Brian Tyler is easily one of the busiest composers around today, especially in the month of August thanks to the releases of movies for which he composed the scores (including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Into the Storm, and The Expendables 3). He even co-wrote and produced the theme song to TMNT, "Shell Shocked," under his solo project moniker, Madsonik, working with some great Hip-Hop artists of today. In Music Times' exclusive interview with Tyler, we learned just how he got into the world of composing for film, TV and video games, and even delved deeper into his upcoming projects - which includes Avengers: Age of Ultron and many others.
How did you get into composing music for film, TV, and video games?
Gosh, it goes way back. I was always interested in it, but to actually get the gig [laughing] it was a whole different process. I was writing music a lot; I was working in bands, writing songs ... but I was also writing classical music. I wrote this requiem piece that actually got a little bit of notice and eventually was brought into a small independent film (Bartender). I wrote it when I was back at Harvard and I was working as a session musician, too, so it was pretty early on.
After that, I mean, I got my music in a movie! From there I was able to get notice of some heads of music at studios, agents, and what not. Before I knew it, I was doing movies!
What was the first instrument you learned how to play? What would you say is your favorite instrument to write for or play unless they're the same thing?
The first instrument I learned to play was the drums. There was a drum kit hanging out because my parents got it for my older sister. I was really young and I started doing that and then about a year later- I was probably like four or something- and then I started playing piano the next year, and then guitar. One kind of just went into another. I just kept doing it!
I love the guitar and cello, but I love writing for drums and piano. I guess the instrument for me when I need to get my frustrations out, is drums. Drums are great for that. In writing for melody and orchestra ... definitely the piano is what I mostly go to.
It's funny because the thing that I use mostly now as a film composer is actually conducting. That's kind of the thing that is most often used, you know? Or I guess, most useful? But I always try to find a way to include the drums into my scores.
Two movies you've scored, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Into the Storm, both came out on the same date (Aug. 8). How would you compare or contrast the music that we can expect to hear on both of these films?
They're pretty different. One is very much along the lines of trying to capture the feeling of being stalked by a storm. At the same time it has a lot of emotion for humanity and the plight of mankind. It kind of has almost a heroic vibe to it. The Ninja Turtles music is straight up fantasy film, kind of more like classic sci-fi music - Raiders of the Lost Arc or Star Wars - things like that with kind of that John Williams sound, which I love doing. I find that the basic feel is just different. This superhero, kind of comic book vibe of the Ninja Turtles has just a tone that makes you feel like you're in a comic. So hopefully people get that vibe.
Also there's a song at the end, it's really fun, which is more like a Hip-Hop track that I wrote for the end titles that I did with Wiz Khalifa, Juicy J, Ty Dolla Sign, and Kill the Noise. It was fun; the whole project was great.
You produced and co-wrote this song, "Shell Shocked," as your electronic music project Madsonik. How was that experience collaborating with these Hip-Hop artists?
Yeah, it was cool. I found that trying to incorporate the comic book, superhero vibe into a Hip-Hop song was challenging. But it didn't even start that way, I was just asked to do a song for the end. I decided I wanted to do it with Kill the Noise initially, so we got together and started writing an electronic track. Before I knew it, we started getting this groove going, and it sounded more like a Hip-Hop song. We were like "hmm... I wonder if this would work." Sure enough, that's what it ended up being. We sent it out, we thought, "Let's see what some of our favorite rappers think of this." So we just got this wish list together and right up on that were Wiz Khalifa, Juicy J, Ty Dolla Sign, and a few others. But they really responded because they're huge fans of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and they liked the track. It just kept evolving and, before we knew it, we had a song.
The Expendables 3 hits theaters Aug. 15. You've written the music for all three Expendables movies. Was the composing process to these three movies different, did you have similar ideas or was it like a black slate each time?
We wanted to take the approach that there is a continuity of themes. So, we went in there with the thought that these themes would continue, but if there were new characters that enter the picture, we would do new themes. That's exactly what we did on this. There was a main Expendables theme, kind of like a Harry Potter, Star Wars, Raiders, or any of these movies that have themes that go throughout the films. We went for it.
I worked with Sly [Sylvester Stallone] before actually on Rambo in 2008. We kind of had a short hand and we wanted something that would stand up to reputed viewings and people that really wanted to see all the series together as kind of a cohesive whole. So, you can watch all three in the end and it makes musical sense.
You have a number of films coming out this month. Is this a common occurrence in your field - to get to see/hear the finished project, but also at the same time as other projects?
I haven't seen it like this in a long time. Ten years ago, I had it like this, three movies come out within a week. But I haven't had that in ages. So, yeah it is a little crazy [laughing]. But, you know, I'll take it. It happens to be that they stacked up like this. In fact, I finished Into the Storm at the very beginning of this year, before I started doing any of the Turtles stuff. You know, you just cruise through and hope for the best. The difficulty is rooting for your own movies when you run into something like this and they're all competing against each other [laughs].
Two of your big projects coming up in 2015 include The Avengers: Age of Ultron and Fast & Furious 7. What can you tell us about working on these films?
Yeah, I mean The Avengers - I am just a huge fan, so it's awesome working on that no question about it. Same with Fast! I've done a lot of the Fast & Furious movies; I've done a bunch of Marvel movies ... it always feels like home working on those. I am really excited. It's a huge responsibility doing these films. There's an emotional component to Fast & Furious 7 that is unique. I think people are really going to be amazed by it. And Avengers is just incredible.
You were just nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music for the Sleepy Hollow theme. How does that feel?
It's pretty crazy. You never expect it. It's definitely one of those, "whoa, really?" moments. I'm just happy; I worked hard on the theme and tried to make it something that people would remember. I'm glad that the voters recognized that!
Do you have any advice for upcoming composers that are trying to get into the industry?
The thing I find a lot of is that people who study film composition really are great composers (and that's something that's super important, obviously - you have to be able to compose) but the thing that is often overlooked is the film side of it. You really want to know film. I think it's important to learn about lenses, lighting, screenplays, pacing, and editing, and all that because when you work with a director, he speaks movie, he doesn't speak music usually. You want to be able to converse and translate for him what he wants out of his movie and music. In terms of the composing side, don't overlook different styles of music, the more you listen to, the more you're exposed to, the more well-rounded you're going to be.