Tyler Bates on scoring John Wick: Chapter 4: “we delved deeper into the Western idiom”

In a career spanning over two decades, Tyler Bates has become a force to be reckoned with in the world of film and television scoring.

As a composer, producer and musician, he’s collaborated with some of the biggest names in the entertainment business, including Zack Snyder, James Gunn, Jerry Cantrell and Rob Zombie. With his innovative spirit and fearless approach to music production, Bates has proven himself to be one of the most talented and visionary artists in the business.

He began playing in bands as a teenager and quickly developed a love for bands like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, which unmistakably shaped his approach to music composition and production – he’s known today for his infectious riffs.

Most recently Bates has been crafting frenetic and exciting scores for the monstrously successful John Wick franchise. Headliner caught up with Bates to discuss his work on the franchise and his approach to composing.

The first John Wick was a completely indie film so the box-office expectations were unknown!

Your score is integral to the John Wick franchise. What was different about your approach to composing the latest instalment, John Wick: Chapter 4?

The first John Wick movie was a completely indie film so the box-office expectations were unknown! For the first John Wick, co-composer Joel J. Richard and I were creating quite freely because there were no preconceived notions about what the music should sound like, other than being imbued with a rock sensibility.

With each subsequent film we were able to introduce new ideas but the list of familiar themes and motifs from previous films grows as well and provides an opportunity to further develop those initial ideas from early on, which is both challenging and fun.

With John Wick: Chapter 4 we delved deeper into the Western idiom and also more deeply into both electro and orchestral aspects for this score. The wide range of emotions throughout the film is what makes these films special and unique.

With John Wick: Chapter 4 we delved deeper into the Western idiom.

How do you compose in terms of pacing the music in order to avoid ‘action fatigue’ for an audience?

John Wick: Chapter 4 is entirely epic in scope and scale, and the goalposts were constantly moving until the printmaster, which means that most scenes are constantly evolving in a race against time. Joel and I did not work with a locked picture, which with action films is not uncommon.

Given that we created nearly four hours of music for a nearly 2 1/2 hour score, Joel and I relied on director Chad Stahelski’s lead to "punch" the moments he wanted to punch, "groove" through moments where he wanted the score to provide pacing without accentuating the action as closely, and then find a way to evoke atmospheric vibes throughout – in some cases to help create the calm before the storm or to simply add tension and emotion to the dialogue-heavy scenes.

Audiences seem to enjoy the intensity and constant stimulation that is part of the John Wick experience. Joel and I do our best to continually introduce new rhythms and colours to keep each sequence as fresh as possible.

John Wick 4 is entirely epic in scope and scale and the goalposts were constantly moving until the printmaster.

This is a notoriously fight-heavy franchise; how do you approach the contrast between the frantic action sequences and the quieter moments?

We cherish these scenes! We enjoy the graphic novel-like story-telling aspect of these films because there are always opportunities to do something weird or unconventional, and to also play unusual instruments.

Scoring action sequences is a fun task but every one of them requires a considerable amount of heavy lifting. Also, the dialogue-heavy scenes typically give us a break from the sound of gunfire, explosions, car crashes, punches, yelling, etc.

Scoring action sequences is a fun task but every one of them requires a considerable amount of heavy lifting.

Your daughter, Lola Collette is a songwriter and musician in her own right. Are you involved with her career at all?

I've had the privilege of watching Lola develop her talent from a classical pianist into a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. I've hired her as the pianist for numerous scores because she has a delicate emotionality to her playing.

She was in the orchestra on Guardians of the Galaxy 2, for which I hadn't considered the pressure of being the solo pianist with 90 other players at Abbey Road when she was 15 before hiring her! I don't know that I would've handled that pressure as well.

Her vocal and piano work can be heard on many of my film, television and theme park projects at this point. We have performed in bands together many times, including a performance with David Hasselhoff on the Howard Stern Show, and recent tours of Europe and the U.S. with Jerry Cantrell of Alice in Chains.

It was awesome playing shows with Metallica, Kiss, Alice Cooper and others, and sharing the moment with my daughter as a true professional. Lola will soon release a new EP with several videos in the coming weeks.

How did Lola get involved with the John Wick franchise?

In early 2022 Chad Stahelski asked if I knew of Maria Brink of In This Moment, because he is a fan and he wanted to see if Maria would sing a song for the film. Coincidentally, I was working with Maria and Chris from the band at the time and they are both big John Wick fans.

We wrote I Would Die For You with John Wick in mind but then Chad asked me to demo Nowhere to Run so we could test-drive an original performance of the song in an early cut of the film.

I was on tour with Jerry Cantrell at the time and Lola happened to be the opening act on that leg of the tour, so I asked her to sing a scratch vocal for the first pass of the song. We cut it live with everyone in the same room and I sent that track to Chad.

It wasn't until months later when it was time to record the final versions of the songs that Chad told me that he liked Lola's vocal when all along I was thinking that Maria Brink would potentially sing the final performance.

It worked out well because Chad also loves I Would Die For You and he wanted it to be the final song in the movie. It all turned out really well for everyone involved.

What are your top three go-to pieces of gear that you used on John Wick: Chapter 4?

I like experimenting with an old-school Access Virus and also on the software side I like to use Serum with my custom sounds. For atmospheres I have thousands of homemade ethereal and dirty sounds that I have made over the course of the past two decades that always provide inspiration and appear in all of the John Wick scores.

My Togaman electric Guitarviol is omniscient in each of the John Wick scores. It's a bowed instrument which causes guitar pedals (especially my fav EQD pedals) to behave uniquely to various bowing techniques. It's another source of sonic inspiration that has served me well over the years!

John Wick: Chapter 4 images via Lionsgate.