Composer Tyler Bates talks putting together the epic Dark Nights: Death Metal, working across film and music and why he isn’t coming back for Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 3…
Tyler Bates is a very busy man. Over the last decade, he’s scored both Guardians Of The Galaxy and its sequel, all three movies in the John Wick series, Atomic Blonde, Fast and Furious spin-off Hobbs and Shaw as well as countless others across film and TV.
His latest endeavour though is a real labour of love. The collection, which he has overseen as well as producing and co-writing almost every song, has been put together to soundtrack DC Comics’ Dark Nights: Death Metal series.
The series, which is by writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo, is a sequel to their hugely acclaimed 2017's Dark Nights: Metal series. That run of comics followed Batman discovering a dark multiverse and was accompanied by a six-track EP featuring songs by Jerry Cantrell, Chino Moreno, Brann Dailor, Maria Brink, Alexis Krauss and Jason Aalon Butler.
This time, Bates, who produced the EP alongside Mike Elizondo, wanted to one better and make a whole album. To help him, he's recruited a stellar cast, with Mastodon, Denzel Curry, Manchester Orchestra, Chelsea Wolfe, Rise Against, IDLES, and Soccer Mommy among them.
With the collection dropping into stores this week, we spoke to Bates about how it all came together...
How did this all start? Is this a conversation that has been going on for years in one form or another?
“Matt Keller of DC Comics approached me about this at the beginning of March in 2020, a few weeks before the lockdown. He and I first made a connection about three or four years ago and he wanted to create a soundtrack from the Dark Knights Metal series. Mike Elizondo, a producer who is a good friend of mine, we came together and headed it up, but our label had a lot of changes going on and it lost momentum. We had a few artists that we worked with and it set the template for this collection.”
“This time I was able to work with DC and bring Loma Vista on board as a label partner. We got a great team together and we just wanted to do something cool. We’re all comic book nerds and we wanted to do a soundtrack that was really inspired by the material, not just license a bunch of songs. This was quite an ambitious project, but I’ve loved working on it. It’s been an incredibly positive project. The objective was very open, we just wanted to create something that went alongside the series.”
Did you have the time to do this already blocked out? Or was it gifted to you by Covid?
“I would have done it anyway. I love making records and I love writing songs. It doesn’t matter how busy I am with film and television, it’s still a huge part of me and my spirit. I love the excitement of songs and the way they come together. I wrote my first song at 12 and I’ve loved it ever since, that moment where something coalesces and a song gets its wings is like nothing else.”
How did you decide who you’d approach? It’s a stellar list, but there must have been people who couldn’t do it?
“Everyone on the record was a first choice. What we were going for is something akin to the soundtrack to the 1981 movie Heavy Metal. It’s really diverse and that fits this comic series. It’s not monochromatic, it’s not one-dimensional, there’s so much depth in the storytelling and I wanted to reflect that. They all loved the comics, but they each brought a unique perspective and style. Everybody was passionate about the project, that’s why they’ve all come together for the motion comic we’ve done. It was such a thrill. We wanted to show the fans that this isn’t just an album of licensed songs, it isn’t a widget for DC, it’s something full of passion.”
“Greg Puciato and Gil Sharon are good friends of mine and we were already booked to go in and record. We were going to go into the studio and do some post-punk. Then the brief came in for the record and we focused our song on this. I knew I wanted to work with Starcrawler and with Chelsea Wolfe, I reached out to them and they said yes. Then I got Loma Vista on board and we started branching out.”
And you went from there?
“We agreed we had to have Mastodon and I knew the guys in Health, and we were planning to work together again, so we hooked up. Show Me The Body and Gunship, I’ve followed them both for a long time, they’re amazing. When me and Gunship were working together, they kept referencing this Slayer drumbeat from Dave Lombardo and I was able to get Dave to play it. They were so stoked! I was also really happy to get Chino Moreno to the table. It’s been a really positive experience.”
It feels a bit like a throwback to a time when every movie had a soundtrack, which is a real rarity now. Why do you think that is?
“The record business is in a state of free for all and the infrastructure isn’t intact anymore. The biggest artists of today are competing for views on Tik-Tok with eight-year-old kids. It’s not a way to have a business thrive. Everything feels very transitional. The artists who are gifted and dedicated deserve a better infrastructure. The record business and the film business keep making hairpin turns.”
You’re across both businesses in your professional life, are they very different to work in?
“Film is very intense. It’s not the same deadline as TV, which is so episodic and has very hard deadlines. But, once you’ve done a couple of episodes, you get in a rhythm and real familiarity. In film, its constant adjustments, plotlines change all the time, it’s like running alongside a train while trying to paint a mural at the same time. I like working with artists, but I do direct, I don’t go through labels. If we get on well, we make music together, I’m not a gun for hire in music. It’s all storytelling at the end of the day.”
Having done this collection, would you like to do another one?
“I will work with Matt Keller anytime. I love working with DC and dragging Loma Vista to the deep end of the pool with me. I appreciate that for them it wasn’t a slam dunk and not a traditional venture. I wanted to make a record of compelling rock music and do justice to the comic, but there was no real playbook for this venture. We just wanted to make great music and satisfy the artist and the material, we took the idea of writing big hits off the table.”
What do you have lined up after this?
“I’m working on Starcrawler’s next LP and another season of Genndy Tartakovsky’s Primal. And several other things which are all under non-disclosure agreements. The cast of people I’ll be working with is very diverse and very exciting. I’m looking forward to the next year.”
Is Guardians Of The Galaxy 3 on the docket?
“No, I’m not doing that. I did one and two, but I have other projects that I’m focused on. You’ve got to move on in your life. I put my heart and soul into that franchise and I love the music I made for it, but it’s time to move on.”
Makes sense, you’re a DC guy now…
“I’m all about the artists and the music, I’d be happy to play for both teams. I’m just excited about what’s next, I’ve got a lot of energy to give.”
Dark Nights: Death Metal, which features tracks from Mastodon, Denzel Curry, Manchester Orchestra, Chelsea Wolfe, IDLES, and Soccer Mommy, is out now in hmv stores and available here in hmv's online store.