Sat. Nov 28th, 2020

Interview with the Game Music Collective – “It started with the orchestra and immediately after that, it came to my mind that it would be really cool to have a smaller group that would be approached like more of a band or chamber music, without the conductor.” (Musicalypse Archive)

The GAME MUSIC COLLECTIVE has been poking around on our radar for a few years now and now that they’ve created the GAME MUSIC COLLECTIVE BAND, there’s an opportunity for us to hear more and more music from these guys. As many of us at Musicalypse are big gamers and geeks ourselves, it’s only natural that we had some questions for the band. Alas, their hectic evening only make it possible for us to get a few moments with creator/director/cellist Lucas Stasevskij to talk about the GMC and his passion for game music.

“There are millions of listeners but not really any professional orchestras or ensembles made just for performing video game music.”

The Musicalypse team met up with GMC founder Lucas Stasevskij backstage after the show. While the rest of the band were either packing up or winding down for the night, Stasevskij seemed both tired but exhilarated from the rush on stage, but more than that, he seemed excited to talk with us about these two projects. To get started, we asked him to introduce himself as well as his projects. 

I’m Lucas Stasevskij and I’m the founder of the GAME MUSIC COLLECTIVE. I’m a cellist and I studied at the Sibelius Academy and later in Switzerland. I have a very classical background. In 2015 when my studies were over, I got a position in the Lincoln Center in New York and was working on a cruise ship as a cellist where I mostly played chamber music.

I’ve always been a pretty big user of YouTube and I remember, I had a gig in Bucharest, Romania, and I had 3 days off, alone in a hotel room. It was very boring, so I was on YouTube. I was a big fan of movie music but also, of course, I was listening to game music. Something just came to my mind, that it’s a funny thing that there are millions of listeners but not really any professional orchestras or ensembles made just for performing video game music.

What I mean is that, of course we can hear video game music in live performances, like Score, so those concepts do exist, but because video game music – like movie music also – has been made originally for the game as a track and how it will sound in a live performance is not really considered. It’s pretty much hybrid music, meaning that it has very classical elements, acoustic instruments involved of course, but also it’s not stuck. It’s not a continuation of some kind of classical tradition. It’s a totally different music genre.

So coming back to my hotel room in Romania, which was not so good, I thought that it’s funny that classical orchestras… I know more or less how it goes. They need to do once every year or two a gig for new audiences that is not classical, and then sometimes they do a movie music concert. But the thing is, most of the players don’t really know what they are playing or don’t care about video game music in classical orchestras. Definitely they are not interested in approaching it as a separate music genre seriously.

“We approach it as a hybrid music.”

At this point we were briefly interrupted by the appearance of Saku Mattila (co-founder of the GMC) and Ari Pulkkinen, who is best known for the Angry Birds theme, but has also done music for great games like Trine and Nex Machina

So my thought in the Romanian hotel room was that the music is high quality and it would be really cool…

Ari: Not just high quality, but the best!

…and it definitely deserves a professional approach to it. My friends in the Sibelius Academy who are less than 30 years old who have played themselves. For them, playing is not a big deal, it’s a part of their life. They were really excited. I think you were at our first concert at the Finlandia-talo, right?

Yes, we were.

It was a pretty different concept than this show, so there are two different concepts – the orchestral approach and the band approach. So it took 6-7 months to find the right balance in this hybrid music. We really approach it as a hybrid music, as it has the classical elements and it also has elements that are not classical at all.

Metal and rock and all that.

Exactly. Also, like in Call of Duty, there is some serious heavy metal shit, so I have to think how it would work with a classical approach with the orchestra. So it gives us a lot of possibilities for our brand to perform both classically.

This was our first gig with a standing audience, so it was interesting to see, since we have been in concert halls before now.

How did you find all of the members for the band?

It’s a really interesting coincidence. All these guys who were on stage with us today were also playing in the orchestra. It was like, wow, when we collected the orchestra, we had a bass player, we had a keyboard player, we have this amazing drummer… but not a guitarist. We were thinking that we needed an electric guitar, but actually he is also playing midi sounds, so it’s not like a normal way of approaching electric guitar. Then we founded this, an electric band alongside the semi-acoustic orchestra.

Do you want to say something, Ari, also? This is Ari [Pulkkinen], the most famous Finnish video game music composer.

Ari: I’m Ari Pulkkinen, the father of Angry Birds and Trine, thank you! [laughter] I can say without lie that the [GAME MUSIC COLLECTIVE] is the best game music orchestra out there.

Speaking of other game music bands out there…

I really appreciate my colleagues, because we really need to stick together. Classical orchestras get 80% from the government or whatever, but we don’t get anything, so we are in the private market and this is not easy shit to produce, to be honest. There are a lot of complications just in making [this music]. But I really think people want to hear this and there’s a huge audience for it.

All of the game music bands are doing their own thing. You can like something, Video Games Live, SCORE, or the GAME MUSIC COLLECTIVE and Ari Pulkkinen. I don’t see any problem with different approaches. I’ve spoken with Orvar Säfström, the founder of SCORE. He has his own approach and he said he wanted to do something totally opposite, but my approach was to have an orchestra that is dedicated just to video game music. It’s a journey, we’re changing all the time, we really want to put out a new sound aesthetic with video game music. It definitely sounds good with a classical orchestra, but there are also limitations to that. Sometimes it’s really successful and sometimes it’s not. We’re only in the beginning and it is what it is.

You’re learning and trying new things, exploring the options.

Yeah, and the thing is, the new generation of classical music, we are really open. Especially at the Sibelius Academy, I found guys like Saku who is in one of the leading improvisation groups in Europe. They are people who are really open to do – with high quality – what we need with academic, classically-trained music, done with the same approach that you might use with Beethoven. I need to find a connection with the music and then perform it in high quality – the same thing with the game music.

When you had the GMC and the band, did the GMC come first with the idea for the GMCB coming later, or did you plan to make them both at the same time?

It started with the orchestra and immediately after that, it came to my mind that it would be really cool to have a smaller group that would be approached like more of a band or chamber music, without the conductor. Also, we can do different things with it; it’s a very different concept from a Finlandia-talo concert.

Is there more potential for the band to do tours then, than an orchestra?

Maybe also that! But even sound-wise it’s a very different aesthetic.

Performance-wise as well. Like a rock band with classic elements, as opposed to the other way around.

Yes! I think it’s interesting and I hope it’s interesting for the audience as well.

Is it hard or different to be in a band now, as opposed to the orchestra, where you need to actively “entertain” more, as opposed to simply playing well as you would in an orchestra?

Good question! It totally depends! For me and Emma, the violinist, definitely yes, it’s very strange. For Ossi on electric guitar, he has mostly done band things, so for him it would be really strange to be in an orchestra. For the classically-trained members like Emma and I, it’s challenging to come to a very different world of performance.

It was a great combination on stage though, combining the smooth skill of the classical players with the showy performance of the traditional instruments.

I think that’s also why video game music is so good. My very favorite track is “Journey” from Destiny 2. It’s beautiful because it was originally made for Kronos Quartet, a really fucking high-quality string quartet. After that, the band comes in and in the end it’s totally rock. So in video game music, you can definitely take elements from different music styles and create something new. If you would do that as a classical music composer, you will never get your grant and your grandmother will not be happy [laughter]. So a lot of the beauty in video game music is in the freedom and potential for innovation.

“I think overall it was a pretty good challenge.”

At this point, Ari Pulkkinen returned to announce that the sauna was ready. We offered to let him go and join the others; however, Stasevskij stated that he loves talking about game music and opted to hang out in the hallway with us for a while longer. The discussion changed to the show that night, as well as the band’s new YouTube channel. Stasevskij, in his enthusiasm, gave us a sneak peek at some of the band’s upcoming material. 

How do you think the show went tonight, seeing as it was your first one? 

Hmm… I was actually speaking with Emma and it was such a new experience. These guys have actually performed a few times without us before, like in the Oulu Music Festival, but this was the first one with us. I think overall it was a pretty good challenge. I think the audience was pretty happy, which is always good, and I think the concept works. But definitely we need a lot of concerts to get everything sounding the best and there were some technical issues. In the first half especially, we couldn’t hear Emma. You know, normal live stuff. Overall I think it was pretty successful, but I was not in the audience. You might know the answer better than I do.

You guys have also taken up doing YouTube videos. You’ve been trying to do it every week or so?

Yeah, that’s our goal. To be honest, I enjoy it slightly more than concerts. Battlefield was our very first bigger project:

I was the director and we did it in cooperation with the army band and the Parola Panzer Museum. We did three videos and two of them are coming out in the next few weeks. We’re doing Modern Warfare 2 as well.

Do you have a lot of futuristic things in the video for Modern Warfare 2?

We did it with a very different background. This [Battlefield] is very noble and warish, but MW2 is a Hans Zimmer thing, so the approach was more provocative, destroying instruments with tanks. We got some attention in Finland already from Iltasanomat for that.
[ed: article can be read HERE (Finnish only)]

The third one is definitely the biggest production. It’s important for me because I’m a fan of zombies, violence, Tarantino, whatever. I love that shit, so that was the biggest production and we did it in an abandoned cement factory. It’ll be on the more violent side of things, and also we have the tank part, shot at night.

The quality looks great.

That’s something important for me. I really like that shit and they did a good job with the game and zombies are often seen from a one-sided perspective. The fascination with it is weird and it was an important project for me. I’m really excited and it’s in post-production now.

Have you ever considered collaborating with any of the other video-game oriented people out there, for example YouTubers like Taylor Davis or gamer bands like Machinae Supremacy?

Why not? Any collaboration with passionate artists. Like I said before, with these video game music projects, we need to stick together. We need to find people who are fascinated and really passionate about it. We are still in the process of proving our existence and the existence of this music.

You’re still fairly underground.

Exactly. I’m from the academic side but others are really putting their time and energy to put this out, this music, and they deserve appreciation. We need those people. It’s the same thing with anything.

Have you guys thought about doing any sort of crowdfunding like Patreon or anything like that?

Yeah, we’ve been thinking about that. To be honest, we are producing everything ourselves. We have had a company for 3-4 months now and it is not an easy business, to be honest. Especially for people like us, who are used to doing everything with high production quality. I’m so stuck on every detail and hating myself so much over it.

Are you a bit of a perfectionist then?

I would say so. Maybe I need to develop myself to find the right balance. Sometimes you putting in too many hours that don’t really matter in the learning process.

“The more people who know about the genre in general is good.”

Finally, time was running out for us at last, so we changed the subject again to the future and what else the band has coming up.

Since we are classically trained musicians, it gives us the opportunity to work in the professional field. So now we are doing Iron Danger, a new game coming out by Ilmari Hakkola, who is the ex-audio department head of Rovio Entertainment. We will start the recording sessions on the 4th of January in the new year. So that’s the first time that we are the official orchestra on an official soundtrack. Our sound team is top notch. We also want to have video game music performed on the tracks, because they are very often done either by cheap orchestras or samples and I think they deserve more. So we’re working with that and want to improve our live shows. I think this kind of music doesn’t necessarily require you to have played all the games.

Personally, I was very much in the zone tonight, enjoying the music despite only recognizing a few of the arrangements. It’s also great to have the opportunity to observe you guys from the beginning, from the struggling starving artist phase onward into hopefully fulfilling an open niche. 

Well, thank you for doing this interview. The more people who know about the genre in general is good. Also, I think the others are really mad at me now.

Well, as much fun as this has been, we’d better let you go before the sauna gets cold. Thanks for taking the time to do this interview and hopefully we can continue it next year when we’ve got more time. 

Thank you!

Interview by Bear Wiseman
Musicalypse, 2020
OV: 879

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