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Sayonara, Baby!
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.

Family Ties
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.

Getting Inspired
"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 Goldsmith."

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 songs.

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."

Scoring Six-String
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 their man.

"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 vibe."

"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 Forbidden City.


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