Game Music

Three Days of Retro Remix Revue: Day 1 – Interview with Musician Blaine McGurty

September 15, 2008 | | 9 Comments Share thison Facebook Three Days of Retro Remix Revue: Day 1 – Interview with Musician Blaine McGurtyon Twitter

In case you’ve been sealed away in a cave for the last month, Retro Remix Revue is a new game music remix project from the creative minds of pianist Blaine McGurty and engineer Davis Jones. Don’t recognize the names? Well, you shouldn’t! They’re brand-spankin’ new to the VG remixing community, so I encourage everyone to give them a warm welcome.

We’re kicking off three days of Retro Remix Revue here on OSV (one day for each R!), and to start, we’ve been able to get some time with pianist/keyboardist/arranger Blaine McGurty regarding how Retro Remix Revue Volume 1 came to be, how the songs were selected, and what we can expect from the team in the future. Stay tuned for an interview with engineer Davis Jones and a review of this amazing jazz/rock arrange album in the coming days. While you’re waiting for our review, you can head over to their official website for samples, or can even pick up the album on iTunes for $9.99 if you can’t wait!

Hit the jump to start the festivities.

OSV: Hello Blaine. It’s great to speak with you. To start off, I had Retro Remix Revue confused with Screwattack’s old feature called Retro Remix. Can you tell our readers about your project to distinguish it from Retro Remix?
Blaine: Well, we are called Retro Remix Revue. There was no intention to be so similarly named, but these things happen. Anyway, we are basically just a couple of young guys that are getting into the music industry, and we happen to like video games. So, we started doing what all music/game nerds do, and that’s making old-school video game remixes.

OSV: Please tell us a little about yourself and your musical background. What made you guys want to get together and create this album? How did the project come about?
Blaine: I started playing classical piano at the age of 5, and really grew to love music. I moved to Los Angeles and graduated from Cal State Northridge with a Jazz Studies degree and now I play a lot of jazz, fusion, funk, soul, hip-hop, rock and anything else basically.

So, when I first moved down to LA, I met Davis through our mutual friend and drummer on the album, Adam Alesi. When I first met Davis (engineer) we worked on a couple of other projects before starting any video game remixing. We were working on my fusion band’s project and also another project with a vocalist at the time. It should be noted however, that Davis’ studio has a wall dedicated to all the games and systems he has; he even has a NeoGeo arcade machine with all kinds of games. So, it wasn’t long before we figured out that we were going to have to start doing video game remixes as another recording project of ours.

OSV: Track selection is a very important part of creating an album like this. How did you go about selecting the tracks that would be featured on Retro Remix Revue Volume 1?
Blaine: It surprisingly wasn’t all that difficult. I had and still do have an extensive list of old video game soundtracks that I would like to remix, plus, as I was growing up playing these games, certain songs would stick out to me on their soundtracks, and I know I can say the same for Davis. So since it was our first album, we decided to go with some of the bigger franchises and more “well-known” game tunes that we always loved. However, the tunes we pick to remix have to meet the standards of remixability (made up word). We mainly look for music that is strong compositionally, and thus justifies us taking the time to remix it. We always plan on touching the big names such as Sonic and Mario while throwing in some more obscure ones in the mix for fun.

OSV: As the pianist, keyboardist, and primary arranger, I’m curious about your approach. The first track on the album, “Overworld Bgm, Ending” from Super Mario World, has a strong jazz influence, whereas many of the tracks that follow have a distinct rock flair. What’s the big idea tricking us like this?
Blaine: Haha. DISCLAIMER: We will always cover a wide variety of styles on our releases.  I come up with arrangement ideas by determining what style I want to represent the song in. For the most part, I like these old video game tunes because they were solid compositionally and stylistically to begin with, so sometimes it’s just a matter of figuring out how to map out the arrangement rather than trying to force too much new influence on the tune. I have confidence that we could put out a killin’ all rock or an all jazz remix album, however that’s not what we are trying to do. The goal of Retro Remix Revue is to take these old classic tunes, and relieve them of all contraints that came with being done orignially in chiptune format. We want the best representation of the original work.

OSV: How did the Spiderman and X-men piece make its way onto the album? It’s the only track I wasn’t really familiar with when I first listened to the album. I’ll admit that it is pretty rockin’! Is the rest of the game’s soundtrack this awesome?
Blaine: I remember a childhood friend of mine having this game, and it’s ridiculously freakin’ hard. I rarely give up on games, but as a kid and to this day, I still can’t beat that game; not even close. Anyway, I remember the few songs that I had heard were pretty sweet, and so I checked out the soundtrack and was blown away by the Gambit stage music. I never made it to this stage while playing the game, so when I came across it later I was pretty excited. The whole soundtrack is pretty awesome, and I will probably end up doing some more remixes from it in the future.

OSV: The synth solos in the Sonic the Hedgehog tracks are impressive. Tell us about your arrangement for this track. I’m curious to know if you’ve actually nailed the solos down or if you simply improvise each time.
Blaine: I love Sonic tunes because they lend themselves so much to funky synths. For these arrangements I just wanted to treat the Sonic tunes kind of like you would treat a jazz standard. In other words, you have the melody followed by an improvisation over the harmony of the song, and then back to the melody again. I play all of the synth solos on the various keyboards that I use; if I were to program the solos they would end up sounding much more mechanical and robotic. So, instead, I play many, many different solo takes and I will go back and evaluate which ones are best. Then, sometimes I will take chunks from different takes and put them together to get the absolute cleanest performance. So, I’m taking the best parts of the improvised solos and combining them to get the best results.

OSV: “Zora’s Domain,” the final track, was somewhat unexpected as it is quite mellow and serene. What went into the decision to end the album on a low note as opposed to going out with a bang.
Blaine: This was the final track to be added to the album. We thought that we needed one more track to help round out the track list, and I remember Davis saying, “you need to do a solo piano arrangement of something.” So, we figured that Zelda was a great franchise to do more mellow, classical arrangements, and we feel that it’s a good closer to the album. There’s a lot of high energy stuff on the album, so we thought it was appropriate to throw a nice ballad at the end.

OSV: There is quite a long list of performers featured on the album. Are these all local musicians (where is local?) and perhaps friends of yours, and were they excited to be performing some of the best music that videogames have to offer?
Blaine: Since we are in the Los Angeles area, there is a high concentration of amazing musicians of all kinds. Most of the album’s players are either friends of mine through school at CSUN, or they are professional musicians for hire. Greg Bissonnette, who is a world class drummer that played with Santana, Ringo Starr, David Lee Roth and many more, played on our Street Fighter track. Also, Gary Grant, who’s played trumpet from Michael Jackson and Earth, Wind & Fire, to Family Guy and the Simpsons, came and played trumpet on our Mario Kart remix. And the list goes on, but let me just say that everyone on the album is very professional and they are all fantastic musicians. Everyone seemed quite enthused about being a part of the project, and I think that it definitely comes out in the performances. You will probably be hearing the same cast plus more on future releases.

OSV: In the first question, I asked you to distinguish your Retro Remix Revue from another remix project with a similar name, but could you tell us why Retro Remix Revue is different from the flood of arrangement projects and albums that are out there today? Why should we pick up Retro Remix Revue instead of something else?
Blaine: I think Retro Remix Revue brings something new to the table that listeners will enjoy. We have a more “live band” kind of sound, with extremely high calibur musicians alongside excellent engineering and prodcution which you don’t find a whole lot of these days. I know the OneUps do a good job and are similar to our vibe, but I think that we are different enough to find our own spot among all the video game remixes out there, and I think the listeners will agree.

OSV: I take it you’re an avid gamer. Tell us about some of your favorite games. I imagine they are represented here on this album?
Blaine: The thing is, the only game system I was allowed to have, growing up, was a GameBoy. So, I ended up playing a lot of Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and Nintendo 64 at my friends’ houses as a kid. I played a ton of Super Mario World and Super Mario 64, and I was always a fan of the Zelda series. Of course I love the early Sonic soundtracks and I also love the Mario Paint soundtrack. Donkey Kong Country 1 and 2 are two of my favorites, regarding the game and the soundtrack. Those are all represented on the album, but I also want to say that I really liked the early Mega Man games as well as Mario Kart 64. Anyway, there’s too many games to list, but these are some of my favorites, so expect to see more from these games in the future plus many others.

OSV: You’re currently working on a digital release for Volume 1, but are there any plans to produce physical copies of the album? What are your thoughts regarding digital versus physical content?
Blaine: We have determined that, although ideal, a physical release will not be available at this time. It’s mainly a funding issue, because we would want to be able to put together a proper album with booklet. For the time being, however, we will have to rely on digital distribution in order to build up our fan base and hopefully make a little bit of money in order to justify/fund a physical release of this or future releases.

OSV: The obvious question is, when will Volume 1 be finalized and available to the public? After that, what are your plans for a Volume 2?
Blaine: Volume 1 is finalized now and is available on iTunes and Amazon, and will also appear on Rhapsody and Napster. We’re taking a quick break from remixing video game stuff so that we can concentrate on wrapping up some other projects we’re working on in the studio, and also to help promote Volume 1. However, Volume 2 will be right around the corner, so stay tuned.

Thank you Jayson and everyone else at OSV for taking the time to check out our project. I hope you all will enjoy.

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