In honor of the highly anticipated release of Marilyn Manson's Heaven Upside Down, we are unveiling part two of our in-depth profile of the one and only Tyler Bates. For those living under a rock, Tyler is the composing mastermind behind Atomic Blonde, Guardians of the Galaxy, John Wick, Killer Joe, and countless other box office smashes. In our discussion steeped in wisdom, Tyler offers a behind the scenes perspective on the messaging and artistic identity of Heaven Upside Down and shares his philosophical roadmap for success in his realm.
You've scored huge blockbusters, indie darlings, hit television shows, and popular video games. You've worked with the best in the business and are considered one of them yourself. From the very beginning, what was the mentality you had to adopt to attain this level of success?
If you look at life from the perspective of what you have and where you are going, you will progress. It's important to shift focus away from what you don't have, how you've been done wrong, and what you wish could be different. You have to let things roll off your shoulder and not caught up in a negative mind stream.
In order to be successful, you have to go out and meet people. I had an issue with chronic shyness, but I had to find a way to get through it just enough to assert myself in the business side and present myself to get a job. I had to commit to breaking through because I had no other skills that were going to earn me a living aside from painting houses, which I had done a fair share of.
I've done a lot of stuff, but I still feel like I'm at the beginning of it. I haven't done anything I think is great. I don't feel like I've made it or anything. I have a lot to do before I could ever think that. The fact that I get phone calls to do anything is awesome and flattering.
I've been through so much adversity in my life, but at the same time, I've been surrounded by good people through it all. Because of these experiences, I can't just wrap my head around thinking I'm more valuable or better than other people. I am constantly thankful for the opportunities I've been afforded. None of this is ever lost on me.
Who have been the core influences, mentors, and collaborators along your journey? How did they shape your musical development?
It's hard to say. If we are talking specifically about film music, working with Stephen Kay on The Last Time I Committed Suicide and then on Get Carter, made an indelible impression on me. Stephen is still a dear friend of mine, but he definitely made me feel capable of doing this job.
My mother was a huge music enthusiast and she's my primary inspiration or influence for loving music and making into my way of life. She died when I was a teenager, but she encouraged me to pursue music as my life. She never insisted that I have a back-up plan. In general, I don't think that people should have backup plans because I believe that you will use them. That piece of advice has been confusing to people when I'm asked to be a guest speaker at a University.
I advocate for people to stack their education, so they can be effective at what they do. It's important to understand the different parameters of the business. As an artist, you have to learn how to create opportunity for yourself and monetize your talent. If you have that plan B, you will use it because for most people, it's too difficult to ever make it even at the most elementary level. Any scoring job is hard to get, even the very low key ones. You have to have tremendous passion for what you're doing and have the capacity to truly understand people.
As far as my own journey, I haven't had one lone mentor. For example, I took guitar lessons when I was 17 from a guy I'm still in touch with back in Chicago. After we worked together for 3 months, he said "You know what? Forget everything we've talked about. You have your own style and I don't want to screw with it, it's awesome. You should just do your own thing." To this day, he still sends me CD's and I think it's awesome. I've been in bands and been impacted by all of the people I've shared music with. There have been many influential people in my life.
You produced "The Pale Emperor", which is a triumphant body of work that signified a potent artistic shift for Marilyn Manson. When and how did you two originally cross paths? How was a collaboration sparked?
Manson and I met through Showtime's Californication. It's interesting because we were never on the show simultaneously. I believe it was season 6 when he guest starred. In the final episode of the season, there was a concert at the Greek Theatre and a wedding that took place on the stage. Tom, the show creator had the idea to turn the event into a real concert because Tim Minchin was playing the character of Atticus Fetch, the fictitious rockstar of that season. A sort of crazy Elton John type of character.
Manson wanted to perform and then Steve Jones from The Sex Pistols, who was also on the show, followed suit. They invited 2,500 extras. Manson and I met on the day of that show's rehearsal. We spent more time together on the show itself and then we did another party a couple days after the taping of that episode. He asked me if I would consider making some music with him. Later, we got to know each other for about a year before we decided to begin collaborating.
After another Californication event, he approached me and was like "Come on, let's do this." I was like "Okay, but only if you're really serious about reinventing yourself". He's been a great collaborator. People have their ideas and opinions about what a person is really like, but my experience with him, while it's been total insanity, has also been incredibly positive. A lot of good people have come into my life through the experience of working with him.
What is the most satisfying aspect of your musical collaboration with Marilyn Manson?
Manson and I have a natural creative connection that is innately aligned in the music we make together. We don't typically discuss the syntax of our ideas because we’re almost always on the same page. We do whatever we want to do, so it’s very satisfying to enjoy that creative freedom. This new record has the fire. It’s not quite like anything we’ve heard, so it’s exciting. I think as far as rock music goes, there is currently an absence of memorable riffs and intent to truly blend styles. Lyrically, Manson is crafting lyrics about chaos, romance, isolation, and the violence that is mounting around the world as a result of all of it. Rock music is lacking dangerous icons. That’s exactly what Manson is. And he’ll fuck shit up with purpose, and offer no apologies. I love that!
I also get to go out and play, and I love to play guitar more than almost anything. It's impossible to describe how intense and fun it is to play songs we wrote for tens of thousands of people in places I probably wouldn’t otherwise visit. Too much!
Has your joint musical identity evolved or changed since "The Pale Emperor"? What new themes, musically and narratively speaking, are being introduced this time around?
Heaven Upside Down was created after Manson and I had played 50 concerts together, so I factored his live show and the overall physical relationship to music in a live setting into this record. We both love The Pale Emperor. It's an exploration into broken blues - musically and lyrically. We said what we intended to say with that record.
Going into Heaven Upside Down, we knew each other and had many more shared experiences to draw from. I wanted the album to be a platform for Manson to return to journalism, and write about the stuff we talk about, which is the sickness and passivity that is permeating the annals of society. Terrorism, mass shootings, reluctance to change, abandonment, dogma, apathy, judgment — all of this is pervasive in shaping our daily life's experience. The music is imbued with frustration, sadness, and anger about all of this, and to explore this landscape effectively, the sounds and the riffs needed to be more cutting and abrasive than The Pale Emperor. Heaven Upside Down is comprised of the music we love. Goth and Industrial. King-size guitar riffs. Sex. Equal parts "fuck you" and jagged humor. Act II.
Can you describe the writing and production process of a stand out track from "Heaven Upside Down"?
To me, all of the tracks are stand-out! Haha. Seriously, Manson and I make music with intent - not to fill space. The song crafting process for every song on the album is similar in that it stems from a conversation taking place between Manson and I in my studio. For instance, once we completed the song Heaven Upside Down, we knew that we had the album title song, but there was still another dimension we wanted to explore that would complete the album as a body of work. Manson had been talking about the concept of Saturnalia, which prompted me to develop a soundscape as the backdrop for Manson's story about two people in a fever dreamlike state of consciousness, under the effects of Saturnalia.
The music and lyrics feed into each other. With each lyric, another musical detail emerges and with each musical detail, Manson is often inspired to write more lyrics. He'll often lay down a vocal effects pass just to feel the track in a visceral way as he considers the entirety of what he wants to say lyrically. It's typically just the two of us in headphones while we record. Some performances are recorded simultaneously - vocals and either bass, guitar, or a keyboard line, which is hell to deal with in the mix but it's worth preserving for the vibe. Once we are cool with the state of the track, Gil Sharone comes in to lay down live drums, which dynamically, takes the song to another level. Manson and I feed off of the drum performances, which inspires the final detail work that goes into a track before it goes into full-on "mix mode". It's more of a curation process. All songs are available for new performances and ideas until they are mastered for the album release.
Your guitar work and the tones you create for Marilyn Manson's music are especially unique and powerful. Can you tell us more about your recording set up for the forthcoming album?
It may surprise you, but I use the same guitar and amp almost all the time, especially for my work with Manson. I'll either use my Gibson ES347, which I got at least 15 years ago from my friend, Michael Ciravalo, who was the president of Schecter guitars. He designed the Corsair after my exact ES347. With Manson, I played with the Corsair because Michael was like "There's no way you're bringing that Gibson on the road with him because he will probably put a mic stand through it." It's a good thing because I have broken several guitars.
I play the Schechters live and in the studio. Some of the time, I play my Gibson and the ES347 quite a bit. It may sound kind of crazy, but I also use a Peavey Classic 410 combo for almost all of it.
Vocals can be tracked anywhere, but I personally like to do vocals with the singers right next to me. I have a vocal booth that I don't use. We're on headphones and it's very conversational, very fast. You can get a really good flow going because you get to circle back to ideas quickly, repeating 10 or 20 times to nail a cadence or solidify a melody.
Sometimes, Manson and I will record simultaneously, so there's guitar bleeding into his vocals. He sits with his mic stand next to me while I'm doing guitar tracks. He'll be screwing around with my pedals and we put that stuff on the record.
Heaven Upside Down definitely has a much more intense, grab you by the throat sound. It reintroduces and reinvents the industrial aspects of Manson's music. For example, something like Say10 is unlike anything I've heard before. It's got that punk rock sound, great riffs, but then some unexpected trap beats. We're both really excited to put this album out and play it for people.
What is your advice for up and coming talent in the fields of composing and production?
Always be positive and upright in the way you handle yourself. Be aware of your energy around other people. Always be honest. Be original and work to become somebody who is recognizable in the same way that your musical influences are.
I personally strived to develop a sound of my own. I don't know how people perceive my film stuff, but anyone who has heard me play guitar once has a feel for what I do, for better or for worse, and largely for worse over the years. None the less, it’s important. I would rather be myself than sound like everybody else even if doing that made me more successful.
I'm more interested in failing while trying to create something that becomes what is considered "commercial" than just emulating what already is commercial. While working on a few movies, I've been able to move the needle a little bit, but that's in part because the directors have given me the opportunity to introduce new ideas into certain genres. I don't think the world needs more young John Williams because John Williams is perfect, just like Thomas Newman is perfect. You're never going to write a better emotional ambient piano cue than he does, no one's going to do it better. You might get close, but you're not going to do it better. He has perfected the art of that idiom, so you have to find yourself and your music, then commit to that and allow yourself the time to develop and become really confident at being yourself.
The worst thing to happen in your life is to find out that you don't know who you are, especially when you're receiving a lot of attention, whether it's positive or negative. You see the effect of that on certain celebrities. I feel for people who go through difficult times once there's a huge focus on them. There are a lot of things that happen in a person's life and it's very easy to become judgmental of people, but it's never a good thing to get in the habit of. If you are yourself and you have that integrity, nobody can take it away from you. If you're a knockoff of someone else, you can easily lose yourself in the process.
You have to think about what you want your life to be outside of your career. As things stand in the world right now, there is no separation. Everything impacts everything in your life, so you have to consider the type of people you want around you. When the right type of people start to come into your life, then opportunities that are best suited to you start to present themselves. The same rules apply to your friends and your partner. All these choices are incredibly important and each one informs the next.
Some people come straight out of college and start hitting the pavement, working towards becoming super successful right off the block, but you have to have some life experience for your work to have any substance. At 24 years old, it's hard to relate to the 45 year old director, who has lost friends, lived through tragedies, has been through a divorce, has overcome poverty, fallen in and out of love, or traveled around the world, if you haven't done any of these things. You have to develop the life you want over time, experience the ups and downs, and never stop.
Heaven Upside Down is out today, October 6th on Loma Vista Records. Listen below.
Interviewer | Paul Goldowitz
Research | Paul Goldowitz, Ruby Gartenberg
Editing, Copy, Layout | Ruby Gartenberg
Extending gratitude to Tyler Bates.