Interview:WAMG Talks To GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Composer Tyler Bates

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WAMG Talks To GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Composer Tyler Bates
Interview with Marilyn Manson
Date July 28, 2014
Source WAMG Talks To GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Composer Tyler Bates

Hollywood Records and Marvel are releasing three albums from Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY on Tuesday, July 29.

The Guardians of the Galaxy Deluxe soundtrack features classic 1970s songs from the film, plus score by composer Tyler Bates (“Watchmen,” “Slither,” “Dawn of the Dead”). Music plays a major role in Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY as the great songs featured in the film are part of the storyline in a unique way.

Explaining how the songs come to play in the story, director James Gunn says, “One of the main story points in the movie is that Quill has this compilation tape [Awesome Mix #1] that he got from his mother before she died that she made for him. It was of songs that she loved, all songs from the 1970s, and that’s the only thing he has left of his mother and that’s the only thing he has left of his home on Earth. He uses that as a connection to his past and to the sadness that he feels of having left all that and lost all that.”

Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Mix Vol. 1 is the collection of 12 songs including Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling,” “I’m Not in Love” by 10cc, Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love,” and The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb,” and Guardians of the Galaxy is the digital score soundtrack. The film opens in U.S. theaters this Friday, August 1.

Los Angeles–born composer Tyler Bates was inspired early on by a breadth of musical impressions that ranged from John Coltrane to Chopin, and the rock operas “Hair” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.” An array of artistic influences set the course for Bates’ musical signature that often combines disparate components that become indigenous within his compositions for film, television, video games and new media.

His ability to create new worlds of atmospheric soundscapes fused with traditional orchestra led to groundbreaking scores for Zack Snyder’s “Dawn of the Dead” and “300” films.

Bates had just seen the stunning film when we spoke over the phone. It was also prior to the announcement over the weekend that Marvel Studios has plans for a GUARDIANS sequel. Bates and I discussed his collaboration with Gunn and composing for a big Marvel film.

WAMG: The blending of the score and songs is terrific. How did the mix come about?

TB: The songs were suggested by James. They’re all very natural to him and have some significance in his own life. That’s how they so effectively work in the scope of the film.

The music is literally a different personality in the movie, has a different function than the songs. It exists more, not only to be propulsive in the action sequences and to set up some of the comedic moments, but really to underscore the emotional depth of the characters. They’ve all survived some terrible tragedy in their life and they try to supress the rawness of those emotions in the scope of who they try to be.

WAMG: There are some great orchestral pieces in the score throughout. The wind section, the brass section, the percussion section, like in Quill’s “Big Retreat,” the combination is fantastic. Did you manipulate any regular sounds to make them sound like instruments?

TB: The orchestra was pretty standard – primarily brass and strings. This is probably the most pure orchestral score I’ve done. A lot of the color occurs in the bleeding of lines between the primary melodies. Tim Williams, my orchestrator, who’s worked with me for a long time, and who happens to be a great composer in his own right, he and I get together and we workshop. We’ll play the piano together and talk through possibilities for what the music can become. Once it’s been written there are other steps in developing the music and part of that is what he and I do together.

WAMG: What orchestra was used on GUARDIANS?

TB: It was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London. The orchestra was comprised of players from the London Philharmonic as well as great musicians from the various London orchestras – we were very fortunate.

WAMG: You’ve worked on scores for Gunn’s SLITHER and SUPER. What did you say when you received the call from him, “Hey, how’d you like to work with me again, but this time on GUARDIANS?”

TB: To be honest, it was crazy. I was in London recording for the video game “God Of War” when he called me and said, “Dude, I’m doing this GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and it looks like I’m going to get the job. Are you in?” I said, “Of course.” And then I figured out what it was and that it was a Marvel movie.

Immediately my first emotion was elation for him! James is an incredibly talented person and a very standup guy. I consider him a friend as well as a collaborator. I was really thrilled for him.

Then once I started thinking about it, I thought it would be really cool to score a Marvel movie with James and it’s a new franchise. We get to create a new theme. That’s really the most rewarding aspect of stepping into a movie like this, but it’s also the most daunting.

WAMG: Your scores for 300 and WATCHMEN, as well as SUCKER PUNCH, had such an impact of those movies. What did you take away from those movies that assisted you on GUARDIANS?

TB: Every movie is a learning experience. The way I relate to music is on an emotional level first. I always try to allow the intellectualization of ideas to occur after the feeling is imbued. The most important thing to me is how transcendent the emotion is and I relate to experiences in my own life to conjure that up. I try to feel it first.

WAMG: “Sacrifice” and “To The Stars” tracks break the heart. So peaceful, so quiet and very emotional.

TB: When James and I first started working, prior to cinematography, I wrote several of the themes in advance and he filmed to them, which was pretty cool. They had a PA system on set, often times James was giving direction to the actors through a mic and it’s very loud. He was cranking these score pieces on set when they would film action sequences or to walk through the emotional moments. That helped bring everyone together to help them understand what the movie was.

The opportunity to do that was paramount for the composer to work with the director in advance and create music that you know is going to impact the performance of everybody. Those set pieces are going to be part of the final product, instead of the temp pieces they may have been listening to over the months before a composer is brought on board.

WAMG: Your music is truly a throwbacks to the big, epic Hollywood scores. Fans of soundtracks will definitely want to add this to their collections.

TB: I hope so. I also hope people will truly enjoy the film because it has a depth that will be surprising to many. It’s really entertaining and really funny, while being very heavy-hearted at times. It takes you on a ride in so many different ways. It’s one of the most entertaining films I’ve ever seen. That’s a testament to James because he’s a genius.

I hope people appreciate the score. My team worked very hard.

WAMG: “The Ballad of the Nova Corps” and ”Black Tears” tracks are so triumphant and booming – it will remind people of previous sci-fi films where the music takes us along as part of the story.

TB: James and I have this ongoing dialogue that started with SLITHER, but we were unable to do any of it, and then in SUPER a little bit of it, where we implement a Sergio Leone / Ennio Morricone way of working where music is created prior to cinematography and the film is shot to it.

The great thing about writing in advance when you have a close relationship with the director and you have an understanding how they relate to ideas emotionally is the language of the music. Regardless of how many permutations it goes through in the post-production process, the language is established. Once that occurs, there is a whole element of mystery, and sometimes doubt, that’s eliminated from the process. I think then you can quell anxiety and focus more on the creative aspects of the music.

WAMG: There is some great music for Groot’s character – “Groot Spores” and “Groot Cocoons” in particular.

TB: Those were written beforehand the movie began shooting.

WAMG: Tell me about the instruments and vocals heard on those tracks. Sounds very much like Tangerine Dream.

TB: There are some spongy synthesizers pulsing through those tracks. In my music, I’m usually way heavy on the electronics and the unorthodox guitars, in conjunction with the orchestra and choir. Ultimately we didn’t have as much time to infuse the score with those elements because it such a frenetic working process. That was something developed prior to cinematography, so by the time everything got totally crazy in post-production we had those cues somewhat developed so that the synthesizers would remain the in the score from that point.

James Gunn has said there is a connection between this film and MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS. “Thanos is at the end of “Marvel’s The Avengers” and then Thanos is in our film as the boss of our group of bad guys and you see him a few times. He’s very important to our world in that way, and he’s the one who everyone is trying to impress,” says the filmmaker.

WAMG: Thematically, how were you able to tie the movies together?

TB: The criteria that Marvel was asking me to meet, was to compose something epic with bold memorable themes. They really supported James as a filmmaker, so our dialogue is really what the music is a result of. They obviously grew comfortable with the sketches James filmed to, so there was this period early on where they knew where we were headed musically with the film and they liked that. There was no need to employ temp music and then try to make them happy with something new.

WAMG: What was your overall experience like working on this film?

TB: There were a lot of great experiences making the film. My daughter played the piano on the score at the studios in Capitol Records. She was only 12 at the time when she did that and was very excited by that fact that she was playing on a piano that John Lennon and Ray Charles played. It’ll probably be a trip when she sees the movie. She’s a classical pianist and she could have played this behind her back with her eyes closed, but the fact that she did it with the headphones and the click track and reading odd time signatures – the music is simple, but it’s uncomfortable to read – so that was cool.

There were a lot of great moments, very personal moments that everyone related to from their own lives to bring to the film and I felt it was transcendent when I was watching the film.

WAMG: Did you play in the school orchestra as a kid?

TB: I played sax. Concert, Jazz and Marching band. I remember my tongue freezing to the reed when practicing at 6:30 in the morning. I would think, “why am I doing this?” (laughs.)

WAMG: What other projects are coming up for you?

TB: For now, I’m going on tour. I just finished co-writing and producing Marilyn Manson’s new record. That was fantastic. We have a great relationship and we’re very good friends. We work very naturally together, so this music was really just us having fun. It turned out to be his new album. We worked hard on it and really enjoyed it. He did bring it to my attention that it would be insane of me not to go out and play this record with him. It’s obviously a rare opportunity and it’s where I come from – making records in my earlier days. I’m super psyched!

I’m fortunate to have the TV show “Salem” that did really well its first season. The people involved in that are so great. It was such a pleasure to work with them. Manson and I did the title sequence on that, which will return for another season.

I’m working on another show called “Kingdom” which I’m very excited about. It is a drama centered around a Mixed Martial-Arts gym and the family that owns it.

I just finished on a movie with Keanu Reeves and Willem Dafoe called JOHN WICK. That was very cool. As with GUARDIANS, there are songs interspersed in this film as well. There’s a song I wrote with Marilyn Manson. There’s a song I wrote with my friend Ciscandra Nostalghia, whose career is blowing up right now. I worked on the score with my friend Joel Richard. It’s really a great collection of people on the team.

WAMG: What have you taken away from this huge undertaking of GUARDIANS Of THE GALAXY?

TB: There are things to learn from a movie like this. I’ve done some big movies, but this one moved at a tempo that wasn’t like anything else.

If we’re to do another one together, we both know how we could improve the process. We have much to build from now. I’m really proud of the themes and I know James and Marvel really loved the music. You just want to go in and see if you can do something that tops the music from the first one.

I am proud of this score and the people who worked with me on it also – they bled out for it as well. We were working solid 110 hour weeks for months and it was tough. I’m really appreciative they helped me get to the finish line. I’m always proud to do something with James and I’m completely excited for him.