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Tyler Bates Balances Careers as Guitarist and In-Demand Film Composer

Composer Tyler Bates is difficult to pigeonhole. At times he’s the maestro of fun, lavish symphonic scores such as the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies. At other times, he’s been the heavily made-up guitarist accompanying Marilyn Manson on worldwide concert tours.

He’s also the soft-spoken, philosophical artist who asks filmmakers over to his studio to improvise themes based on their ideas about story and character.The extremes of Tyler Bates’ career are what keeps him fresh, alive and eager to start the next project. “I’ve been through a lot of very challenging experiences in my life,” he says. “That’s manifested in my philosophy about music, about relationships … every experience informs everything. As an artist, it also informs the spectrum of emotion and your intuitiveness about people.”

Although the “Guardians” movies have become his most successful films, those grand-scale orchestral scores are light-years beyond where he started.

Born in Los Angeles, Bates grew up fascinated by all kinds of music. “Led Zeppelin, Kiss and Black Sabbath, Tchaikovsky and Mingus and Frank Zappa, folk music, ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘Hair,’ I got excited about everything,” he says.

A highly proficient guitarist, he spent the late ’80s and early ’90s in Chicago, returning to L.A. in 1993 to write and produce with other artists. Film scoring inevitably followed. Much of his early work was in the horror or sci-fi genre: Rob Zombie films including “The Devil’s Rejects” and the “Halloween” remake, Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” redo and others.

Tyler Bates in his studio
Courtesy of Victor Colomes

Snyder gave him his biggest canvas yet with “300,” the gory Spartans-vs.-Persians graphic-novel adaptation, and followed it with “Watchmen,” based on the Alan Moore graphic novel. Both demanded big orchestral scores plus choral and electronic elements.Eight years later, “300” stunt coordinators Chad Stahelski and David Leitch hired him for their Keanu Reeves thriller “John Wick.”

“We had a vision about how to make a modern-day myth,” says Stahelski. “We were trying to do an anti-action movie, and everybody we went to gave us the same fast-beat, action-y kind of stuff. We needed a different sound.”The film happened to come along just as Bates had finished co-writing and producing Marilyn Manson’s “The Pale Emperor” album. The filmmakers were considering a Manson song, met the rocker and he suggested Bates as their composer. (Bates recently finished work on Manson’s next album, “Heaven Upside Down,” due later this summer.)

Bates has also finished music duties for Leitch’s next film, the Charlize Theron-starring “Atomic Blonde,” due July 28. “I pestered him for months during production,” Leitch admits. “There’s definitely an electronic influence because we were riffing on Berlin in the ’80s, but there’s a lot of guitar too. That’s Tyler’s weapon of choice. He uses the guitar in such interesting ways.”

Explains the composer: “I always go back to storytelling and emotion. If music is present, its job is to support that. What is the most appropriate way to address the situation, whether it’s action or a very personal moment between people?

Tyler Bates Marilyn Manson at a “Californication” wrap party in 2013
Eric Charbonneau/Invision/AP

It’s a huge challenge to do that effectively.”It applies to TV, too. In recent years Bates has scored dozens of episodes of “Californication,” “Salem” and “Kingdom,” and he has already started on Netflix’s upcoming Marvel series “The Punisher.”

“There’s definitely a lot of noise in it,” Bates laughs. He describes the score as “broken blues. We really wanted to get into the dark corners of the Punisher’s mind.”“Samurai Jack” creator Genndy Tartakovsky also turned to Bates for this year’s Cartoon Network revival of his animated series.

Says the producer: “My favorite moment with Tyler is when we have long discussions about a particularly difficult or unique piece of music and he will just pull out a guitar and start playing, instantly capturing the emotion and spirit of the scene — as well as giving me goose pimples.”

Bates is working with director Emilio Estevez on “The Public,” their third film together. “Because there are equal parts humor and drama throughout the film, I am leaning on Tyler’s musical tone to let the audience know when it’s OK to laugh,” says Estevez.

Bates, ever reflective and thoughtful regardless of the nature of the project, says:  “I try and learn from the past but I don’t live there. I feel like the best piece of music is in front of me.”

Director Leitch speaks for many of his colleagues when he declares: “I don’t want to do a movie without Tyler Bates.”

Selected Filmography
(With worldwide grosses)
$102m
Dawn of the Dead (2004)
$19m
The Devil’s Rejects (2005)
$456m
300 (2006)
$80m
Halloween (2007)
$233m
The Day the Earth
Stood Still (2008)
$185m
Watchmen (2009)
$4m
The Way (2010)
$90m
Sucker Punch (2011)
$49m
Conan the Barbarian (2009)
$773m
Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
$89m
John Wick (2014)
$170m
John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
$858m
Guardians of the Galaxy,
Vol. 2 (2017)
Source: Box Office Mojo

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