Interview: Anamanaguchi on the Scott Pilgrim Videogame Score
"I feel a huge connection to Scott Pilgrim: we all grew up playing in bands, we all grew up with the John Hughes-esque emotional drama drowning our lives. So all I had to do was write music and it would work."
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game pixel art by Paul Roberston
Every few years, gloriously awkward music nerds get their very own vulnerable onscreen antiheroes. This year, Scott Pilgrim will be for music-blog-scanning MP3 hoarders what High Fidelity's Rob was to SPIN subscribers in 2000. The title character of the most recent film from Shaun of the Dead/Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright, Scott Pilgrim is a scrawny bassist who falls for a rollerblading indie girl named Ramona Flowers. New to town, she has the unusual baggage of seven evil exes; in order to date her, he must individually defeat them all. Personified by geek heartthrob Michael Cera and based on illustrator Bryan Lee O'Malley's six-part graphic novel, Scott Pilgrim the protagonist is as much creative-underclass epitome as fighting-game avatar: successful combat moves register numerical points and achievements (e.g. "64 HIT COMBO"); extra lives are gained from grabbing levitating pixelated faces; bathroom visits deplete Pilgrim's "Pee Bar."
So logically, with the August 13 release of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World comes Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game on August 10, an 8-bit side-scrolling brawler that pits the unlikely warrior against his paramour's former loves. Also logically (and awesomely), Ubisoft asked Brooklyn's own 8-bit-punks Anamanaguchi to score the cartoon melee, an opportunity the band's chief composer Pete Berkman admits was a "dream come true." Hence, Berkman and guitarist/Gameboy manipulator Ary Warnaar were "psyched beyond belief" to get on the phone and tell us about the experience.
I read that you picked up the Scott Pilgrim comic book for the first time last summer. Then the day after, you got the call asking you guys to score the videogame?
Pete: Yeah. We were in Lexington, Kentucky. We were just at this party and just as I was going to sleep, I saw a copy of Scott Pilgrim Volume One on the table. So I checked it out. And then the next day, we got the phonecall about [the] Scott Pilgrim [videogame]. I was like, "Whaaaaaaaaat?"
That's a big coincidence.
Pete: Exactly. It was the first time I'd ever seen the book. The fact that the story is so--my life, y'all--it was crazy. The whole thing is this strange, cosmic insanity. There's never been anything so appropriate to me.
What was the process of scoring the game?
Pete: Last summer, we were on tour and when we got back, we started writing stuff like the theme song. The whole thing came very naturally, the writing process. Before, I mostly did everything [for Anamanaguchi's songwriting]. But for this, we split up the work. Ary did a bunch of songs and Luke [Silas] did a bunch of songs--our drummer--and it was really fun. We got to explore a lot of different vibes that we don't usually get to explore.
What'd they give you as guidelines? Sequences, levels?
Pete: Basically, they're the seven evil exes, so we have levels for each one and their boss themes--when you actually fight them. The whole time we were trying to get across the general feel of each ex, their personality and stuff.
You have Roxanne Richter, the girl Ramona dated, and she's, like, a totally Japanese-culture person. And so Ary had the idea, "Oh you should definitely do some DDR [Dance Dance Revolution] style, crazy Japanese pop for this." And I'm like, "You're absolutely right."
Ary: For the actual process of what we had to do, we were given a series of adjectives on occasion, sometimes a screencast of the actual game. But other than that, we'd just write a loop for it.
Were they structured like songs? Or is it more like a score?
Pete: It's actually somewhere a little bit in the middle.
Ary: We treat them as songs, but they don't necessarily look like songs. They're only like eight seconds to two minutes long. But we still treated them all like songs. [Excerpts from the Scott Pilgrim videogame soundtrack up at PlayStation.]
Pete: Yeah, absolutely. We viewed this whole thing as kind of an art project. Just because all the pieces fit so well together and we wanted to do it justice. We're an instrumental band and I've always had huge love for soundtrack music. If you went to my iTunes in eleventh grade, my most listened to thing was this band Goblin from Italy who did soundtracks to Dawn of the Dead and a bunch of other Italian horror movies. I just love mood and I appreciate that each moment needs its own vibe.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game trailer
What's in your head when you're writing for the videogame? Are you imagining the characters' perspectives, are you imagining yourself being Scott Pilgrim?
Pete: Imagining being Scott Pilgrim is not very difficult for us to do. I feel a huge connection to the character and to the story: we all grew up playing in bands, we all grew up with the John Hughes-esque emotional drama drowning our lives. So basically, all I had to do was write music and it would work.
Ary: For my stuff, I definitely did a lot of re-reading the area in the comic that was covered in the game and imagining what I'd want to be hearing if it were cinematic.
Have you ever had to fight somebody's ex?
Pete: Um, not fight. I'm working on it.
Ary: I have.
Ary: Yeah, a couple.
Did you win?
Ary: I've had to deal with some really bad ex-boyfriends. That were, like, really not down with me dating their girls.
Pete: If it came down to it, I'd probably be able to kick some ass. I don't doubt my abilities even though I'm a scrawny, 100-something pound white dude.