While other kids his age watched “Sesame Street,” Tyler Bates jammed in his Hinsdale living room to Sly and the Family Stone and Stevie Wonder.
The cool suburban preschooler with a knack for music grew up to be one of Hollywood’s most sought-after composers.
Bates, 47, a Hinsdale South High School alumnus, composes original songs for movies, television shows and videos games. Some of his highest profile work includes the movies “Watchmen,” the “Halloween” remake, “Dawn of the Dead” and “Killer Joe,” as well as the TV series “Californication” and the video game “Transformers: War for Cybertron.” He also wrote the score for the “God of War: Ascension” video game, due out in March.
Nondisclosure agreements prevent Bates from talking about any of his current projects, but there are many. In an email interview, he reflected on his journey from Hinsdale to Hollywood, and how he decided on a whim to leave his job managing a Chicago trading firm and pursue a music career.
Below is an excerpt of the interview:
Q. You were into music at a very early age. What were the first few albums, or bands, you remember being really blown away by?
A. I was really intrigued by Frank Zappa’s “Hot Rats” album. It was the first music I heard that I recognized as something other than “pop” music. The songs are quite long as well, so I found the music to be a bit mysterious until I wrapped my head around the complex arrangements. I was probably 4 years old when I first heard it. I was really into Stevie Wonder and Sly and the Family Stone when most little kids were listening to “Rubber Duckie” from “Sesame Street.” The vocals on both artists’ initial records struck an emotional chord with me that were the first series of songs to resonate with me in that way. I wish there was more music like that in today’s commercial world.
Q. Can you remember some of the first few songs you composed as a kid?
A. LOL (shorthand for “laugh out loud”). I played alto sax for a few years before picking up the guitar. My first original (LOL) was “Don’t Rush.” It was pretty horrible, but the feeling I had creating a song from scratch was pretty infectious. I wrote many horrible songs after that, but the process of writing songs energized me so much that I just never stopped!
Q. At what point did you know, “This is what I want to do for a living.”
A. I have never contemplated doing anything where music is not the central aspect of my daily life. I managed a trading firm in Chicago for a few years. And while I never considered it as a career option, that experience prepared me more for my career than the majority of my music studies. I was fortunate to work for people who took the time to educate me on many aspects of business and life that is part of who I am today.
Q. How did you land that first movie score in 1992? It sounds like it was a low-paying, long-shot opportunity, but you decided to go for it and it paid off.
A. I was in the studio recording an album of rock “guitar-oriented” music with my friend, George Adrian, and a couple guys from the band, White Lion. It was during those sessions that I realized that I didn’t want to continue on that path. I never felt further away from my natural sensibilities as a guitarist or as a songwriter as I did at that time. Coincidentally, my brother was in Los Angeles working on a low-budget film that was in need of some rock cues because they couldn’t afford to license any popular music. So I took timing notes over the phone, and then we recorded several cues the following day. It worked out well, because I was already planning to move back to Los Angeles when the producer asked me to score his next film. That was the impetus for moving out west at that time.
Though I scored 15 movies my first three years back in Los Angeles, my focus was on writing with and producing other artists. I ended up signing a deal with Atlantic Records, but after the band imploded, I returned my focus to scoring films and television, which has led to video games and commercials as well. We’ll see where it goes from here.
Q. Is there anything unique about writing music for scary movies?
A. Of all the television, video games and movies I have worked on, a relatively small percentage are of the “scary” variety. I enjoy the scary movies and the genre movies because they permit the composer to be inventive and take chances that aren’t practical in a drama or a comedy. That is not to say that dramas and comedies are not incredibly challenging. They are each an art form unto themselves. I would prefer to do dramas more than anything except movies based on graphic novels like “300” and “Watchmen.” These films provided me musical opportunities that relate to nearly every style of film rolled into one. And because of that, I find them to be the most challenging as well.
Q. Who are a few of the artists you’re listening to these days?
A. I just did an album with an electro artist called Le Castle Vania. His music is really fun. Die Antwoord is really fun, too. I really like Dr. John’s latest album, which is interesting because I have not been a fan, per se. I am also very nostalgic at the moment. The Cars’ first record, and The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s” album are in current rotation. I like a wide range of music, so this answer would most likely be different next month.
Q. What’s the best, and the toughest, part of your business?
A. The best part of my business is the opportunity to collaborate with passionate artists. I am working regularly with people who are among the very best in the business. The most difficult aspect of my job is managing the projects within the scope of tight deadlines and erratic postproduction schedules that lead to projects overlapping at critical times. It is a great challenge to maintain the integrity of your ideas as the picture is re-edited several times leading into the dub. The score budgets are decreasing while the expectations are rising.
Q. When your old neighbors and classmates read this, do you think they’ll be surprised to know that you became a Hollywood music producer and composer?
A. Hmm. I can’t say. Anyone who has known me at any point in my life is aware of my love for making music. I didn’t give myself a backup plan, so I heard many times that the odds of me making anything of myself in music were a million to one. I am very fortunate and thankful to have the opportunity to continue doing what I love on a daily basis.
To see and hear Bates’ work, visit www.tylerbates.com.
Ÿ Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for people from the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know of someone who would make a good column feature, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.