Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 has rocked up on disc this week, taking you back to writer/director James Gunn’s wild dimension of space opera fused with an array of jukebox classics. Music plays a bigger role in this movie than most – composer Tyler Bates had to boldly go above and beyond for Marvel’s unique comic book franchise, as this revealing interview explains…
THN: As with the first film, the soundtrack for GOTG Vol. 2 was composed before the shoot, which is an approach I’ve never heard of before. Where did the inspiration for this come from?
Tyler Bates: Well there was plenty of music in post production but over the years James Gunn and I have known each other. Our working relationship began on Slither and we’d discussed working in this fashion, more like Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone. By the time we got to Super there was time for us to conceptualize the music before he shot the film and after we had that experience on Guardians 1 he wanted to go deeper in that direction.
What was the atmosphere like on set with the music… I presume you were there watching?
The funny thing was I wasn’t there till he had me visit the set on the first Guardians. They’d already been shooting to the score. So he put me in the movie for fun as a Ravager, I was in make up and all that. I was walking with the actors into a scene and they were cranking Cherry Bomb over the PA… and I really felt how the music contextualized the moment and the sentiment of the moment. Chris Pratt elaborated on how much the score centred him and his character, therefore on the second one they gave the actors ear buds to listen to the music while they filmed. They digitally removed the buds. For instance, the Celestial Catch scenes with Kurt Russell and Chris… several scenes like that were composed in advance.
How does working with James Gunn compare to playing with Marilyn Manson?
They’re very different people but also both are highly intelligent. I’ve always known that James was brilliant and would go on to make a significant movie in Hollywood. I think what each of them do is bring out the best in me as an artist. That’s what I’m seeking mostly with my collaborators. With Manson I have a great deal of creative freedom. With James, because we develop ideas for the script as opposed to a literal picture, initially the language of the movie as far as Guardians is concerned is really a conversation between us, as opposed to referencing something that already exists.
Have you spoken to Marilyn Manson about appearing in Guardians…?
(Laughs) I don’t think that James or Disney would be 100% comfortable with it. I’m sure Manson would love to be the villain in a Marvel movie. He told me he’s very interested in doing more acting.
Is it easier scoring a sequel because the music is already established or harder because it has to sound fresh?
I think it’s more difficult. Going into it I thought: “We got through that first one, that was tough!” Working with James is tough, his standards are very high because he needs to make the best possible movie he can. He’s making movies that are performing historically high at the box office, so the expectation for a second film is even greater. It’s about raising the bar and seeing what we can do to deliver a greater story, deeper emotion, more fun and more entertainment value to the audience. Obviously you have to take a look at what has been established and feel good that the basic language of this world is created, but we’re going to have to expand upon it and delve into new territory. Hopefully if we do another one together we’ll come up with some surprises for ourselves and the fans.
Regarding GOTG, Peter Quill is a character I identify with a lot. Not because I think I’m like him but he relates to emotions in his life through the music his mother passed onto him. I share a very similar history with my mother, who died when I was young. Her passion for music definitely inspired me and thankfully she really opened my mind to many different styles and genres. Long before I knew it, she was probably preparing me for life as a collaborator and producer.
Speaking of collaborations I notice on your CV that you’ve worked with William Friedkin (director of The Exorcist, among others). What was it like scoring Killer Joe?
(Laughs) I love Billy. We had a very interesting onset to our relationship because the producers actually brought me into that movie. I was not his choice initially and so he beta-tested me quite a bit. I think he appreciated the fact that I was not flappable and I maintained a sense of humour about our working together and at some point we gave into each other and connected. I had a terrific time on Killer Joe. It was daunting, you know the first meeting I had with him he explained the history of The Exorcist music and that he threw out Bernard Herrmann’s score and then threw out Lalo Schifrin’s before he found Tubular Bells. So it was a tall order but I felt really good about it because it was always interesting and he’s such an intelligent person. It was like being in film school. It was pretty extraordinary actually.
What can you tell me about Atomic Blonde…?
That movie is one of the very best I have ever worked on. It’s so good. David Leitch is just gonna have a monster career. The film is set in the 1980s and it really was open to creating an impressionistic style of music that might live in that era but also be contemporary. It’s fun, it’s not the most bold or forward score that I’ve ever done but I really do like it and I was happy to be able to produce songs with Manson for the soundtrack.
This interview first appeared on THN.