Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Of Metroid and Metal - Interview with Stemage


Confession time: I really love video game music. Which is apparent in my video game music related posts, But, there is one soundtrack in particular that I enjoy listening to so much that I used one of the tracks as my computer login music at my old job. That soundtrack was Metroid Metal!! The composer: Grant Henry, AKA: Stemage.

With Other M being released yesterday, I thought it was very appropriate to contact Stemage - who is currently on his way to PAX with fellow bandmates Dan Behrens (Arm Cannon), Micheal Molnar (Temp Sound Solutions), Kevin Lawrence (Yes, Mayhem.), and Dan Taylor - To talk about Metroid Metal, The inspiration for the tracks, and to see what he's working on currently. Fans of Metroid's very atmospheric soundtrack and Metal alike, this is the interview for you!

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SP!: First of all, tell us a bit about your musical background

STE: Well, I started guitar in the 4th grade, but I stopped playing in 6th because none of my friends played music – just video games and other middle school things. I picked it back up when Stone Temple Pilots and Spin Doctors came out. I got a 4 track cassette 8-track when I was 15 and my first recording was a cover of Polly by Nirvana. The rest is history really. I had a band in high school, several in college, and Metroid Metal came later on.

SP!: What got you started in wanting to create an arranged versions of Metroid OSTs

STE: I hadn’t heard the original NES music in a while. I was geeking pretty hard on the Contra cover by Vomitron and all the Minibosses stuff. I gave the theme song a shot for fun with the drum machine I had on hand and decided to keep going.

SP!: When I originally discovered your tracks I was blown away by the incredible atmosphere of each song. Was it difficult for you and the guys trying to capture the feel of those original songs?

STE: The original melodies are still there, so a lot of the feeling is still there as well. It’s just much louder and way punchy. We do take some creative liberties with parts, and there are new parts entirely. The songs are just as much for metal fans as Metroid fans.

SP!: Has anyone from Nintendo asked about Metroid Metal doing any work for them on any Metroid games or any other projects for that matter?

STE: No, but I don’t know if the music would really fit anywhere. There aren’t many Nintendo games with big rock tracks. I think the songs fit fine as a tribute, but they wouldn’t fit necessarily in a game, unless it was a new Smash Bros remix or something. I’ve actually spoken with several people at Nintendo about the project over the years – some developers on the games and such. I’m glad it has gotten far enough to be heard by the crew at N. That’s pretty special.

Stemage, when he's not too busy with projects


SP!: What were your favorite video game soundtracks, and things that inspired you to get into doing game arrangements?

STE: The original Sonic the Hedgehog soundtrack turned my world upside down. I used to run around jumping on things with the 3D Worldrunner song in my head. Bionic Commando is a big one for me too. My favorite change quite often, but Marble Madness is definitely in the top 3 and stays there – always.

SP!: I know you and the guys have done tracks from Actraiser, Halo and TMNT 3: The Manhattan Project. Are there other soundtracks you would be interested in working on when you have the free time?

STE: The TMNT song was awesome because it was the first song I just did drums for. Danimal Cannon from Arm Cannon did the rest of the instrumentation, and that project was much fun. I also did Ninja Warriors from SNES, which you can hear on www.iwadon.com. That was the first game cover I did completely by myself that isn’t a Metroid song. Perhaps it’s the start of something new? I don’t know. I stay pretty busy with music in and out of the game music community, so we’ll see.

SP!: I read that you're currently working on a new album can you tell us a bit about it?

STE: Yeah, it’s an instrumental album of very short guitar rock tracks. It’s a concept record around my favorite horror movie of all time, Dawn of the Dead from the 70’s. I had the idea before zombies got so damn popular, but I still plan on sticking with the idea. I’m halfway done with it, and it’s going to be a pretty riffy record of original material.

I also just finished an album with the bass player and drummer of Metroid Metal called Yes Mayhem. It’s all original material written by Dan Taylor aka Chunkstyle. It’s heavy, quirky, and catchy. It’s out September 1st at www.yesmayhem.com.

Rocking out at last year's PAX

SP!: You've currently been working on an original OST for the XBL game Alpha Squad, and are hard at work on a new game called Radiant Escape. Do you find doing video game soundtracks especially challenging as opposed to just doing arrangements of established OSTs or working on your own personal projects?

STE: Well, I just got started with that kind of project, and I’m enjoying it so far. I was never sure how much music I could make in a shorter window and with more constraints. This time, I have to write music to capture an emotion or environment instead of simply using already existing melodies to build something with. I’m really enjoying it. The Alpha Squad soundtrack is pretty lengthy actually. It will be out when the game comes out.

SP!: So you guys will be playing at PAX next month, Have you guys done shows like this before, and how excited are you to be doing such a big event like this?

STE: We actually did PAX Prime last year, and it sort of blew our minds. I don’t think we could digest what happened until we got home. The whole experience is sort of a blur, but the more we play, the clearer things become. I guess that’s the process of getting more comfortable with the experience. I’ve never been a performer with my guitar - always a song writer, so I don’t know if I’ll ever be 100% used to it. But it really is fun.

SP!: Lastly, Any shoutouts to the fans, or words of inspiration and such?

STE: I guess it’s important to remember that there are tons of amazing old games out there. It’s easy to get sucked into gaming press and all the newness, but there are gems rotting in drawers. Don’t be afraid to go hunting for classics you didn’t know exist.

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If you're going to be at PAX you should make a definite plan to see Metroid Metal! I would love to go myself, but I'll be in the process of moving, so maybe next year. Also if you would like to listen to any of the fantastic tracks like the one featured in this interview, please check out Metroid Metal.com. And be sure to check out The Varia Suite, MM's live album which will be out in time for PAX (which is actually this weekend.) as well as YesMayhem which is available now for digital download.

Rock on, and Game on!

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