Video game music has come a long way since the 8-bit days of bleeps and bloops. Even though we've moved onto epic scores and live orchestra recordings, there will always be a place for a distinct computerized sound. Most chiptune artists stick with their hacked console of choice, but the indie rock band Anamanaguchi has blended the sounds of a hacked NES with live instruments. Anamanaguchi has worked on such games as Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game, and one of its compositions was featured in Bit.Trip Runner. For more information about the band, read on!
GameSpot: Let's start from the beginning. Tell me about your musical backgrounds and how this group came together.
Luke Silas: We all played in bands growing up, with varying degrees of training, but we're fashionistas first and foremost. We all met as students at Parsons in New York, where we all had pretty awesome internships with Armani, Prada, and Gucci. When we went out to parties together, people got to know us as "the Armani-Prada-Gucci Boys," but as the party continued, people would have a few too many, and it slurred into "Anamanaguchi." So when we finally got back to playing music and jamming together, it only made sense to take it on as our name! So music has finally taken the front seat, but we'll never forget our fashion roots or our friendship.
GS: You guys are obviously gamers, as well as musicians, but you write your own original music using hacked video game hardware. What made you decide to blend chiptune with live instruments instead keeping it strictly chiptune? Or just being another rock band?
LS: The simple sounds formed by an NES are remarkably complementary to the sounds made by a distorted guitar, we found. On another level, the feelings evoked for many people by the sounds of that hardware is so additive to the hyperpositive feelings we're aiming for in our music. They really just go hand in hand so well!
GS: What kind of challenges do you face when you are limited with the technology that you're using?
LS: I suppose the most obvious answer lies within the sound palette at work; it's only capable of using five to eight monophonic channels at a time, which are individually really limited to fairly specific sounds. There's an amazing challenge in making an NES sound far more expansive than it actually is, let alone creating complex instruments from very simple sound waves. There's also working with these instruments, which are old and cranky and liable to break down. I can't even tell you how many songs or shows have been interrupted by a dying NES.
GS: Now you have composed music for video games, like the Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game soundtrack, as well as Bit.Trip Runner. How did you get involved with composing for video games?
LS: Actually, the song used in Bit.Trip was a song from our second record, Dawn Metropolis! Gaijin Games was down enough to ask to use it, and they're our boys! As for Scott Pilgrim, Ubisoft hit us up while we were on the road, and it was basically the ideal video game for us to lend ourselves to. We're so happy to have gotten to work on that jam.
GS: What is your approach to writing music when working on a project like Scott Pilgrim? How does that process change from when you're normally coming up with new songs?
LS: Working on Scott Pilgrim was a pretty distinct process from working on our own songs. Our boys at Ubisoft were giving us some light direction with each level in the game…mostly giving us a specific vibe to write toward or a color palette for the level and sometimes even reference tracks. In my experience, that made the writing process much simpler than writing for myself. When there's a clear idea already laid out, it almost seems like the song writes itself.
GS: Is it still common for people to automatically assume that you will play old 8-bit music from video games just because you're a chiptune band? Video games must be an inspiration, but what else inspires your music?
LS: It seems like we're getting to a point where most people aren't expecting that of us in new places. After being on tour for just about two months, I can only think of one instance in which someone yelled out "NINJA GAIDEN" at us, and that was in a small town in Idaho where no one really knew us. As far as our influences go, I'd go on record as saying we're far less influenced by video games than people would expect! For Scott Pilgrim, our writing had to be in a classic video game music style, so we wrote to that style. More regularly, our songs are much more informed by rock or pop songwriting. A lot of power/synth pop, some punky goodness, so many things! Of course, video games factor in, but I'd say it's a stronger focus as far as programming and tracking goes as opposed to songwriting.
GS: How do you feel about video game music and how it has evolved? Some people still think it's a lot of 8-bit sounds, yet you guys are using that to your advantage.
LS: Video game music is clearly exponentially more complex than it was when people started writing for the NES and has been for quite some time. I wouldn't say we're using that preconception at all in marketing ourselves, though. Our love of 8-bit or simple sounds has grown into a love and appreciation unique from something as simple as a nostalgia or attachment to video games. We're more interested in the emotive side of those sounds on their own instead of their connection to video games.
GS: How does it feel to be a part of the Rock Band tracklist?
LS: It feels pretty rad! Rock Band has been an awesome way to reach people who would have never heard us, and we're glad they appreciate the song! Oddly enough, they made the track way harder to play than it actually is, especially when you're like me and are pretty poor at Rock Band to begin with.
GS: What video games do you play?
LS: We cover a lot of bases between all of us. I'm personally big into role-playing games and certain fighting games (my all-time favorite game might be Smash Bros. 64). Pete is currently on his way to being a Street Fighter king and also spends some time dominating Marvel vs Capcom 3. James is big on sports games but stays pretty well rounded and plays most everything worth playing. Ary mostly just likes driving games.
GS: When can we expect a new album?
LS: Soon! We're constantly working on new stuff, getting new ideas fleshed out, and finishing new tracks. Can't put a date on it, but for now, let's just say ASAP!
GS: Thank you for your time!