Damjan Mravunac Interview: Serious About Great Music (December 2011)
Damjan Mravunac: The stars probably alligned that way at the time. I played in several local bands, and just started to fiddle around with recording music on computer. When Croteam [developer of the Serious Sam games] was looking for a musician/sound designer, a friend recommended my work to Croteam's Game Director Alen (whom I've actually known for several years before we started working together), I sent him a few demo tapes I was working on, he played them to other guys at Croteam who liked what they heard, and the rest is history...
Michael: Are you playing in any bands currently? What games have you worked on, beside the Serious Sam series?
Damjan Mravunac: I play bass guitar in a band called Prophaganda, but due to various obligations that all its members have, the band is currently on hiatus, so I have plenty of time to work on my own stuff. I mostly compose music and SFX for casual games - there is a portfolio on my webpage that needs updating (I must admit), but you’ll get the picture.
Michael: When and why did you decide to write music? What groups / composers have influenced you the most?
Damjan Mravunac: Well, I did learn piano almost by myself (to be honest - I had one year of private training with a piano tutor, but I never liked the discipline needed to master playing classical music). At the end of elementary school, I heard one band that changed my life, and they had that amazing guitar player called Slash, who blew me away and who was the reason I decided to learn guitar.
Writing music is quite easy for me – I always have (and always have had, since I first started writing music) an abundance of ideas for songs, so I just have to sit down and record the musical phrase that's currently playing in my head. Guess I'm a lucky guy.
Michael: What instruments do you play and/or do you have in your collection right now?
Damjan Mravunac: I can play almost anything with keys or strings, but one thing I'm still missing is the knowledge to play drums. I did however study rhythmic patterns of 'real' drummers, so I can program drums in my sequencing software quite realistically.
Damjan Mravunac: I used to be a hardware guy, but nowadays that has changed. Software is much easier to use, and while hardware always has that 'sparkle' and voicing that's hard to achieve with software, the differences are getting less and less prominent, and I think today's software can compete with hardware. Several years ago, I got rid of almost all my outboard gear, and the only stuff left in my studio is for monitoring. I rely on Adam and Avantone speakers, as well as on Audiotechnica headphones to give me an accurate picture of what's going on, but still, one of the best places for me to check my mixes is my trusty car! I also rely on Native Instruments, Quantum Leap East West and Spectrasonics software, and consider them to be the best in the field of virtual instruments.
Not to forget, I am a huge guitar freak, and have several top-of-the-line guitars and amps (Gibson Les Paul, Paul Reed Smith Custom24, Paul Reed Smith CE22, Schecter 7-string beast, Hughes&Kettner Triamp MK2, Mesa/Boogie Triple Rectifier, etc. just to name a few).
Michael: How much time have you spent working on the Serious Sam soundtracks? What difficulties did you face during the work? Are there any tracks that did not make it into the game?
Damjan Mravunac: Almost 90% of my work ends up in the game, leaving 10% material that is never used - which I think is a really low rejection rate. Getting in the head of the client is something every composer must learn, and it's not always easy, but it can be learned. It usually takes a day to layout the basic track, and another day to polish it after receiving useful comments from the client.
Michael: What is the very first thing you do when you create your music? You can't just sit down and begin composing, right? Or can you?
Damjan Mravunac: I sit down and begin composing. Really, that's what I do, and I know that it may sound weird, but for the past few years I've never had problems with finding inspiration while making music. As I said, I guess I'm a lucky guy.
But to break down the process a bit, here is what I usually do – every song I make has some culmination, main theme, chorus, whatever... I do that part first, since it contains all instruments used in the composition and musically speaking is the 'busiest' section. Once I have got that right, I derive the rest of the song by reducing parts and instrumentation, not by adding. It's the process that I found works best for me.
Damjan Mravunac: Within Croteam, we had a very clear idea of what we were striving for from the very beginning, so making music for Serious Sam (whichever part) was always a fun and rewarding process. Working on Serious Sam 3: BFE felt like slipping into those old comfy shoes once again.
Michael: Croteam seems to have some sort of relationship with a band called Undercode. On their album Enlightening the World, Undercode use musical parts from the Serious Sam soundtracks on several songs. What came first: the game soundtracks or Undercoded’s songs?
Damjan Mravunac: There's indeed a long relationship between Croteam and Undercode. I've known Ivan Speljak – Jitz (Undercode's lead guitarist and songwriter) for many years, we basically grew up together. After the success of Serious Sam: The First Encounter, the idea of having Undercode in new Serious Sam games was born, and we are all very glad it worked out well. Having Undercode in Serious Same titles is sort of becoming a trademark, both for Croteam and Undercode, and I can speak for everyone when I say we all hope this collaboration will continue for years to come.
This year we also decided to collaborate with another band – Synthetic Scar – a bunch of great guys whose mixture of electronic music and modern metal really complemented the multiplayer levels and arenas in Serious Sam 3: BFE.
Michael: Let me ask you about the two songs in Serious Sam 3: BFE, "Hero" and "Wild Life". Did you write the music and lyrics, and who are the singers?
Damjan Mravunac: These songs were created exclusively for Serious Sam 3: BFE. At the beginning of Serious Sam 3: BFE's opening cut scene, there is a helicopter approaching, and the developers wanted to put a genuine old school rock track underneath, so they asked me to come up with something that would fit the scene... I think "Wild Life" did the job nicely.
"Hero" is the first 'war' tune I made for Serious Sam 3: BFE. I guess after a six year break from the Serious Sam universe, there was a beast waiting to be unleashed, and it manifested itself in that song. It's my favorite song on the whole Serious Sam 3: BFE soundtrack, and I catch myself listening to it ocassionally now and then. Both songs were made at my studio, by myself alone, and yes, it's me singing (or screaming?) on both ;)
Michael: Can you maybe tell us some interesting anecdotes about your work on the Serious Sam soundtracks?
Damjan Mravunac: When working on a track, I usually leave some space after the end of the song in my sequencer, where I put all the chunks and riffs that could be useful later on (rather than deleting them). It's like having a song, then about 20 minutes of pause, and then some randomly placed multichannel chunks which I can then move, edit or do whatever I want with.
After recording my vocals and mixing a first draft of "Hero" on headphones, I decided to go to the kitchen and make myself a cup of tea, to salvage what was left of my voice. Two things happened at the same time – when putting down my headphones, they managed to disconnect from the amplifier, automatically turning the speakers on. The second thing was that I left the song playing, and since the song had 'ended', I didn't notice it. You can guess what happened next - the speakers were on, set to loudest, and after 20 minutes of silence, the chunks containing 'war' screams and growls finally got chance to shine!
Did I mention it was 1am and that I live in a very quiet neighbourhood? :)
Michael: Some general questions: which recent music albums did you like?
Damjan Mravunac: I enjoyed the new Anthrax' album, and I also like listening to Chevelle and Alter Bridge lately. My mellow side had some fun with Woven Hand and Nataile Merchant, to name a few...
Michael: What video games have you played recently, and what are some of your all-time favourites?
Damjan Mravunac: Assassin's Creed is one of my favourite franchises of all time, so I impatiently await each new sequel. Playing LEGO games from Traveller's Tales in Cooperative Mode is guaranteed fun, and other than that, I love adventures, and had great fun with Telltales Games' new Monkey Island series recently!
Michael: Please excuse the remark, but you have a rather unusual first name. Can you tell us a bit about the history of your name?
Damjan Mravunac: You are excused :P It's quite a famous name – it’s basically Damien (666, right?) - but as it happens, it was localised in Croatian as "Damjan", so now no one can pronounce it correctly. My parents obviously liked it very much, and you guessed right, it's not common at all here in Croatia. Now that you mention it, I can only think of 3 other Damjans...
Michael: Is there any particular artist you would like to work with?
Damjan Mravunac: Of course. Hans Zimmer is “the” one. Trent Reznor is second. No third at the moment.
Michael: What are your plans for the future?
Damjan Mravunac: Other than working on a soundtrack with Hans and Trent? :) We'll see what the future brings, right now I'm very satisfied with the direction my life is heading in, so I can only hope that in the future, music will bring me the same joy as it gives me now.
Michael: Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions and we look forward to your future works!
Damjan Mravunac: Thank you and your fellow Russian boys and girls for reading this interview. Budem zdorovy!