Game Music

Susan Calloway: Beyond Distant Worlds and Into the Sun

September 2, 2010 | | Comment? Share thison Facebook Susan Calloway: Beyond Distant Worlds and Into the Sunon Twitter

Given that most videogames do not feature vocal themes, it isn’t often that we interview vocalists on OSV. When games do feature vocal tracks, however, it’s usually done to make an impact, and Susan Calloway has had the opportunity to tackle some of the most popular vocal themes from videogames as a part of the Distant Worlds tour. I first came to know her for her amazing rendition of “Memoro de la Stono” from Final Fantasy XI, but she was also featured on the recent Distant Worlds II album, recording English versions of both “Melodies of Life” and “Suteki da ne.”

In our interview, we discuss not only her work on Distant Worlds, including how she came to be a part of the production and the level of artistic freedom she was given with the pieces she’s worked on, but we also touch on her more pop-oriented solo career. From playing live piano to singing pop, rock, and even some country sounding tunes on her latest Chasin the Sun EP, there’s a lot more to Susan Calloway than just Distant Worlds.

Find out what she’s all about in our interview after the jump.

OSV: Hello Susan. It’s great to have the opportunity to speak with you about your work on the Distant Worlds tour as well as other aspects of your career. Let’s start with the most obvious question: how did you get involved with the Distant Worlds tour? We understand that you knew Arnie Roth prior to working with him on the concerts and albums?

Susan Calloway: Yes! I was a recording artist he would call upon from time to time when he needed a singer for different projects he would be working on. He needed a singer for the first Distant Worlds audio CD. He sent the music to me as we had done so many times before, I recorded it in my home studio, and there you go! Nobuo really liked my voice too, which was important for all involved. The rest just evolved from there!

OSV: The first time I heard your voice was on the “Memoro de la Stono~Distant Worlds” piece on the first Distant Worlds album. I have to say that I was never a fan of this song before, but your voice really made this version stand out. I have to ask, was there a lot of coaching involved regarding how you should sound, or were you pretty much given the freedom to express your own style in the piece?

Calloway: One thing I enjoy about working on this project is that both Arnie and Nobuo really like my style and want me to bring my ideas to the music we record. So, yes, I just put my Susan stamp on “Memora de la Stono.” I’m so glad you like it! That means a lot.

OSV: Along those same lines, did you approach these songs with a different artistic or vocal sensibility because of their subject matter? If so, how?

Calloway: This music is definitely a little different than my “Susan the artist” stuff I do. My goal was to sing it with Susan style but also be mindful that this was orchestrated and that the lyrics were originally written in Japanese. Arnie was really helpful with the interpretation, as he understood the nuances and the history of the songs more. This was really helpful. My job is to expand and compliment the original thought of the writer, Nobuo, and to complement the production that Arnie brings to the mix, too, but at the same time, interpret the music like an artist and express the emotional angle the songs were written from.

OSV: You’ve been to a number of Distant Worlds concerts now, so we’re curious as to which pieces in the show are your favorites. Were you initially surprised that this was indeed music from a videogame that you were hearing, and has your involvement with the tour changed your opinion about videogames in general?

Calloway: My favorite is “ Kiss me Goodbye” I think because it is the closest song to my own personal style. It is just a fun song to sing, too! I had no idea that video game music was so popular! So yes, indeed, it was a surprise. I used to think of video games as being so one-dimensional. But after seeing Distant Worlds and understanding the amazing adventure and imagination it represents. Even the spiritual battle of good and evil… my whole outlook has changed. I totally understand the appeal. It is magical.

OSV: You also sang both “Melodies of Life” and “Suteki da ne” on the second Distant Worlds album. Did the fact that both of these tracks were originally sung in Japanese create any sort of unique challenges for you? What do you think of the two pieces compared to “Memoro de la Stono~Distant Worlds?”

Calloway: Yes they were a little trickier… I think mainly because the translation to English for some of the phrases is a bit unique. I was mainly concerned that the fans would accept this English version. I did my best to still put the heart of the message into the performance, even though the expressions in English were different. I enjoyed working on these 2 songs. It is hard to compare them to “Memoro de la Stona,” which is such an anthem piece… it has this amazing timelessness about it. “Suteki da ne” and “Melodies of Life” are just totally different; it is hard to compare them! But both are still powerful in their own right… beautiful songs, all of them!

OSV: While we’ve been focusing only on Distant Worlds so far, you’ve obviously done a whole lot more throughout your career. Your work with Distant Worlds covers mainly ballads, but your recent work on the “Chasin the Sun” EP which can be streamed from your website, covers more rock, pop, and event country territory. Tell us about the “Chasin the Sun” EP, how it came about, and which singing style you feel more at home with.

Calloway: I have been a songwriter and artist since I was 10, so this is a real thing for me! Chasin the Sun is the first EP I released since I started working with my producer and partner Gerard Smerek. We met a few years ago at a session. He is amazing and has brought so much to my music and career. The CD defiantly shows me in my true state! I have many influences… I love rocking out with a great band, but I also love doing pop ballads too… they all require different sides of my voice so it is fun to do them all. I don’t really consider myself country as I don’t have a twang in my voice, but I could see the confusion people might feel as the new country is so mainstream pop sounding – like Faith Hill, for example. When I am recording my own music, I don’t think so much about style as I do about heart. I have messages in my songs that I want to put out there… and we make production decisions based on what vibe we want to carry that message – what will make the song effective and compelling when people hear it. I am a recording artist at my core. All the other music I do or am involved with comes from this place. The biggest thing I ask myself is, does the song reach people? Will they get it? Connection with your crowd is everything.

OSV: Can you tell us about the music writing process for original works like those found on the Chasin the Sun EP? Are you writing the lyrics and coming up with the melodies before the band comes in to write the music? Do you often find that when it comes time to write the music that you’re going back and changing the melody or even the lyrics?

Calloway: Great question! I write music and lyrics together. EVERYTHING is done before we start production. I rarely make a change to melody or lyric… at the most a word or note. There are always little tweaks, but nothing major. The production comes from the intent of the tune. I guess that is why I’m not a band but a solo artist, ya know? Everyone has a different process.  The hardest part of doing this EP was deciding which tunes to put on it. I have so many songs. We wanted these songs to work together to create a bit of a journey for the listener. I am excited to explore this idea even more in my next release.  I love concept records – when you put on a CD and it just takes you somewhere else for an hour. That is powerful stuff… and not unlike what gamers feel when they are playing Distant Worlds: music from Final Fantasy.  So, truth is, we all want to escape and be somewhere else sometimes. It helps us, heals us, and prepares us for the real world that we all have to reenter at some point! [Laughs]

OSV: Are there any other projects that you’re working on that you can tell us about at this time?

Calloway: I started working on a new record so I’m very excited about that. I love writing and recording new stuff. It is my lifeblood. We are booking a number of unplugged shows right now too. I love playing solo like this with just my guitar and piano. It is so intimate for fans and for me. The best way to keep updated on my music releases and shows is to sign up for my E-list. You can do this on my website, http://www.susancalloway.com, or any of my social sites like MySpace, Facebook, etc.

One thing I wanted to mention is that we just found out that one of the songs, “Don’t Fall in Love” from Chaisn the Sun was nominated for a Hollywood Music and Media award. We are really psyched about this. It is a red carpet event that takes place in LA on November 18 this fall. Wish me luck! It is great to see the CD being received so well.

OSV: Writing your own songs and performing them like with Chasin the Sun is very different from singing songs that were written by somebody else and have been performed by other singers, as is the case with your work with Distant Worlds. How would you compare the experience of being a singer/songwriter to being a hired vocalist?

Calloway: I try to bring my artist hat to everything I do. When I sing on something written by someone else, this is still quite possible. It is just a different way of expressing your art. When I am working on my music, it is almost harder because you are building something out of nothing. Working with Arnie and Nobuo, I am adding ingredients to the mixing bowl, so to speak. You just have to be respectful of the other talent around you… listen and fuse your talent with theirs. It is totally fun and it brings out a different side of you as an artist. Anything that stretches you and takes you out of your comfort zone is cool – you learn from the experience and you deepen your knowledge of your own talent too.

OSV: We noticed on your website that you also play the piano. Do you feel more liberated away from behind the piano or do you feel like something is missing when performing strictly vocals?

Calloway: I love playing and singing piano! That is my favorite place to be. It is just different not to be playing and singing, but cool too. I can focus more on my voice instead of splitting my attention… so that is a good thing for Distant Worlds songs as they require a bit of concentration to sing well!

OSV: Would you like to tell us when we’ll be hearing your voice on the Distant Worlds tour again, and perhaps any stops where you’ll be performing your own music?

Calloway: I have an upcoming show in the Detorit area at Arts, Beats , and Eats in Royal Oak, Michigan on Sept. 4. You can find out more details on my website. There are Distant Worlds dates in process but we are waiting to confirm! I know Toronto, Chicago, and even Tokyo, Japan, are all in the works!

OSV: Thank you for your time, and good luck with your many projects!

Calloway: Thanks for the interview – it was my pleasure. Your support means so much to me!  Blessings to you guys!

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Visit Susan Calloway’s official website to hear Chasin the Sun and say hello to her on Facebook.

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