Saturday, September 22, 2012
Grant Kirkhope: Legendary Composer of our Favorite Childhood Games
That's right everyone, the interview I was so excited about is with none other than Grant Kirkhope, the man responsible for the music behind some of the best games ever made for Nindendo 64. While my favorite games and soundtracks of his growing up were Banjo Kazooie, DK 64, and Banjo Tooie, Grant also did games like Golden Eye and Perfect Dark, which my mom wouldn't let me play. However, I saw my friends playing them enough to get a good sense of the musical themes in the games. I recently got the privilege of interviewing Grant and here is what he had to say:
1) I saw on your webpage that you attended The Royal Northern College in Manchester, majoring in trumpet, but that is the earliest thing we know about your musical history? What caused you to initially take an interest in music?
Hmmmm, I remember being 4 years old in junior school (Manor Road School in Knaresborough) and the teacher asking us if anyone was interested in playing the recorder and that it would be 15 shillings to buy ..... I just put my hand up .... I don't know why ...heh! Apart from that my Dad was a huge music fan in particular the Big Bands and Frank Sinatra, I grew up listening to that and really liking the sound. My Mum was a dancer instage shows in Edinburgh before she had me and my brother so I guess there was some elements of music in my parents.
2) When you were ready to get a "proper" job, you started working for Rare, Ltd. How did that job come about?
My good friend Robin Beanland had already started work at Rare, we'd been friends for years as we're both from the same area of the UK and had played in local rock bands together. He suggested that I had a go at what he was doing and recommended I buy a synth, a copy of Cubase and have a go at writing some tunes in a style that would suit video games. I sent five cassette tapes off to Rare over the course of a year and never got a reply and then out of the blue I got a letter asking me to go down for an interview, and to my amazement they offered me a job!
3) As a video game composer and audio designer for Rare, you are responsible for the music and sound in games such as Banjo Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64, and Banjo Tooie, 3 games that have what is arguably the best music in the N64 era. Those are my favorite projects of yours. What are your favorites?
Thank you! It's hard for me to really single out any one project from my days at Rare, I was very fortunate that the games I got to do were all great fun to work on and the core team of people that I worked with didn'tchange for the entire time I was at Rare and we all got on really well together .... and I miss them all!!!! Musically the Viva Pinata games are probably my favourite sound track of my own but Banjo-Kazooie has a special place in my heart.
4) I read that one of your dreams was to work in the USA and find a job in which you could make a difference. How have you liked living and working in the States and do you feel like you are making that difference?
I'm really enjoying living and working over here. Big Huge Games was a great place to work and I was really happy to be involved with Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Big Huge Games had a really great culture and thepeople were so fired up and passionate about making that game, it was a dreadful shame it all ended up going so wrong. What makes it worse was that the reason that 38 Studios went bust had nothing to do with us, wejust couldn't get out from underneath them in time and got dragged down with them. Actually I'd like to set one thing straight for the record, a lot of the press reported that KoAR had to sell 3 million units to break even, thisis complete nonsense, Reckoning has sold somewhere around 1.5 million copies and has easily broken even for EA. We really were days away from signing a new publishing deal for Reckoning 2 and development had been going for a while, then the Governor of Rhode Island mentioned the word "insolvency" and 38 Studios in the same sentence and everyone just walked away to see what would happen ...... such a catastrophe ....
Sorry for the rant!
5) You also recently moved to LA. What are your future plans for the world of gaming and music?
I have! I've just finished doing some music for a game for Zynga that should be coming out in October I think. The music's just been recorded with full orchestra and the rough mixes I've heard are sounding great ... one thing tho' ... does anyone actually turn the sound on in Facebook games ... heh!
6) Who inspires you/do you look up to as a professional musician?
That's easy, John Williams is my number one, almost exclusively at the moment I'd say. I really tried to get his sound into Reckoning ... well.... I tried at least ... heh! I still like Danny Elfman but probably more from a few years back. There hasn't been to much that's caught my attention of late but I live in hope!
7) Finally, I have recently decided to return to school and get a Master's degree in music production and sound design for visual media in the hopes of further honing my musical skills and meeting people in the industry. As
a professional in the industry, do you have any advice for myself and other students?
Make no mistake it's tough to get in. It's really important to get to know what games companies are looking for when it comes to a sound guy, you know, learn about Unreal, learn FMOD and Wwise, these are tools that lotsof game developers use and if you were applying for a job would be a big plus on your resume. The last thing I'll say is the easiest thing to do is give up, I know because I consider it every day, I really do. It's the people that just won't quit that get there in the end. As Winston Churchill said "Never, never, never give up", a friend of mine gave me that saying on a fridge magnet and I look at it a lot!!! Thanks for wanting to talk to me and good luck!
My thoughts on the interview:
Well, to start, I saw this interview come in last night at a place and time that I couldn't really look at it, so I decided to wait till today and with my usual plan to post it at the beginning of the week. Then, I read the interview and was simply too excited to wait.
1) I too started with my musical "whimsies" around four years of age. Mine consisted of being drawn to any piano I saw in the malls or department stores of Wisconsin. I would try to copy player pianos that repeated jazz or house-style cycles over and over and ended up playing random notes in a way that my parents thought were intelligent. They don't really have a musical background, but by the age of 7, they decided that they could give me one.
2) Having friends and a lot of persistence always seems to be a great thing. I know of an Australian kid right now that is in a facebook "video game and film composers from around the world" group that I am a part of who learned Japanese and just kept sending in demos every time he went to Japan. Eventually, he got that call as well and began working on projects with people like Nobuo Uematsu. He, of course, came back very excited. I haven't heard from him in a while, which leads me to believe he may be doing that full-time now as well. I believe he started with Cubase as well, which reminds me, I forgot to ask what kind of equipment you use now. Oh well.
3) I just listened to pretty much every song from Viva Piñata, since I don't have an Xbox and never had the opportunity to play the series. These tracks are fantastic, and I was reading some of the comments on them. People agree with me. In fact one person said that they thought the game was tedious and annoying and other negative things, but every time they were about to get upset and turn it off, a new, beautiful track would start playing and draw them in for another six hours of gaming.
4) Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning is another game I have not gotten to play, but it looks cool, and I didn't realize that it was out for PS3 until recently. I'll definitely have to check it out. I listened to the music from it as well, and it sounds different enough as a separate series should, but still stays true to that awesome Kirkhope style. Don't worry about the rant. It is terrible that such unfortunate things can still happen to great and inspiring composers such as yourself, but when you throw things like money and fear into the mix, great things have a better chance of disappearing.
5) My dream is to one day record a composition with a live orchestra. In fact, I just finished a film-like score that I hope can one day be that piece. Now that you are in LA and are working with live orchestras, you are very close to the whole film world. I wonder if that means we can expect to hear your stuff in other media soon. If movies, television, etc. is a part of your dreams, I'd say go for it! You easily have what it takes.
6) Ahh, good old John Williams. Great composer, and like you, he has a distinct style, but something about his, for me at least, is a bit outdated while still being big and space or futuristic-like. I guess that would make sense, since some of his most famous works are from the 70s, 80s, and 90s and were recorded as such. In the film world, I prefer John Powell and Hans Zimmer, though Williams is common on my Pandora station. I really wish they'd put your stuff on there. And again, we are talking about people that do a lot in films, and one comment on YouTube said that your music reminded that person of Spiderman (of course, some of your bigger fans got offended, suggesting that it is an insult to you to be compared I guess with either a movie they hated or with Danny Elfman, who they must not be fond of either). If you ever started in this field, however, I'd probably watch any movie with your name in the credits. I wonder, since these are the guys you look up to, if it would be like a dream come true to meet them if you haven't already.
7) I have heard this advice from so many people and that is why I have decided to do the opposite. It's the ones that keep going after too many rejections to handle that eventually find their place in the industry. I'm going to further my musical education and meet people and work hard at what I love until they have no choice but to let me do it professionally. And I'm definitely going to research Unreal, FMOD, and Wwise, since I'm guessing they have to do with the non-musical aspects of sound. I've wanted lately to be more encouraging to people because I have seen the effects that positive encouragement has. It was an absolute honor to interview you, and I will leave you with one last piece of encouragement. You have a lot of fans out there that love you. Whenever you feel like it is not worth it, simply look at all of the comments on your music on YouTube, listen to the fan music made because of you (there is a guy on YouTube that pops up when you type "Grant Kirkhope" who recreates a lot of your songs live), or even shoot me an email. Thanks again, Grant! Your music has inspired a generation. For more of Grant's music and history, check out his website at www.grantkirkhope.com.