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Dtoid interviews Rich Vreeland of disasterPEACE

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We know the drill by now, don't we? Revise classic gaming tunes with heavy metal guitars, win over the hearts and minds of gamers everywhere. But there's a growing force of musical masterminds sprouting up that are taking our beloved bleeps and bloops in another direction: creating original music with the classic NES sound. disasterPEACE, the brainchild of one Rich Vreeland, is one such artist.

When Niero originally introduced it to Dtoid readers earlier this month, we managed to drive Vreeland's bandwidth into oblivion with the deluge of tune-hungry punks we sent his way. One listen to his work will tell you why: it's really, really good. Check out samples of his work at the disasterPEACE MySpace and website, download the excellent Atebite and the Warring Nations on iTunes, and then scurry back to Destructoid to read our interview with the good master Vreeland after the jump!

Destructoid: Thanks for taking the time out to talk with us, Rich.

Rich Vreeland: Of course, my pleasure.

Dtoid: To get us started, I was wondering about how you came to adopt your style. You mentioned in your bio that you didn't get into music until high school; did you embark upon music study with video games in mind, or did that come later?

RV: Well, during high school I had thought I had found my one and only passion, Graphic Design, so I focused all of my free time and creative energy on putting together websites, designing logos and print work, and so forth. It wasn't until I had graduated and starting going to college for New Media that I realized that creating music was as much my passion as was design. I'd say I started writing music around my last year of high school, but I didn't really have video games in mind. I've always been a huge fan of gaming and I think this sort of came out subconsciously through my music. People who would comment on my early music which at the time was mostly guitar based, would always say things like "this sounds like it could be in a video game" or things of the sort. So what eventually happened was I started fooling around with synthesizers and listening to lots of Nintendo soundtracks, in addition to continuing to play guitar. I also started doing a lot of looking around to see what other people were doing.

Dtoid: Anyone in particular?

RV: I'd say one of the biggest influences on my music was and still is the man behind the Metroid Metal project, Stemage.

Dtoid: Awesome collection. If any series deserved a metal makeover, it was probably Metroid.

RV: Yeah, some of the best video game influenced to this date I have come across, for sure. You can't go wrong with Metroid. I started frequenting their forums and the Minibosses forums and have since made a lot of contacts with people who have similar interests to my own and its been great, I have a lot of projects going on at the moment, some of which will be coming out soon.

Dtoid: Sweet. Is it one of the projects listed on dprocks.com?

RV: As a matter of fact, no! But if you check the disasterPEACE myspace, the design is themed after my next release, "Level", which will be coming out on the Megatwerp netlabel early next year. (Megatwerp)

Dtoid: That's a particularly good track [on your myspace].

RV: Seven?

Dtoid: Yeah. Actually, that was the track that forced me to explain your music to my boss. I was on lunch break and she walked in while I had your myspace loaded. She asked if I was playing Nintendo. So, you know-- ten minute explanation.

RV: Haha. Well, I'm sure you can relate, anyone who does this kind of music gets asked questions like that all the time.

Dtoid: I bet.

RV: It's always humorous when a relative says "this sounds like a video game", and of course I have to give the obvious "that's the idea" remark.

Dtoid: Do you find it difficult to relate the appeal of the NES chip-sound outside of the context of a videogame to people who haven't been exposed to it?

RV: Oh, absolutely. Unfortunately, while some people have this innate attraction to the sound, others are turned off by it and find it rather annoying. Others think of it as too gimmicky.

Dtoid: So what about it appeals to you?

RV: Well, besides appealing to my inner child, I am attracted to the simplicity of the sound. I've always found it an interesting medium to work in. Just like any other category of music, the work tends to range from extremely good to extremely bad, depending on who you favor and what you are listening to. I also think that the 8-bit sound and style lends itself really well to creating conceptual music, which is something that has always interested me greatly. The music in its original form is meant to accompany an experience, and I am trying to recreate that with my work. I don't think it's a gimmick, I think of it as any other instrument.

Dtoid: I think it's interesting that we see a lot of cover projects, fan compilations -- like Bound Together, or the Minibosses, what have you -- but artists who 'swing the other way' are few and far between. Using the classic sound to create new music.

RV: As common as it seems these days to see cover projects there is also an absolutely huge amount of artists creating original music inspired by game consoles and old computers. I think the difference is that a lot of the music isn't getting the exposure that a band like the Minibosses has gotten. I think that partly has to do with the fact that a band that plays songs that so many people are familiar with allows them to draw a larger audience a lot quicker. Not to mention that they are an awesome band. I think as more and more artists creating original VG inspired music start to organize shows and tours and the like, you will see that get bigger.

Dtoid: This might be a bit broad of a question, but it bears asking given the (relatively) unusual sound of your music: could you run us through your creative process from songwriting to production?

RV: It tends to vary for myself. Sometimes I'll write all of the melodies of a song on my guitar, but other times I'll write out a chord progression the piano or come up with something straight from my head. The basic process that I often take is using a MIDI sequencer/notator that allows me to input my notes onto a computer.From there I'll take the MIDI and run it through any number of samplers, synthesizers, and the like. There are actually a lot of ways these days to emulate or recreate the 8-bit sound. 8-bit groups such as YMCK have created there own audio plug-ins that are based on sampling snippets of actual NES sound.

Dtoid: As opposed to emulating the sound chip?

RV: Yes, or using a synthesizer to model the sound. My last album, Atebite and the Warring Nations, was all synthesizers that were patched to sound like a retro game console.

Dtoid: Oh, speaking of Atebite, you describe that record as a concept album, correct?

RV: Yes, absolutely.

Dtoid: It certainly plays like one.

RV: I'm glad you think so! I tried to leave as much of it to the imagination as possible, but I suppose the basic idea is that of a musical narrative.

Dtoid: I remarked to a friend several (several) times how great some of your music would fit in a game. For example, Kevlar Cove is the best town theme ever.

RV: Why, thank you.

Dtoid: I suppose for a listener, the NES sound almost necessitates thinking of your songs in the context of a game. Is this something you bear in mind while writing?

RV: I suppose yes and no, because certain sounds on the album are very representative of the kind of effects you might hear in a game. A good example of that is one specific part in "Atebite's Descent: Full on Frolicking" which going back to now reminds me of a character such as Pac Man chomping away at something. On the other hand I added sampled acoustic drums and some weather and such in between certain tracks, so... When it comes down to it, I was mainly focused on writing an album that would work together as a story with characters and important events.

Dtoid: I noticed that. I think that's what makes your songs feel more like music that incorporates the NES sound, rather than music that is exclusively the NES sound. It establishes the sound as more of an instrument.

RV: If you listen to some of my collaborative work with Spamtron [Disastertron] you might say the opposite, though.

Dtoid: Oh yeah? For what reason?

RV: We're working on an album that is all short tunes that loop, just like background tracks might do in your typical game. The next Disastertron album will be called "Neutralite". We're trying to incorporate the events of Atebite and the Warring Nations into the music as well.

Dtoid: And finally, some obligatory gaming music geek questions: favorite games? Favorite game soundtracks?

RV: I couldn't think of favorite games without thinking about Tecmo Super Bowl for the NES and NHL '94 for Sega Genesis.

Dtoid: Tecmo Bowl was fucking epic.

RV: It really was amazing what they were doing, considering they were doing it before anyone else. And the way they were doing it. One of the best multiplayer experiences I can recall.

Dtoid: And considering the only alternative back then was Nintendo's 10-Yard Fight...

RV: Hahah, I had that game too. Oh jeez. They should've spent an extra 5 years on that one.

Dtoid: Any others?

RV: Top Gear, Road Rash, Super Mario RPG, Chrono Trigger. It'd be wrong to not include Excitebike.

Dtoid: And your favorite game soundtrack?

RV: I am a huge fan of Yasunori Mitsuda, the [composer] behind Chrono Trigger as well as Chrono Cross. It's a shame Nobuo Uematsu is the main man at Square Enix.

Dtoid: Actually, no longer. Uematsu jumped ship last year. He's over at Mistwalker now with Sakaguchi.

RV: Really? Well, I heard it first from you guys. A year behind is kind of sad, but I guess I can't know everything.

Dtoid: Rich, thanks a bunch for talking with me.

RV: Yeah man, thank you! I appreciate it.

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