In anticipation of the June 4th release of the Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (Vocal Tracks) Vinyl, Sumthing.com blogger Geno Anthony caught up with composer Jamie Christopherson to discuss the making of this face-melting soundtrack. Be sure to pre-order your vinyl here. Preview tracks and purchase the digital album now at Sumthing.com!
Geno: You know… I have to say…. Since the score for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was introduced into my daily life a few weeks ago, it’s all I listen to. I am constantly late for work, taking all manner of scenic routes just to hear “Red Sun” one coveted last time before having to clock in. You have indoctrinated me. What was your first initial plan for scoring Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance?
I definitely aimed to write solid songs that would accompany the gameplay perfectly, but could also easily be listened to on their own outside of the game, so I’m really glad to hear that you’re having fun driving around to the music (while your boss must not be as pleased). Once you hear the songs play during the boss battles, I could only hope that if you hear the music away from the game it makes you remember that battle all over again – and subsequently want to pick up the game to play again!
Geno: This is a bold score with lots of vocals, a generous helping of them. Let’s talk about those vocal tracks. Do you find it difficult to write songs for others to sing? Is it hard to give an artist creative control over pieces you have written? Do you sing?
We basically wrote and produced a whole album worth of vocal songs for the game (13 songs). The songs were written without any of the singers attached to them, and then we had auditions to find the best suitable singer for each boss song. We chose the singers based on the natural quality of their voice and signature style, and we wanted them to sing the boss songs as they would on their own albums, with as minimal acting required. The biggest exception to that was the track “Red Sun” which actually started out with more of a power metal style vocal. But we changed that on the spot while recording the singer Jason Miller, who had such a great low evil tone that we couldn’t resist.
Geno: What do you see as being the central musical piece in Rising? Which tracks did you have the most fun working on?
Actually there is a short and simple “Raiden” central theme that happens quite a lot in the score. You can hear it in the opening menu for the game and throughout many of the cinematic cutscenes. That theme also appears in a version during the song for the last battle with Armstrong, called “It Has to Be This Way”. I had the most fun working on the songs that required a lot of collaboration; for example working with Logan Mader on “It Has to Be This Way” and “Collective Consciousness”, as well as the many talented co-writers on the end credit song “The War Still Rages Within”.
Geno: “Return to Ashes” is a great example of the type of cadence, the forward motion you feel while playing as Raiden. It propels Raiden at his enemies, charging them. It’s caustic, like a vortex sucking all fluids from your body starting with the saliva in your mouth–there is a palpable dread in it. Do you think this sort of momentum could have been achieved using a more traditional symphonic approach?
We purposefully chose to transition to hardcore heavy metal / electronica during intense battles for exactly this reason, to increase the intensity and momentum. Many of the stages have orchestral background music actually (albeit there are electronic elements), so if we kept orchestral music going into these more intense battles I don’t believe it would have had the same jarring effect. It was a thin line that I had to walk between adding extra energy and still sounding like other parts of the game.
Geno: “The War Still Rages Within”, “The Hot Wind Blowing” and “Collective Consciousness” are quite emotional. While they may wear heavy armor, they ache at their core. These songs, along with “Dark Skies” and “Rules Of Nature”, start to form a complete story arc. Did you approach these vocal tracks as a chance to tell Raiden’s story from another perspective? Did you feel any sort of attachment to Raiden’s character after the recording sessions wrapped?
All of the boss battle songs are written from the perspective of the boss. So while there are certainly many similarities in character traits between Raiden and the other bosses, it wasn’t intended to be about Raiden. The exceptions are the lyrics in “It Has to Be This Way” where the line is blurred between Armstrong and Raiden, and the end credit song, “The War Still Rages Within”, which can be considered Raiden’s anthem. Living with Raiden for such a prolonged period of time I certain felt a connection to him and to “let ‘er rip”!
Geno: Where do you usually get your best ideas for compositions and songs? Anything in particular you like to do before heading into a studio? For “Rising”, were you given visuals and storyboard materials to draw inspiration from?
Fortunately, I was able to see some early video and pictures, which isn’t always the case. And I had the background information on Raiden and all of the bosses, which was really detailed and in-depth. Kojima Productions and Platinum Games had some very clear suggestions on where I might find inspiration for the lyrics for the songs. For example, many of the boss names refer to different wind conditions in parts of the world, so I would research those to get lyrical imagery for the song.
Geno: High tension and relief must be a difficult thing to repeatedly score. Rising’s “caution”, “evasion” and “battle” suites are particularly strong. They are referred to as “Ambushed” and “Ambushed Low Key”. Do you put yourself into the protagonist’s shoes? Is it simply a matter of combining a number of pieces into one cohesive blueprint? It feels like you’re on the battlefield, band and orchestra literally inches behind, stalking, watching.
It is a challenge to constantly keep the game player on their toes and alert in a game, and music has a big part to do with that. If you are intense (or repetitive) the whole time you run the risk of the player pushing the mute button on the remote, and if you are too boring or quiet then the player won’t be engaged enough. On this game it really helped that the developer would tell me very specifically what scene (including music I’d previously written) was going to come before and after the one I was currently scoring. In that way I could make sure I could take a bigger picture approach.
Geno: “Domestic Scars”, “Black Sea” and “The Other Face Of The City” have a mixture of rock and international music. It has many layers, and through repeated listening I keep finding things I hadn‘t heard before. Was it difficult to merge these elements and stay true to both influences? By the way, you have these absolutely gorgeous, subtle guitar lines in all three tracks. I took a plane and three trains just to make sure you knew that.
Thank you for noting those nice guitar lines! I did mix in some ethnic instrumentation for certain sections of the game, based on what it looked like to me. Of course, these are all fictional places so I kind of had to use my imagination and come up with a sound that to me was futuristic, exotic and familiar. That’s the great thing about writing music is that you can blend all of these things together to form a completely new sound altogether.
Geno: You were tasked with both the in-game compositions as well as the vocal tracks. Were these works done concurrently or was one half-completed before the other? Was there anything particularly challenging about either part of the project?
The songs were started very early on and took the longest amount of time to complete. But I was working concurrently on both the songs and the in-game score up until the very end of the process. The songs were the most challenging because we wanted to really strike the right balance and blend between many styles, in doing so we wanted to come up with a completely original style that hadn’t really been done exactly in that way before. So there wasn’t much of a blueprint, which turned into a great thing in that we had to feel our own way in the dark for a little bit before coming out into the super bright light.
Geno: Rising is something that would greatly benefit an audience by being played in arenas and clubs. It has everything it needs to go on tour. Tell me, do you have any additional live performance plans? To that end, do you prefer live performance over studio recording or vice versa?
We did have a live show for the launch of the game in Hollywood. It was a lot of fun and the fans there were really into it. But rehearsing the band and getting multiple singers together for a performance definitely requires a lot of logistics and time. These songs are very complicated to perform live (especially for the guitarists)!
Pick up the MGR:R vinyl right here!
Geno: Your name carries with it a wealth of musical projects–you compose music for television, film and video games. When did you first start playing music? What instrument did you start with? Is there an instrument you don’t like playing?
I don’t play guitar that much, which served as a unique challenge on this project because all of the songs were guitar driven. So I found some great keyboard virtual instruments that emulated guitar enough to allow me to write quickly and legitimately. But then we hired real guitar players to perform the parts for real. I’ve been playing music pretty much my whole life.
Geno: Would you say you’re more of a Pac-Man or Galaga player? Or are you more fond of side-scrolling games like Double Dragon?
Galaga! Gotta make sure your first ship is caught in the tractor beam.
Geno: Thanks so much for your time, Mr. Christopherson. We at Sumthing look forward to your future projects with wild anticipation. Is there anything else you would like to add, or tell our readers about before you head back to the studio?
Thanks so much for your support of the Metal Gear Rising game and soundtrack!
Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.