By Bob Gourley | Originally published in 2001
How did you come to do music for the “Die Hard Trilogy” video game?
BT: “They’d heard a couple of tracks from my album, like ‘Madskillz Mic Checka’ and The Hip Hop Phenomenon’,” and they were like ‘yeah, we want stuff like that, but even more aggro.’ They were looking for really aggressive, new school break beat stuff. So I just did banging 140 bpm musical break beat tracks, which was a lot of fun. Because at the same time I was working on this film, ‘Under Suspicion with Gene Hackman and Mogran Freeman in it. I was writing all classical music for that. So when I got sick of sitting down with pencil and paper, writing for a 60 piece string section, I could go work on these aggro, blow your head off kind of 140 bpm musical break beat things. So it was a good change, and cool because it’s dissimilar to doing a movie. You’re not writing synchronous to picture, so what you’re thinking about is a vibe, and not punctuating specific moments within the thing. ”
At what point in the development process was the game? Were you able to play it while writing the music?
BT: “They gave me one of those cool blue Playstations so I could play regular burned cds on it, and every could of days they would burn the working version of it. So they’d send it over and I’d play it as I was writing the music, and that’s how it went. Like I said, the thing that’s easier about it is your not punctuating specific synchronous time code moments. You’re just going for the vibe of what’s happening in a particular scene. So it was a lot of fun, I really enjoyed doing it. I wrote 34 pieces of music for it.”
Is there any interaction at all between the gameplay and music, in terms of player actions altering the sound track?
BT: “There’s not, and I wish there was. Certain player behaviors triggering certain elements of the music, or bring the beats out or bring the beats back in, make the bass line distort or whatever. And I’m sure with stuff like Playstation 2 we’ll be able to do that. But working within the Playstation platform, there’s not really a way to do a whole lot of that. Basically, I wrote each piece of music to complement the vibe of where the player is. If you’re in the first person shooting mode, or the Doom-style part, the first level in the game, you’re running through this really dark, sinister place, a dusty, musty looking place. And so it’s this really dark style with minimal breaks and these weird atonal pads. It’s not really interactive, but I wish it were. You can’t really do it within the Playstation platform, as far as I know at least.”
How does the North American release of “Movement in Still Life” compare to the European one?
BT: “It’s very different, actually. It’s got five new songs on it, and there are a couple of songs that are pulled off from the European version. And it’s no beat mixed at all, it’s sequenced much more like a rock record than a dance record. Also, the tracks are much shorter.”
What was the reason for the different versions?
BT: What happened was I wrote 29 songs for this album. So I literally sat down with a couple of friends, like I sat down with Sasha and said ‘tell me what you think is appropriate for where.’ It was one of those kinds of things. It was like ok, this, this, this, and this work for England, and this, this, this, and this work for America. In an ideal situation, if we were making DVD albums right now, which I’d love to have made, I would have put everything on there. But I didn’t want to inundate, super saturate people with a double album. Because I think those can be really confusing at times. I just finally got my head around the NIN record, and I’m a huge Nine Inch Nails fan. So I’m definitely not at a point where I can afford to confuse people any more than I already have. So I just thought it would be cool to make one that was subject appropriate for America, and one that was subject appropriate for England. But I would have loved to have had them all on one thing.”
What’s the reason for the change of labels?
BT: “It came about because Warner Bros. sucks and I wanted to get the fuck out of there. I left just barely with my life, that just about sums it up.”
What were the problems there?
BT: “I had a terrible perception problem over there. There are some really good people over there; I have good friends that I made. They got, to an extent, what I was trying to do. But just in general, there are such organizational problems at the label. It was such a bad time in my life, I had managerial problems. My managers were banned from the label; they hated them so much. The label told security that if my managers showed up they were to be removed by force if necessary from the premises. That’s what I was dealing with, I’d have to go in there and talk to the marketing people, ‘hey guys, can I have some posters?’ When I was touring America, I was out postering cities on my roller blades with my sound and lightening guys. It was just a terrible train wreck of misunderstanding as to what I am. They just completely didn’t get it at all. They were like ‘what do you do? Where’s the drummer? We need 3 minute pop songs.’ They just didn’t get it at all. So when Paul [Oakenfeld] was taking Perfecto away from the Warner system, he did me a huge favor. I really owe him; he was kind enough to let me know he was leaving. I was like ‘you can’t leave me here alone, you’ve my point person, you’re my only guy who I feel gets it’ and he’s like ‘well I don’t think I can get you out of it’. Because I had two more albums to make for them. It was right when then managing director had switched over, and Paul was able to help finagle a thing and get me out. I am forever indebted to him for that, as it enabled me too go away and make a record that I wanted to make. I just went and did my record on my own, paid for it on my own. And then when it was done, we went to some people who expressed interest and played it to them, and saw who got it the most. So that’s how we did each deal, in each territory. That was the greatest thing about this. Because if you’re signed to Warner Bros., you’re just automatically on Warner Bros. in Lithuania. Like they care about you. Doing this was a real weight off my shoulders, real freedom.”
Being off Warner Bros., was the actual process of making the new cd different?
BT: “Definitely, because I had my label forever telling me ‘you’re the progressive house guy, we don’t want to hear anything from you unless it’s progressive house.’ Yet when I turned in ‘ESCM’ they were like ‘there’s not a single track we can put out’ and I was like ‘well I want ‘Flaming June’ to be the first track, and they were like ‘it’s crap, no one will fucking like that track’ That was heart breaking, and that’s what I was up against, a complete and total lack of understanding with what I was trying to do. I don’t know what else to say about it, but it was really liberating to actually get to do what I wanted to do. They discouraged me from everything, from collaborating with people to singing on my own material. From doing anything from what they thought I was, which was the progressive house guy. But they wanted me to shorted my tracks to three minutes and put cheesy vocals on top of them so they could sell them to Radio 1. It was depressing, really frustrating.”
Since you usually use guest singers, why did you chose to sing on some tracks this time around?
BT: “I sang on all the demos for my stuff, going way back. But I’ve gotten in my friends, who are great singers, to sing on the final versions. But this time around, there were a couple of tracks that I thought would be difficult to explain to a singer what they were about so they could keep the emotional integrity. A track like ‘Satellite’ is fairly oblique and ambiguous. It involves dissecting it to the point of not making sense to try to explain what it’s about. So it was one of those kinds of things. I played it to a bunch of fiends, and they were like ‘man, this sounds great, you should leave your vocals.’ And I was like ‘I don’t think so, people will think it’s cheesy’ but then I thought ‘you know what, screw it, it’s me, and if people thing that’s cheesy then whatever, it’s part of what I do. So, why not?”
When you do work with other vocalists, at what point do they get involved?
BT: “I’ll write songs with a certain singer in mind. A track like ‘Mercury and Solace,’ … actually that was the only song that was reverse engineered. Because Jan came to my house when I was working on ‘Go’ and she did amazing vocals, but they didn’t like the stuff because they wanted it to be instrumental, they didn’t want it to feel too much like songs. So anyway, I had this vocal laying around that she’d done, and I was working on this deep progressive house track, I was thinking ‘this needs a really subtle kind of vocal, I wonder if that thing Jan sang will work over this track?’ I pulled it out, cut it up a bit, put it over the track, and it worked great. Another one, like ‘Dreaming,’ was completely mad. Kirsty [Hawkshaw ] left me this phone message, didn’t even say hello, and just sang that vocal. And within a couple of hours I wrote the track, and left her a message, saying I don’t even want to know what that is, just send me the vocals. So she recorded it and sent it to me, and that’s how that happened. Everything happened in different ways ‘Running Down the Way Up’ was definitely written with Kirsty in mind, she took a poem she was working on and put the poem to the song.”
How has the evolution of musical technology affected the way you work?
BT: “Hugely. The greatest influence on my life on a technological level has been Pro-Tools and everything that it entails. All the plug-ins, the Logic Audio environment, all that has completely changed how I work. I literally don’t use outboard effects any more. You have five bazillion more times the control over the effects than working on a regular console. When I go into like ‘proper’ studios with all the real to real tape decks and huge boards, it just makes me laugh. I’m like ‘you guys actually make records here?’ It’s crazy. What do you do if you want to put the drums instead of on the first verse on the second chorus? And they’re like ‘we hire Pro-Tools.’ And I’m like why do you have all this shit? Why? So it’s really had a profound influence on the way that I work, for sure.”
Does it present a danger, in terms of giving too many options?
BT: “Yeah, it does. And I think that one of the most important things now, in making music that’s done with technology, is exercising that kind of control. Because you have so many possibilities, just an insane plethora of choices as to how you can manipulate sounds, how you can change the arrangements and stuff. You just don’t have that in linear systems like tape. So the possibilities are literally infinite. So it can be a hindrance in the actual initial creative process, when you’re writing, as opposed to engineering and mixing down tracks. But when you’re mixing stuff down, I really like to experiment. To experiment with weird beta versions of programs, I’d rather experiment a little bit too much and pull it back when done, as opposed to whacking it up and whatever sounds cool just leaving it. But you have to be careful that you don’t go off the deep end.”See all interviews →