Resident Evil 7 Songwriter Talks About His Eerie "Aunt Rhody" Song And More In New Interview
Q&A: We speak with Michael A. Levine about the song "Aunt Rhody" that he came up with for the horror game.
Sound design is important for any video game, and horror games are no exception. Resident Evil 7 is being praised by critics for returning to its horror roots. Another standout part of the game is its creepy opening song, "Go Tell Aunt Rhody," which is a cover of the classic Burl Ives tune.
Composer Michael A. Levine came up with the new version, and GameSpot recently had a chance to speak with him about his first-ever video game gig.
In our discussion, Levine talks about how he came to be attached to the game, how many iterations he went through before he got to the final mix, and what it was like working with his daughter on it.
You may not know Levine by name, but you are likely familiar with his work. He wrote the Kit Kat "Gimme A Break" jingle and did the music for Star Wars Detours. He also arranged the choir version of The Simpsons' silly "Spider Pig" song and also produced pop giant Lorde's version of "Everybody Wants to Rule The World" from the Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack.
You can read the full interview below--go to Levine's website to learn more about the composer.
I'm always intrigued to hear how people get synced up with projects--how did you come to work with Capcom on Resident Evil 7?
Capcom was aware of a reconceptualization of the Lorde version of Everybody Wants to Rule The World that Lucas Cantor and I produced. We took a bouncy 80s dance number and turned it into something dark and brooding. That’s the kind of thing they like!
"Go Tell Aunt Rhody" is a really creepy song; it does a good job of setting up the dread to come. Can you talk about the conceptualization of this song and the feedback from Capcom?
Capcom wanted a spooky remake of a song people already knew the world over but, rather than a pop song, they wanted something that was traditional. I remembered that because American teachers had helped establish the Japanese public school system in the 1870s, Rhody has a Japanese equivalent called Musunde. Most Japanese believe it is a traditional Japanese song.
From a technical perspective, how did you build the track? And how many iterations and variations did you go through before landing on what we hear in the game now?
It started as a more straightforward ballad with a few scary moments and, 20 or so versions later, evolved into something more like voice plus sound design. The original lead singer was Mariana Barreto, who has a beautiful light "innocent" quality. She's still doing all the background vocals. But we later looked for someone with a more “invasive” quality and were lucky enough to find New Zealand-born Jordan Reyne who, I think, did a spectacular job.
"Make it scary! Make it scarier! Make it even scarier!" -- Levine on the feedback he received from Capcom
Capcom made Resident Evil 7 in Japan. Do you speak Japanese? How did you go about coordinating with them across the language and geographic barriers?
I am fortunate that one of my agents, Koyo Sonae, is Japanese-American and served as both a language translator, and, equally important, a cultural interpreter. The geography presented some unique scheduling challenges such as the vocal session with Jordan at 6 pm London time (where she was), 10 am LA time (where I was), and 2 am Tokyo time (where the clients were).
What kind of notes did Capcom give you either before getting to work or in their reviews?
Make it scary! Make it scarier! Make it even scarier!
What kind of preparation did you do for this project? Did you get to see or play the game at all before sitting down to come up with the music?
The game was still in development so what I worked with was a storyboard and a story summary. Very low-tech! Based on the story summary I created the verse which relates, without giving too much away, to events in the game. I also changed the concluding line from the traditional "the old grey goose is dead" to "everybody’s dead."
You worked with your daughter on this project--what was that like?
The aforementioned Mariana Barreto. Mari is one of the best musicians I know and a delight to work with. She is actually my step-daughter. When I fell in love with my wife, Mirette, and we got married, I didn't realize I was going to get such a marvelous bonus! Mari and I recently recorded an EP together called Samira and The Wind – a play on her middle name (Samira) and my last name. (Levine = Le Vent = The Wind).
The Resident Evil series is a behemoth. It has millions of fans. Did you feel any extra pressure to deliver, given the enormity of the game and the brand?
To be honest, my ignorance was probably an advantage in this case. Only later did I realize that I had stumbled into the Temple of Coolness.
What kind of feedback have you heard from your work on Resident Evil 7?
Capcom has been very complimentary and the fans kind. No insane stalkers, so far.
You've worked on a number of big-name properties in the past for movies and TV--but was this your first video game? If so, can you talk about the differences between those mediums and games as it relates to music writing?
Yes, this was my first video game. The theme song is the fun part and conceptually similar to other themes and trailers I have written before. The task is to distill the mood of a multi-hour experience into three minutes or less. Easy <wink>. The scoring, which was done by a talented team including Akiyuki Morimoto, Miwako Chinone, Satoshi Hori, and Cris Velasco, has to be flexible enough so that when the player makes a crucial decision the music will still make sense.
What are you working on right now that fans can get excited about?
Besides the Samira and The Wind album with Mari that I mentioned, I am recording an album with world-renowned percussionist Evelyn Glennie in May, tentatively titled Marimbolin. I will be playing electric violin and Evelyn will be playing, well, everything.