Interview: Peter Chapman, Composer (Guacamelee, Mod Nation Racers, Little Big Planet Karting)

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With his music featured in commercials (Aeropostale, M&Ms), TV-shows (Sesame Street, Bomb Girls), and video games (About a Blob, Guacamelee, Sound Shapes), Peter Chapman is easily one of the coolest guys around (not to mention, one of the nicest too). I recently sat down and talked with him about his creation process, and what it’s like being apart of such awesome video games.

To read a full bio, click here.

Above photo from Blogher

Starting it all off, I would love to know what your relationship with video games is like.

PC: You know, it’s funny – I’m not a hardcore gamer by any stretch, but I was a huge Nintendo kid growing up. In my twenties, I had just graduated college and went down to a gaming store on Spadina Street [Toronto, Canada] to re-buy a Nintendo [NES] and all of the old games that I had when I was a kid. I didn’t leave the house for like, a week! Bionic Commando, Final Fantasy, Mega Man 2. Now, I buy all of the games that I work on to hear how they turned out, and I’ll buy games that my friends have worked on or been involved with. I’m also a huge Fallout fan.

There is a new one [Fallout 4] coming out! The trailers are making it look pretty awesome. You must be pumped.

PC: Oh, I know! I can’t wait for that game.

Switching gears from playing to composing, you’ve written music for all types of mediums, which is super cool. From your experience, are there any major differences between writing music for television or commercials, and video games?

PC: Yeah, there are some big ones. Commercials are usually wall-to-wall music, so exactly 30 seconds long, and are a quick turn-around. Often I’ll get a call on Monday, write music on Tuesday, and send it off on Wednesday.

Television – by a long shot – is the most stressful. If you’re working on 12-13 episodes, the typical schedule would be cranking out one [episode] a week. On Tuesday, you have a spotting session where you will meet with producers and editors who will tell you what kind of music that they want. Later that day, you write music. Wednesday, you write music. Thursday, you write music. Friday, you write music. They will send you back notes and you’ll maybe have one or two days to correct everything that they don’t like. On Monday, it gets mixed and then on Tuesday you do it all again. It can be really exhausting.

[Working on] video games is definitely the most fun, but it’s also getting unfathomably competitive. Because there is this huge indie boom happening right now, there are a lot of people getting into it. I recently pitched on a game and later found out that four hundred people had pitched as well.

Holy crap! So for the games that you have landed, what does the creative development process entail?

PC: When I was working on Mod Nation Racers, the music supervisor Ben McCulloch sent me a mix tape of artists like Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk, Go Team – all this stuff I was already listening to. I was like, “I can do this!”, and that’s how we did it with that game.

When I worked with Drinkbox, we usually had a meeting where we sat down and hashed out how we were going to proceed. For example, with Guacamelee, they told me that they wanted some really authentic Mexican music, and that it can’t just be Latin. I went home and spent a week Googling traditional Mexican music, like mariachi and folk. The duties were shared between myself and a guy named Ron Duprisco, who is an incredibly talented composer and musician, so that was an awesome project to work on.

The music in Guacemelee was the first thing about the game that grabbed me. The art style is incredibly stylistic and cool, but the music – the opening theme specifically – really hit me in a good way.

PC: Wow, I really appreciate that!

So moving on to the latest game you’ve composed for, what was it like working with Neptune Interactive Inc. on the Castle Game?

PC: It was awesome. The main programer Anygaran Vamatheva basically said do whatever you want. He let me go crazy on that game and it was really fun. I think it’s some of the best orchestral music I’ve written, so I’m really proud of that one.

And how many songs did you do for that game?

PC: I think I did around 15 tracks total for the Castle Game. Each level had two variations of the same theme: the section where you’re building your castle, and the battle music. The building music is the lower energy version, and when it switches into battle mode, the music amps up. There was also the opening theme.

Since they gave you free range to do as you pleased, how did you find a concrete base of what you wanted the music to sound like?

PC: He [Vamatheva] basically told me that he wanted “epic Lord of the Rings”. The game is pretty cartoony, so I wanted the music to be way over the top. Part of it was that I wanted to flex my orchestral chops, because he was giving me the chance to do so. It was an opportunity to push myself as far outside of my comfort zone as I could.

So I guess you could say that your experiences writing and developing video games have been fairly positive?

PC: In general, almost all of the indie game people that I’ve worked with have been really cool. I love a company like Drinkbox to death – I think they’re a really classy company. When I started on About a Blob, they were a pretty small operation. That game did well enough that it gave them a launch pad to do Guacamelee, and watching that game blow up was great. I hope the best for them.

I’m sure they’ve all loved working with you – your writing is incredible! It’s been good chatting with you.

PC: Awesome, thanks!

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