Brian Tyler and Six-String Samurai
By Jason Comerford
Spearheaded by rave reviews from Daily Variety and Internet cyberspy Harry Knowles,
Six-String Samurai has become the talk of Tinseltown and is being
compared to The Evil Dead and the films of the Coen Brothers for its
utter "coolness quotient." Tongues are wagging about the film's
director-cowriter Lance Mungia, cowriter-star Jeffrey Falcon, and, yes,
its composer, Brian Tyler.
Like so many careers, it all began with the family. Brian Tyler's
grandfather, Walter Tyler, was the Academy-Award-winning art director /
production designer of classic films including The Ten Commandments,
Shane, Samson and Delilah, and The Greatest Show on Earth. "He was an
artist first," Tyler remembers, "and a businessman second. He put
everything he had into the films that he worked on." His grandfather's
dedication and innovation inspired the younger Tyler to pursue his own
career in show business.
"My background is in classical music," Tyler explains. Music has come
fairly easily for him: he played in jazz and rock bands as a teenager,
and his grandmother was a classical pianist. However, it was Vertigo
that convinced him that there was something about music for films that
he would never be able to forget. "I saw a connection there," he laughs,
going on to rattle off a list of film composers that have shaped his
style: "Elmer Bernstein's score for Ten Commandments was one of the
biggies-- a lot of Bernard Herrmann, John Williams, Franz Waxman, Jerry
Musically, Tyler's style hearkens to Eastern cultural influences, shaped
by his education first as an undergraduate at UCLA and then as a
graduate student at Harvard. "The thematic structure [of my music] is
more classical," Tyler notes. "The sonic body is more contemporary. I've
done a lot of ensemble work, with a lot of cultural influences,
particularly Eastern influences. My musical theory and orchestrational
education were very classical. I've always studied non-Western music,
seeing as people want more Western and traditional music. Eastern music,
to me, seems to have a more vibrant feel."
After his schooling was completed, Tyler came to Los Angeles to look for
work, and found some rather quickly after he ran into Robert Kraft, who
had heard some of Tyler's music and encouraged him to pursue a career in
film scoring. He then met Gabe Torres, the director of a low-budget
ensemble piece called Bartender. After showing up at Torres' home and
demanding that he listen to a demo reel, Tyler's assignment for the film
was a tall one: a classically structured wall-to-wall score, plus 14
Torres himself was a film music aficionado, and his interest for
Bartender, Tyler says, was to have "emotive underscoring, more of an
ambient type of approach. Gabe wanted emotion as opposed to bringing
exposition to the music. He wanted stuff as far away from pop as
possible, like the Romantic era of classical music, piano, strings,
stuff like that. Real emotional music."
Bartender was a boon for Tyler. The producers of Six-String Samurai
heard Tyler's promotional recording of Bartender, and were looking for a
composer that could combine Eastern and Western elements. Tyler was
"We had a meeting," Tyler recalls, "and by the end of it, I was scoring
the film. We were really on the same page.
"The film takes you to a completely different time and place. Portions
of it are parody and homage, and the music comes from this." Tyler notes
that the musical lynchpin of the score is definitely the theme for the
errant Kid, an orphan that tags along with lead character Buddy (Falcon)
on his cross-country quest to Vegas.
"I wanted to get into the heart of
the film. There's a cue on the soundtrack ["A Mother's Hand"] that
really says it all. At the beginning of the film, there's a lot of fun
rock music, and by the end there's a lot of rich, emotional music."
There's even a token song, "On My Way to Vegas", that wasn't originally
intended to be. "Originally they wanted a score suite for the end title.
But instead, just for the fun of it, I took the hero's theme and made a
rock song out of it. That's the cue that ended up making the final cut."
Tyler recorded the song with his band, Jawah, and performed lead vocals
himself. He notes that his influences and inspirations for the score came from
a lot of different directions. "We wanted a definite Morricone / Hong
Kong vibe," he says. Six-String Samurai, because of the eclectic nature
of its music, utilized a lot of live instrumentation. Because of the
exotic instrumentation used, much of the score's primary orchestration
was done electronically. "I like it both ways," Tyler laughs.
And the final result? It's a keeper. Tyler's score for Six-String
Samurai is something else, a sweeping and stylish pastiche of Eastern
compositional structure and Western thematic interaction. Tyler's music
is deceptively simple, juggling its primary and secondary themes with
deft ease and consistently offering intriguing orchestrational
variations. Between its deft interplay of its two main themes (for the
Kid and Buddy) and its interaction with the darker, bad-guy themes, the
score is a marvel of intricacy, all the more astounding for the people
who commissioned it.
"I'm so lucky to have Brian," Six-String Samurai's cowriter-director
Lance Mungia notes, "because he was able to pull that all together. He
works miracles in short amounts of time. I feel that Brian is sort of a
Godzilla figure waiting to rise up out of the ocean-- I'm sure that I'll
read about him devastating Tokyo or something." Or, laughs Mungia, "at
least about him winning an Academy Award."
"It was really kind of a tall order for Brian to do," Mungia admits.
"There were a lot of things we liked, like Leone, Kurosawa, epic films
like Lawrence of Arabia. We wanted to have fun with it, and at the same
time make it fun and cool. We definitely wanted that East-meets-West
"I'm thrilled about Six-String Samurai's success," Tyler says. "It's
really not manufactured. You feel for the characters, because Lance and
Jeffery do too." And for inquiring minds, Tyler's score for Six-String
Samurai is indeed set for a commercial release once the film is released
theatrically in September. A 70-minute disc from Island has already been
mastered and is awaiting release.
Conquer Every Genre
"I want to continue to do it," Tyler says of film scoring. "Recognition
is OK, but I want to be able to hit pretty much every genre in my
career." Between Bartender and Six-String Samurai, Tyler is certainly on
his way. He's already scored Tommy Lee Wallace's thriller Final Justice,
and is slated to score Gabe Torres' A Night in Grover's Mill, and also
Lance Mungia's next project (as of this writing still in development and
looking for a distributor), a swashbuckling adventure called The