By Thomas S. Orwat Jr.
Shock rocker, Marilyn Manson, has returned with what many music critics are calling the best album of his career, ‘Pale Emperor.’
After a decade of rather lackluster albums, the controversial Manson teamed up with one of Hollywood’s most sought after soundtrack composers, Tyler Bates, to co-write the new record. This resulted in a stripped down, electric blues-based release that shows a much more mature and focused Manson.
In addition, Manson was so impressed with Bates, that he practically begged him to join the Marilyn Manson band as the lead guitarist and musical director. After thinking it over, Bates not only agreed to join, but also put together an exciting new Marilyn Manson band line-up.
What follows is an exclusive RMS interview with one of the brightest stars in Hollywood – Tyler Bates. During this interview, Bates goes into detail on the recording of Marilyn Manson’s ninth studio release, ‘Pale Emperor,’ and much more. Here’s what Bates had to say:
Rock Music Star: Tyler, I have to admit, I’m completely blown away by ‘Pale Emperor,’ the new Marilyn Manson CD. Did you have any idea, that two years ago, you would find yourself as the guitarist of Marilyn Manson, and co-writing one of the the best records of his career?
Tyler Bates: (Laughs) You know what, not at first. I met him on the TV show, “Californication.” We actually had a very awkwardly contentious relationship the first few days we got to know each other. But, once we did get past the fun banter, we did get to know each other, and we stayed in touch for about a year. And then we played together, again, because of “Californication.” He had been asking me to get together, and he was touring and stuff, as well. The timing worked out. He said, “Let’s get really serious. Let’s get together and talk.” We weren’t talking about doing a record, it was more of a conversation of music. It was a way to maybe help him find a new part of himself, you know? Over time, he may have lost a little bit of the idea of why he’s even making records and who he is. I think, what we were doing, musically and overall was creating music that is a part of who he is, right now, and not doing what others assume is Marilyn Manson music.
RMS: Was it, at all, a struggle for him to accept this new electric-blues style? It’s quite different for his previous work.
TB: No, he initiated the idea of being bluesier. You know, in the way that say, the Doors or Tom Waits or Iggy Pop is. And, that made perfect sense to me. What it was about was, as far as he is as personality and a singer, would be to strip him down a little bit – more to the core of himself, instead of the past. His voice, in my opinion, has been overproduced at times, and with that, comes a lack of intimacy. What I wanted him to do, was expose himself a little bit more to his audience, so they got to know some new things about him through his music. He was open to it, and he gave himself over to it. The process was seamless. It’s not a traditional studio environment, so it didn’t feel like we were working or making a record to him. We never talked about records. We just made music. But, at some point, the body of work became a volume that he really wanted to consider to be his new record. It was sort of like, a one thing led to the next approach, because we got together doing this as friends. I was not commissioned. I wouldn’t work with him under that type of circumstance. It was just a matter of both of us wanting to get together and see what happens.
RMS: The thing that I really like about the record is that, like I said, it’s definitely a new style, but there are also a lot of elements of some of the older stuff, like some of the drums are reminiscent of prior work he’s done. Some of the guitar kind of sounds like that. But yet, you put it into this new format. Did you find yourself responsible for bringing in those elements? Did you go back and listen to his catalog and say, “Well, you know, we should bring back some of the trademark stuff, as well, and incorporate it in this.”
TB: No. To be honest with you, there’s a lot of his older music that I’m unfamiliar with, at least by title. Some of the songs we play, even now – I’ve played them way more than I’ve ever heard them. “Coma White,” for sure. I’m cultured in rock music, to a very deep level, of course. I used to be making records all the time. And that was my number one objective in life, until, at some point, I placed my emphasis on film scoring. You know, with the Manson record, really, when you get to know him, he usually has a story or two to tell, and it’s either autobiographical – about that day or about something, or whatever. Really, it was through me listening to him and talking with him and having fun, just joking around, that I got to know enough about him on that day, that prompted me to write a piece of music there, on the spot, and we would start working together on it. Almost all of the music was written with him in the room, where, in the past, I think he got stacks of tapes and riffs that he would sort through to see what he was interested in. This was more of a conversation. So, the ten songs on the record were the ten that we wrote. We were subsequently writing more music, but that’s how we did it. It was not so much about a record; it was more like a film is. Initially, he said, “Yeah, I wanna explore the blues a little bit more.” And then, the stories and the hanging out on our sessions gave me enough information to score what was happening in his life, and how he felt about his life, currently, and things from the past. Things that he’s happy about, things that he’s not happy about. That’s my job, as a composer, to be sensitive to those things and to understand the multiple layers of what’s going on in the story-telling in the form of music.
RMS: With this release, you really seem to bring out the best in him. He is even doing traditional ‘singing’ on some of the tracks, and he actually does it really well. I never heard him do that before.
TB: (Laughs) That was my condition on day one. I don’t listen to a lot of music every day. When I’m not on the road, I’m writing music for 15 hours a day. When I’m not actually writing music, I’m writing it in my head. It’s usually where I write all my music, is in my head. I then transcribe it on either guitar or keyboard. When I sat down with Manson the first time, I said, “Look, if you really want to do this, then we have to do something that’s really going to get me interested in you. The way people were interested in you a long time ago.” I told him, also, that he has a cool voice, and he should sing, instead of approaching (the songs) from more of an anger perspective. “Sing and inspire people; you cannot shock people with words anymore. The world is such a heavy place; inspire people with metaphors and storytelling.” So, he started to get into this whole southern-gothic vibe that was intertwined with his daily life with his girlfriend. (Laughs) So, you have your faust in there and then you have text messages turned into lyrics for the album. It’s pretty interesting. He opened himself up, and part of why he was able to do that was because my studio is a very comfortable place. We worked side by side. He was isolated in a booth with a number of people in a control room. It was more intimate; I think that he really trusted the process. He knew exactly what was going on. Also, I’m very fast with Pro-tools. If he was working through a lyric or developing a melody, I was able to manipulate the music in a way that would allow him to just keep working on it without causing… If he got an idea, he could just throw it down without there being a lot to explain.
RMS: Now, that you are in Marilyn Manson (the band), how does this affect your career? You didn’t need to join Marilyn Manson – you had a great career going. It seems like he needed you more than you needed him. But, you’re in the band now, and you’re also on tour. Are you committed to this Marilyn Manson project for a long time? What do you see yourself doing long term?
TB: At this point in time, I’m committed to performing the music live. So, the new music is presented the way that it ought to be. I would like to help the culture of Marilyn Manson, to improve the live shows, so that they’re really strong, and give him a little bit of a kick. I put the (current) band together, and of course, Twiggy is in it. He’s fantastic to work with. But, the four of us guys in the band thought, “You know what? Let’s change up it up, Manson. Two guitars is really going to make this new music come across much better than the previous lineup.” He had asked me a number of times (to join his band) and I had said, “NO.” He said, “You’re too busy, right?” And I said, “Of course. I’ve got a wife and two kids.” That’s perfectly cool, but in order to do this, I have to forgo some film work. And, that’s why I said “No” at first. And he said, “I don’t know how to do this music without you. It’s our record, we should go play this together and celebrate it.” And I said, “You know what? You’re right. If you wanna do it that way, and you wanna have fun, and you wanna reach for a much higher level of performance, I’m in.” Because, I love playing; I love music. I don’t know how long I’m going to be around. I’ve had so many people in my life die at a young age. You just gotta seize the moment. We’re both very proud of this record. I am happy for him, personally. I think he’s done a really good job, and I’m hopeful that this will inspire him for the long term, and his fan base, as well, to know that he’s got a lot left in him. So, those things in life are important, and so is my film work; I take it very seriously. But, the thing is, coming out and playing, and kicking the shit out of this music night after night for a few months, only fuels my fire even more to go in the studio and write, and hopefully do the best score I’ve done, to date. One compliments the next, you know? Even if I’m writing solely orchestral, there’s still a rock ‘n’ roll attitude in a lot of it, even “Guardians of the Galaxy.” There’s very little synth or guitar in the whole score. And it still has a bit of a rock attitude.
RMS: I wanted to talk about the band you put together. In previous band line-ups, Manson always used a lot of samples and pre-recorded parts. However, now it seems like the band is playing almost everything. Is that pretty accurate?
TB: Mostly, yes. I mean, there’s some signature sounds – some vocal samples, some noises from the old stuff. We’ll play with them when we play (live). But, even in songs like, “Rock Is Dead,” where there’s a synth line at the end, or “Great Big White World,” I’m hitting all that stuff with guitar and effects, and then Paul Wiley, who plays with us, is covering some stuff, as well. Depending if we get back to playing “Slave Only Dreams to Be King,” which we did on the first show of the tour, which, I personally thought was fantastic…The point is, Manson’s gotta find his way into all of the songs, and figure out which ones he’s most comfortable with live. So, we’re playing around with the set list a little bit. I’ve always wanted this, to be a live band. Sharone is such a fantastic drummer, and I’ve worked with Gil outside of Manson. He’s well versed in every style. He’s formally trained. He’s a great (sheet music) reader; he could come in a do a jazz gig with no problem. So, as far as Gil’s concerned, too, is for years, he’s had triggers on the drums. When you have triggers on the drums, it’s something that sticks to the drumhead, and when the drumhead vibrates, it triggers a sample drum sound. A lot of bands do that, but I don’t like that sound at all, and it was a big deal in the 90s. But, Gil’s such a phenomenal drummer. When you do that (trigger the drums), you take away all of the feel, all of the bounce, and the guy knows how to play super hard. So, when we do play a song like, “No Reflection,” our live version, in my opinion, is ten times better than the studio version. And, Gil has such a huge part to do with that. It’s the feel, you know? That’s what I want the audiences to experience – more of a dynamic live rock show.
RMS: How did the other guitarist, Paul Wiley, get involved in the band? Did you know him prior, as well?
TB: Yeah, I know Paul from… the funny thing is, he’s from Chicago, and I’ve spent a good part of my life in Chicago. I’m from L.A., originally. He used to go see my band play a lot, out there. But, we never really knew each other until I moved to L.A., and then we came in contact some time in the last seven years, or something like that. Paul moved to Los Angeles, and he’s a sports fan, so we started watching Bears games together, and hanging out, and just became great friends. When Manson started asking me about the live thing, and I gave it more serious consideration, I said, “Look, if I’m going to do that, I want to put the band together. I want to play with players that I really like and I think would be complimentary to the vision I have for your band.” And he said, “Cool, do what you think.” So, I introduced him to Paul, and he liked Paul. He said, “Is this really the guy you want to play with?” I said, “Yeah, I think Paul would be fantastic. He’s such a nice person and a great guitar player. I thought that we would complement each other very well. And then, the prospect of playing with Twiggy on bass was great. Twiggy should always be a part of Marilyn Manson, if he wishes to be. He’s been phenomenal to work with. Manson freaked out when he met Gil. We took the drums to the album last, and I thought that Gil was perfect for it. But, his availability was very narrow. I don’t know if he was going out with Dillinger Escape Plan or his band, Stolen Babies, but he was leaving on tour in three days when I called him. When I called him, he said, “Dude, I would love to do this, but I’m leaving for a tour in three days.” I said, “Get your ass to my studio now!” (Laughs) He learned the album in a night, for the most part. We started cutting tracks the next day. Manson came to the studio and heard Gil playing, and it blew his mind. He told him, “The job is yours, if you want it.” Of course, Gil was flattered. He’s a huge Manson fan, as well. So is Paul Wiley. They both know the whole catalog.
RMS: It really is an amazing group of musicians in the band.
TB: Thank you.
RMS: Was it at all strange, having Twiggy back in the band? He wasn’t involved in the recording of the album. and really didn’t know that Marilyn Manson was recording a new album until after it was finished. It’s kind of like a divorced father coming to his kid’s birthday party at his ex-wife’s house.
TB: I wouldn’t put it that way at all. We are playing other songs that Twiggy did not write or play on from Manson’s catalog. Twiggy, when they got off tour a few years ago, started working on a volume of his own music, which is fantastic. And, there was an expected decompressing period that happened, and Manson hit me up, and we started making music. To everyone’s surprise, we had a full album of material before we knew it. The first time his manager even knew we were working together, he came over to my studio and heard nine of the ten songs, and they really knocked his head off. It really was one of those things, where in order for Manson to make this next step in his career, he needed an experience that was different from all other experiences. But, there is no denying it, he and Twiggy are brothers. They are very close. Twiggy loves Manson, and sees the big picture enough to understand that Manson needed to have this experience for himself. To try something completely different from what he has known in the past. That’s why it worked out. When Twiggy and I got to know each other, it was a bit of an awkward introductory, (laughs) because he met me under the assumption that the new record was already done. But, he has been amazing …. so cool to work with, and so much fun to be around. He’s really taken the new music, and has made the bass playing all his own. And, to be honest, it really is a bass, guitar album. But, he has taken the performances and made it his. He is fun to play with. He’s a class act, and very cool.
RMS: During your live performances, what was the biggest eye opening experience, playing on stage with Marilyn Manson for the first time?
TB: It is eye opening. You better keep your eyes open, or something’s going to hit you in the head, like a flying mic stand, or something (laughs). To be honest with you, Manson has a charisma that is really unique. Like, when I’m in the room with him, and we’re working, he’s just Manson; he’s a friend. I’m in the room with a lot of big personalities in my career, so it’s whatever. But, when you’re on stage with him, he just has this thing… he has an energy force that’s really intense, and it’s fun, and sometimes erratic, and makes you want to play hard. So, it’s cool to feel that vibe coming off of somebody else that makes you want to play really well and play with focus. That’s something that I think that the whole band has picked up on, and I think we actually all push each other; us pushing him and vice versa. I know that there’s been different levels of performances over the past decade, but I think that, for coming out with our first three shows, we’ve come out pretty strong. So, that’s the desire of everybody; to want to be really, our absolute best.
RMS: Do you know if there are any plans after this club tour to do bigger theaters or festivals, or anything like that during the summer in the U.S.?
TB: Yeah. I know there’s some stuff on the schedule on his website. I would imagine that most fans probably know the actual dates better than I do. I just know the time off (laughs), because I have projects I need to do in between there. But, it looks like there’s something this summer, but they’re still firming up. If that comes about, then I’d be down for doing that, for sure. I’m having fun. Look, I’ve done like, 60 movies (laughs), so I know that there’s more that I will do. As a composer, sometimes you do feel like… you wonder if the phone will ever ring again. But, I figure I need to do this for myself, you know? It’s really a matter of what gets you excited about your life, and about your life in music. I bring that to everything that I do.
RMS: Right. I can also see that, now, playing live, you’re getting that instant gratification. Being a composer – you write it and send it off, and you get all of the accolades, but not in the same way.
TB: Well, as a composer, I write it, and then, often times, fly to London and record with the London Philharmonic at Abbey Road. You’re talking about interacting with the best musicians in the world, so that’s a different experience. And that, too, has an immediacy. I don’t care about adulation. That does nothing for me. I’m not doing this Manson thing to have some “Rock Star” experience. It’s his name on the ticket, and, for the most part, all eyes are on him during the show, and that’s great. We’re there just to kick some ass and have some fun, and just bring the best Marilyn Manson concert to the audience as we can. To be part of that is cool. He’s my friend; I want to help him be great. We’re in an era where the world needs true rock stars, and he’s one of them. I want to see him be as prominent as possible.
RMS: I have a feeling that, once everybody gets their hands on this, I think there’s going to be a lot of requests that you’re going to get from people that want to work with you.
TB: I would love that. That’s great. The thing is, with Manson, it wasn’t me going in to be re-inventive or produce his album or anything like that. It was really almost like a musical therapy in a way. It was a conversation just about life, and that turned into music. That’s what I’m interested in. Do I want to go bang out the next metal record? No. I want to do things that are special, because it has to be. It’s not a great date to work in the record business. It has to be a meaningful experience. I’m down with that; it’s not about the money. It’s about doing something that substantive and something I feel great about.
RMS: Well, Tyler, I really appreciate your time. You’re a fascinating person, musician, and composer. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about how great the CD is, but I’ve been listening to music for a long time, and I can’t even listen to anything else. The last couple of weeks, this is all I have been listening to because it is so good.
TB: (Laughs) Thank you! That’s cool. And, don’t get me wrong, just because the way these songs came together happened quickly; don’t think that it was done quickly or haphazardly. There was a lot of time that I put into that stuff (laughs). Believe me, there was a lot of work that was put into it. It was certainly not intended to come off as laissez-faire about how this music is done. It’s a lot of first or live takes, but there is a lot of work done afterwards just to make it great. We’re glad that people are open-minded enough to getting into it, and really seeing where Manson is going in his life. I think it’s exciting, and I hope that everybody sees it that way.
RMS: Definitely. It’s going to be difficult for any record this year to top this one. Thank you for your time. Hopefully, down the road, I’ll be able to say “Hi” to you one of these days on tour.
TB: Yeah, just hit me up. Let me know. Have a great day.
For more on Tyler Bates, go to www.tylerbates.com
Special thanks to Beth Krakower and Dana Kaiser.