Film, Game Music

Want Some Meat? “Nacatl” Interview With Hayes, Marino, Lassen

August 18, 2008 | | 4 Comments Share thison Facebook Want Some Meat? “Nacatl” Interview With Hayes, Marino, Lassenon Twitter

The Midnight Meat Train, a film released a few weeks ago, has a lot of big names behind it. Japanese director Ryuhei Kitamura took on the task of directing this adaptation of Clive Barker’s horrifying short story of the same name (written 25 years before the film debut). Along with having an original score, the film also sports some decent arranged remixes from visionary producer Justin Lassen. Some of these remixed songs come from bands like Apocalyptica, Second Coming, and Iconcrash. However, one song on the album was written by a pair of all-star game music veterans. They are Jason Hayes and Gerard Marino.

For those of you not in the know, Jason Hayes is the man behind a number of Blizzard’s soundtracks, including Warcraft III and World of Warcraft. As for Gerard Marino, you may know him from his work on the God of War series. The two worked together to compose a song entitled “Nacatl.” Justin Lassen also did arrangement on this track for its use in Midnight Meat Train.

After the jump, we have an interview with all three of these upstanding gentlemen: Jason Hayes, Gerard Marino, and Justin Lassen. We talk about the song “Nacatl,” the film for which it is used, and a host of other topics. Check it out!

OSV: Alright, let’s start with the obvious question, regarding the song’s strange title, Nacatl. Quick research (thank you, wikipedia) suggests it means “meat” in some ancient Aztec-related dialect. Is this correct? Why did you decide on this name, and what relevance does it have to the music?

Gerard Marino: The title of the movie figured into the title of the song, which does indeed translate as “meat.” As far as the use of the Aztec language of Nahuatl, I have to be semi-vague to avoid spoiling the story. The short story of MMT mentions an entity which predates human presence in the area which is now Manhattan, but the film script relocated the story to Los Angeles. I imagined how the first humans who came in contact with this entity might have reacted, and wrote the lyrics from their perspective in a dialect similar to their own. Some research told me that it would have been some Uto-Aztecan variant, and I settled on Nahuatl because it is a thoroughly researched and codified dialect, and thus dictionaries and other translation resources are readily available.

Jason Hayes: A track called “Meat” would have sufficed, but everything’s so much cooler in Aztec! Seriously, when Gerard told me about his idea to have us chanting in an Aztec language, I thought it was brilliant. The results came out scarier than I think both of us imagined. It already sounded other-worldly and freaky in the original track, and then when Justin added his bit-crushing majesty it went over the top in a cool way.

OSV: Clive Barker, the author of the “Midnight Meat Train” story that’s been adapted to film, has dipped his hands into a lot of different pools: writing, film, visual art, even comic books. What, if any, are your favorite Barker works, and what led you to collaborate on this project to contribute an original piece to the film?

Justin Lassen: Some of my favorite Barker works are the Hellraiser series, obviously (I grew up on that stuff). The mythos in that is just so damn cool, beyond cool actually. It really opened up my mind about dimensions and other worlds at a ripe young age. I also love his first video game effort “Undying,” which had excellent atmosphere. His toy line that he did with Todd McFarlane, “Tortured Souls,” are some of the most demented, detailed and thought-provoking sculptures from his twisted imagination.

Marino: I’m most fond of the first two Hellraiser films, which I came to know through Christopher Young’s great scores.

Hayes: I too was only ever familiar with the Hellraiser movies, but this project really opened my eyes. When Justin asked me about working on it, I was like “Oh cool, this sounds like a lot of fun,” and then I got the first in the Books of Blood series. After reading “The Midnight Meat Train” I was like “Whoa–this is the most disturbing short story ever–what have I gotten myself into?” After the second short story, I had to put the book down for a while, thinking I was going to start having nightmares. It reminded me a little of the feeling I get when reading Edgar Allen Poe’s works: it’s unnerving, and gets under your skin. Clive Barker is a great writer, and I’m grateful to have learned about him from this experience.

I got involved with the soundtrack because of Justin. He’s a super-talented composer in his own right as well as a great guy, and I’m both honored and appreciative of him asking me to do it! Gerard and I had been playing around with the idea of doing something together, and this was the perfect situation. I just love his music, and it was really great working with him.

Marino: It was Jason’s idea to collaborate, and I happily jumped on the idea. Jason and I became friends through our semi-regular hangouts backstage on the Video Games Live tour, which regularly plays suites of our scores for World of Warcraft and God of War. Over the last few years we’ve often complained that we never make time to write music for ourselves, free from the influence of an employer. One day Jason called just to chat, and casually mentioned that he had just such a “total creative freedom” opportunity pop up, and 15 minutes later we decided to tag-team it.

OSV: Each of you has worked extensively in the “game music” scene, and has done work in other venues as well. Are you interested in working more regularly in film score? Also, how do you see your career’s progression, and do you believe in the notion that going from game score to film score is part of “climbing the ladder” as a composer?

Hayes: I consider myself extremely fortunate to be working as a composer, regardless of the medium. While I am a huge movie buff and would enjoy scoring feature films, the game industry is just as exciting and fantastic–not just because of where it is today, but also where it’s going! Some of the most groundbreaking things are happening in interactive entertainment today, and we’re only at the tip of the iceberg.

Marino: Film, games, TV, opera, rock bands, whatever. I am interested in writing music for a living, and will explore and strive for the top of all venues available. As far as climbing the career ladder goes, well, I guess it depends on how you measure success. Film still carries the highest sense of prestige in the minds of John Q. Public, and the top film score jobs pay infinitely more than the top game score jobs. I could always use more money, but I have received total personal artistic satisfaction from my game scores. I’ve taken a bow at the Kennedy Center after the National Symphony Orchestra played my music to a sold-out crowd. How many Oscar-winning film composers wish they could say that?

Lassen: I know of plenty of film composers that would love to score video games but can’t seem to break into it, and consider that the next step for them. So it’s different for different composers. I also don’t think the two things are exactly the same kind of “scoring.” Game music needs to be somewhat repetitive for the sake of gameplay, but not get old after the 12th time you died on level 4, so you have to find this kind of balance of the two. In contrast, film music needs to follow this linear playlist and cue list that hits certain emotions and pulls certain strings on the hearts of the audience at certain times.

With games it can be varied and different, at least from my experiences with it. I’d certainly love to continue working both in film and in games personally. Each gives me a certain satisfaction that the other just could not. Honestly I think music has done more for games and the game industry than developers and publishers are willing to admit to the public. It’s the same thing with film, really … Would you actually be able to sit through three hours of Lord of the Rings if it had a crappy score? Would Titanic have been as successful as it was without “that song” (don’t say it)? Would Starcraft have been as dramatic and down-right tear-jerking as it was without that gorgeous sound direction and music to go along with it? Are sharks really that scary underwater without John Williams’ score? You have to ask yourself these sorts of questions, and admit that music brings about 50% of the show alive, regardless of how many other people worked on the visual elements. George Lucas even admitted this in one interview (smart guy).

OSV: Jason and Gerard, the two of you are well-recognized in the game industry right now, having composed for two of the biggest games on the market today (World of Warcraft and God of War II, respectively). Having worked together on this piece that is now being used in a film score, do you have any intentions of collaborating in the future, perhaps on games as well as film?

Marino: I’d love to do it again, and a game score would seem an even easier fit, as that is our respective primary business.

Hayes: Definitely! It would be really cool to work together again, whether it be for a game, film, or anything else. Hopefully the right opportunity will present itself.

OSV: Justin, the work you did on The Midnight Meat Train OST is that of remixing and arrangement. However, many of the other tracks you remixed were originally written by bands. How did it come about that you would be remixing Hayes’ and Marino’s song, and can you tell us about any insight you have on doing a remix for Nacatl (vs. the other songs you remixed)?

Lassen: I knew that one day I wanted to work with Jason Hayes, as I’ve been a fan of his work for many years. I just didn’t know this was how it was going to go down. That’s life. Working with Gerard was a very exciting and pleasant surprise though since Jason and Gerard decided to make it a collaboration, and I wouldn’t have done this any other way now! This has been an amazing adventure with the both of them! As a proper and humble game-composer-respecting-fan-boy, how cool is it that I got to work with Jason and Gerard at the same time!? Hell yeah.

Unfortunately, “remixing” is kind of a “bad” word in today’s pigeon-holing-world. It still has the stigma of dance floors, clubs, house and trance, which I’m personally getting tired of. Who else is getting sick of hearing Braveheart and Pirates of the Carribean and other movie themes redone as trance songs on original motion picture soundtracks? Move forward.

Most people think of 4-on-the-floor stompers, radio-cuts, adding a beat, a few synthesizers, and change-of-tempo and voila! A remix. But why? This is so 1980s thinking! It can and should be much more than that today, with the exciting tools available to remixers around the world and seemingly unlimited ideas in the well today! “We need a remixolution Man!” I always like to try new things with each new remix that I didn’t do before, instead of relying on a formula.

For me personally, remixing is more like “re-complication,” and I tend to add all kinds of new material practically making it a new song in some cases. For example, in 2003, when I remixed Linkin Park’s single “Faint,” there became this giant phenomenal legion of cult-listeners promoting it as “better than Linkin Park’s version!” which has happened on numerous occasions with my versions and so on. You can’t plan that stuff. It just happens when it happens. So you can have this kind of groundbreaking effect on a group of a band’s fans, which is pretty extraordinary when it happens, and along with this kind “remixing” and more to the point, even composing new material to go along with the artist or band’s original vision, to carry the message a bit further than was shot for. This helps the band and the remixer at the same time.

I had to have different levels of creative restraint or freedom when working on this particular remix album, but I also had to make sure as a ‘concept’ everything felt like it came from the same CD, same vibe, same movie, and ultimately this was more than just picking bands that sound the same. It was finding varying artists that spoke the messages in the thoughts of Kaufman and The Butcher in the story from Clive’s book (Books of Blood). It was a fun challenge!

In the case of the 2 Finnish bands Iconcrash and Apocalyptica, I composed new cello and string arrangements to accent/contrast what was already given to me, along with everything else (beats, cuts, programming, etc). With Jason and Gerard’s track, I didn’t have to add too much of anything composing-wise, because what was given to me was already really brilliant material, so I could exercise this so-called “restraint” more easily here, and just muck it up with subtle, Barker-inspired amalgamations.

OSV: The East/West culture divide (generally typified as Japan/America) has remained strong in the game industry, but some progress has been made. Recently, Four Bars Entertainment announced that they would be working with Japanese composer Hitoshi Sakimoto so that Sakimoto’s work could appear in Western-developed games. It is also interesting to note that The Midnight Meat Train was directed by Ryuhei Kitamura. What aspirations, if any, do you three have in helping cross the divide? Would you be interested in composing for Japanese games?

Lassen: I’d love to score weird Japanese horror films and horror games (these past few nights I’ve been watching all the American remakes of famous J-Horror movies). For games, Silent Hill comes to mind. I love how demented and impressively restrained the scores to those games are! It’s pretty bizarre stuff. I’d also love the challenge of scoring 8-bit music, with very limited Kilobytes of space, like they do in the demo-scene. That stuff is so interesting to me.

Marino: I would love to score Japanese games, especially a Fumito Ueda game (Ico, Shadow of the Colossus). But Japan has a centuries-old tendency toward self-sufficiency. It is rather hard for a Western composer to circumnavigate that “Shoji curtain.” Add to that the geographic challenges and language barriers and you have some formidable obstacles. Hope springs eternal though!

Hayes: I’ve been working for Korea-based NCsoft on a large MMO, and it’s interesting to note the cultural differences in what seems to make for a popular game in one part of the world vs. another. It’s not an exact science of course, but different areas have different trends. I think that working on titles that have their primary target audience in another culture is an intriguing prospect, because of these different sensibilities. Maybe in Japan I would be more likely to work on a game with a strong love interest, for example! Now that would be cool. Fortunately, because the world keeps getting more connected, and because music is the universal language, this is a possibility.

OSV: We at OSV have spoken with a number of composers who give us “musical influences” of theirs, and the trend often seems that composers listen to music that is, in many ways, far removed from their own composing style. Who are some of your influences?

Marino: Typical though it is, the first record I bought with my own money in the 4th grade was Star Wars. The first music that nailed it for me as a teenager was Pink Floyd. I really enjoyed most of the guitar-heavy rock of the 80s too. If you listen between the lines, you can hear the rock upbringing in my current orchestral work. Influential composers also include John Corigliano, Bernard Hermann, Hans Zimmer, and even Beethoven.

Lassen: As with anyone else out there, this list tends to change quite often, but some personal staples that come to mind this time around are (and I’ll keep it short): Sergei Rachmaninov; Michael Whalen; Mark Morgan, the composer for Fallout and Planescape, and the composer who candidly showed the world that atmosphere was just as much an instrument as a violin or piano with his groundbreaking work… Mark’s work was deep, and really helped to shape the kind of composer (and remixer) I am today; Aphex Twin (a God); James Horner; Patrick Doyle; Jerry Goldsmith; Philip Glass; and anything by Jonny Global (who also appears on the MMT soundtrack as Penetrator). I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve listened to Patrick’s score to Great Expectations while falling asleep; I know every single movement, every track by heart! Same with James Horner’s Bicentennial Man. Kind of bizarre that I produced/remixed a horror movie soundtrack, when I listen to music from completely different kinds of movies.

Hayes: I noticed that Justin said “Rachmaninov,” which is surprising and cool, because I’m a big fan too. Also Brahms, Debussy, Mahler, and Chopin, to name a few. I love the film music of Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Danny Elfman, James Horner, James Newton Howard, John Barry, Hans Zimmer, Bernard Hermann, Nino Rota, and many others. I also like opera and musical theater, as well as contemporary pop music for the catchy hooks and amazing production values.

OSV: And finally, a fun/random question: who’s going to win the console wars for this generation? Is it Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo? (or you could claim PC gaming to be superior to any console gaming experience, but we all know that’s a cop-out answer!)

Lassen: I am not sure who’s going to “win,” but I can tell you what game developers prefer; they prefer the console-system/network that gives them the largest percentage of back-end on sales vs. mindshare (and ultimately the consoles the publishers and developers pick to develop successful games on will win). And from what I’ve read on the Internet, Microsoft is losing that game slowly on that front as they take more and more points. But technically they (the consoles) are all just PCs anyway, right?

I’m definitely a PC gamer, and the only reason PC games are made less and less, is because Publishers, Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft want it that way. If Microsoft cared about PC Games, they wouldn’t have entered the console world, and today we’d have way more PC video game choices, which used to rival console games (oh how I miss the 90s), instead of just ports and repacks.

Imagine a ray-traced gorgeous Mario running on PC! One of those genius doctors at Intel tells us very recently that he sees “real-time ray-tracing in video games to be a reality in 2-3 years.” This for the time being couldn’t happen on a console, but a PC has expandable potential for the future. How cool is that? Especially for stylistic games like Mario! Talk about cool retro-revival-re-beautification!

I only bought a Nintendo DS because I grew up on Mario and seemingly crave playing Mario every day and every night (man, I carry this thing with me everywhere). I think it would be cool and interesting if they allowed Mario to appear on other consoles, like they did in the 80s. Can you imagine New Super Mario Bros. 2, on Xbox 360 or PS3? I’d buy one of those consoles just for that experience too! I think games sell consoles, consoles don’t sell games.

To answer your question simply, I think Steam and things like Steam are going to “win.” It’s more democratic and no setup, no BS, no add-ons, no accessories, just a portal.

Hayes: I don’t have my finger on the pulse of the console industry, having worked on PC games so much. But I think the Wii is so revolutionary and cool and I can’t wait to see what Nintendo does next! The fact that my five-year-old and her grandmother can jump right in with very little learning curve, and have fun playing together just amazes me!

Marino: The PS3 hardware has the most potential, especially since Blu-ray won the HD war. “Winning,” however, is going to require more must-have exclusive titles. I’ll betcha GoW3 is gonna sell some PS3s. You might also want to keep an eye on the iPhone. It is (as of this printing) wide open to any motivated kid in a basement to develop and sell a game of his own. Factor in the motion-sensing and pervasiveness of the hardware and you might have a Wii-killer.

OSV: We’d like to thank Jason, Justin, and Gerard for their cooperation in this interview. In the near future, we will be reviewing Justin Lassen’s remixed score for The Midnight Meat Train. To hear “Nacatl” in its original form, check out Jason Hayes’ MySpace page! Feel free to leave comments about the song and the interview below.

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