Interview: Anamanaguchi on the Scott Pilgrim Videogame Score
"I feel a huge connection to Scott Pilgrim: we all grew up playing in bands, we all grew up with the John Hughes-esque emotional drama drowning our lives. So all I had to do was write music and it would work."
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game pixel art by Paul Roberston
Every few years, gloriously awkward music nerds get their very own vulnerable onscreen antiheroes. This year, Scott Pilgrim will be for music-blog-scanning MP3 hoarders what High Fidelity's Rob was to SPIN subscribers in 2000. The title character of the most recent film from Shaun of the Dead/Hot Fuzz director Edgar Wright, Scott Pilgrim is a scrawny bassist who falls for a rollerblading indie girl named Ramona Flowers. New to town, she has the unusual baggage of seven evil exes; in order to date her, he must individually defeat them all. Personified by geek heartthrob Michael Cera and based on illustrator Bryan Lee O'Malley's six-part graphic novel, Scott Pilgrim the protagonist is as much creative-underclass epitome as fighting-game avatar: successful combat moves register numerical points and achievements (e.g. "64 HIT COMBO"); extra lives are gained from grabbing levitating pixelated faces; bathroom visits deplete Pilgrim's "Pee Bar."
So logically, with the August 13 release of Scott Pilgrim vs. The World comes Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game on August 10, an 8-bit side-scrolling brawler that pits the unlikely warrior against his paramour's former loves. Also logically (and awesomely), Ubisoft asked Brooklyn's own 8-bit-punks Anamanaguchi to score the cartoon melee, an opportunity the band's chief composer Pete Berkman admits was a "dream come true." Hence, Berkman and guitarist/Gameboy manipulator Ary Warnaar were "psyched beyond belief" to get on the phone and tell us about the experience.
Anamanaguchi's James DeVito, Pete Berkman, Ary Warnaar
I read that you picked up the Scott Pilgrim comic book for the first time last summer. Then the day after, you got the call asking you guys to score the videogame?
Pete: Yeah. We were in Lexington, Kentucky. We were just at this party and just as I was going to sleep, I saw a copy of Scott Pilgrim Volume One on the table. So I checked it out. And then the next day, we got the phonecall about [the] Scott Pilgrim [videogame]. I was like, "Whaaaaaaaaat?"
That's a big coincidence.
Pete: Exactly. It was the first time I'd ever seen the book. The fact that the story is so--my life, y'all--it was crazy. The whole thing is this strange, cosmic insanity. There's never been anything so appropriate to me.
What was the process of scoring the game?
Pete: Last summer, we were on tour and when we got back, we started writing stuff like the theme song. The whole thing came very naturally, the writing process. Before, I mostly did everything [for Anamanaguchi's songwriting]. But for this, we split up the work. Ary did a bunch of songs and Luke [Silas] did a bunch of songs--our drummer--and it was really fun. We got to explore a lot of different vibes that we don't usually get to explore.
What'd they give you as guidelines? Sequences, levels?
Pete: Basically, they're the seven evil exes, so we have levels for each one and their boss themes--when you actually fight them. The whole time we were trying to get across the general feel of each ex, their personality and stuff.
You have Roxanne Richter, the girl Ramona dated, and she's, like, a totally Japanese-culture person. And so Ary had the idea, "Oh you should definitely do some DDR [Dance Dance Revolution] style, crazy Japanese pop for this." And I'm like, "You're absolutely right."
Ary: For the actual process of what we had to do, we were given a series of adjectives on occasion, sometimes a screencast of the actual game. But other than that, we'd just write a loop for it.
Were they structured like songs? Or is it more like a score?
Pete: It's actually somewhere a little bit in the middle.
Ary: We treat them as songs, but they don't necessarily look like songs. They're only like eight seconds to two minutes long. But we still treated them all like songs. [Excerpts from the Scott Pilgrim videogame soundtrack up at PlayStation.]
Pete: Yeah, absolutely. We viewed this whole thing as kind of an art project. Just because all the pieces fit so well together and we wanted to do it justice. We're an instrumental band and I've always had huge love for soundtrack music. If you went to my iTunes in eleventh grade, my most listened to thing was this band Goblin from Italy who did soundtracks to Dawn of the Dead and a bunch of other Italian horror movies. I just love mood and I appreciate that each moment needs its own vibe.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game trailer
What's in your head when you're writing for the videogame? Are you imagining the characters' perspectives, are you imagining yourself being Scott Pilgrim?
Pete: Imagining being Scott Pilgrim is not very difficult for us to do. I feel a huge connection to the character and to the story: we all grew up playing in bands, we all grew up with the John Hughes-esque emotional drama drowning our lives. So basically, all I had to do was write music and it would work.
Ary: For my stuff, I definitely did a lot of re-reading the area in the comic that was covered in the game and imagining what I'd want to be hearing if it were cinematic.
Have you ever had to fight somebody's ex?
Pete: Um, not fight. I'm working on it.
Ary: I have.
Ary: Yeah, a couple.
Did you win?
Ary: I've had to deal with some really bad ex-boyfriends. That were, like, really not down with me dating their girls.
Pete: If it came down to it, I'd probably be able to kick some ass. I don't doubt my abilities even though I'm a scrawny, 100-something pound white dude.
Scene from Edgar Wright's Scott Pilgrim vs. the World
Who's your favorite evil ex?
Ary: Gideon Graves [Jason Schwartzman's character in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World]
Pete: We don't know Gideon yet.
Ary: One hard part of the whole project was writing for Gideon because we were all like " I don't know anything about Gideon."
Oh, his role isn't defined until the sixth Scott Pilgrim book, and that hadn't come out yet, right? [Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour was just released July 20.]
Pete: Yes, exactly. He's just like this mysterious figure. You don't know the situation, whether [Gideon and Ramona] are still dating or not. You don't know what kind of a boss he is. You don't really know what's going on.
Ary: That was, like, legit hard for me. I didn't know how to do it. I didn't know if he was a fashionista music guy or a soft, jock-y guy. Do I want to write a punk-rock song or a sleek, Italo disco song?
What did you come up with?
Ary: He's got like a couple different boss modes and I kind of covered both grounds just in case he turns out to be one way or the other. One point is really kind of intense and brutal and almost kind of metal. The other part is really more sleek and sly and--
Ary: Yeah, like he's-so-perfect-that-you-hate-him kind of guy. I think it'll work either way.
Chiptune music seems very visually evocative. Like, when I listen to your stuff, I imagine myself running through the street or something epic, whereas not everything I listen to puts so much imagery in my head. How much do visuals factor into your writing process?
Pete: Whenever I'm writing--I don't know if other people do this or if I'm super-weird--I feel small connections to little notes and phrases; I'm writing almost as if they're little characters that I have a relationship with. It's really strange. Like I said, I literally don't know how to describe it.
Normally, I'm a very extroverted dude, but when I'm writing I get in this weird zone that I can never replicate and it only happens at three am and four am and five am when I should be sleeping. That isolation lets me tap into another whole world. Those pictures definitely happen there.
Also, the artist from the game is Paul Robertson, he's doing the pixel art. And he also just happens to be one of our favorite artists of all time. Paul Robertson['s work] is Ary's computer background. We have his proofs that we printed out in our studio space--and those are the visions that I see when I'm writing, so it's literally a dream come true.
Have you ever dreamed in pixels?
Pete: Um yeah, definitely.
Ary: Whenever we play shows we always have a visual element. If anything, this project kind of just felt natural because it was just another visual element to work with.
Pete: I also feel like Scott Pilgrim embodies this same spirit that I always have when I'm writing. One of the first shows that we did with the visual artist we work with, he asked me to describe the songs by writing two adjectives down. As I was writing them down, I realized that maybe 80% of all of the adjectives were "party"/"emotional" or "epic"/ "party" or "epic" / "emotional." And I feel like there is nothing more Scott Pilgrim than an "epic," "emotional" "party."
Have you guys seen the movie?
Pete: No, we haven't. [Editor's note: They saw the Los Angeles premiere last night.] I've been talking to [director] Edgar Wright in e-mails and that's been really cool. I love Edgar Wright. He's mentioned that we will probably get to see the movie before it comes out, so I'm really, really pumped about that. I really want to see it. The second trailer looks pretty damn awesome.
Have you guys been in touch with [cartoonist/author] Brian Lee O'Malley too?
Pete: Yeah, we've been Twitter Direct Messaging and he's like the funniest dude. He's really, really awesome. He gets angry in like really hilarious ways. Not at us, just at the world.
Do you each have a favorite part of Scott Pilgrim?
Pete: To be honest, I love it all. It's all amazing. I can relate to every single moment in such a deep way.
So you're basically Scott Pilgrim, is what you keep saying?
Pete: Haha, I don't know. I feel like Scott Pilgrim resonates with a lot of people my age the same way.
Ary: The story has grown on me more and more. It's become less of a fiction story and more of a real part of my life that I'm dealing with all of the time. Maybe because it kind of is like my job.
Screenshot from the Scott Pilgrim videogame
Any plans for a Scott Pilgrim-themed tour?
Pete: I don't think so. There's such a strong connection that calling it a "tour for Scott Pilgrim" would almost be a little redundant.
We are writing a new album right now. We just decided that throughout this summer, and in the fall, we're going to be recording singles and just throwing them up online. I'm still inspired by the Beach Boys and I'm nostalgic for the early '60s even though I didn't live then--that whole structure of releasing singles. We're living at a point right now where that can totally happen, and it makes sense too.
In a perfect world, what other videogames would you get phone calls asking you to score?
Pete: I don't know. As a musician I love nothing more than creating a picture, whatever that picture is. It just so happens that this is a picture that I don't have to do any extra work to make. But specifically, if there were like some kind of sweet horror game, we could come up with some shit.
Ary: I want to do a movie next time instead of another game.
Pete: That would be awesome. I want to do everything.
But, I'd imagine that videogames, and their scores, are a pretty big part of Anamanaguchi's identity.
Ary: I'm buying an Xbox today just so that I can play Scott Pilgrim. I don't have any videogames.
Pete: I definitely do play games.
So are you the only one in Anamanaguchi who plays videogames? Is it a misconception that you all play videogames because you make 8-bit music?
Pete: We all like games. That's definitely not a misconception. [Bassist] James [Devito] and I went to the same high school. We actually weren't like BFFs in high school which is weird but we both played games. I mean, I love games. Luke is like the best Super Smash [Bros.] player ever. Ary likes games too but he tends to play racing games and stuff.
I feel like there's just like this huge stigma that's around the way games are treated in America like, "You're a gamer," "you're a fucking game guy" "You're a nerd." It's, like, really?
Ary: I hate that as much as people being like, "Oh, hipsters." It's the same thing as people being like, "Oh, nerds." People try to call us both all the time. One day I get one, and the next day, I get the other.
Pete: That's another thing. O'Malley had this tirade on Twitter the other day where people just kept calling him "nerd" and "hipster" and he was like, "Okay, well, which one is it? Fuck you all." And like, we get that all the time. It's so fucking annoying. There was this article on us and in the comments section, people were like, "Oh these guys Williamsburg jerks with long shaggy hair"--and "These guys are fucking nerds with the videogames." I feel like Scott Pilgrim is the epitome of that bridge [between hipsters and nerds]. We're just hipsters with Type B personalities, you know?
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.