Shaun Wallace (aka Avaris) Interview: Directing Xenogears ReMixed (October 2009)
Today fan arrangement community OverClocked ReMix released their latest album, Humans + Gears: Xenogears ReMixed. In this interview, project director Shaun Wallace discusses the background, concept, and highlights of the project. He also recollects Final Fantasy IV's arrangement project released earlier this year and his thoughts on original and arranged game music in general.
Interview Subject: Shaun Wallace
Interviewer: Don Kotowski
Editor: Chris Greening
Coordination: Chris Greening, Don Kotowski, Larry Oji
Final Fantasy IV: Echoes of Betrayal, Light of Redemption
Don: Before moving into the meat of the discussion, mind if I ask a couple questions about your other OC ReMix projects?
Shaun Wallace: Yeah, no problem.
Don: Your last couple projects have focused on some popular Japanese RPGs, namely the Tales series and Final Fantasy IV. Were the arrangers given any specific guidelines on how to approach their various arrangements?
Shaun Wallace: I was not part of the Tales project so I cannot shed light on the projects overall artistic aim. However, for Final Fantasy IV, I was the creator and a co-assistant director, so I have ample knowledge for that project. On FFIV, remixers were given complete freedom to do what they wanted, although we did ask remixers to go for an "epic" feel. On FFIV, we wanted the project to truly pay homage to the original and re-invoke the nostalgia factor as much as possible. We specifically recruited artists whom were FFIV fans, hoping this would affect their remixing decisions to make a project that truly reflected and enhanced the original soundtrack. Some OCR albums in the past have had specific themes, such as Chrono Symphonic, but it is not a requirement to keep a certain theme for a project.
Don: Well, I do think that you achieved your overall "epic" atmosphere in your Final Fantasy IV remix album. Of particular interest was the finale. If I recall correctly, it was almost like a rock opera. Do you have any insight into that particular arrangement?
Shaun Wallace: That mix was inspired by the "Black Wing Metamorphosis" mix from the FFVII project. OA and Audio Fidelity are fans of Dream Theater as well. So, take the rock opera scope and combine it with the musical complexity of an ENORMOUS collaboration effort and you get the Zeromus mix. All of the artists for that mix are very talented and had some great input on the track. I mentioned OA and Audio Fidelity because I was at MAGFest with them while they were discussing the track.
Don: I have the YouTube video for it pulled up now and it mentioned the project timeline. It started in March 2008 and was released in July of this year. Is this the normal length for your arrange projects?
Shaun Wallace: Oh no, not at all haha. The planning for FFIV began in Fall of 2007 actually. FFIV was an extremely well run project thanks to the contributions of multiple people. I would say the average OCR project with 30+ tracks would finish in 2-3 years. Smaller projects with less tracks can finish in 1-2 years, such as Radical Dreamers. It also helped in FFIV's case that people were extremely motivated to work on their mixes. The artists really came through on that one.
Don: So there is definitely a lot of thought put into the process, regardless of length. So, when it comes time to start brainstorming a new project, what are some of the things you discuss? I'm curious as to why Final Fantasy IV was chosen over Final Fantasy VI, which is arguably the SNES generation's favorite Final Fantasy score. I really enjoy both scores, so it doesn't really both me, but perhaps some listeners who don't necessarily enjoy FFIV might be wondering the same thing.
Shaun Wallace: Ah well, I am the perfect person to ask about that. I was entering my senior year of college and feeling extremely nostalgic. FFIV is my favorite RPG of all time. I was going through some personal troubles, so I wanted to express these emotions through arranging the entire FFIV soundtrack for myself. I was talking to OA about this and he said "Hey, why don't we just make an FFIV project then?" Well, I said OK and the rest is history. The reason FFIV was chosen was because OA and I are INSANELY huge fans of the game and its music. There are many people on the project, including myself, that for us, FFIV was our first RPG. Your first always holds a special place in your heart.
Don: I can totally relate with that, although I was playing FFIV and FFVI simultaneously, so it's hard for me to choose my favorite.
Shaun Wallace: Haha yeah, FFVI was an amazing game for it's time pushing the SNES to its limits. I think some people connect with Cecil's central story of redemption on a personal level. That and Kain, the best FF character ever in my biased opinion, has always made me hold FFIV in high regards.
Don: Yeah, Kain is pretty badass. I have to agree there.
Shaun Wallace: Haha, true that.
Humans + Gears: Xenogears ReMixed
Don: So, I guess that brings us to your upcoming project, Human + Gears: Xenogears ReMixed and I have to ask, being a huge fan of Yasunori Mitsuda in general, why you chose Xenogears to be the next Mitsuda remix project.
Shaun Wallace: Well the Xenogears project was actually started back in August of 2006 by Andrew Anderson (aka Foxhull). After its inception, I had quicky joined in as a co-coordinator at the time, working with Andrew to mold the project concepts and outline. Sephire (Daniel Floyd) was instrumental in helping the project get a solid ground in the beginning with a few very honest and thought provoking messages sent between myself and him. OCR was chalk full of projects at the time, so we had to rely on initially recruiting new talented mixers who would hopefully grow into their skills during the project. This led to more experienced mixers joining in slowly over the process of the project. All of this is what lead to the 3+ year development cycle of the project.
During this time, I switched from being the co-director to the full-on director of the project as Foxhull graduated high school and went to university. Those of us who had been through it know what that stage of your life is like. Luckily, Ziwtra (Young Hahn) volunteered to do the website and artwork. This helped greatly. So, to answer the initial question, the release of this project is due to some good and bad timing over the course of three years. I'm sure one day someone will do a Chrono Cross project. I can't wait for that one personally.
Don: Yeah, I'll definitely be on the lookout for that one, as long as someone remixes Burning Orphanage.
Shaun Wallace: Haha, personally all of Mitsuda's work deserves attention. His pieces are not only excellent musical expressions they are also very inspirational. Hence, this is the third of many OCR projects to feature his work.
Don: I have to agree wholeheartedly there. Well, I've given it a pretty extensive listen and I must say, I definitely hear a Humans + Gears theme going on. Correct me if I'm wrong, but was the theme of this album to include more earthly arrangements (Humans) with more electronic mixes (Gears), as well as some that include both elements?
Shaun Wallace: Yes, your assumptions are correct. We wanted to give the fans a "theme" to relate to while, at the same time, not limiting the remixers in any way.
Don: Well, after hearing a few of these, I can definitely see the lack of limitations. The remix for "Dajil" is absolutely out there. I wasn't expecting that at all.
Shaun Wallace: Hahaha... Oh yes, that mix. Another Soundscape took the liberty of artistic expression in that one. I added some reverb and tried to heighten the mood for that mix. We tried to vary the song up so there were other musical elements to keep things fresh. For the project, we really wanted the artists to make music that will grab people's attention and will be something people enjoy listening to.
Don: Well, I think it's quite successful, personally. It might put off a few people, but at the same time, it might turn on a few people! Overall, I think it's a very well mixed arrangement that combines some of those Gears / Humans elements, while retaining some of Mitsuda's trademark styles.
Shaun Wallace: Once you get past the surprise in the mix, it does have a lot to offer. To keep with the Gears theme, we chose to use many synths instead of samples to keep with the theme. Also programming synth leads to heighten the melody is just waaay too much fun.
Don: Moving onto some other themes on the album, why was it decided to include two remixes of "Awakening?"
Shaun Wallace: Ah good question, and there is a simple answer. Bradley Burr, who played the saxophone for the track, is an amazing player. I made the track with his input specifically for a solo sax performance. The track is dark in tone and expression and perfectly fits the Gears disc theme. Ironically, when I received Brad's sax performance, I would just listen to it by itself. The performance was amazing, hence the inclusion of the solo sax performance on the Humans disc.
Don: Now, I can't spoil everything for the listeners, so the next question won't feature the names of the source material, but was there specific reasoning for choosing "Quickening" and "Zeno Paradox" as the opening remixes for each disc?
Shaun Wallace: "Quickening" was actually the final track for the project on short notice. I felt it was a simple and heartfelt arrangement that symbolized what we were aiming for on the Humans disc. It also made for an AMAZING segway into the mix that followed it. "Zeno Paradox", well, I couldn't picture any other mix besides it to be the first on the Gears disc. Its energy and creativity prepares listeners for what to expect from the Gears disc.
Don: It's definitely a stand out theme for sure. Particularly when it picks up shortly after the two minute mark.
Shaun Wallace: It's a sonic experience to say the least. Eliot (E-Bison) is an incredible artist with a penchant for detail I have rarely seen in most musicians and artists.
Don: You mentioned "Binary Chain" in the email, which I also think lends itself well to the next question. When it comes to collaborative mixes, how is the final product ultimately achieved? Surely, along the way, there must be some creative disagreements.
Shaun Wallace: I have had the opportunity of doing five collaborations for the project. Ironically there really was any drama when it came to decisions. When two or more people share the creative vision, things just fall into place naturally. I know for "Binary Chain," Troy added all of that wonderful trickery on the drums. It helped mold that piece from a good track to a standout track. I have had my share of disagreements on other collaborations in the past. At those times, it's best to state your case and be prepared to give and take a bit. A collaborative effort is the joining and molding of various people's creativity and skills. If one person tries to usurp the project, then it turns into something else. Although, for "Awakening," Brad did an excellent job of rewriting the chords I had written. I initially liked mine, but his fit so much better in the end.
Don: So, aside from the remixes mentioned already, are there any others that people should really look out for?
Shaun Wallace: Well I would be lying if I said I didn't have favorites from the project. Geoffrey Taucer's track, "When the Smoke Clears," is amazing. There is a reason the song "Cybernetic Love" precedes it. I love the "Omen" track on a good pair of subwoofers. All three tracks by Ziwtra are amazing. I think those tracks might receive fairly good universal appeal. However, for example, Vampire Hunter Dan composed an orchestral epic that might not appeal to some electronic fans.
Don: Well, the source material for most of those are definitely fan favorites, me included.
Shaun Wallace: What I hope is that people walk away from this project with a couple of songs on their playlist and an enjoyable positive experience.
Don: Well, I definitely think they'll find something that will appeal to them.
Shaun Wallace: I'll be honest and say that this project has a lot to offer to a lot of musical tastes without sacrificing an overall theme. Nathan Rich and about:blank turned in some incredibly dark mixes that will not suit everyone's tastes, but are excellent works for their genre. I would really love to mention something about everyone's mixes, but then we'd be up till dawn.
Don: Yeah, unfortunately, I'm not that much of a night owl.
Shaun Wallace: Haha yeah, there is a point where sleep is needed.
Don: So, I think we have a good overview of what to expect when the album is finally released, but I have a few more questions about arrange albums, professional and doujin, if you have the time.
Shaun Wallace: Sure, I'll answer them to the best of my ability.
Don: Obviously, OC ReMix is a large consortium of arrangers, but there are a few other US based arrangers, like the OneUp Studios and Retro Remix Revue. Have you followed their albums at all?
Shaun Wallace: I follow OneUp Studios a bit. I really enjoyed Project Majestic Mix while they were still around. I have not had a chance yet to check out Retro Remix Revue. I wonder how good their Terra and Zeal mixes are?
Don: Yeah, they should definitely be looked at by all fans of classic video game music, I think. So, do you follow the professional arrange album scene at all?
Shaun Wallace: I've had the privilege of listening to FF Potion, but not much else besides that. I've been too busy enjoying all of these ReMixes the past few years. Final Fantasy VII Advent Children Original Soundtrack was killer. Final Fantasy IV Celtic Moon is another one I have checked out. That one probably stands out the most. It's such an incredible album.
Don: Yeah, I'm a big fan of that album. In general, that's definitely understandable. It can be tough listening to other music when you're quite busy making your own! Who knows, perhaps one day, more members of OCR might hit it big. Virt has been on a few official arrange albums lately, arranging music from those manic shooters by Cave and, recently, he arranged Tornado Man from Mega Man 9 on a chiptune arrange album.
Shaun Wallace: Virt is someone many people from the community look up to. I really don't know how the man survives on so little sleep. I think more and more people are slowly creeping in. Others have done trailers and compositions for games. One of the coolest things is OCR people doing music for independent Xbox Live games. ParagonX9, for example, even did some work on Castle Crashers, which was released on Xbox Live Arcade.
Don: From what I've read, Castle Crashers was definitely a big hit, both musically and gameplay wise.
Shaun Wallace: Oh yeah, the first time I played it. It was an all nighter. Luckily I was on vacation at the time. As a fan of old side scroller beat-em-ups, it can't be missed.
Don: So, I guess it must be asked, who are some of your favorite game music composers, aside from Mitsuda, who has already been mentioned already?
Shaun Wallace: Nobuo Uematsu, Kenji Ito, Hiroki Kikuta, Yuzo Koshiro. I am big on melody. Oh yeah, Motoi Sakuraba, too. Love some of the themes from Valkyrie Profile and Star Ocean.
Don: Yeah, those are definitely some of my favorites.
Shaun Wallace: I am really a child of the 90's in all things, even VGM. Can't help it.
Don: Yeah, that was definitely a good era in VGM (and in life). Well, I think that concludes our impromptu interview. Is there anything else you'd like to tell fans of OC ReMix?
Shaun Wallace: Thanks you for all of the years of support in every way possible! There will continue to be awesome remixes made by people who are just as passionate about VGM as the fans. And for some reason if that doesn't happen track down David Lloyd and Larry Oji because they're certain to still be around working their tails off to provide some awesome tunage for the population! THANKS :)
Please visit the Humans + Gears: Xenogears ReMixed Official Site to download the album for free. Look out for reviews of this album and further coverage of OverClocked ReMix here in the near future. Many thanks to Shaun and Don for conducting this interview.