Interview: Tyler Bates Composer on Rob Zombie's The Devil's Rejects
By Frank H. Woodward and Mark Sung May 5, 2005, 15:57 GMT
Capt. Spaulding (Sid Haig) in The Devil's Rejects. (Photo credit: Gene Page)
But then you take a look beyond the horror films on Bates' filmography and notice the comedies (YOU GOT SERVED), the action flicks (GET CARTER), and the spirited independents (BAAD ASSSSS!, CITY OF GHOSTS) he has scored. Tyler Bates is clearly more than a man who knows what heart strings to pull in the darkness. He is a musical explorer intrigued by a wide range of emotions and sounds. Recently, Bates was kind enough to share some of his discoveries with us.
M&C: What led to you scoring the sequel THE DEVIL'S REJECTS?
TB: A friend of Rob Zombie's went with him to the DAWN OF THE DEAD premiere. (The friend) told me that Rob really liked the music. I, in turn, appreciate what Rob's doing as an artist so I sent over a copy of the DAWN OF THE DEAD score to him with a note saying, "Hey, if you want any help on the next one let me know.
M&C: Rob Zombie did the score for the first film, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES.
TB: He scored the first film not necessarily because he aspired to, but because he ran out of money and instead used the little money they had for the score on a special effects shot.
M&C: Since you like Rob's work, is it fair to say you're a big fan of the horror genre as well?
TB: I am. It's not necessarily where I want to spend the rest of my life as a film composer, but I've had the good fortune since DAWN OF THE DEAD to work with a number of very intelligent and talented directors who happen to be doing horror movies.
I'm confident that the majority of them will make films in other genres. I can say that as far as Rob is concerned. Definitely Zach Snyder, who directed DAWN OF THE DEAD.
(Horror films) are fun because musically you can get away with murder. No pun intended. (Especially) when you work with Rob Zombie who is already on the outskirts of sanity as a visual artist and performer. Rob supported any motif I wanted to explore for the film. He didn't have any preconceptions as to what the music was going to be. Fortunately I was able to get creative with it.
M&C: It sounds as though you chose to work more with emotional sound-scapes as opposed to straight forward orchestral composition.
TB: Emotional? You mean bleak? (laughs) Before I got involved with THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, Rob and his editor temped the film with scores from other movies. The editor (Glen Garland) told me they played with nearly one hundred score CDs. Nothing seemed to work well against the picture.
After I watched the film with Rob, it was apparent to me that a traditional orchestra wouldn't be an appropriate approach to the score. Though we did employ a brass ensemble for some of the more traditional action sequences in the film, Rob talked more about percussion than anything else. The atmospheric components in the score were mostly handmade. The samples don't necessarily stem from musical sources. They were appliances, random voices, sounds recorded at construction sites, etc.
Then they were mutated and processed by various means of sound destruction. This was inspired by the idea that the music should be primal and industrial. It seemed to coexist well with the characters and whatever bizarre scenario was transpiring on screen at any given time.
For THE DEVIL'S REJECTS I put together a "psychedelic" ensemble that was called The Khaki Palms Orchestra. A good portion of the film takes place at the Khaki Palms Motel. And as we near the third act of the film, everything becomes more and more unhinged. By "psychedelic," I mean Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd.
There were a few soloists who contributed to the score. Nan Vernon sang at the beginning and end of the film. Another member of The Khaki Palms Orchestra is Damon Fox who is the leader of Big Elf, a band steeped very much in the early 1970's. He's an amazing musician who brought a manic sensibility to the scoring sessions.
The sound design within the score very much involves my assistant Wolfgang Matthes. His approach to developing sound-scapes is very organic and emotional, regardless of the technology used in the process. He has a great touch! We have a lot of fun in the studio and work very well together.
When I begin working on a score that is heavy on sound design, the two of us put on the lab coats and start turning knobs on everything in the studio!
M&C: The score definitely has the effect of making you feel uneasy.
TB: That's the point with a film like this. I would consider it to be a psychotic thriller. Rob has called it a "sick western." This film reminds me of BADLANDS or EASY RIDER or THE GAUNTLET.
M&C: In some ways, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS score puts you right in the middle of the mania on screen.
TB: That's what I hoped to achieve. The events that take place throughout the film are so insane, yet so realistic, that I felt the score needed to suggest what it might sound like inside your head if you were thrust into the inscrutable scenarios of the film.
I'm not a big fan of horror music that leads the audience by the hand and says, "this is supposed to be scary." I'd rather the audience have a visceral response based on manipulation of sound that physically makes you ill. Rhythms that collide will make your body feel uneasy because your heart is trying to follow a pulse but is continually interrupted.<!--page-->
M&C: It's much more effective than telling the audience, "Hey, there's a scare coming up. Get ready for it."
TB: Rob Zombie is too smart for stereotypical scare tactics, and he knows his audience wants to experience something unique and different. He wanted a sound for this movie that was unlike anything he had heard before. I appreciate the fact that he was truly committed to that idea.
I asked him, "How would you summarize in a word what you would like the score to feel like?" He responded with "bleak." Then he said, "I also want it to feel very primal." But at the same time, he wanted to play the more action-oriented sequences as intense as possible. In the beginning of the film, there are successive cues with 70 tracks of percussion. We recorded a Taiko drum ensemble and a bunch of odd ball instruments. The amalgam of characters that make up the music in the film is quite diverse. At first, I wasn't quite ready for how large the sound became, but it was a rush once we got there!
M&C: Were you ever concerned that by playing people's heart strings, the score could get too intense for the audience?
TB: At times, the music is a blunt object, but you can't get too intense for Rob Zombie. I'll tell you that right now. He definitely asked me turn it up to 10. When you see the movie as a whole, you'll see there are ambient score passages that don't involve bludgeoning the audience musically. It's not always insane percussion at all times. The music works on different dynamic levels.
M&C: As you said, Rob describes the film as part horror / part western.& How much did you let the western creep into your process?
TB: I wasn't inspired to resurrect the ghosts of Ennio Morricone's past scores for this movie, but I pay respect to how the classic westerns feel. This film makes you feel grimy. Dirt and dust emanates from the screen. It makes you want to take a shower after you see it! You know, it's in the desert. It's hot as hell. It's dusty with weeds everywhere. There are guns and coagulated blood splattered here and there. So I experimented with creating sounds that made you feel as though you were trapped under the muffler of a car... if you can imagine how pleasant that might be.
M&C: On Rob Zombie's blog, he heralds the return of 70's country group Banjo and Sullivan on THE DEVIL'S REJECTS soundtrack.
TB: Rob put some fantastic, classic rock songs in the film, many of which are Southern Rock. There are great Allman Brothers, Skynyrd, David Essex, Joe Walsh, and Steely Dan songs. It works tremendously well... kind of nostalgic. It feels rich. It feels emotional. When you hear these songs while watching the film, it makes (the experience) even more compelling and disturbing.
M&C: How involved were you with the selection of tracks like these?
TB: That's all Rob. He knew the feeling he was going for. He's very deep musically. He has an eclectic pallet, musically speaking. The more I got to know him, the more I realized he had serious interest and musical depth. Rob DJ's on Indie 103 (103.1) in L.A. on Monday nights. His play-list is always interesting. He definitely turns his listeners on to something they most likely haven't heard or, if so, not in a long time. He's a guy who enjoys surprises, and I think THE DEVIL'S REJECTS audience is really going to appreciate the kind of experience he's created. The Banjo and Sullivan thing is really cool. Rob is actually producing a full length Banjo and Sullivan CD that will be released by Universal this summer.
M&C: When you were with the band PET, you had a single on THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS soundtrack (where, coincidentally, Rob Zombie also had a song). As a composer, how do you feel about rock songs being used as film scores?
TB: I think we have to consider the fact that, especially since the first CROW film came out, there has been a convergence of pop culture in film. And a lot of people want to go for that sort of MTV-like experience. Personally, I feel if you put a large number of modern rock tracks in your movie, as a director you may regret it down the line when, 3 years later, you're on your couch at midnight and your movie airs on cable. It is then you realize that all these songs were beaten to death and no longer have social relevance. Your film doesn't stand the test of time.
Rob's song selections are all classic pieces of music that will exist long after we're gone. I'm not talking about kitschy trivia questions in the future. We're talking about great music that came from a special time in pop music.
I don't object to songs consuming the majority of a film as far as music is concerned. I do have a problem when it's gratuitous and it's done for the sake of selling soundtrack records at the expense of the dramatic text of the film. I think there are unique instances like O, BROTHER! WHERE ART THOU! where many people were exposed to music via that film that they perhaps would never have heard otherwise. So extending the availability of a collection of music to people is not a bad thing. But when you're talking about, for instance, what if Rob puts out a soundtrack record of "Inspired By" tracks of Nu Metal bands? I would consider that betraying the audience and integrity of the film in this particular case. It's cool if the artists are incorporated into the fabric of a film, like THE CROW: CITY OF ANGELS, for example (laughs).
Rob uses a fair amount of songs in THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, but they're great transitional pieces. It's somewhat a road movie so it makes sense. You're definitely going through permutations of several individuals personal plight in life. I think these songs are effective in helping those transgressions in the film.
M&C: Going back to your roots, as a member of PET you toured with Limp Bizkit, Blink 182, Luscious Jackson. Do you miss that scene now that you've gone over to film composing?
TB: I miss the part of touring where you actually are playing. I had scored a number of B-movies before Pet did the majority of its touring. And I grew accustomed to writing and recording music every day. When you're on tour you waste a lot of time. You're going from venue to venue, waiting for sound checks and load-ins. Hotels. Interviews. Often times you're not doing music. So that's tough. And, when you're in a band, you're somewhat restricted by the parameters of the band members.
What I like about film scoring is that each project is an experience with new people. It's a new challenge. It's learning more about music every time you do a film. Learning more about people, and how relationships work in general. I do miss playing live, but I enjoy (film scoring) more.
M&C: You also produce albums in addition to your composing.
TB: Yeah, I'm just finishing a record with Azam Ali and (the project) is called Roseland. She's a well established world recording artist. She sang on a few of my scores. At one point we had an impromptu jam session. One thing led to the next and she prompted me to do a record with her in English, which was a first for her. This is a cool record in a pop contemporary setting. It reminds me of Portishead and Cocteau Twins with a little Led Zeppelin mix. She's really unique and amazing. We're just finishing the last song. We certainly hope (the album) sees the public this year.
M&C: Film score wise, is there anything we can be looking forward to beyond THE DEVIL'S REJECTS?
TB: Sure. I'm working on a film tentatively titled GOODNIGHT. Gregory Dark is the director. Lion's Gate is also releasing this film (as well as THE DEVIL'S REJECTS). I'm going to do a film called SLITHER just after this, with James Gunn who wrote DAWN OF THE DEAD. He wrote and directed this extremely bizarre, Southern fried sci fi/ horror movie. It's going to be really good. And I'm working with Zach Snyder on his movie 300 which is a Frank Miller comic book.
That's part of why I do this. To work with interesting directors who are constantly challenging me creatively. I've been quite lucky. In the past few years I've worked with several directors who are really cool. Matt Dillon with his directorial debut CITY OF GHOSTS. Emilio Estevez on RATED X. Working with Mario Van Peebles on BAAD ASSSSS! was really fun.
The same goes for Rob Zombie. You know, as an artist, he wants to work with artistic people and therefore he gives them respect as an artist. Why the hell he hired me is anyone's guess! But it's a great situation to be in.
Lion's Gate releases THE DEVIL'S REJECTS on July 22.
For further details and media from the film visit our database.