Wardriver Presents Meteocrity Vol. 1 by Meteo Xavier

Meteo Xavier talks about his original album and shares some insight on composing video game soundtracks.

I got the chance to chat with Meteo Xavier about his recent release Meteocrity Vol. 1. The album is a follow-up to his 2010 album Espers and is a collection of original material primarily composed on commission for video game developers. Meteo has made various connections with the arrangement community over the years, having been posted on OverClocked ReMix on more than one occasion and calling upon members to assist in the mastering of Meteocrity.

Among the things that inspired Meteo to put the album together, he noted that “I just got really sick of [the tracks] being on my hard drive purely unused after they failed to be published via the programmers and gaming leads that originally had hired me.” One of his intentions was to create a music portfolio for future video game commissions using the unreleased compositions. He also specified that, “I wasn’t in any position to do another major project like my previous album. My hope was to show I could do more than experimental-sounding, heavily layered atmospheric pieces.” He considers game composers as influences in his own video game music. “Like every pretentious kid with FL Studio and a bunch of free soundfonts, I studied them in hopes of eclipsing them in the grand delusion that is my foray into music. I would have to say I took to Motoi Sakuraba and Hiroki Kikuta the best. Their music was the easiest for me to learn and digest. My rather repetitious forms come from Kikuta and my tendency to completely change up my tracks and have them go on forever came from Sakuraba.”

Elaborating on the “strict commissioner demands” mentioned in the Meteocrity Vol. 1 release notes, Mateo had a lot to say: “Much of my early days trying to earn EXP as a composer were spent being far too naive and earnest for my own good. Granted I wasn’t very good years before, but I genuinely believed I could rise to the task of being a not-for-pay Mitsuda and Uematsu. I had no idea what I was getting into – a sentence that basically is my music career in a nutshell. Spending hours making changes, waiting weeks to hear responses, and then after much severe burnout finding out the tracks won’t work or the game is cancelled basically means ‘strict commissioner demands’ is the utmost generous term I can have for the freaks I used to work for.” Recently he has discovered more pleasant employer, stating “Mark Udit is my first paying employer and was good to work with. I’m currently working on a soundtrack for a Tower Defense game by Mike Bosetti for Android that I should be finishing up on.”

Meteo has expressed that his technique for composing video game scores and for creating standalone music are both the same. “I sometimes go in with a specific idea of what I want to do, but the music will not let me control it; it does what it wants to and my job as composer is basically to clean it up. Sometimes it starts with experimenting with sounds and structures and just playing around, and a lot of my music starts out as just practice or something I made that I kinda liked and saved to develop into something later.” He went into further detail on his process for creating a game soundtrack: “If I go in straight to do a new game track from scratch, I typically try to start with drums and bass to get a groove and some energy going first. I listen to it and see if I can build something off of it, then I go in for chords and rewrite the bass to accommodate the chords. I usually only do for about 4-8 bars and then add the accompaniment frills – arpeggiations, motifs, stabs, what have you – fill it up as much as I want, then I write a melody on top of it and use that for a start.”

Daniel “Usa” Lippert and Jordan “bLiNd” Aguirre were involved in the mastering of Meteocrity Vol. 1. Meteo described how this process came about: “When it came to do mastering for the album, the guy who was previously set up to help me basically screwed me and Usa offered to do it at a severely reduced price. bLiNd also mastered five tracks for me originally for a game I worked on in November 2010 and did a sweet job. I was extremely fortunate for their help and generosity. Daniel and Jordan are two of the nicest guys in all of Christendom and I will bludgeon anyone who says otherwise.”

Meteo explained his decision to release Meteocrity Vol. 1 on the Wardriver label. “I’m friends with my brothers’ old bandmate of whom I approached with the idea to do a free video game album for and he liked it. But at the time telling me he’d master it and put it on there, he was also putting off his commitment to me to go on tour twice and basically leave me in the lurch. I looked for other netlabels and there is a surprising dearth of them for just original video game material and someone finally said Wardriver. I quite liked the idea of working with them to get this album through and, I hope, help get even more traffic and attention their way. ThaSauce treats me with respect as an artist and I cannot let that favor (because that’s what it is these days) go unrewarded.”

Meteocrity Vol. 1 is available for free alongside other artist releases on Wardriver. Meteo expressed gratitude regarding the response to the album. “I want to thank everyone who has posted anything anywhere promoting, endorsing and enjoying this album. Plus those who helped me bring it to life in the first place.”

Double Interview: New EPs by Amphibious and ProjektZero

Amphibious and ProjektZero discuss their newly released original EPs and their connections to the arrangement community.

I recently got the chance to interview Amphibious and ProjektZero about their respective EP releases: Oceans and Getting to Know You. Both artists have associations with the arrangement community, so I asked them each about the stories behind the making of their tracks, their influences and how creative competitions have affected their work.

Amphibious – Oceans EP

Amphibious has gained a reputation for creating ambient, chilled music with fluid movement. To that end, his release Oceans is a concept EP, specifically referencing a journey through the sea as a topic. Amphibious explained his motivations for exploring a musical narrative. “I’ve always been told my songs remind people of water for some reason, and the ideas I came up with definitely had that vibe, so I decided to add a theme to my EP. It also sort of fits with the name Amphibious, which is cool too.”

Work on the album began in early June and continued over the summer. He stated that, “I’d been experimenting with music a lot over the last year or so. I got Komplete in May for my birthday, and I spent a few weeks learning the various things in the package. But for the most part, the songs I started never did get finished. One of my roommates and I were talking about how I didn’t really see many through to the end, so I decided I’d take this summer as an opportunity to change that. I sat down and got some ideas ready. That is when I started to work on my new songs for the EP.”

Meteo Xavier contributed the EP’s artwork. Amphibious initially created a cover image himself, and related an anecdote to that effect: “I knew my artwork was bad when I originally made it, but I figured something quick and shoddy would be better than nothing. I got a few comments on OC ReMix about how bad it was; Meteo in particular wanted to redo it himself and I guess he decided to whip something up quick. I’m really happy with it, he did it pretty quickly but it’s infinitely better than what I had before.  Many thanks to him.”

When asked about the contributing factors to his musical style, Amphibious noted that “This particular album had a lot of influence from David Arkenstone. He did a lot of world and Celtic music such as the tavern music in World of Warcraft, but he released a chillout album that I absolutely love. ‘Plunge’ in particular draws influence from that.  I would also say the Metroid Prime soundtrack has had some influence on me as well.”

The track “Pelagic Fortress” on the EP started off as an entry for a composition competition.  Amphibious shared his thoughts on time-constrained musical gatherings: “When I first heard about compo, it seemed like a cool idea, but two hours sounded so short.  However once I tried it, I was pretty amazed at what I could come up with in such a short time frame. ‘Pelagic Fortress’ in particular fit the theme of my album very well. Overall the compos definitely have helped me with efficiency. And having a theme given to you is sometimes a helpful way to come up with new ideas.”

Oceans EP is currently available at Bandcamp for free, or pay-what-you-want pricing. Amphibious is pleased with the response to the release, noting that “I’d still consider myself a bit of an amateur, and there have been some fair criticisms, but some people have really enjoyed my stuff and I’m very pleased with that.”

ProjektZero – Getting to Know You

Matt “ProjektZero” Rittinghouse identifies with the nerdcore scene, though his music has recently gravitated away from his rap roots and toward groove-based, melodic pop songwriting. His EP carries a unifying concept, as he expressed that “the theme with Getting to Know You is that I wanted each song to provide some glimpse at me as a person, or the things I feel. ‘Loop On’ deals with relationships; ‘331’ and ‘Mannequins’ deal with friendships and isolation; ‘The Stand’ deals with my geekier tendencies; and ‘Fake It’ deals with this sort of transition out from my teenage years.”

Untested Methods and zircon are credited with mixing on specific tracks. Matt explained how these collaborations came about: “I met Eric (Methods) at Nerdapalooza 2010. I’m a huge fan of a lot of his remixes, but I’m probably a bigger fan of the chiptune-infused synthpop style he has developed in his independent work. He and I are both music production geeks that use FL Studio, so we’ve been chatting fairly regularly since Nerdapalooza, and we’ve tried several efforts at collaboration along the way. This was just the first one that made it to a finalized, published product.”

Matt considers zircon and the OC ReMix community to be a great motivation and influence on his production. He elaborated on zircon’s contribution to the EP: “I’ve had zircon on my contacts list since he did a series of FL Studio production tutorials a few years back. I had been struggling very, very hard to mix ‘The Stand’. I’d worked on it for eight hours a day, for three days straight, and had finally just fallen into despair over mixing the song. So I shot zircon a message, and he graciously offered to help me out. He pretty much saved that track from falling apart.”

Getting to Know You includes a cover version of a song by Brad Turcotte called “Fake It”. Matt expressed his desire was to cover this song, and include it on the EP. “Through my old school nerdcore ways, I’m hip to a place called SongFight, where Brad is a regular competitor. I feel like I’m a broken record for saying it, but I’m a huge fan of his work, and his entire album Out of It is absolutely classic to me. I specifically chose ‘Fake It’ because I felt like it sort of encapsulated the changes that I went through in college. I think that song feels like every twenty-something’s anthem.”

JG Hollowell, also known as Mithurn, provided the second rhythm guitar heard on “Loop On”. Matt talked about how they both became acquainted: “JG is an old, old friend of mine. Probably since before I started making music, or at least somewhere around that time frame. I met him through an MMO, but it just so happened that he lived in Charleston close to me. I went off to college, but met back up with him shortly after I graduated.” Matt also remarked on their collaborative process by saying that, “He presents a whole different dynamic to songwriting when I work with him. I can’t just fall back into sequencing; I have to work live. I’m playing guitar and singing, trying to come up with melodies or chords on the spot. He has a lot more of a free jam session background, and I strongly respect that. ‘Loop On’ evolved from a jam between us.”

The track “Mannequins” on the EP originated as a track ProjektZero made for a compo. Matt expressed his thoughts on the composition competition experience, stating  “I absolutely feel that the compos benefited me. I’ve put out six albums since I’ve started doing them. Of course, most of those directly came from the compos. This new EP is more refined, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the compo experience. The advice and the high pressure trial-and-error was just invaluable to shaping my songwriting.” He agreed that the mannequin concept from One Hour Compo was somewhat unusual, but felt that “that’s what was liberating about it. I couldn’t get lost in the theme, specifically because it was obscure. So to really thrive with mannequins as a concept, you had to make it your own. And I think that’s what made that week’s theme probably my favorite one of the entire series so far.”

Getting to Know You is available now at Bandcamp with free or name-your-price options. The cover art was created by Brett Houston.

Metroid 25th Anniversary Fan Album Harmony of a Hunter Released

Metroid fan album director Darren discusses Harmony of a Hunter created with various members of the arrangement community.

This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of the Metroid franchise. I spoke with Darren, founder of the Metroid enthusiast website Shinesparkers, about the fan arrangement album he directed titled Harmony of a Hunter. The release features thirty-six tracks covered by twenty-four artists paying tribute to the Metroid series in a variety of genres.

Darren expressed his passion for the franchise and detailed his inspiration for taking on such an album project: “I noticed that Nintendo seemed quite focused on celebrating the 25th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda franchise, and I felt that Metroid was becoming overlooked. So I thought to myself that if Nintendo can’t do anything to mark my favourite franchise, then I would. It turns out that I wasn’t alone because a lot of people in the community wanted the anniversary to be marked and this is what gave me the determination to make this project work.” Darren also felt that music of the series was deserving of tribute, as he states  “Metroid has a great deal of memorable music that compliments the atmosphere that the series gives”.

The project began in December 2010 and involved a great deal of artists and other specialists in its creation. Darren spoke of how his communication skills came of use in directing the album, which he felt was an crucial component of directing the project: “In my opinion, communication is the key element to ensuring a project like Harmony of a Hunter works. I worked as closely as I could with people and offered suggestions and critique on certain tracks. I offered my thoughts where I felt they were needed but never pushed, demanded or limited the creative flow of the individual. If I did, the album would never have had the diverse range of talent that we have. I also feel that the project would have become more of a chore than a celebration. Asking for a track to be handed in by a certain date with no further communication just wouldn’t work.”

Harmony of a Hunter carries a wide selection of styles and genres. Darren expressed his views on this eclecticism and the cohesiveness of the release as a whole: “I feel the diversity of the album was important because I wanted an album that would appeal to as many people as possible.” He commended Lee “The Orichalcon” Barber’s mastering of the album under the circumstances, as he reveals that “Lee has done a great job at blending some of these tracks into others which surprisingly, flow very well. Due to the nature of the project this was always going to be a tricky to master, but Lee has previous experience with mastering projects and I trust his judgment and his skills.”

Darren reached out to the OverClocked ReMix community when he conceived the project: “I have always admired musicians such as The Orichalcon, DarkeSword, zircon… and in the early days of the project I wouldn’t have even dreamed that they would have contributed to this. I am so very thankful that they did because their contributions have been excellent.” At one point, some discussion had taken place regarding possible endorsement as an official OC ReMix album; however due to Darren’s goal of releasing it on the Metroid anniversary, this was not feasible.

Harmony of a Hunter is available now at the Shinesparkers fan site, which features exclusive content related to the Metroid franchise. The album landing page was designed with the help of Erik “VikingGuitar” Peabody, incorporating artwork contributed by Nate “FoxxDragon” Horsfall.

Thomas Nelson, remixer Ghetto Lee Lewis discusses his Rainless Days album

Video game arranger Thomas Nelson aka Ghetto Lee Lewis talks about his original debut album.

Thomas Nelson, better known in the arrangement community as Ghetto Lee Lewis (GLL), took some time to answer a few of my questions regarding his recent original album Rainless Days. It is the first album he has ever released, featuring somber and reflective solo piano. Nelson is no stranger to the remixing community; several of his tracks are posted on OverClocked ReMix covering games from Dragon Warrior to Tales of Phantasia in the style of trance. With Rainless Days, he uses his raw skill on the keys for an assortment of self-composed material.

As he mentioned in the description of his album page, the release “marks a transition in my life, going from a failed marriage and life of depression to being able to move on with my life and find happiness once again.” He elaborated further on this period of change:  “My wife filed for divorce back in March I think, and so I had to move out. We were married for just over two years. I’ve been living in an apartment with a roommate since then.” Nelson remarked on the album’s title, and how lack of rain “is a metaphor for the emptiness and loneliness I’ve felt for much of my life.” In his Nevada residence, the desert climate is such that rainfall is seen as a special and uplifting event.

Nelson started work on the album on June 6, 2011 and developed it over the course of the month. “I recorded “Song for Miku” about a week before I started on the other tracks.” He noted that the majority of Rainless Days was composed and recorded in about seven days, and completed over three weeks. Nelson produced the album himself and used a mastering preset created with the help of Prophecy. The release carries a floral motif, particularly a rose on the album cover and the song titles “Roses in June” and “Sunflowers”. Nelson acknowledged this as being a deliberate theme. “Flowers are often a symbol of beauty and romance. They can also signify change, since flowers bloom, they wilt, and they die.”

As Nelson specified, the album “was performed on a Casio WK-1800 76 key keyboard, recorded to MIDI into FL studio. The samples are from Tonehammer Emotional Piano sample library.” Nelson has been outspoken on his views of performance versus sequenced piano, which he reaffirms when he cautiously states, “The interpretation of dynamic changes during a performance isn’t supposed to mathematically follow what’s written on paper. Any experienced performer knows this and is able to give music proper rhythm and emotion during a performance. However, it’s just simply not easy to put down on a sequencer.” He also prefers to play an acoustic piano rather than a keyboard, but is unable to move one into his apartment for the time being. “I hope to upgrade my gear to a more playable MIDI controller, probably to a Yamaha KX-88.”

Two songs on Rainless Days make direct references to people with whom he has been acquainted: “Song for Miku” and “Jenni’s Song”. He explained, “I met Miku playing an online chat game, and kind of fell in love with her. I was going through severe depression at the time and she inspired me to actually do something about it. We had kind of a falling out later, but that’s beside the point. I met Jenni playing that same chat game, and became good friends with her.” He was informed of an attack that caused her to be taken to a hospital. “Her song was really just about how I cared about her and didn’t want to lose her. Luckily, she had a speedy recovery, and she’s fine now.”

Nelson is an avid participant in competition compositions. He recalled the time when his interest in compos began. “I met starla during a Las Vegas meetup, and she told me to start participating in One Hour Compo. I’ve entered a few other ones in the past, just because I thought it would be fun, and I had friends who were entering to compete against. So I’ve done OHC on ThaSauce a few times; I’ve done FLMC, PRC, BEER (on OC ReMix), and a few others.” Although compos are generally done to hone one’s craft, he also stated that he hasn’t “really participated in enough of them to improve my efficiency. If anything, I think recording this album helped improve my efficiency of creating new music.”

He acknowledges many inspirations for his music in general. From within OCR, Nelson cites Prophecy, bLiNd, DJ Carbunk1e, FFmusic DJ, Spekkosaurus, Russell Cox, goat, Sir NutS and SgtRama. Outside the community, his influences include Rachmaninov, Beethoven, Robert Miles, Tiësto, Rammstein, Danny Elfman, Nightwish, Juno Reactor, Master P, Dr. Dre, Journey, Guns N’ Roses, Enya, Nobuo Uematsu, Koji Kondo and Koichi Sugiyama.

Rainless Days is available on Bandcamp to stream for free, or as a paid download. Nelson hopes that listeners will support him though his commercial release. “By supporting my music you’re helping me pay rent, buy food, and make more great music. Recommend it to your friends and family too. Thanks!”

Brandon Strader discusses his album, Always Remember

Video game arranger Brandon Strader talks about his recent original album featuring guests from the remixing community.

I asked Brandon Strader some questions about his recent release Always Remember, an original album developed in a two-year period and covering a diverse selection of styles. It is the follow-up to his 2008 album Life and features guest artists from the fan arrangement community. He described his experience working on Always Remember as an “emotional rollercoaster”, though he was quick to cross out or miniaturize this phrase in promotional materials.

Brandon joined OverClocked ReMix at around the age of 15, in 2001. “It was Final Fantasy VII that got me interested in game music back in 1998, and I submitted and failed a Kingdom Hearts remix in 2001, so… OCR can be directly linked to me using and learning Fruity Loops to say the least! But without that knowledge, I wouldn’t be where I am today.” He made a number of connections through the community and culled talent for his Teen Agent arrangement album The Root of All Evil, released in 2010.

The download package for Always Remember includes photos of various collaborators on the album. Brandon explained, “I just tossed ’em in so people could see if they wanted. The pictures are also on the trailer on YouTube.” All the guests featured on the album are members of OverClocked ReMix: Michelle Kwan goes by the handle rhapsodos; Beth Carter releases works under the name Wildfire; and Deia Vengen is DragonAvenger, an OCR judge.

Daniel Lippert, better known in the arrangement community as Usabell, was responsible for the drumming on Always Remember. Brandon had contacted him in the initial stages of development. “I had some ideas and sent him full MIDIs of the songs once they were written so he could play drums… Most of the songs weren’t even written at the time. It’s been a couple years but I remember asking him pretty early on, if not the first thing then pretty close.” Brandon was also very accepting of Daniel’s feedback. “I’d take it from Usa. He’s already helped me a ton with learning some production tricks.”

Brandon’s interest in the community extended to composition competitions. One of his first One Hour Compo entries made quite an impression in 2009. In “My Kitty” he sang about a kitten being his favorite thing, and he meowed on microphone using AutoTune. He went on to pitch-control an actual cat with the Antares software in another entry, continuing an apparent feline theme. For compo he later wrote “Out of Control” that also deals with animals, depicting chaos in the forest and all the wildlife eating each other. Comical munching and growling can be heard under the layered guitar work.

He eventually reworked “Out of Control” as a song for Always Remember. Brandon reached out to Ben “bjkmenu” Kimble to redo the vocal, and he happily obliged. “He really wanted to do it ‘cause he loved that song. [The tracks] ‘I See’ and ‘Thankful’ also have bits from OHC. I wrote stuff that I thought was fun or nice, and they became full songs.”

As the name implies, the song “For My Parents” was created with Brandon’s mother and father in mind. “I made it for my parents with my 7-string guitar. I think it’s the first solo I ever recorded with it, nice whammy bar usage in it. It’s almost like a Dragon Ball Z stand-off song. I may make more songs in that style on future albums (For My Parents Part 2?) and have them all link together stylistically.”

The album is dedicated to the memory of Brandon’s great grandmother Maxine Strader, as well as Gregory Burr. He was “a cousin who shared my birthday, but was older, a father of a good friend who had a newborn baby at the time he passed.” Brandon noted that the album itself carries a somber tone in some of its tracks. Always Remember is his first mass-produced album, and is limited to 100 physical copies. It is free to download from Bandcamp, and both the CD and digital version contain tracks exclusive to each other.