The veteran composer talks about working on Pencil Test Studios’ odd adventure.
Pencil Test Studios’ Armikrog has been a long time coming. As the spiritual successor to The Neverhood, the adventure title seeks to break the conventions of sense and story-telling while delivering a compelling gameplay experience. Part of that will be possible thanks to the soundtrack composed by Terry Scott Taylor, who’s been active in the music industry for more than 40 years and brings his own unique sound to gaming.
There’s plenty to talk about with regards to Taylor’s history along with his involvement with Armikrog and thankfully GamingBolt had a chance to speak to him, one-on-one. Meanwhile, Armikrog releases on August 18th for PS4, Wii U, PC, Linux and Mac OS X.
"I'm honored to say that I have a small following of pretty devoted fans who reside in various countries around the world, including Russia where I'm told that 'The Neverhood' is the most pirated game in Russian history!"
Rashid K. Sayed: Could you tell us a bit about yourself, for those who are unaware of your experience and the influence you’ve had on the music industry?
Terry Scott Taylor: Hmmmm…I’m not at all comfortable with tooting my own horn. This is something best left up to people who write bios. I will say that I’ve been making a living doing music now for close to four decades, and that my musical output in regard to style has been described by some as extremely eclectic. I’ve always been relatively restless, and as a result I’ve recorded and produced everything from rock n’ roll, indie rock, Americana, folk, country, and gospel, to comedy, cartoons, and music for kids, all with varying degrees of success. I’m probably best known for my work with Doug TenNapel in writing and producing music for the interactive games “The Neverhood” and “Skull Monkeys,” among others. I’ve also done work for Nickelodeon, Netflix, and Dreamworks as well as other independent gaming companies.
I’m honored to say that I have a small following of pretty devoted fans who reside in various countries around the world, including Russia where I’m told that “The Neverhood” is the most pirated game in Russian history! There are a number of YouTube sites where you can watch Russian kids performing songs from the Neverhood in various settings; homes, on stages, in parks, etc. and I really get a kick out of hearing from the fans, but especially from Russian fans, usually teenagers, who write me on Facebook to tell me how much they love the Neverhood music.
I just realized that I said at the beginning that I wasn’t going to toot my own horn and here I am trumpet blasting my meager accomplishments! The bottom line is this; while I’ve gone through some tough times and struggles to make a modest living doing what I passionately love to do, I’m still here doing just that. I’m truly a blessed man.
Rashid K. Sayed: For a songwriter who veers more towards Americana (in recent times at least), what was it like working on the soundtrack for Armikrog?
Terry Scott Taylor: The qualifier here is an important one because I don’t think it’s accurate to say that my songwriting veers more toward Americana. While my extensive musical output with The Lost Dogs over the past several years represents an exploration of certain genres of music that I’ve always wanted to jump into, namely folk, blues, gospel, country, and Americana, and may overshadow the other stuff I’ve been involved in, I’ve never abandoned my basic primary passion for creating experimental, yet accessible, hook driven melodic rock music married to what I hope is an intelligent thought provoking lyric.
This is the stuff that really floats my boat. Having immersed myself for a number of years in styles outside of rock n’ roll equipped me to stylistically move more easily into “The Neverhood’s” blues/jazz milieu that the game screamed or, while my experimental rock background is invaluable towards creating an entirely different sonic landscape for “Armikrog’s” unique narrative. Before I go any further, I don’t want to fail to mention my musical collaborators on Armikrog; Rob Watson and Greg Flesch. Both are not only dear friends, they are consummate musicians and composers in their own right.
"Since Neverhood and Skullmonkey is what I'm most known for in the gaming world, in the beginning I was somewhat concerned about divorcing myself from that model all altogether."
While Rob has been my primary go to guy, Greg’s contribution is no less brilliant. As well as their “quick on their feet” ability to musically articulate my musical directives, they have also contributed any number of ideas of their own. Thanks for their adeptness at making sense out of some of the more mushy, muddle-headed ideas that occasionally plague me, and then turning them into substantive sonic gems. The Armikrog soundtrack would not be possible without them.
Rashid K. Sayed: How would you describe your experience working with Pencil Test Studios?
Terry Scott Taylor: I couldn’t be working for more sweet spirited and supportive people.
Everyone there is absolutely wonderful. Doug T. is not only a fan, but I consider him one of my dearest friends. He is incredibly enthusiastic and supportive. He’s also very honest and direct, sometimes with a bluntness that is almost breathtaking! If he doesn’t like something you’ve done, he’s not going to soft peddle it. On the other hand, when he says he loves something you’ve done, you can pretty much take it to the bank. I admit I both love and fear his honesty in regard to the former, and I have passionately disagreed with him on a few occasions, but I’m always thankful that he expresses his mind and that the last thing Doug is gonna do is blow smoke up the ol’ keester.
A bit of struggle to please him, born of great respect, has added depth to my work ethic and made me a better, more disciplined artist. This was also a chance for me to break out of the Neverhood mold and do something different but equally compelling. Being thought of as a one trick pony obviously has no appeal to me, and I have Doug to thank for giving me the opportunity to dispel the idea.
Rashid K. Sayed: What did you wish to convey with the soundtrack, especially given the game’s unorthodox nature, and how did you go about composing for the same?
Terry Scott Taylor: Well, Doug T. had a few ideas about what he wanted to hear and it was clear from the beginning that in spite of this being another Claymation format, we weren’t going to go back down “The Neverhood” road, at least in any broad and obvious way. Since Neverhood and Skullmonkey is what I’m most known for in the gaming world, in the beginning I was somewhat concerned about divorcing myself from that model all altogether. On the other hand I was extremely excited about the challenge of creating something entirely unique to the world of this particular game, but which also felt somehow connected to the other stuff, however loosely.
I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of getting Brian Wilson (of Beachboy fame) into the studio with The Flaming Lips, which I think would be a really great collaborative pairing. Doug mentioned Brian and the Lips early in our talks, along with some old school sci-fi music soundtracks and several other film soundtracks and artists, and the idea of some kind of amalgamation of classic sci-fi music, psychedelia, and 60’s style pop began to germinate into something that for a time I was calling “killer space clown music” for some reason. I know it sounds a bit strange, but for me, having this sort of conceptual directive helps me to keep on track with thematic and sonic continuity.
"It's important for me to have Armikrog in my repertoire because it demonstrates a musical versatility that may surprise some people (especially industry folks) who may be under the false impression that the Neverhood music represents my sole approach in the creation of game soundtracks."
As I said, there are some Neverhood style references, but this stuff is not only much more complex and, in my opinion, intriguing, it is also much more in the heart of my wheelhouse than is the stuff I wrote for the Neverhood. Don’t get me wrong; I love The Neverhood music and it’s a style I may revisit from time to time, but I had a blast creating this new thing. Of the qualities Armikrog and Neverhood share, I would say the humor is the common denominator, that along with a bit of scatting and those high female vocals most of my listeners know I’m rather fond of!
Rashid K. Sayed: Armikrog seems to focus more on a Claymation-style of aesthetic. How did this appeal to you from the outset of the project?
Terry Scott Taylor: I’m a huge Ray Harryhausen fan. I lived in Norwalk California back in the 50’s and I watched first run releases of the Sinbad movies, Mysterious Island, and all of Ray’s stuff up on the big screen. It was one of the greatest thrills of my life. In terms of sharing love and appreciation for Harryhausen, meeting Doug, though he’s a much younger guy, was to meet a kindred spirit. I never thought I’d be creating music for a movie art-form I truly idolized as a kid, but Doug gave me the opportunity, and I’m truly thankful.
Rashid K. Sayed: You have a rather wide range of other projects you’ve worked on, including a soundtrack for the comic book The Return to The Neverhood. What has your experience working in the video game industry thus far been like?
Terry Scott Taylor: I can’t speak for every composer in this particular industry, but I personally have nothing negative to say about any of the people I’ve worked for thus far. Everyone has been consistently kind, gracious, and supportive. I honestly would tell you if it weren’t true. Maybe I’ve just lucked out somehow and there are some real evil dudes out there who are treating their composers like scum of the earth. If they exist, well, I’ve never run into them.
Rashid K. Sayed: Will you be working on any other video game soundtracks in the future?
Terry Scott Taylor: I’m sure I will. It’s important for me to have Armikrog in my repertoire because it demonstrates a musical versatility that may surprise some people (especially industry folks) who may be under the false impression that the Neverhood music represents my sole approach in the creation of game soundtracks. It’s nice being given the opportunity to spread my wings in the gaming world, and even though it’s no surprise to the fan base, most of whom are well aware of the many musical hats I’ve worn over the years, it will be fun surprising those who don’t know.
"Armikrog has freed me up. Now the trick is to sustain that sense of freedom. I would add that while the idea of no holds barred creative freedom may sound ideal and liberating to almost any artist, you've still got to hope and pray that the muse will show up."
Rashid K. Sayed: Are there any particular video game composers you’re fond of?
Terry Scott Taylor: Let’s just say that I’m fond and supportive of all talented, creative people. There are people within this industry who have amazing gifts and have raised the bar in regard to contributions to the quality and uniqueness of the genre. They truly inspire me. I sincerely wish them all much happiness and success.
Rashid K. Sayed: What have you carried with you after working on Armikrog? Do you feel as though the game has influenced your own music or understanding in any way?
Terry Scott Taylor: Well, since me and my team are still working on and fine tuning the Armikrog stuff, my answer may be a bit premature. At the risk of sounding like I’m trying to avoid your question, I would have to say that the extent to which working on Armikrog has impacted my current work is largely an intangible. It’s always difficult to step back and assess the force and sway of past influences and to call them by name, primarily because these influences are often subconscious. What I can say is that Armikrog allowed me and my cohorts Rob Watson and Greg Flesch, within very loose limits, to get as creatively insane as we wanted to be. I was constantly encouraging this in my team, and I think this may be come close to an answer to your question.
Armikrog has freed me up. Now the trick is to sustain that sense of freedom. I would add that while the idea of no holds barred creative freedom may sound ideal and liberating to almost any artist, you’ve still got to hope and pray that the muse will show up. Remember, the first thing you’re looking at is a blank canvas. Do you have the goods to fill it up and make it overflow with great wild stuff? If you do, that blankness will be transformed, and you’ll find yourself looking into a wondrous box full of every imaginable toy…if you don’t, well, here’s to staring straight into the abyss!
Rashid K. Sayed: When can we look forward to being able to purchase the soundtrack for Armikrog?
Terry Scott Taylor: I’m not exactly sure of the logistics of the process, but there definitely will be a soundtrack available with the release of the game. When exactly the game is going to be released is a different question, and I’m afraid I’m not privy to the answer.