion. A year later we decided to get together in my studio to discuss making some music. I have met a lot of artists in my life but none quite like him, so I knew that this would be an interesting odyssey. One thing led to the next, and The Pale Emperor emerged as Marilyn Manson’s new album.
What was your approach and vision to connect with MM’s musical style?
I am familiar with a fair amount of Manson’s catalogue, which tends to lie in the Goth-industrial pop metal realm. When he said that wanted to explore the blues, I began playing what I would consider to be “broken blues” with a classic rock essence. I thought it would open new avenues for Manson to express himself both vocally and emotionally, and in turn, give his audience insight to another dimension of Marilyn Manson that hopefully will continue to develop in years to come. The trick was to explore a new Marilyn Manson sound while maintaining a connection to his previous work. The songs were inspired directly by our conversations, which were rarely about music. Manson likes to talk, so essentially I underscored this period of time and events in his life, much as I would a movie.
Is this “pop” direction and/or producer role something you’d like to make more central in your career?
I spent the first half of my life playing guitars, making music, playing gigs, etc. It has always been a central aspect of how I identify with my life. My past experience equipped me to work well with other musicians, which in turn has helped me communicate well with directors and producers. The challenge of working on a variety of projects with uniquely talented artists is stimulating to me. Making records yields an excitement about music that is different from scoring for film and television, but it definitely informs my work as a composer so that I have something to say in my film and television work. So yes, given the right circumstances, I intend to continue making records.
Are there elements of the Hell Not Hallelujah Tour’s live show you hope to inject into either future composing or recording sessions?
I‘m not sure how this current experience will influence my compositional work? Some people think I’m a bit crazy for taking a few months off to go on tour right after having a great success with
How does this experience impact your film-scoring career?
I’m not sure how it will impact my scoring career, if at all? It’s great that the songs from the album are being licensed quite a bit, but I think the take away is really more about being reinvigorated to do the work that I love while keeping an open mind about creating and exploring unique opportunities for me to apply my talent. This experience will undoubtedly have an impact on the work that I do from here forward.
Creatively, how do you push your compositions further?
The most dedicated artists are constantly working to improve upon the execution of their ideas, much like a great athlete works relentlessly to improve their technique. It’s a never-ending exercise that sometimes leads me to think that I don’t know what the hell I am doing? I grapple with self-doubt, but with perseverance, I’ll have an exciting breakthrough, the development of a new idea begins. The beauty of film, television, games, commercials, etc., is that by nature of being commissioned artists, composers are constantly challenged to create music that is outside the paradigm of what we consider to be vernacular. That’s terribly daunting and exciting at the same time.
Who were the formative figures and influencers in your musical development?
Here’s a few: Ennio Morricone, John Barry, Jesus Christ Superstar, Brian Eno, YES, Don Ellis, Maurice Jarre, Giorgio Moroder, Johnny Cash, Gorgy Ligeti.
What’s your advice to composers looking to grow as professionals within the industry?
To me, professionalism is a philosophical state of mind. It’s important to be the best person you can be, and also to be aware of how your actions and your energy impact those around you. That itself is a never-ending meditation. Your vibe and the creative process you conduct are a large part of the “experience” you are providing your collaborative partners, which is equally as important as the music. If you say “yes,” then give your absolute best effort and attitude in whatever you are doing whether it appears to be a big deal, or a student film. There is a responsibility that comes with saying “yes” that cannot be overlooked or underestimated in its value to all parties involved. You never really know what you’re really working on, or whom you’re working with until a project finds its way into the commercial world. Uphold your commitments to the fullest extent. Your word should be solid as gold.
Tell us about your relationship with BMI.
BMI has been a constant support system since the beginning of my film and television career. In the late 1990s, I was selected to attend the BMI Sundance composer’s lab. That experience alone helped me to determine the path of my career as a professional. I attended the lab with eighteen film scores to my credit, but meeting George S. Clinton opened my eyes to what being a composer for film and television is really about. He is a masterful composer, and actually the first person I met who had scored a movie. His insight and support through my formative years as a composer were invaluable to me. I was honored to return to the lab several years later as an advisor, with myriad experiences as a composer in the business to share with the lab fellows.
The people at BMI have a great way of giving us composers help and encouragement along this journey, which is wonderful but also very difficult. I have also met many great people through BMI functions, and through personal introductions made by BMI employees, for which I am grateful.