Stanton Moore & Brain: In Their Own Words
Stanton Moore & Brain
An Infamous Collaboration
When we imagine how video game soundtracks are created, we most likely picture someone hunched over a computer, composing all alone and utilizing replicated orchestral sounds. Not the case with Infamous 2 – Sony’s highly anticipated Playstation 3 sequel. Committed to making a soundtrack with real musicians and real instruments, Sony, along with software developers Suckerpunch, recruited a couple of names well known to the drumming community – Stanton Moore and Brain Mantia – to craft the music to accompany the worn-out world of Infamous 2. We spoke with Moore and Brain about the unique challenges of such a project, including long-distance collaboration and thinking outside the box – way outside.
DRUM!: How did you end up playing drums and composing for a video game?
Stanton: Infamous 2 is set it in a fictitious post-apocalyptic New Orleans – sort of a post-Katrina type of thing. The musical director, Jonathan Mayer, had the idea to get a New Orleans band to collaborate on it, so they approached Galactic.
Brain: I’ve known the head engineer at Sony for a long time – Mark Senesac. He helped produce the Limbomaniacs, one of the bands I was in before Primus, in the late ’80s, early ’90s. We were going to the NAMM show together and he was like, “Hey, we want to talk to you about maybe playing on this game – it’s kind of like, drum heavy.”
DRUM!: What kind of direction were you getting? Was it much different than making a record?
Brain: It actually kind of reminded me a little bit like how Primus would make an album. What was great about Primus was that the record company would just be like, “Well, you’re Primus – we don’t even really know what that is but it’s selling so … here’s the money.” [laughs] No one was over our shoulder – and that’s when I think the best art is created, because once someone tells you, like, “Don’t do that,” then you start second-guessing yourself. The best things happen by accident.
Stanton: What’s cool is you totally step outside of your own regular mode of what you’d normally do. It’s not like, “Oh, I can’t play something that weird because, you know, that wouldn’t be representative of Galactic or Stanton Moore Trio. It gives you free license to do things you’d normally not do. Having been that free you come up with a lot of ideas that I can take and use for things like Galactic or Garage Á Trois.
Brain: [Sony] encouraged experimentation. They kept saying, “Make it weirder – go for it.” I would do something crazy, send it to them, and they’d just say, “We love this! Keep going with this vibe.”
DRUM!: How were you coming up with material? Were you watching scenes from the game while working?
Brain: I had the last game so I could look at the movement of this guy, Cole, who’s the main character. His vibe was – he’s kind of hunched over and almost a little beaten feeling. So, right away I just heard this kind of distressed, avant garde percussion.
Stanton: They sent us drawings and paintings and descriptions of the characters, so we got an idea for the mood. You’re trying to compose with images of some of these scenes that they have sent you – like, this monster crawls out of the sewer and he comes charging at you and he’s flipping cars over and you’ve got to fight him off. [laughs] I would just create these little scenes in my mind and play to them while a click was going, and then Galactic would take what I’d done and add to it. We’d build it from the ground up like that.
Brain: I got some friends together, like Buckethead and Larry [LaLonde, guitarist] from Primus. Buckethead was a perfect guy ’cause we would just put on some weird movie, like Taxidermia or something, and Bucket would just start jamming demented banjo. Then I would cut it up, add drums to it. I would take from the Tom Waits side of my drumming – the distressed vibe. My whole thing with Tom Waits when we were recording was, like, a really great recording of a really sh__ty sound.
DRUM!: Jonathan Mayer [musical director and drummer] likened the collaboration to a game of “telephone,” where you were mimicking each other’s parts, but putting your own spin on it.
Brain: Oh, yeah. Jonathan and I played over some of Stanton’s stuff, but we were really conscious of avoiding that typical “thunder drumming” you hear in movie trailers. We always tried to juxtapose it instead of like “You play a drum kit and I’ll play a drum kit …” and then there’s three sets going at once. It’d be like, “Oh, Stanton’s playing some weird hi-hat pattern and some weird, like, bucket.” So we were like, “Okay, let’s go in with huge marching drums and play these low tribal rhythms against it.” Galactic was definitely taking care of the, like, authentic New Orleans—type rhythms and I would get it and distress it even more. Or maybe break it up in a way that was more random – like that Miles Davis era where they were all on heroin and no one was really playing in time or together. I tried to push the envelope a little bit.
DRUM!: It looks like you got to break out some really interesting gear.
Stanton: We were trying not to set up a regular kit at any point. We set up this “bizzaro” kit with calkfskin-head drums. I ordered a lot of hardware from DW so I could create trees for all this Pete Engelhart stuff and LP percussion, timbales, and micro snares – even frying pans. We’d run it through contact mikes and tiny amplifiers and crank the gain and get all these bizarre sounds and really improvise with that.
Brain: We kind of built the same kind of drum kit that Galactic had – weird pieces of Tupperware, weird pieces of metal garbage can lids, congas, 10" hi-hats that I got from Zildjian – we just mocked up this weird kit along with the traditional kit.
Stanton: Then there was the “brutal” kit – three rack toms, three floor toms, a 26" bass drum, and then I had a hi-hat, but I barely used it. Jonathan Mayer would compose these string quartets and I’d do, like, three passes on the big drums – doing big, brutal tom stuff, leaving lots of space and trying to create parts that were actually in stark contrast to the string quartet. I’ve developed that side of my playing with things like Corrosion Of Conformity and Garage Á Trois – the last two records we did were very tom-heavy. Then I did three passes on the “bizarro” kit and mixed it together.
DRUM!: What are some of the more interesting grooves in Infamous 2?
Stanton: We were trying to come up with things that didn’t really exist before. You can take something that everybody knows – like Steve Gadd’s mozambique – but you put the right hand on some Engelhart stuff and the left hand is gong between these calfskin-headed toms … Right there that’s going to create some real interesting things. You can take it and totally twist it on its side by playing different sounds, or play it with a slightly different bass drum pattern or move your hand somewhere else and it becomes something else again. You take some of the grooves that I’d be comfortable with – like, the Mardi Gras Indian, Afro Cuban, Brazilian hybrids – and by changing the texture and different sounds and tones that you’re playing within these kits, you come up with some new stuff. It’s a really fun process.
Brain: I was always playing around with this 19/16 groove that was in that Frank Zappa song “Keep It Greasy So It Goes Down Easy.” I just loved how Vinnie Colaiuta is playing in 19/16 and he’s just ripping. So I was like, “We should do one in 19/16!” And everyone’s like “What the f__k is Brain on now?” [laughs] But we made it work and it’s awesome. There were two or three tunes in five, two or three in seven, I think I did another one in nine. I was really just trying to take everything I loved about Frank Zappa and incorporate it.
DRUM!: How long did the whole process take?
Stanton: Months and months of back and forth. This was a big production.
Brain: We started February 2010, and got done January 2011. The budget was bigger and better than anything I’ve been involved in on the rock side – well, maybe not Guns N’ Roses. [For Chinese Democracy] We had an orchestra and spent ten years and 13 million dollars. [laughs] No one has that kind of budget anymore. Everyone is trying to cut corners. And what’s so great about what [Sony] did with Infamous 2 is they took it to that next level – like, let’s get a real orchestra and real drums. That’s so rare, man – I’ve got to tip my hat to them.