"You Gotta Bring The Fire": An Interview with Tyler Bates
When it comes to understanding and translating the power of an environment into sound, there are none more gifted than Tyler Bates. An architect of music for film, television and video games, he has cemented his place as Hollywood’s go-to composer with his lavish soundscapes for films such as the Guardians of the Galaxy series, and TV shows such as Californication, Salem and The Exorcist.
In recent years, Tyler has worked closely with Marilyn Manson. Together they crafted 2015’s The Pale Emperor - a record that, for many, signified the resurrection of Manson’s true artistry following several underwhelming releases. Their highly anticipated second collaboration, Heaven Upside Down, is set for release on October 6th.
I called Tyler at his studio in LA to talk about the new album, the unending balancing act between his career as a composer and member of Marilyn Manson, and a certain on-stage incident involving a box cutter.
How’s everything going over there man? It’s been two and a half years since we got together. Does it seem like that long since you last played in Sydney? Oh my god, it seems like it’s only been a couple of months (laughs). But everything’s going great - we’re just testing the sound system for tomorrow. We’re having a listening party here for the new record before we leave on tour. I’m hosting it at my studio and we’ve only got about 75 people coming, so it should be a good, chilled experience - better than having it in some cheesy sterile environment or at a bar. I know you’re a fan of Gary Numan. Any chance he’ll be attending? I know he’s living in LA now. I haven’t met him, actually - but I’d really love to. I’m sure if I made a couple of calls I could track him down, but I’m not extremely aggressive in that way. I tend to meet people through other people these days and it really does help keep my level of inspiration high. I’m sure you’ll bump into him at some point. So what have you been up to since finishing Heaven Upside Down with Manson?
Well I did a couple of concerts in Spain at the beginning of July - they were part of my film music. From there I went straight back to LA and into rehearsals for a month of shows in Europe with Manson. I’ve also been working on The Exorcist TV show, and I just finished The Punisher soundtrack album. Then there’s a couple of movies that I start work on toward the beginning of 2018. I’ll be flying to Vancouver for one of them.
We’re ready to leave on Monday to start rolling out more new music live from Heaven Upside Down. We start in Baltimore in about a week and a half. It’s just nonstop man.
It must take a toll after a while, having so many different projects on the go all the time? It does, but for me it’s really just a matter of managing my energy levels and my focus. Today in the studio I’m primarily sorting a TV show I’m working on, and tomorrow I’m doing a song arrangement for a project I’m doing with a good friend, then I’ve got rehearsals with Manson on Wednesday. The thing is, I have a family too - so that’s another dimension to all of it. It’s definitely pretty crazy but it’s also a very fun and exciting time in my life, so I can’t complain.
I imagine you’re being approached by loads of bands who are keen to work with you after seeing what you’ve done with Manson. Are you having to turn a lot of projects down? Oh yeah, that stuff is happening all the time now. I want to work with all of them, you know? (laughs). But movies are so demanding; I only have so much space for other artists. I do music with Jerry Cantrel (Alice in Chains) sometimes - he’s my neighbour and he’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever known. I’d love to do something with Joe Perry (Aerosmith) sometime. I even had David Hasselhoff in my studio on Friday afternoon! Hasselhoff! I'm looking forward to hearing how that collab comes out. I really like David. He did a rap for us on the credits of Guardians of The Galaxy 2. He asked if I would work with him on some music and I really like him, so we may end up knocking out another song or two together towards the holidays. I love working with people who I think my collaborative spirit can help. I’m so humbled by a lot of the people that I get to meet these days. These are people I would have killed to have given my younger band’s cassette tape to, you know? And they’re asking me to work for them now, it’s so weird! I always stay open to the possibility of what can happen, because something unique seems to happen for me every day. I’m really appreciative for that and for the way my life is now. You just never know what’s gonna happen.
So far the Heaven Upside Down tour includes upward of 40 shows over a few months. How are you going to handle that kind of commitment when you’ve got so much going on elsewhere? I’ll definitely hit everything for this next leg of the tour, but I’m not sure about the entirety of the tour in November and December in Europe. I want to play as many shows as I can, but I’ve got some pretty intense commitments with film coming up and that takes precedence.
The great thing about my working relationship with Manson and how the band is set up is that they can accommodate me when I’m there, or reconfigure things when I’m not. Paul (Wiley) makes certain adjustments to how he plays the songs live when I’m not around. Luckily we’re all good friends, so that helps keep everything cool. Let’s get into the new album - obviously the name of the album changed from SAY10 to Heaven Upside Down, and three new songs were written and added fairly late in the game. Were any of the completed tracks altered to accommodate the late additions? They weren’t, actually. I think the way Manson and I write stems purely from conversation. A song is born from a moment of a conversation and we’ll develop a musical idea, or we’ll just start working from a certain lyric he’s written. As we start to amass songs, we start to think about what dynamic is not there yet that we want to feel, and that leads us to the next song.
The final song we completed for the album was ‘Saturnalia’. There were a number of things that occurred in Manson’s life that made it very apparent it us that we had to do this song.
It’s definitely a situation of one thing leading to the next. We don’t have a stock pile of songs that we sift through. There’s no guitar riffs just laying around. All these songs come from the intrigue and excitement of creating music together. I’ll start something that challenges him, or he’ll drop a lyric on me that’s pretty mind-blowing (laughs). His writing compels me to come up with some good shit. It’s a fun challenge with each other; we definitely enjoy that part of it.
I think the creation of a lot of rock music has become a very banal process - it’s even rare that a drummer and a guitar player are in a studio together, recording simultaneously. We like to have the music develop in the moment and it’s not just based on those independent riffs. I would say it’s a by-product of me essentially scoring Manson’s life.
Exactly who plays on this album? Did Twiggy record on it? Gil (Sharone) plays on this record, but no, Twiggy didn’t. That said, he definitely has a huge impact on how the songs are presented when we play them live. We played three songs that were yet to be released from the album on this recent tour and they went over really well. They exceeded our expectations and our hopes, and Twiggy definitely had a lot to do with that - his approach and his attitude and his general vibe. The new music becomes a different animal when we all play it live.
I think the process of how Manson and I make music is very similar to how I collaborate with directors, and it can only be done with two people in the room. I’m sure at some point in life things will change and he’ll perhaps feel stimulated by something else, but for the moment this is the way it needs to be. It’s the second time you’ve employed this kind of one-on-one, intimate process with Manson. How do you feel about The Pale Emperor now? I love that record and the power that’s captured on it. The thing I wanted Manson to do with The Pale Emperor was divulge a part of himself that I didn’t know, and that hopefully the people who follow him didn’t know either. He really opened himself up and I think that’s what people responded so well to. The album was a stripping down of his performance to who he is now, instead of an impression of who he was at some other point in time. It was really a great experience for both of us. Which song for the new album came about first? 'We Know Where You Fucking Live'. That's a huge track. Do you think it kind of established the driving sound and feel for the rest of the album? When Manson and I began to speak again about making a new album, I told him “If we’re doing this again, we’re gonna make a completely different record. You gotta bring the fire! We gotta fuck some shit up!” (laughs). He was, of course, all in for it.
I knew we were getting together to work on our first session, so a couple of hours before he came over I started laying down some music. I knew that track was the initial seed that I wanted to plant for him to work from. It was a great starter for the album.
What was the song that came together the quickest? Probably ‘Threats of Romance’, which I love, or ‘SAY10’. I put a lot of time into the music once we have the initial song and structure down, and obviously we go back and tweak things after Manson listens to them at home. He might come back in and throw down another part or verse, or sometimes I’ll come across a new dynamic or motif I want to apply.
Okay, so I’m gonna have to ask you about something: In a few of his recent interviews, Manson has mentioned a box cutter incident that involved you. Can you tell us what exactly happened? Oh man, that’s too funny. Okay, you have to understand, if you know Manson well and you’ve spent as much one-on-one time with him as I have, we’re like brothers. So we were on The Pale Emperor tour and he kept breaking beer bottles so he could cut himself, but the shards of glass were hitting our drummer Gil. I got really pissed and told him to stop with the fucking glass. I think he probably wasn’t happy that I had to leave the tour - I was going to play two more shows in Canada with him, then they were gonna move on with The Smashing Pumpkins for that joint tour - so he like, kicked a beer and it hit me on stage and I’d just had enough. I was just like, “What the fuck?”.
So instead of the bottle, he pulls out a box cutter and says “You want me to cut you open with this box cutter, Tyler Bates?”
I said, “You fucking come near me and I’ll kill you with that box cutter!” (laughs)
And this is all happening on stage, you know? It’s kind of our sense of humour, but it got a little heated. I thought, you know, maybe it’s time for me to get back to my kind of things and my job. My work for with Manson for that period of time was done. He had a band that was playing really solid every night and he was feeling good.
I never had a real problem with Manson, though - he’s just not a normal... human. You know what I mean? We understand each other very well and no matter what we do, we’ll always love the things we create together. There’s not gonna be an incident that could destroy any of that. There’s always gonna be a bit of Cain and Abel action between brothers.
Right! And how can you not laugh at some of this shit? I have no issues with Manson at all. He’s been cool enough to bring me on in this live capacity when he knows I can’t always be there, and that’s really unusual. I really appreciate that he wants me to be there to present the music we create together to his audience.
The whole box cutter thing is funny to both of us now. In fact, my publishing company is now called Box Cutter Music. It’s exclusive to anything Manson and I do together. I’m really glad to hear you guys have that dynamic, because Manson is known for being a pretty complex character to work with. I’m exhausted but I’m never not having fun. Manson works different hours to anybody else I know. It can be hard because I have a family and I have to work normal business hours. Manson will come over at 9pm on a Tuesday night, and by 2am on Wednesday morning I’ll be like: “You gotta go now! Leave my studio please!” (laughs) But yeah, I want to see only great things happen for him. I think we’re in a really critical time in rock music and pop culture. People are not relating or demanding from others the kind of substance he brings. He’s someone who calls people out on their hypocrisy and provokes people to act on the thoughts or feelings they’re trying to conceal. To be able to collaborate with someone who is the real deal is so awesome.
Before we wrap this up, I wanted to ask you - what was the first live show you ever went to? The first real live show I went to, it was right before I saw KISS… I was gonna guess it was KISS! It was a Kansas and The Doobie Brothers show! I remember going with my mother who was really into all styles of music. I was really excited to go to a show.
I have to go back to KISS for a minute and ask you which tour it was? Love Gun! It was the first time I saw them. No way! And what’s crazy is, part of my younger life I grew up on a ranch outside of Chicago in this totally haunted log cabin that was formerly owned by Al Capone - I swear to god, there were two exorcisms performed in this house. Anyway, we boarded horses because we had a stable, and one of the women who boarded her horse with us was the Manager for a Flipside Record Store, which was Ticketmaster before it became Ticketmaster. So she managed to get me scalped tickets for the KISS Dynasty tour and I sat second row with my friend.
There was no security barrier back then and Ace Frehley literally handed his beer to my friend, but he was so nervous he dumped it on himself! I was like, “You idiot!” (laughs). We were only 13 years old, so it was totally inappropriate to be handing us beer, but so awesome.
Tyler Bates is on tour with Marilyn Manson from September 27th. www.tylerbates.com
Heaven Upside Down is set to be released on October 6 via Loma Vista Recordings and Caroline International
For all tour date information and to buy the album visit: www.marilynmanson.com