A week or so ago, I was trying to come up with shiny new features for this not-so-shiny old blog of mine. I really wanted to come up with something that I could get lots of different people involved in, so I just sort of floated out to a group of blog-world friends the notion that maybe I'd want to do something and maybe I'd like for them to be a part of it.
The eloquent and fashionable Kim of LaterLevels outdid herself (and my expectations) by not only responding to say that she'd like to be involved, but also pretty much coming up with the entire concept for me. So major props and credit to her for devising the format of this brand-new feature, and for being its first guest!
This is Musical Mayhem, in which I conduct an extremely professional interview with some of my Internet Friends about their tastes in music – specifically game music, of course – and then I compose a little track for them based on what they've told me about their likes, so hopefully they enjoy having something written specifically for them! It's sort of like them getting to commission their own theme tune, except nowhere near as expensive. Or as good, most likely, but eh.
Anyway, this is the first instalment of that! What follows is pretty much just a very-slightly-neatened-up transcript of the chat I had with Kim about… well, it was supposed to be mostly about game music, but it might have taken a couple of meandering routes along the way. I enjoyed it a lot, though, so… if anyone else wants to be involved, let me know!
MUSICAL MAYHEM: INTERVIEW #1
So, Contestant Number One! What's your name and where do you come from?
Well, Graham, my name's Kim and I'm from sunny Essex! *waves at audience*
*enthusiastic applause* I don't know how many people will get the Blind Date reference, but it's as good a way to start an interview as any, I reckon.
So… music. Music is a thing.
A beautiful, beautiful thing.
Without thinking about games for a second, what kind of music do you tend to listen to?
Oh, that's easy: definitely 80s! Give me a bit of synth and I'm a happy girl.
So if I were to play you a little bit of… wait, what's even 80s?
Oh, dear. You young things.
Hey, now. I'm just not very good at organising stuff by decade. Er… A-Ha?
Yup – A-Ha, Simple Minds, Human League, Chaka Khan, all that good stuff.
So is that the kind of stuff you grew up with?
Yep! I was born in the early 80s so I guess it reminds me of my childhood. My parents were big on Madonna and Michael Jackson at the time, that sort of thing.
See, the music I was brought up with would be stuff like… Busted and Blue and McFly and S Club 7 and that sort of thing. 90s kid, mate.
You poor thing!
Don't you diss the 90s! It was glorious cheese.
Oh, I remember – it was that age when I became old enough to go to bars and everywhere was all about the cheesy pop!
AKA the best time. I'd rather have that constantly playing in bars than the stuff that's on these days – not that I'm like 'ALL MODERN MUSIC SUCKS', but I really can't stand a lot of the things that seem to be popular right now.
Totally agree! I know I'm in danger of sounding like my parents… but most modern stuff really does sound the same to me. I can't really tell it apart. Maybe that's just a sign that I'm getting old, though!
You're alright, I've felt like an old man since I was about twelve. Pretty sure I've been using the phrase 'kids these days' since my early teens. Back to music and games and whatnot, though: would you say your gaming experience is shaped by 80s culture too, like your taste in music?
Very possibly. It would explain why I tend to gravitate towards point-and-clicks and things with pixel art. In terms of game music, I really like stuff with an 80s vibe: Hotline Miami, for example. It's not my cup of tea as a game, but the soundtrack is great.
That is an excellent soundtrack.
And you can't beat the GTA radio stations!
Was GTA the first to do that? Whoever came up with having multiple radio channels in a game was a very smart dude. I really liked how SSX3 did it: you could make your own playlists from the tracks on the radio stations.
GTA did it very well; great music, but also presented in a way that totally fits in with the game.
So what were some of the early games lil' Kim played that got you started on gaming? And which of their soundtracks stuck with you? I'm guessing GTA wasn't one of your childhood first games.
The Secret of Monkey Island was the first game I ever played properly – finished on my own, I mean. Weirdly, there's an 80s song by Howard Jones called 'Like To Get To Know You Well', and whenever I hear the intro, it really reminds me of the Monkey Island theme tune! Before that, though, there was a Commodore 64 game called Bonecruncher, which had a theme tune that sounded just like 'Blue Monday' by New Order.
So basically, games with soundtracks that sound sort of 80s-ish seem to have stuck with ya.
Yeah, at least those from my childhood!
I mean, is that possibly just because the games were in the 80s, so their soundtracks were always likely to be in line with the music of the time (which we already know you're happily into)?
It definitely makes sense! I guess it's that whole nostalgia thing: anything that takes you back to the days before jobs and responsibilities is going to make you feel nice and warm and cosy.
That is very true. I'm not really sure off the top of my head what era this is, but the sound of things like Banjo-Kazooie always makes me feel nice and fuzzy.
Here's one for you as a 90s child, though: the theme tune from the first Tomb Raider game. I actually did my Dance GCSE coursework using that music; my brother was playing the game constantly back then, and it was always stuck in my head!
Now that's a classic. A few of the Zelda tracks have always stuck with me, but weirdly not always the famous ones like Zelda's Lullaby or the main theme. My absolute favourite is probably the end credits from Wind Waker, which is a bit obscure as Zelda music goes.
My stepson started playing Ocarina of Time a while back. I've lost count of how many times I've heard the Sun's Song recently…
Yeah, I think maybe just the number of times I've had to play some of the tunes in-game might have put me off listening to them.
Definitely. There's only so many times you can listen to the same song before it gets on your nerves!
The amount of times I've had a FAVOURITE SONG EVER and just listened to it too many times and gone right off it is… a lot of times.
My stepson's currently playing Minecraft with the Fallout skin pack. At first it was great, because all the jazz tracks made a nice change, but give it a few more weeks…
Oh, gosh, Fallout does have some good tunes, though.
Ethan is getting really into jazz now because of it. It's nice to see him listening to something other than the usual 'manufactured pop' aimed at kids.
I got a bit into jazz a while ago, but then I got distracted by industrial metal. I go through weird phases of listening to different genres and nothing else.
Industrial metal?! I don't even know what that is… I'm so out of touch!
It's pretty much exactly what it sounds like! Oh, and Babymetal, who are a beautiful mix of J-pop and death metal. I don't like a LOT of heavier stuff, but some of it just gets right in me bones and makes me want to headbang.
Well, that sounds… unique.
Oh, yeah, it's glorious.
That's my other half's preference: give him some death metal or punk and he's right in his element. He hasn't managed to convince me yet, though.
Some of it's really good, when it's actually musical; I can't get into the ones that are just angry yelling and hitting things loudly, y'know? Too much for me.
That's the kind of stuff he plays in the car when I'm not with him!
My partner's dad sort of got me into it; he was a proper metalhead back in the Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper sort of days.
He does have good taste, though, put me onto Pink Floyd (obviously I knew of them, but hadn't properly listened to much) and a few other things… dads are funny with music sometimes. Like, mine pretty much only ever really listens to two or three bands he really liked in the 70s that nobody else has ever heard of.
Mine is binging on Rod Stewart right now. Seems like every song is his 'favourite song'! I guess it's a nostalgia thing for dads too.
Mine will literally email my work address with links to YouTube videos of Steely Dan or the Doobie Brothers any time he finds one.
Steely Dan? Doobie Brothers?! These are arcane to me!
They are some great names, right?
One of my favourite songs from a game is 'Everything's Alright' from To The Moon. I don't usually do ballads, but it's just so beautiful – I really love the lyrics. I cried like a baby when I played the game, so now I get a tear in my eye whenever I hear the song… *sniff*
Ohhhhh, don't even get me started on To The Moon. That OST! Every track is just so… perfectly suited to what's happening.
OMG, I've found someone who loves it as much as I do!
I think that's the mark of a good soundtrack: it can have awesome tracks, which would be great and all in a stand-alone sort of sense, but to be truly… I don't know what the word is. To properly achieve what it's supposed to do, it just has to fit. Like, To The Moon's soundtrack would still be good if you separated it from the game, but it wouldn't be half as good if it was actually BioShock's OST or something. Each individual track would still be amazing, but it just wouldn't work. I guess that's where OSTs are different from just 'normal' music.
There's definitely something about OSTs that make them special. It should be the case that you can hear the tracks and be instantly transported back to the time you played the game, or the particular scene or quest, even.
Oh, yeah, some of the tracks from Pokémon bring back really specific memories for me of being a kid in my room, playing late at night.
You're totally right about the music having to fit in order to achieve its goal, though. Like, that's what makes the GTA soundtracks so great: they might all consist of all sorts of different genres, but they're delivered in such a perfect way that adds to the world. Plus the radio ads are awesome! I think that's why I like 'Everything's Alright' so much. They couldn't have had a better song for that moment in the game; it suits it perfectly. The tune… the lyrics… the emotion! *sniffle*
Too much emotion in that darn game, and the OST really is a huge part of it.
Can't wait for Finding Paradise – hopefully it'll be as good as To The Moon! I wasn't all that keen on A Bird Story, though…
I haven't played Bird Story – is it actually a sequel or just a sort of similar thing by the same devs?
If I remember correctly, it was a sort of 'teaser' for Finding Paradise. The boy in the story grows up to be the man in the new game, who's being treated by Eva and Neil.
Huh. And Finding Paradise is going to be… an actual sequel?
From what I can gather, yeah, but with a different patient. Not sure if he's related to Johnny and River somehow, but I'm already getting the tissues ready.
It'll probably turn out to be one of the kids from To The Moon. Or Neil. Oh, lord, that would be devastating if it turned out that this time we were going through Neil's life!
To The Moon did hint at a problem with Neil at the end… hmm. I can feel the tears brewing already! And if there's a track as emotional as 'Everything's Alright'… well, damn, we're done for.
We may as well just be dead already, let's face it. We're guaranteed to die of feels one way or another.
Oooh, we need to do a joint Let's Play when it comes out!
ALL THE YES.
AWESOME. Not out 'til late 2017, though, so a while to go yet.
I'm kind of very slowly doing a To The Moon one at the moment – you could jump in on that if you wanted! My 999 one with Jonez is kind of taking up all my LP time right now, though.
One more game worthy of mentioning: have you played Proteus?
Never have, but I'm pretty sure it's sitting in my Steam library.
Play it and listen to the soundtrack!
I shall certainly do so. Right… last question.
What I'm going to do is compose you a track. So the question is: what sort of music do you want to hear? I'm guessing a little bit 80s-inspired, maybe some synths?
I would like… something that makes you feel like the future is bright and anything is possible.
Wow, that's… a heck of a mission statement.
I have faith in your talents!
And now, through the magic of editing… it's like Blue Peter, here's one I composed earlier. (Secretly, that interview took place about a week ago, and I've been writing the track since, but nobody ever need know!)
So before you hear it, let me tell you a bit about it. I wanted to do something that would be sort of uplifting, which is actually really hard to do without being just super cheesy happy, and also maybe a little bit 80s-inspired, but not too much. Plus maybe some gaming-style influence in there. I was really struggling – plus, let me remind you, I use shitty free software so the sound quality sucks, which doesn't help.
I was thinking 'what's uplifting but not too much?', and I thought of this song called 'Life is Life' by Noah and the Whale, which has always sounded just slightly 80s-influenced to me, at least the opening. So what I did is I literally just lifted the opening chords of that song and built from there!
Then I stuck in something a bit simplistic, like what 80s games had to work with, then I hummed until I found a chorus I sort of liked and stuck that in there too. One thing I'm really bad at is doing the shifts between sections and joining them together, so what we've ended up with is pretty much just a load of sections that I quite like but which may not fit together. I feel like the slapped-together feel might help to make it feel a bit uplifting in a homemade sort of way, though!
And so, named for 'Everything's Alright', this is 'If It's Not Alright Now, It Will Be Soon (For Kim)'. And you can listen to it… now. Here it is!
This is bloody awesome! The chords are perfect – I listened to the Noah and the Whale song and I can see (hear?) the influence. I don't know how you did it, but I can hear a bit of 'Everything's Alright' in there too!
There is actually a second bonus track. I won't be doing this for everyone, but… well, when I did 'This Moment's a Big One, Probably', that was the first time we spoke; you used it for the GamelyGiving video, which led me to get chatting with you and eventually get involved in the Question of the Month over at LaterLevels, and because of that I've now made a lot of friends! So it's a special one.
Aw, that's really sweet! Turns out it was indeed a pretty big moment, then.
Yeah, weirdly appropriate.
Now I just need to write one called 'Chris Makes Lots of Money'…
Now that sounds like it would be a proper banging tune.
Oh, yeah, dubstep all over the shop. Anyway... I've redone 'This Moment'. This is a new version, an 'end credits' sort of version, called 'Perhaps This Moment's Bigger, Perhaps Smaller'. I'm actually quite proud of it; it builds up to something I'm pretty happy with.
I love them both! Definitely worthy of being included in videos, and I'm absolutely totally very pleased with them.
Just for the sake of interview-reaction-stuff, what do you like about your track and is there anything you'd improve? Or any particular influences you can hear, or would have liked to hear more of?
It's perfect as is. There's a bit of an 80s influence, but not too much, and I can totally imagine it being in a game.
That's cool! It started as more of a 'song' compared to the 'tracks' I usually come up with; there's more of a bit that sounds like it would be vocals, some verses and choruses and whatnot, but it still ended up a leeeetle bit gamey.
I can see it being in the credits, with a nice little cutscene at the end. One that implies the trouble is over, and who knows what adventure is next in store?! I can hear the bit you're talking about, by the way – I thought that would suit vocals.
I don't usually do a 'vocal' line. Guess it was the fact that an actual song influenced it. To be honest, I don't exactly have much of a musical process; it's mostly just 'let's stick a load of notes there and see what happens'.
Maybe it was the vocal-y bit that reminded me of 'Everything's Alright'. And hey, it's more organic that way.
I'd love to be able to write an actual song as beautiful as that one.
Just don't get me to sing it – I sound like a strangled cat!
We should totally have a karaoke sesh with all the gang.
That would be awesome! I love karaoke. Can't sing to save my life but give me a G&T and a mic, and in my head I'm awesome.
Exactly! Nobody's good at singing when it's karaoke, that's the whole point.
Especially not with the rubbish 80s songs I end up picking…
Even better! Anyway, thank you very much indeed for being my first… victim? Subject? Participant.
It was a lot of fun! [At this point, Kim sent me a picture of her cat by way of thanks. It was very adorable.] May this be the start of a beautiful series.
Oh, and thanks for coming up with the concept, too.
No worries, but if you ever do make that money track, I want 20% of the profits.
And that about wraps it up, so BIG BIG MAJOR THANK YOU AGAIN to Kim for being such an awesome participant, and hopefully there'll be a next time!