Kat of the Musicals

What an interview this was! Tommy Tallarico is a legend (he’s worked on over 250 games!!)! I’ve always been a big fan of video game music (being a OSTs of all kinds music addict) and have a large variety of game scores in my playlists despite not necessarily having played all the games… *shrugs*

I’ve also been quite a fan of video game music concerts- like Play! or the Eminence Orchestra, and indeed of Video Games Live! So I was SUPER excited for this!

We had an awesome (super long) Skype chat and Tommy is so cool and extremely passionate about what he does. We did have to break in the middle of it for him to duck out quickly to the shops for milk before they closed 😉 but it was such a great chat!

The interview was originally posted on Arts on the AU.

Video Games Live has “all the power and emotion of a symphony orchestra combined with the energy of a rock concert, mixed together with all the cutting edge visuals, interactivity, technology and fun that video games provide” says co-creator Tommy Tallarico. It was the first of its kind- an insane concert experience unlike any other, and certainly worlds apart from the other video game concerts that followed in its large footprints. Now in it’s 13th year, having performed over 350 concerts, this July will mark Video Games Live’s very FIRST tour to Australia!

the AU review Arts editor Kat Czornij chatted with the video game composing legend himself, whose credits span over 250 games (!!!) including Earthworm Jim, Prince of Persia and Advent Rising. Tommy explains just how epic the VGL concerts are, how audience members can determine the set list with him, and even shares his own favourite games and soundtracks.

Could you tell us a little bit about how you came into the idea for creating Video Games Live?

I used to put on video game concerts when I was 10 years old, where I would record all my favourite video game music and strum along with my guitar, so I think this whole thing just sort of manifested out of my childhood dreams! Video Games Live really combines my three greatest loves in the world- video games and music and performing.

I’ve been a video game composer for over 25 years and my whole idea behind creating VGL was that I wanted to prove to the world how culturally significant and artistic video games had become. I also wanted to help usher in a whole new generation of young people to appreciate the symphony and the arts and the orchestra. I like to describe VGL as having all the power and emotion of a symphony orchestra combined with the energy of a rock concert, mixed together with all the cutting edge visuals, interactivity, technology and fun that video games provides. I am also the only guy who is actually a video game composer, in the industry, putting on these shows!

You have such an impressive array of your own compositions, how does your experience as a game composer help shape the concert?

I will usually put only one of my own into the show, maybe Earthworm Jim or Metroid, something classic. Things that people would know. But I really try to not make the show about me, even though I host and produce the show and am on stage playing guitar, its really more about the industry and showcasing all of the game music from around the world. The music of all my colleagues and friends. We’re really a close knit bunch- whether its Marty O’Donnell and Halo or Russell Brower and Warcraft or Nobuo Uematsu with Final Fantasy or Koji Kondo with Mario and Zelda… it’s such an honour for me to be able to perform this music all over the world. The most incredible thing is that no matter where we go in the world people always love and have an attachment to video game music.

How do you determine the set list for each concert?

So there are actually two ways: the first is that at www.videogameslive.com there is a sign up on the right hand side for our mailing list, and we ask people there what they want to hear and what their favourite games are and where they’re from. Then I look at that spreadsheet when I’m making up a set list and I’ll say “Ok, Australia, what are they looking for?” The other way is that on Facebook we create Event pages for every show we do. In those you’ll see the first pinned post is me asking everybody (and it really is me! I don’t have a team of people doing this) what they want to hear. I like to throw in a couple of surprises, so I won’t just take what everyone wants, things like Shadow of the Colossus for example.

This is a truly immersive concert event, created with an orchestra, video footage, synchronized lighting, live action segments… How does one aim to coordinate all these parts of the production without it getting too manic?

The energy and excitement, especially when we play in a new country or city, is just so intense. I bring a team of seven people with me and we have been together for 13 years and so we’ve done 350 shows together. We actually have a Guinness World Record for the most symphony shows done by a single production company! So we’ve seen it all, experienced it all.

Every venue we go into is a completely different experience, so every time it is unique and new and challenging and fun! And then of course for the show itself, we’ve never played the same show twice EVER. We have over 130 segments for VGL that I’ve created over the years but we can only play about 20 of them a night. So if we come back to Australia next year, which is the plan, when we come back it will be a completely different show! So for us, putting on the show is like it’s the first time for us every time. I’m all based around passion and excitement and I love doing this, which is why I’ve been doing this 13 years now and just as excited today as the first day.

There are a few concert series dealing specifically with game music, including PLAY!, the Final Fantasy Distant Worlds concerts, or those from the Eminence Orchestra. How does VGL differ from these?

When I started VGL no one was doing anything like what I was doing- synchronized video and things like that, and when we did our very first show at the Hollywood Bowl we had the whole industry there. The creators of Metal Gear Solid, Sonic the Hedgehog, of Pong and Atari, and we had everyone from Nintendo… just tons and tons of people. It was the very first time video game music had ever been performed for the following games- Kingdom Hearts, Sonic, Metal Gear Solid, Mist, Warcraft, Halo… There had been Japanese video game concerts since the mid-80s but they were all very traditional- tuxedos, no lighting, no video screens.

What you’ll find about Distant Worlds, Eminence, the Zelda shows etc is that they’re also very much like that. They do have video screens now, but they’re very classical in nature. But video games are not just classical symphony music! That’s not what a video game is! A video game is about interactivity, technology, amazing visuals, the characters, the storylines, and the music. I wanted to bring ALL of those things together to create a show to celebrate the entire video game industry. And of course the biggest part about video games is fun!

And how does VGL create all that fun?

So our show has millions of dollars worth of synchronized lighting just like a big rock show, we have three massive HD video screens, we have interactive elements with the crowd, I encourage people to bring their cellphones so we can interact with them from the stage, we have a Guitar Hero competitions before the show and the winner gets to come on stage to play live with me and the orchestra to win a big prize. We have other interactive segments where I invite people to come on stage and play games while the orchestra plays along as a live soundtrack. And of course throughout the concert I encourage the audience to cheer and clap and holler whenever they feel like! These are all the things those other shows don’t do.

You were the first video game composer to release a video game soundtrack. When did you discover that gamers could be just as passionate about its music as the game itself?

I always felt that way, and so for me it was always a natural sort of thing that people wanted to hear more of this music. I would get emails and people would come to my forums to ask me to perform certain music. So for me it was always like, why aren’t more people doing this? I formed a non-profit organization called the Game Audio Network Guild, or GANG, and we have over 2,500 members all over the world including game composers, sound designers, voice over people and even students looking to get into the industry. With this I started to go around to the publishers and awards (like MTV and the Grammy) and we got video game music more involved. No one was doing it so I thought- well I’d better do it! There is now a whole generation who have grown up on video games as part of their culture and this is just the beginning!

What are you most looking forward to about bringing the VGL tour to Australia?

I’ve been waiting a long time! I’m a huge fan of Australia on a personal level, and I don’t just say that in every interview! I’ve been all over the world and I have personally vacationed in Australia six different times. But we haven’t yet performed the show there! I’ve been trying to get there for 10 years! It is the one country that I haven’t been to that I cared the most. So phew finally!

So it’s going to be a special show for that reason, but for me the most exciting thing is that I am going to be performing this show in front of people for the first time and that’s where you’re going to see the magic really happen. You can watch as many of our videos on YouTube as you like but when you get in a room with hundreds of other people and you are amongst the way that we present our show and you see the passion and emotion that we bring, there is just this magic that happens that you can’t put in a poster and that cant be captured in a YouTube video. You kind of have an idea of what to expect but when you see it you go “what the hell just happened?”.

And finally, what is your favourite video game and video game soundtrack of all time?

Ok first my favourite game of all time, which I think is a perfect masterpiece, is Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo. Just the music and the graphics during the time, and the gameplay- it’s just perfect! But, if I were to go to a desert island and say what’s the one video game that I’d take with me it would be Red Dead Redemption. You can do SO much in that game! But also Shadow of the Colossus, Metal Gear Solid, those are some of my other favourites.

Now my favourite soundtrack ever of all time would have to be Final Fantasy VIII, with Liberi Fatali, Eyes On Me… I think that was Nobuo Uematsu’s best work ever. Listen to our version of Liberi Fatali- it is in your face, powerful and huge. You can always hear this in our recordings and arrangements, and that really gives you a whole look into the approach of our show.

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