I recently had the privilege of chatting to Will Bates, a fantastic composer of many films, TV series and documentaries, including 2014’s I Origins, the recent Charmed reboot, The Magicians TV series and Steve Jobs: The Man In The Machine (2015). Will has recently finished composing for the film Depraved, which was directed by Larry Fessenden (read our interview with him here), which we got to talking about it eventually, but first, we chatted about the weather. Because what true Brit would not start that way?
Will Bates: Hey, Ruben!
PopHorror: Hey, Will! How’re you doing?
Will Bates: All these voices, a whole bunch of Brits.
PopHorror: (laughs) Is the UK still your home, or have you moved along?
Will Bates: It’s not now. I haven’t lived in England for almost 20 years. I lived in New York for almost 13 years and then moved to LA a few years ago.
PopHorror: So, what’s the weather like there?
Will Bates: I’m in New York right now, and it’s really nice. I flew in yesterday from LA, where it’s also very nice indeed. How is it over there? Are you in London?
PopHorror: Yeah, in Southampton. It’s a bit grimy, but it’s not too bad.
Will Bates: Good stuff.
PopHorror: So how many of these interviews have you done today?
Will Bates: This is my second. I’ve got more tomorrow.
PopHorror: I was hoping you weren’t going to be massively weary and have to answer the same questions over and over again.
Will Bates: Oh, it’s all good. Every one seems to be a little different, which is cool.
PopHorror: That’s great! What I’d like to do is take you back a bit before I ask you my questions about Depraved, if that’s okay?
Will Bates: Sure, yeah. Absolutely.
PopHorror: So, I was going through your IMDb page and having a look at your scoring list, and I noticed you have quite a varying skill tree when it comes to composing. Where does you hunger for creating music came from? How did you get into becoming a composer?
Will Bates: You know, it’s funny. I feel like it’s something I’ve always wanted to do since I was a little kid and discovered John Williams. I guess I was about six- or seven-years-old when I started to understand what a film composer was, and I think, in a weird way, I tried various ways of getting into it throughout my career. I started out actually as a Jazz musician, then got into running electronic music, and then I was in a band. I was a lead singer in a band in New York for a while. That whole time, my day job was trying to crack that sort of music to picture racket. Then I was back in London, and I started scoring commercials, thinking rather naively that that would lead me into movies. That became my day job throughout my 20s and early 30s. It was a good career, but it was somewhat frustrating, to some extent, how those worlds tend not to intersect too much.
So, I found myself scoring commercials during the day, and then trying to compose for independent films, shorts or anything else at night. Eventually, had a few successes, and that started to take over, fortunately. Yeah, I think that’s always been my thing. Stylistically, I’m a little bit all over the place. For better or for worse, that led me to all sorts of different, varied projects in varied disciplines.
PopHorror: Yeah, that was literally my next question. You’ve done shorts, features and documentaries, plus you’ve been in a band. Was that by purpose? Do you like a varied workload? Do you get bored easily, or is your aspiration to do features and TV series?
Will Bates: I think I always wanted to be a film composer, but along the journey, I discovered all sorts of other things that I both enjoyed and seem to be pretty good at. I started my company, Fall On Your Sword, as a way to have this umbrella of a safe place where I was able to do all of these things and allow for a certain degree of cross-pollination across different platforms. What I found was that we are living in the era where a lot of filmmakers are making that transition to television, and there is just so much content being made out there. I found myself following the career paths of certain directors, and as they make that transition, I intend to follow along with them. Which has been really great! It has been really fulfilling and really fun.
PopHorror: I’ve noticed, as your career progresses, that there has been a couple or popular titles like The Magicians, Charmed and The Nighflyers. How do those kinds of projects fall in your lap?
Will Bates: I think it’s pretty much from filmmakers. I tend to forge good relationships with the directors. The pilot for The Magicians was done by Mike Cahill. Mike and I had collaborated on a few features in the past, and we met on another movie called Another Earth, and then he did I Origins. When he made that transition to television, he basically brought me along for the ride. TV is one of those things. It’s quite interconnected… producers and editors. I’ll meet people on one project, and they’ll bring me along for the next one. That’s how Charmed happened.
PopHorror: So, it’s kind of who you know?
Will Bates: I guess so, and also, if you work from the strength of a show that was successful, and then the producers move on to another thing, they tend to bring their team along with them.
PopHorror: Is there a piece that you’ve scored in your career that you really loved? One that sticks out in your mind, that you think, “Yeah, that’s one of my favorites.”
Will Bates: It’s funny. Like you said, everything is so varied, that I tend to really like the most recent thing. I tend to do a lot simultaneously. That’s part of the joy of it for me, allowing one project to feed the next.
PopHorror: Who would you say inspires your world? You mentioned John Williams – I guess everyone mentions John Williams – but…
Will Bates: (laughs) Of course they do.
PopHorror: Who would you say you draw inspiration from?
Will Bates: Oh, blimey. It’s all over the place. I love Bernard Hermann. Um, Ennio Morricone… his was the first record I bought when I was a kid. Vangelis is a huge influence. All of that electronic sound that I’m drawn to… that kind of sound. Just the palate of Morricone and his sense of experimentation is something that I really admire and is something I try so strive towards, as well. Of course, there’s outside of composers a lot of Jazz musicians and sort of dance producers… that’s part of being a musician. There’s such a vast pool to feed from.
PopHorror: So, I watched Depraved this morning.
Will Bates: Oh, (laughs) that’s nice morning viewing.
PopHorror: Yeah. What I noticed was that it actually had quite an interesting score. I’ve watched a few of your other films, and if I remember right, this one felt particularly different to me. There are times when there’s not a lot of dialogue, and the score will come in louder. It will almost guide the movie, along with the visuals. But then at other times, it’s very understated, and I really liked that. It was never in your face. I wondered if you could tell me about the process of scoring Depraved.
Will Bates: One of the great things about Larry [Fessenden] is that he is very in touch with the power of music… noticing when to have it take a back seat and when it should be featured. He and I have a really good collaborative relationship. He is very trusting and just lets me experiment and stretch. He is also a great guy. He knows exactly what he wants his movie to say, and how he wants it to sound. One thing we talked about right at the beginning was how it was going to be. We didn’t want it to be a traditional horror score with a jump scare mentality. He does this a lot, where he creates fear through other means, whether it’s through getting under the hood of a character’s emotions or creating tension in a different way. So that was a really exciting way for me to explore how the music was going to operate. There’s an existential tragedy to the whole story. There’s this childlike awakening that happens within the music, an underbelly of emotional tragedy, which is really fun.
PopHorror: I’ve always wondered… how do you actually score a film? How does the process go for you? Do you look at the script. or do you look at the finished print and go from there to see how it moves you?
Will Bates: Yeah, every project is very different. I love to be involved as early as possible, but it’s not always practical. Sometimes I read the script and respond to that. When I worked with Mike Cahill, I tried to get access to the dailies by scoring scenes as he was shooting. With Larry, it’s always been more of the post-production process. He tends to keep his edit very fluid, which great for a composer, because it means the score can influence the cut, which is not always the case.
The instrumentation could be completely different, but there’s always this moment where I’m looking at a scene somewhere in the middle of the film, and I sit in front of the piano until I find a chord sequence or a melody or something that exists that’s connected to a character or a situation. One wouldn’t live without the other, if that makes sense. I have to have this sort of eureka moment, I guess. Sometimes that happens very quickly, and sometimes it takes a little longer. From there, that’s normally where the birth of the harmony and melody begins, and then I start to experiment with sounds. I tend to be very inspired by sounds and textures. Every project has its own voice. I tend to go out, source an instrument and try and use it specifically for a certain project.
PopHorror: When you go into a new project, do always know, “Yeah, I can do this”? Or is there some amount of fear attached to the project, where you’re thinking, “Oh gosh, will I be able to be creative and score something good?”
Will Bates: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Fear drives me at the beginning of every project. Maybe it’s my Englishness, but I always have this moment of terror before I start something. You know, 80% of the time, I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what’s going to happen. But that’s also the joy of it… to having that eureka moment, like, “Oh, I found it! Here it is!” It always happens eventually, but yeah, there’s definitely that outset where it’s like, “That’s it. There are no more melodies.”
Will Bates: It’s gone, it’s all gone.
PopHorror: That must feel so good when it does happen, and you’ve been plugging away at it…
Will Bates: Yeah, I think that’s what drives most of it, of composing, of that high of stumbling upon that thing, that secret, special thing. It’s very elating.
PopHorror: You mentioned earlier your production company, Fall On Your Sword. It’s a very interesting name. How did that come about?
Will Bates: It’s actually a Flash Gordon reference. When it first began, it was this video art project, and then it turned into a band. The first batch of songs were based on Queen’s score to Flash Gordon… there’s a whole bunch of sampling off that record. and we made all these dance tracks and performed them live.
PopHorror: (laughs) Oh, great!
Will Bates: We made videos… Some of them went viral and what not. Yeah, it just stuck, and when I started the production company, it seemed like a good idea to keep it all under the same brand.
PopHorror: What do you do when you are not composing? What’s life like? How do you relax?
Will Bates: I worry if the phone is going to ring again.
Will Bates: Yeah, I have two kids – a two-year-old and four-year-old. When I’m not composing, I’m dadding. So there’s a lot of that, but I have to say that I keep pretty busy. It’s almost constant in terms of creating stuff. There’s always so many things going on at once. I’m actually in the middle of trying to finish an album. I signed a deal with a label called Fat Cat that’s actually in the UK, but I signed it, like, two years ago, and I still haven’t had time to make the thing. Whenever there is a spare minute, I try to get back into it, which has been happening a little bit lately. I’ve got to say that it’s pretty constant. That’s one thing about working in TV and film and game and things like that… It’s a year-round onslaught.
PopHorror: Yeah, there’s no real time when it stops, like a 24/7 thing.
Will Bates: Yeah, it kinda is, especially now where there isn’t really a season for these shows. Obviously, a show like Charmed is more conventional in terms of its broadcast schedule and network, but a lot of these other shows I do are through Netflix or Hulu or whatever, and they tend to be much more flexible in their scheduling, which just means I’m working all the time.
PopHorror: For those budding enthusiasts or those wanting to get into composing, do you have any tips on what to do or what not to do? With everything that you know now, are there things you would have avoided?
Will Bates: Not really. I think the thing that I found most important is by being really confident, experimenting and believing in yourself and not being disheartened, because it’s a real rat race. It’s very competitive nowadays. But I really feel like there’s room for real expression in this game. That’s what people seem to be really drawn to, stuff that’s weird and experimental and exciting. So, I think not been afraid to push the limits a bit is important. Also, there’s relationships. Even if it’s going to a university and finding some budding filmmakers and scoring shorts like that for nothing is so vital. Start at the beginning and forge relationships that you can grow with.
PopHorror: Yeah, that’s good, yeah. So, my editor and chief, Tracy Allen, wants to know your favorite scary movie is.
Will Bates: (laughs) My favorite scary movie? Wow, ummm…. it’s probably The Shining.
PopHorror: The Shining! Fantastic!
Will Bates: Yeah, Wendy Carlos is another huge influence. I just generally like Kubrick’s use of music. Is just sublime!
PopHorror: Is there a project that you would like to get your hands on to score? Your dream gig. What would that be for you?
Will Bates: This sounds kind of bonkers, but I think I’d like to score a Bond movie when I grow up.
PopHorror: (laughs) Nice!
Will Bates: I’m a huge John Barry fan. What a fun gig that must be, to be able to play with that language. That and Dune!
PopHorror: Dune, ahhh!
Will Bates: I hear there’s a Dune remake on the horizon, and I was totally addicted to that when I was a kid. I couldn’t get enough of it.
PopHorror: It’s fantastic. Have you read the book?
Will Bates: I sure have!
PopHorror: So good…
Will Bates: Yeah, I’m very curious to see what’s going to happen with this new one.
PopHorror: Denis Viya-new-ay-vay. I think it’s Villeneuve or however you pronounce his name…
Will Bates: That right, yeah! There couldn’t be a better person.
PopHorror: Well, that’s all of my questions. Thank you so much for your time, Will. I really appreciate it.
Will Bates: Oh, thank you. It was good to chat.
PopHorror: Yeah, it’s been fun. I’m hoping your film is going to be really well received, especially the score, because that’s what my heart loves. I love scores in films. It was a real privilege to speak to you.
Will Bates: Thank you so much.
We want to send a great big THANK YOU to Will Bates for taking the time to talk with us. Stay tuned for an upcoming review of Depraved, as all as all of your other horror news, reviews and interviews!