Will Bates is one of those rare souls who declared very early on in his life what he wanted to do as a career and then went on to do just that – he grew up to be an award winning composer for film and television. What started out as an interest grew into a passion and blossomed into a fruitful career for this composer. His first professional venture into scoring for film came in 2009 when he composed the music for Ry Russo-Young’s You Won’t Miss Me, which premiered at Sundance and went on to win a Gotham Award.
Will Bates has continued to add to an impressive film scoring resume with his work in other films and television shows such as SyFy’s hit show The Magicians, I,Origins, Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine, and We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks. Last year his work was featured in the much talked about HBO documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, which brought to light the corruption and scandal hidden behind the walls of the Church of Scientology. No matter what the project may be Will Bates’ musical scores have a way of bringing them all to life, drawing the audience in and creating a connection between the viewer and the story.
Bates’ talent for bringing life to film and television with his music will no doubt continue in his newest set of scores which will be featured in Hulu’s much anticipated series The Path, created by Jessica Goldberg and Jason Katim. The Path follows a man named Eddie Lane (Aaron Paul – Breaking Bad) who has converted to a questionable following and subsequently begins to suffer from a second guessing of this faith that he has chosen to live by. You only have to watch the trailer to see that Will Bates’ work in The Path will no doubt be a driving force behind the story line, carrying us through the lives of those we meet throughout the series. With a mixture of both beautifully intoxicating melodies and heart racing synth beats it is easy to see why Bates was chosen as a part of this top notch creative team behind The Path. A story can be great but many times its the music that goes along with that story that makes it unforgettable. This will no doubt be the case with Bates’ work in The Path, as it has been for any project where his music has been featured.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Will Bates to find out more about not only his beginnings in composing music for film but also about the highlights, challenges, and creative process that he tends to follow when working on a new project.
Will Bates Interview
TAMMY: I was reading that you actually became interested in composing music for films at a very early age because of the music from Star Wars. What other film scores do you remember as being inspirational to you early on?
WILL: That’s right, when I was a little kid I sang the entire score of Star Wars to my parents. Pretty ridiculous. Although I guess it made me start to take notice of music in movies. The first record I ever bought was Ennio Morricone’s score to “The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly”. I also loved those early Vangelis scores. “Blade Runner” and “Chariots Of Fire”. I would watch a movie with my parents and then run to the high street record store and track down the soundtrack. I still have a stash of cassettes somewhere, Maurice Jarre’s “Lawrence Of Arabia”, Morricone’s score to “Frantic”, pretty much anything that had a strong melody or something special about it. “Robocop,” “Dune,” “Black Rain,” “Platoon,” “White Nights.” I was already a bit of a soundtrack nerd by the time I was 12.
TAMMY: What inspires you as an artist on days when you have a brand new project in front of you? What does the research side of your work look like whether it be getting to know the characters so that you can put together leitmotifs or getting a feel for the overall tone of the story that is needing to be told?
WILL BATES: I always have to have a kind of eureka moment at the beginning of a project. By that, I mean I have to find something that is totally unique to the project. Whether it’s a melody or a sound, I have to find something that is intrinsically linked to a character or story. Something that has a connection, where one really couldn’t exist without the other.
Sometimes that means sitting in front of the piano and hammering away until I find that perfect, simple melody, or sometimes it’s experimenting with wild synths, or sourcing a new instrument. It really just depends on the project. But that feeling of finding the perfect fit is what I search for. I always know when I’ve found it, sometimes it comes easier than others, but it always happens eventually!
TAMMY: You have had the chance to both record music and tour with your band The Rinse as well as compose music for films. I would think that you would have more room for personal expression with a standard album but more opportunities to experiment with different styles and sounds when working on a film score. How does writing music for an album for your band differ from composing music for a film?
WILL BATES: It’s really been such a long time since I wrote for that band, or any band for that matter. That’s a tough one! I think the creative fulfillment, the end result is the same, but the process is very different. With The Rinse I would bring sketches and ideas to a rehearsal and we would collaborate, experiment, and hopefully end up with something great (and if not we’d just go to the pub).
I suppose that sense of collaboration is similar to working with a director. I think the best experiences I’ve had are when that partnership can really come alive. But in the end writing a song that exists on its own and scoring to serve the picture are two totally different disciplines. It’s almost hard for me to imagine just writing music for the sake of it at this point, too much freedom! It would be pretty interesting to see what an album of mine would be like, not sure when there’s gonna be time for that though.
TAMMY: I’d love to know more about the evolution of Fall On Your Sword from its beginnings to what it has become today. I have been going through some of the work on your site and the installations are particularly powerful.
WILL BATES: Fall On Your Sword really began as a video art experiment. The early YouTube mashup videos evolved into a band, then turned into an art collective and music production company. I always wanted it to be the umbrella for all the different things I’ve ended up being involved in. Scoring movies, commercials, making art. My wife Sarah Bereza is an extraordinarily talented painter and sculptor. And at first we just wanted to build some cool stuff together that incorporated the audio/visual FOYS aesthetic. We teamed up with another talented chap named Ken Heitmueller (a tech genius who I met years ago when he mastered all The Rinse recordings as well as my soundtrack albums). The three of us have kind of become the Fall On Your Sword art department. We’ve had pieces at art shows that have then led to commissions for brands thanks to our connections in the advertising world. The pieces always have some kind of musical element, and generally don’t take themselves too seriously. We have a lot of fun building that stuff.
TAMMY: When working on music for a film that deals with real people and serious issues (ie. Going Clear, We Steal Secrets,etc.) do you feel an extra sense of needing to create something extraordinary to really connect the audience with the people involved?
WILL BATES: I think I treat each project with the same detail and need for connection. Most of the documentaries I’ve scored tend to have a real cinematic narrative (particularly Gibney’s) which really helps that. The real difference with those I think is the scope of the work. There tends to be a lot more music in those movies, and I find myself getting very involved with the subjects. I always enjoy making the albums from those scores, there’s a lot of material!
TAMMY: When composing music do you have a sort of set creative process that you go through or is it really just different depending on the specific demands of each new project?
WILL BATES: It’s always different. I think it’s important to not get too caught up in habits so I try to switch things up for myself as much as possible. I’m fortunate enough to have two studios (one in New York and one in Los Angeles) so it’s easy for me to mix it up.
TAMMY: I’m very excited for your work that is being featured in The Path. What are some of the things that the creators of the show were looking for specifically when putting together the soundtrack?
WILL BATES: My introduction to the project came from the pilot’s director Mike Cahill. He and I have worked a lot together and we’ve developed a real short hand. He introduced me to the show’s creators Jessica Goldberg and Jason Katims. Jessica’s script was just so powerful, it really jumped off the page for me and seeing what Mike made of it was so inspiring. I remember Mike saying early on that the score had to have teeth. And both Jessica and Jason wanted it to be really bold and impactful. That’s kind of the best direction a composer could ask for! The emotional aspect of it was also really important to everyone. There’s a lot of subtext in the show, a lot of complex emotions and conflicted characters so that really had to come across.
TAMMY: What were some of the challenges that you faced as well as the highlights while creating the soundtrack for The Path?
WILL BATES: Everyone seemed to agree that the score needed a very special blend of electronica and traditional instrumentation. I had a lot of fun finding the palette. Finding a really expressive way of manipulating the electronics was important to me. I went pretty deep into the rabbit hole of modular synthesis. Built my own rig that will forever be “The Path” synth rig. And blending that with the real, there’s quite a bit of bass clarinet (I started out as a sax player so stumbling through bass clarinet comes pretty naturally) as well as prepared piano. I wanted there to be strings but I wanted them to be raw and visceral. I remember saying that to Jason and Jessica in our first meeting and they were totally into it. Simple harmonies, no vibrato. So there’s also viola and cello sprinkled in there.
The performances in this show are truly extraordinary. Really amazing. With great performances like these I feel like the music can enhance that subtext and operate on a different level. And everyone was so supportive of one another. I’m learning now that Jason has a knack for putting together these amazing creative teams. Lots of talented people with lots of respect for one another. It allowed us to make something really special together.
TAMMY: What advice do you have for those out there who have an interest in pursuing a career as a film composer?
WILL BATES: Be a plumber.
TAMMY: Are there any projects that you can tell me about that you currently have in the works? What are you excited about that you have coming up?
WILL BATES: I’ve been working on the score to The Magicians which has been really fun. Another great team of people, we’re almost at the end of season one.And I’m also working on a feature called Imperium. Directed by Daniel Ragussis. Stars Daniel Radcliffe as an FBI agent who is infiltrating a group of white supremacists trying to build a dirty bomb. Lots of ukuleles and hand claps in that one.
These are still just the early days of what is panning out to be a long and promising career for Will Bates. With several projects currently in the works and even more to come I am looking forward to hearing his work throughout many more films in the future. To find out more about Will Bates and his work please visit fallonyoursword.com. You can hear his latest work in Hulu’s The Path which premieres on March 30th.