Tyler Bates has the soul of a rocker and the skills of a composer, and the combination of the two has enabled him to craft music for everything from 2000s hit horror remakes Dawn of the Dead and Halloween to 2019 blockbusters John Wick: Chapter 3 and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw. Along the way he's played guitar for Marilyn Manson, scored TV shows like Primal and Stumptown, and even written music for Cirque du Soleil. Amid all that, the guitar-wielding composer and producer took time out to talk about bringing rock 'n' roll energy to any media format that strikes his fancy.
Spotify for Artists: Describe what you do and give us the short story of how you got there.
Tyler Bates: I'm a composer for film, video games, and television. And since the premiere of Cirque du Soleil's newest Las Vegas show, R.U.N., live theater is among the many things that keep me up at night. I also write and produce music in collaboration with a variety of recording artists from Marilyn Manson to David Hasselhoff.
My earliest childhood memories are of listening to music with my mother. I practically learned to read by studying album liner notes. I was curious to know who wrote the music, who the musicians were on those recordings, and where and when it was recorded. I remember listening to Frank Zappa's Hot Rats album when I was five years old. I was fascinated by this album. I remember thinking, "Who would make such an odd collection of long instrumental songs, and then have Captain Beefheart sing the album's only vocal?" I read in the liner notes that Frank Zappa wrote and produced this music. It was then that I knew writing and producing music was what I was going to do in my life.
I began playing the alto saxophone in concert, jazz, and marching bands during middle school. And then my mom gave me my first guitar when I was 12. I'll never forget the rush of excitement I felt when I opened the case for the first time. It was my portal to escape the present and see my future. Once I developed basic skills, I recorded myself playing songs as I learned them. Before long, I began daisy-chaining cassette recorders together so that I could overdub multiple tracks with my guitar and beatbox into a RadioShack microphone to hear what my music might sound like with drums. I joined my first of many bands when I was 17. Performing is in my blood, but I love the magic of the recording studio equally as much.
Is there an artist you were a fan of growing up, a story you heard, or an artist you crossed paths with at some point that sparked you to pursue this as a career?
Jaws was the first film where I noticed the immense emotional and psychological influence music can bring to a movie. Everyone who has seen Jaws has quoted John Williams' legendary two-note motif. But then I saw Halloween. This movie freaked me the fuck out! I grew up on a ranch in rural Illinois in the woods. Our house was a log cabin once owned by Al Capone, where paranormal activity occurred on a daily basis. It sounds pretty unbelievable until you experience it. There were two exorcisms performed in that house before it was razed. For at least a year after seeing Halloween, that theme played in my mind when I went down to our barn to feed the horses, or do other chores after dark. Eventually the music in my mind became my own. It was reflexive. And I couldn't stop it from happening, similarly to people who experience synesthesia when they hear or think of music.
I learned that in addition to writing and directing his movies, John Carpenter scored or co-scored them as well. This piqued my curiosity immensely because John Carpenter has an incredibly distinct signature as a filmmaker and as a composer.
What do you look for in an artist you want to work with?
I look for unique talent and authenticity in any prospective collaboration. As a fan of music I am curious about the artist's mind, and the life experiences that inform who they are as a creative being. Whether it's visual media or songwriting and production, my goal is to encapsulate the artist in a soulful and timeless expression of who they are, without revealing details the audience doesn't need to know. When making [Marilyn Manson album] The Pale Emperor, Marilyn Manson said to me, "Tyler Bates, never unlock the box of mystery." I think those words are incredibly astute, especially now, when personal information and life events are often overshared with the public. I'm a proponent of using metaphor to express an idea or emotion, leaving interpretation to the imagination of the listener.
What's the biggest tool at an artist's disposal in 2019 from your perspective?
Undoubtedly, the computer is currently the most powerful creative tool available to artists. I could not compose and produce music for any of the media I work in without one to eight computers. It's necessary for me to play instruments to feed my soul, but computers afford me the ability to experiment quickly, and to develop concepts that were unfathomable to me not long ago.
What's the best advice you have for any artist just starting out?
Be true to who you are. Don't be afraid to be different from what is popular at the moment. Be your personal best, but allow yourself time to become the artist you can be. Have the courage to create and let go so that you have space in your soul to grow and create more of what interests and excites you. An artist's life doesn't guarantee happiness or wealth, but if you approach it with passion and persistence, you will have a life filled with extraordinary experiences and interesting people that will take you places you may never have imagined you will go. Lastly, don't have a back-up plan! If you can imagine a life doing anything other than pursuing your artistic dreams, you will probably wind up doing that instead.