It’s around one in the morning in Kiev, Ukraine, and Tyler Bates is just settling into his hotel room. It’s the first day of August, a time when Kiev is known for its clear days and mild temperatures. Bates might get to enjoy some of that later on, but for now he’s on the phone with me. He was in Moscow earlier in the night, clad in black, custom Schecter guitar slung low, his face surreal with heavy makeup, on stage with Marilyn Manson. At this point, the band is coming up on the tail end of the European leg of Manson’s Heaven Upside Down tour.
This is Bates’ second run through Moscow; the first was on tour with Manson as well in 2014. They were accosted by religious zealots armed with eggs and fruit on the way to soundcheck. At the show that night, 20,000 fans had to be evacuated from Gorkey Park because there was a bomb threat.
About par for Manson’s course.
Manson’s last album, 2015’s The Pale Emperor, was something of a second coming for the shock rocker, receiving critical praise and garnering the band’s highest opening week sales in nearly a decade.
Bates had at least a little to do with that as producer of the album, working with Manson to refine the rockstar’s characteristic industrial metal sound into something many consider more visceral, more sinister than his preceding work. With elements of straightforward blues-rock and gritty alt-country, The Pale Emperor, stripped of the glittery pretense of glam rock that weighed down his work in the early aughts, plays like the truest version of himself Manson has ever shared.
Bates worked with Manson over the course of months to tease out the material.
“It was really about getting down to who he was at that point in time, not trying to regurgitate or reinvent a moment that had already happened,” Bates says, fully engaged despite the hour and travel, the exhaustion mostly extinguished from his voice. “That was sort of one of the conditions of working together: ‘Let’s do something that is emblematic of who you are right now, what you’re thinking about, and let’s work from there.’ The whole thing was based on conversations, not based on stockpiling riffs.”
Bates went about the process of writing with Manson the same way he goes about composing scores for film, television and video games, because that’s what Bates is perhaps best known for (albeit still relatively unknown to the masses).That’s his day job. Bates broke out as a composer with Zach Snyder’s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, and went on to score blockbuster action flicks, cult favorites and contemporary horror classics like Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects, 300, the rebooted Halloween movies, Watchmen, Slither and Guardians of the Galaxy.
He says he’d done 18 movies before he ever met another composer.
At his core though, Bates is a rock star. Before he conquered the world of film scoring, he spent the ’90s touring with various bands including Pet, which caught the ear of Tori Amos. Amos executive produced the band’s self-titled album and released it on her label, Igloo Records.
It’s hard to question why Manson took a shine to Bates.
After the success of The Pale Emperor, Bates and Manson teamed up again for Manson’s 10th studio album, Heaven Upside Down, released on Oct. 6.
The two met in 2012 on the set of Showtime’s Californication. Manson played himself in two episodes in season seven, and Bates, kind of obviously, scored the show.
And he didn’t like Manson. Not at first.
“No,” he says. “Not at all. He had just gotten off a flight from Germany and came straight to the rehearsal. Everyone was hot and fatigued. I wasn’t really primed for his type of humor and rhetoric. I was pretty direct with him: ‘Can we just play your fucking songs and get out of here?’ He was like, ‘Can I be your friend?’ I’m like, ‘No. Let’s just play ‘The Dope Show’ and get out of here.’”
Of course it all worked out in the end because Bates is sitting in a hotel room in Kiev scooping leftover eyeliner out of the corner of his eye, “The Dope Show” still ringing in his ears from the show a few hours before.
Still, the two have a sometimes antagonistic relationship. Manson has stated his surprise that Bates agreed to play on this current tour; their relationship deteriorated so much during the last tour that Manson pulled a box-cutter on Bates. But Bates apparently lets bygones be bygones, if only because he loves to play live.
Without makeup, Bates is boy-next-door handsome. He’s soft-spoken but talkative, offering a warm laugh after a good story, like the one about how he grew up in a haunted house in Illinois.
Bates was an L.A. kid, but a business opportunity for his father moved the family to some farmland outside of Chicago. The log cabin was close to a friend of his mother’s, and they rode horses on the open land. The Bates family slowly turned the house into a ranch and started boarding horses.
Turns out, Al Capone once owned the house.
“There’s a lot of paranormal baggage in that place; there were various experiences not only our family but many people had while they were there. It did have a very distinct impact on my youth.”
Bates says they had two exorcisms performed in the house, but he laughs as he recalls taking the garbage out at night.
“We lived out in woods and so there were animals. You’d have to take the trash out to the storage shed; you’d have to lock it up way out on the edge of the forest. You couldn’t just stash the garbage; the animals would get into it and then my father would kick my ass. So I would go out there with a flashlight, my hands shaking, and unlock that padlock. I remember plain as day the first time, pulling these big wooden doors open and seeing the previous owners had this huge old scythe hanging up on hooks in this shed. I opened the doors and the moonlight illuminated this scythe. The hilarious thing is I throw the trash in the can and ran as fast I could into a haunted house to seek refuge.
“It does something to your brain when you have to live like that,” he says. “[I had a] lot of stress when I was younger. But you know, I still live in a lot of stress but I have a cool life with a lot of good people in it. I’m very thankful for that.”
Bates has a wife and two daughters. His wife is back in college earning “another couple of degrees,” Bates says with a laugh, and he finds the drive and rhythm of their lives inspiring. He works a lot: this year he wrote the closing credits song “A Job To Do” with Alice In Chains guitarist Jerry Cantrell and performed on-screen during the “rock opera” sequence in John Wick: Chapter 2. He oversaw score production for the upcoming Samurai Jack movie, and later performed a suite of the score at a sold-out Ace Theatre concert in L.A. He handled the music for Atomic Blonde starring Charlize Theron. For the project, he also produced Health’s cover of “Blue Monday” and revamped Ministry’s “Stigmata” with Manson. On the big screen, he can be heard in The Belko Experiment as well as Public and 24 Hours to Live, while his music drives Netflix’s The Punisher and season two of The Exorcist.
There’s no denying Bates creates dark music, often for dark films (or controversial rock stars). But Bates doesn’t come across as a “dark” person.
“Look, everybody has darkness and I think when you ignore it that’s when it will creep up on and get the better of you in your life,” he says. “And I think it’s good to face it head on, and scoring dark-themed films or television allows me or gives me the impetus to do that. It’s therapeutic for me in some way. I’m not afraid of the darkness in my mind, and I have a lot. But also, with that, it’s not monochromatic. I do have a very optimistic side and I do think I’m open to people and warm with people. I think it helps keep me honest.
“People have this idea, like when I was working with Rob Zombie, they think I’m gonna hang out watching torture movies,” he says. “I abhor the violence and the music is my psychological response to it.
“Like in The Devil’s Rejects, there’s a sexual assault scene in that movie. It’s awful. I’m the father of two daughters — are you kidding me? It’s diametrically opposed to anything that I would find entertaining … while I don’t enjoy that, I enjoy the big picture.”
It’s the final product that Bates loves, that satisfying sense of completion a workaholic perfectionist gets when they’ve wrapped up yet another physically, emotionally taxing job. There’s a moment of catharsis, then it’s on to the next project.
On Oct. 19, Bates, Manson, et al. will play the Fillmore Auditorium. It was a close call as to whether the show was going to happen: In late September, a giant gun prop fell during a live show and injured Manson, forcing the singer to cancel nine dates in October.
Say what you will about Manson, about his still-smeared lipstick, about his sophomoric high jinks (recently: he spent a week or so trolling Justin Beiber about a Manson shirt the Beibs wore on stage; he pulled a fake gun on a writer from The Guardian just as they were meeting at the star’s hotel suite for an interview and later, Manson flicked the poor chap in the testicles), but Bates believes in Manson’s art.
“Rock music is all but devoid of icons anymore. Under 50, I mean, who are they?” he asks rhetorically as I wonder silently. “Obviously, people have their ideas of him, but as an artist he’s the real deal. I have been part of some incredible moments creatively just the two of us working together; that’s something that I can’t experience in the process of creating music for film, TV or video games. It’s a different animal.
“I lose money to come out and to tour with Manson but I do it because I love playing,” Bates adds. “It’s also a different experience that I have that I bring back into my studio and it brings a different source of inspiration, traveling to different places around the world and meeting people I wouldn’t have met. You feel very much alive. … I think in my soul that’s probably where I’m most comfortable. I love to play. That’s where I come from, being a player, not some film composer who picked up a guitar. I gutted it out on crappy tours, record deals that went sideways and just things that happen in the music world. Fortunately, some doors opened for me to start working in film instead of painting houses. There were a lot of disappointments and struggles and some great things happened, and now things are pretty nice. I’m going to do my best to keep it going that way.”
On the Bill: Marilyn Manson — with Tyler Bates on lead guitar. 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, Fillmore Auditorium, 1510 Clarkson St., Denver.