When Life Is Strange first debuted in January 2015, it was abundantly clear from the outset that it wasn’t a conventional video game offering.
Released in five-part episodic segments over the course of a ten-month period, the game was widely praised, with its time bending mechanics serving as a backdrop to some seriously difficult subject matter rarely tackled in a contemporary video game. It’s a game that oozes heart and soul, and one with a stellar soundtrack to match.
With its emotional tone heavily informed by tracks from the likes of Amanda Palmer, alt-J, Bright Eyes, Sparklehorse and Foals, as well as original score from Jonathan Morali of Syd Matters, it seemed only natural that music would continue to play an integral role in its prequel, which is where Daughter come in to the picture.
Paul Weedon spoke to band members Elena Tonra and Igor Haefeli about their work on the prequel, Life Is Strange: Before The Storm, the resulting soundtrack album and the unique process involved in providing music for a beloved video game franchise.
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First and foremost, talk me through how you guys came to be involved with the project.
Elena: We were approached in late 2016. Basically, I think the idea was that our music would fit well within Before the Storm and I think that’s generally why we were approached to begin with. And, for us, it was an introduction in to Life is Strange and what the game is about itself. It was super exciting.
Both the original score and the soundtrack had a huge impact on the original game. Were your aware of the first game beforehand?
Igor: No. So we didn’t actually know anything about Life is Strange before we were contacted, but we did our research and it just so happened that we knew Syd Matters and Jonathan Morali’s music, but I had no idea that that had been used on Life is Strange and that he actually wrote the whole score. But we really liked it and we felt inspired by the love that had been put in to Life Is Strange in terms of the story and the whole visual element and, obviously, the music and the choices of licensed tracks.
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There was no touring. There were no other distractions.
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Elena: Yeah, and also the idea of being able to score a video game, for us, was just a super cool one. Obviously, the more we discovered about the game and the more we were sent through the story – that was when we knew that this was going to be a really beautiful project.
Did not knowing about the musical heritage of the first game take the pressure off, in a way?
Elena: Well, yeah. Then we did realise. [Laughs]. No, I feel like we felt the pressure in terms of wanting to deliver something that would stand up to what was expected, because music was so important in the first game, so I think, for fans of the game, we wanted to make sure that we were putting everything in to it... The soundtrack was basically all we were working on for those months. There was no touring. There were no other distractions. We really wanted to put everything in to making the soundtrack as good as we possibly could. We got really in to it.
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What did the initial brief entail? Were there any particular touch points from your previous work that the audio team were keen for you to draw on?
Igor: I think they had that in mind, but they ended up actually keeping it a secret because they sort of entrusted us with making new music that would sit with those themes. But they definitely gave us emotional themes – what they wanted us to approach with each instrumental piece – and then they gave us freedom with the three or four songs. I can’t remember now. There are like three songs?
Elena: There are loads of songs, in a way.
Igor: Yeah, there are a few with words, actually.
Elena: What is a song?
Igor: So we were given a lot of freedom because they were creating the game as we were creating the music, so we weren’t tied down by picture.
Elena: There were some references given to songs of ours that we’d put out on the first album or the second album, that could potentially be ‘the feeling’ as a basis to go from, but generally it was just, “How do you put these emotions or particular events in to sound?” That’s what we were interested in. How do you make the sound of grief? How can we do that in our own way – that kind of thing.
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We had very little to go with in terms of knowing exactly where or what was going to be used.
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Did you get to see more linear sequences towards the end, or was it completely abstract throughout the process?
Igor: It was completely abstract. We had very little to go with in terms of knowing exactly where or what was going to be used. We had the themes, we had some visual inspiration from artwork, maybe a couple of little animations, but it was very vague, which, for us as writers, made it a lot more free, because we could do what we wanted. Obviously, it still needed ultimate approval from the developers to make sure it fit, but things dynamically changed throughout the process as well, because even the script that we had got changed a few times, at least in some parts. So it led, ultimately, to the completion of the game as it is now.
Elena: Yeah, so we kind of basically wrote full pieces of music – full tracks – that could be integrated however they wanted. So, for us, it was about giving as much content as possible, but also for those songs to be listenable in their entirety.
Igor: So the music that will be released on the soundtrack for the game – that is how we intended for it to be as we gave it to them to start with.
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At what stage did you get to see how your music had been implemented?
Igor: Right at the very end.
Elena: Yeah, just recently when we played the first episode, which was pretty amazing really to see. Even though we’ve heard these songs that we made now quite a few times, it was really emotional to see those two things together and the way that they’re used. There were some really, really beautiful moments. That was really cool.
Was that quite a surprising process for you? I guess it’s quite rare for you guys as musicians to hand over your work to someone else who dictates how it’s used.
Elena: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I sort of feel like we still approached this like we would an album. It’s like we were writing an album but we were open to change, which [laughs] is something that maybe we’re not open to when we’re writing our own albums. It was like an album that we didn’t mind going back and exploring and reevaluating or even just remixing or experimenting more with certain things for the concept. That was really cool. It felt like we were a lot more open and experimental than we perhaps would have otherwise.
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It felt like we were a lot more open and experimental...
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On that note, how did the feedback process work with the audio team? Were they quite hands on? Was their feedback quite iterative?
Igor: I thought it was going to be the case that there was going to be a lot more direction, but I think they really came to us saying, “We really like your music. We really like what you’ve done. We feel inspired by that already. We don’t want you do something differently to what you would do.” So, in a sense, that was already a huge token of appreciation and their trust. And it did translate practically. It was just about getting the tone right in terms of the themes and the game itself. And that was more because of us maybe not being able to see exactly where the music was going to be used. It took a little back and forth. And also we worked with two music supervisors who were very good at making sure that each exchange was very clear and that was really helpful or us to make sure that we got things right within the time limit that we had.
And what was the timeframe for your involvement?
Elena: We started in January this year.
Igor: Things got delayed a bit throughout, but I guess that within three months we had to have it written, recorded and mixed for them then to be able to use it in the ways they wanted to. But then, also, when that was all done, because we wanted it to be the best it could be for the release of the soundtrack itself, we spent a bit more time on it and getting the tracks mixed.
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In terms of the overall process, how did the composition compare to the construction of a more conventional album?
Igor: It’s actually fairly similar. There are just a few more brains involved, coming to it with a bit more of an open mind in terms of what you’re trying to achieve and who are you doing it for. I think that making a record, for us, is quite a selfish thing. So really, we’re just trying to satisfy ourselves, which is already difficult enough to satisfy our own aspirations and the integrity of what we’re trying to do. Here, it was almost a bit more playful, but in terms of the steps, it was the same but more concentrated. There was less time to get things done. But that was quite freeing because we were working towards what needed to be done.
Elena: And it was instinctive. It had to be instinctive. There wasn’t time to over think for two years or however long it usually takes us. On that note, it’s a soundtrack, but there is an album that now exists as a result of it.
Are you viewing that as a fully-fledged Daughter album that stands on its own terms?
Elena: No… Sorry. I interrupted you. [Laughs].
Igor: No, it should stand on its own terms, absolutely. I think, because of how the project started and the fact that we were writing it with this video game in mind, we wouldn’t call it a full Daughter album per se, but it’s definitely a Daughter soundtrack and it’s something that we stand by very proudly.
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It had to be instinctive.
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And Elena, from a lyrical perspective, you usually write from a very personal point of view. Here you’re writing from the perspective of a character that doesn’t exist.
Elena: Yeah, that was super interesting because I kind of realised that I’m unable to do that without my own experiences seeping in to it. So trying to write completely from someone else’s perspective, either I lack empathy and I can’t do it… [Laughs]
No. I don’t know. I feel like it was really exciting though – not only because, thematically, I think I went… just thinking about the age that [lead character, sixteen-year-old] Chloe is and your life and things that happened that maybe I wouldn’t have thought about if I was writing for a different thing, so I think the themes are kind of different, but yeah, it’s cool.
It’s interesting. As much as I strive to just kind of tell another persons’ story I found that, actually, it was incredibly therapeutic and I was telling a lot of my own secrets in there as well, as per usual. Video games have this great heritage of music and live video game music events are a big thing now.
Are there any plans for any live events to tie in with the game?
Elena: See, this is something that we didn’t know existed before. We were like, “What?” So, I mean, we’d need to remember what we did. I feel like most of the ideas we had were at 2 o’clock in the morning, kind of sleep-deprived, so we’re gonna have to go back and rehearse stuff, but yeah. It sounds cool. If we can get it together.
I think there are a lot of people who would queue up to hear you guys do it.
Elena: [Laughs]. Yeah. If we got enough rehearsal time in, maybe. It’s a beautiful game though. We can’t wait for people to get their hands on it.
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Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 1 is released on Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on August 31st. Music From Before The Storm is released on September 1st though 4AD.
Words: Paul Weedon (@Twotafkap)
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