Interview: Matt & Kim Talk Video Game Music
Whether you are hijacking a gang member's car during a crime spree, hurtling through the galaxy with guns blazing or pulling sick tricks at a beachside skatepark, music is an indispensable part of any gaming experience. As the format has matured and attracted larger audiences, video game music has become big business too -- many top-tier titles now include big name composers and popular groups on the credit roll. We recently had a chance to sit down with upbeat pop-punk duo Matt & Kim, whose songs have been licensed to feature in upcoming games from Electronic Arts. Among other things, we spoke to them about the music licensing process, Wii-related injuries and where the whole new-media entertainment juggernaut is headed.
Brooklyn-based Matt & Kim broke onto the indie rock scene in a big way in 2006 with their first self-titled EP. This year's full length album Grand is a punk/pop tour-de-force, full of simple melodies overlaid against energetic percussion. Since the album's release, the band has seen their work featured in television commercials and most recently, video games. If things continue going so well for the unassuming pair from New York, we expect to see their music turning up literally everywhere in 2009.
Gameflavor: Do either of you find any time to play games between the hard work of writing new stuff and touring? If so, what are your favorite ones (fanboys and girls need to know!)
Matt: Well, since we spend almost 80% of our time on the road or traveling by plane, I don't have much time for games -- other than being addicted to Touch Grind on the iPhone. The reason why I got into it was that I had a friend once who told me it was only thing that mattered in life anymore. So when it comes to games, whatever we can take portable along with us is pretty much necessary.
We were recently given a couple of Nintendo DS systems, but I have not yet gotten into it very deeply. So far I've opened it up and tried out this game EA does called Skate It (I love skateboarding games). With the DS, its just such a different way of thinking about playing - the extra pen is definitely something I have to get used to.
We're about to leave on tour again to Europe, so I'll definitely take it along and hopefully get better.
Gameflavor: Have you played anything on consoles recently?
Matt: We were also given a Wii as well by the folks over at EA. But the problem is our apartment -- we live in an 8-goot wide boxcar style place in New York. By the time we managed to fit the TV in there, plus we have a couch that takes up another 2.5 feet of the room -- you can't even swing your arm, without hitting the TV! It's funny because there's this warning on the screen that says for "most proper effectiveness the player must stand at least 6 feet away". So since we are like six inches away from the screen it's been pretty ineffective (laughs).
But we've got some Wii games. Boom Blox, That's a good one. But again the problem is that playing it definitely has potential to break something or hit your friend, throwing the Wiimote around as hard as you can. I actually had a back injury recently, and while I was playing Boom Blox the other day I almost threw my back again.
Gameflavor: Is that injury stage related? We've heard things can get pretty intense at your shows.
Matt: The injury was actually caused I think because I became brittle from simply sitting down and driving around for 5 months at a time without getting any exercise. And then to make matters worse I made a couple of wrong moves at a show. You know, it wasn't anything dramatic -- although I have done my share of crowdsurfing and other stuff -- but it was nothing as a dramatic as that, I just bent the wrong way and bam it was all over.
Gameflavor: Tell us more about your license deal with EA. Do you see this as an opportunity to find a new audience for your work, or are you worried your art might get co-opted by a giant multinational video game company?
Matt: Well that's definitely one way to look at it (laughs). Actually, we were looking for a publisher partner for a little bit, and we were also really open to new ways of thinking about things. You know, old traditional channels like record sales and TV are falling apart, and some labels can't change their business structure. To get in with a company like EA that's booming and building and thinking about new media sounded great to us. After meeting with EA, and especially people that work there who our manager knew from years working at record labels, basically it all comes down to working with people you trust. And Kevin (our manger) had known some of the EA people for years, and his advice is something I really trust. Add that to the benefit of the company having this strong understanding of new media outlets, it all just made sense.
Gameflavor: What was it that finally sold you on the idea of working with EA and having your music featured in video games?
Matt: I think all it took was having us come visit their LA offices and basically finding ourselves at Disneyland. You've got these amazing offices with games all over the place. You know, again, I'm a musician -- not a businessman -- and a lot of the business side of music is completely different from performing. So, not only do we have to trust our manager in a creative way, but also, the dude knows business. I must have asked Kevin a hundred times what the heck game publishing even was. Since we were still at the point of getting minimal record sales, we had to be creative and look at all these options.
Gameflavor: Your music is so upbeat and happy, it's hard to imagine it alongside many typical games that feature, you know, car crashes and aliens getting dismembered. What kind of videogame experience would you ideally like to see feature your songs?
Matt: Well I think it's true that every game experience needs a suitable soundtrack. When it comes to our own stuff, there are certain genres that come to mind - sort of alternative games like skateboarding, BMX, surfing -- I hate to use the word "extreme". But our music has already been in skateboard videos, that kind of thing. From what I've seen of these videos, it kind of works, the energy is just right.
That seems to be the same way that video games and their soundtracks work -- you've got to make sure that the experience goes hand in hand with the song and it feels right. You definitely have to have the right music at the right moment in the game as well, just like in the movies. The way I look at gaming is that it's just the new form of entertainment. When I started playing music, I got really into punk pop -- and that was 'cause I was into skating and watched a lot of skating videos with music. That's how I originally got turned on to punk acts like Pennywise, No Religion and guys like that. So my interest in skating and film sort of bridged the gap from one thing I liked to another thing that I liked, which was music.
The thing about video games -- I'm from a film background so I think in a very visual way -- the thing is that music can really enhance a movie. But in video games, it's almost like a form of movie you can play. In order for the music to work in that format, you have to realize it's not only something you're observing. In the game, maybe your character is outside doing something and it's as if the music in your life is turned on. I would say that game music is on another next level from a movie soundtrack, so that is really cool to be involved with.
We'd like to extend a big thanks to Matt & Kim for sharing their experiences with us, and we wish them the best of luck as they embark on their next tour. Readers can go pick up their latest album Grand, in stores and available on iTunes now.
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