Tyler Bates, the Los Angeles-based producer whose dark-ambient compositions score the long-awaited movie adaptation of the Watchmen graphic novel, hadn’t read the comic before accepting the gig. He didn’t want to jinx his chances of getting it once he heard that friend and collaborator Zack Snyder (300, Dawn Of The Dead) would be directing the long-awaited film. And once Bates found out would be providing the soundtrack for the cult favorite, new challenges expressed themselves. “To be honest with you, I’m not a real comic geek,” said Bates. “The first time I read it was just understanding when to look at the pictures and then read the bubbles.”
The score he would produce is a propulsive mix of vintage synths, apocalyptic choirs, machine-like pulses and brooding drones — sometimes all at once — in an attempt to capture the feel of the mutated, alternate 1985 where the movie takes place. “Some moments cried out to be supported with more of an ’80s vibe,” he says of tracks like “Edward Blake,” which are infused with classic synths redolent of Jan Hammer, German composer Klaus Doldinger and Leonard Cohen’s synth-infused ’80s output. “But it’s still a contemporized expression of that. I’m not trying to recreate it, it’s the essence. Just like the movie. It’s the essence, not actually the ’80s because Nixon is in office.”
Bates, who came up as a rock guitarist in Atlantic-signed hard rock group Pet, says his musical ideas were formed in the 1980s — and even in the orchestral passages in Watchmen, you can hear the influence of post-punk bands like Gang Of Four and Joy Division, and classic metal like Metallica and Slayer. The machine-like pulses meant to underscore the wheels turning inside the vengeance-obsessed brain of Rorshach were influenced by the industrial music he heard growing up in Chicago.
Bates gets to play guitar at the very end of the film, plucking a tender intro to My Chemical Romance’s end-credits cover of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row.” After a film packed with ominous wooshes and howling choirs, the mellow “I Love You” comes as as sharp change. “I think [Snyder] wanted the guitar for the sake of its intimacy, and realism. You hear the artifacts of fingers touching the strings and all the noises that come with it,” says Bates, who credits his guitar style to U2 producer Daniel Lanois, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, King Crimson’s Robert Fripp and Hungarian jazz guitarist Gábor Szabó.
With the success of 300 and presumably Watchmen, Bates is moving from his current studio, the small guest house behind his Los Angeles home where he recorded most of the score for both movies. Say Bates about the 13′ x 17′ room, “People come in and are like, ‘I cannot believe you did all that stuff from 300 in here. Are you kidding me?'”