Peculiarly, perhaps, for a company called Rockstar, we don't generally associate the publisher's games with amazing and original music. Grand Theft Auto, its most successful series, has a few radio jingles and began life with music produced in-house, but since then has given this over to a flourishing licensing department whose endeavours have been compiled into huge soundtrack sets - the latest, San Andreas, featuring eight CDs of music. For Canis Canem Edit (née Bully), however, the company found it necessary to approach from a different perspective, as Rockstar soundtrack supervisor Ivan Pavlovich told Eurogamer ahead of the game's release.
"Licensed music works extremely well when you have a source for the music, like the various radio stations in the Grand Theft Auto series, and it can be easier to play licensed music when you have a car racing game such as Midnight Club," he tells us. "We realised early on with Canis Canem Edit that we were trying to create a cinematic ambience that complemented and heightened the action, and the music would be very difficult to fit into any mould we had used before. In order to play licensed music, we would have to figure out source points like a radio in a dorm, a boom box on the sports field or music in the shops."
That, for Rockstar, felt like a stretch too far. "Because so much of the action takes place while running around in the open environment, the musical highlights would be few and far between. Since we wanted the music to dynamically change with what was happening in game, tying it to environments would create awkward transitions between songs of different genres and tempos at random times," Pavlovich explains. "In order to properly capture the transition in emotion and energy between different in-game segments, we needed to fully score the game to create different intensities. This would have been impossible with licensed music - no label or artist would have given us unfettered access to their music."
And so the company sought a different approach - contracting musician Shawn Lee to head up work on an original, orchestral score. The results, as we'll be discussing in our review soon, are really quite superb. You can listen to a few examples over on Eurogamer TV, where we're hosting streaming copies of Canis Canem Edit's main theme, as well as tracks Bustin' In and Vendetta Nerds. With the game due out in Europe next Friday, 27th October, we also had a chance to put some questions to Lee, as part of a press pool. Read on for a few insights into who he is, and how the work on Canis Canem Edit evolved.
Press Pool: Shawn please can you give us a synopsis of your multi-instrumental musical background and work to date?
Shawn Lee: I've released three solo albums plus four Ping Pong Orchestra albums which I've played almost every note on. I've also played on and co-written many hit records.
Press Pool: You moved from Wichita to Los Angeles to London can you explain how the different places have influenced your musical style?
Shawn Lee: Environment counts for a lot. There is the local scene, radio and so on. My childhood in Wichita was spent listening to '60s, '70s, '80s music and films. I moved to LA in '88 and lived there for 7 years. Hip-hop, jazz and old funk and soul records were my main musical interests then. I moved to London in late 1994. My tastes widened even more to include indie rock, dance and electronic styles. I also became more studio and production savvy in recent years.
Press Pool: How many instruments do you play? What have been your main influences in selecting all the instruments to learn and how do you discover the rare breeds of instruments you have found over the years?
Shawn Lee: My main instruments are guitar, bass, drums, percussion and singing. I discovered more exotic instruments thru listening to all kinds of music.
Press Pool: How did Rockstar Games track you down to compose the score for Bully?
Shawn Lee: I received an email from Ivan Pavlovich. He asked me if I would be up for scoring a new game. I believe he was aware of me from my Ping Pong Orchestra albums. Needless to say, I said yes!
Press Pool: Was composing the music for Bully your first foray into composing for games?
Shawn Lee: Yes and no. I had previously co-written some tracks for the Sony game 'The Getaway'. Bully is my first full musical score for a video game.
Press Pool: Had you previously considered composing music for video games?
Shawn Lee: To be honest, yes. It's an exciting and growing industry and a real challenging format to be sure.
Eurogamer: In doing this sort of work, do you play the game before writing the music, or do you tend to write something based on the broader theme and then adapt it? What's the process?
Shawn Lee: I did see a few clips of the game before I started writing the score. This gave me an idea of the visual style of Bully. The next step was discussing musical reference points which suggested various avenues to explore. Ivan at Rockstar was instrumental in guiding me in the right direction. Armed with a DVDR of selected music compiled by Ivan and some notes from our conversation, I headed back to London and began to plot a game plan. This was a very important stage. Where would I start? What studio(s)? What instruments? Etc. The next step was going into the studio and beginning with the bits that I had the clearest picture of. The score took shape one cue at a time. Some pieces of music helped define the overall feeling of the soundtrack as I worked. The musical score was very much a voyage of discovery for both Ivan and myself. In the end I incorporated practically every style of music known to man and invented a few in the process. Ambient wrestling anyone?! Dub Metal?! It was a true test of my skills and resolve and thanks to Ivan and everyone at Rockstar for giving me such a brilliant opportunity.
Press Pool: How would you describe the genre of music that you have written for Bully?
Shawn Lee: Punkyfunkyrockinclassicalambientnewwavedubmetalhiphopsoundtrack music!
Eurogamer: Was it difficult to deliver an orchestral soundtrack that captured the spirit of the game?
Shawn Lee: In a word, no. The hardest aspect of the game was the sheer volume of music which was required. I wrote and recorded nearly 100 tracks by the end!
Press Pool: How many people have been directly involved with producing these tracks?
Shawn Lee: I played all of the instruments and wrote all of the music by myself. A chap by the name of Andy Ross played flute on a couple of things. The man known as 'The french monkey wrench' named Pierre Duplan (by his mother) engineered and kept all the folders organized.
Eurogamer: What were your goals when you set out to write the score and what sort of themes would you say drove the composition as you got into it?
Shawn Lee: My goals were to bring together vast eclectic styles of music into one cohesive whole. The "running" cue was major in defining the feeling of Bully.
Press Pool: You recently scored an indie film. How did that process differ from the process of composing music for a videogame?
Shawn Lee: It's the same basically with one major difference. There is a lot less music in a film.
Press Pool: Soundtracks are becoming increasingly important in video games, how do you feel this will impact the music industry?
Shawn Lee: I think that the lines between video games, movies and music are blurring and merging. Having your music in a game gives you much more exposure than what you would get from traditional formats such as radio, MTV etc. In the future I think we will see games playing a larger role in breaking new music.
Press Pool: Critics have compared the Bully soundtrack to work by Danny Elfman, who has been referred to as Hollywood’s hottest film composer? Do you think there are similarities?
Shawn Lee: I think that Elfman really captures the essence of that twisted childlike thing musically. I think there is a similar feeling on a few of the tracks but overall no.
Eurogamer: The game has attracted some controversy - what are your views on it, and do you actually find that sort of thing influences you when you're working?
Shawn Lee: I'm afraid I was totally unaware of any controversy surrounding the game. It obviously contains a lot of fighting but it's a game for Christ sakes! Get over it.
Press Pool: Do you play videogames and will you be playing Bully?
Shawn Lee: Yes, Halo 1 for a bit of mindless carnage. I will definitely be playing a bit of Bully and kicking Johnny Vincent's ass!
Canis Canem Edit is due out on PlayStation 2 from 27th October.