Video Games and Music: Bringing the Mainstream to the Niche

Video Games and Music: Bringing the Mainstream to the Niche

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 1/29/2004 for
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Contrary to what you may have been told there’s a whole world of music that goes beyond what you hear on MTV and your local radio stations. And you know what? Most of it is pretty damn good too. Indie Rock had been a strictly underground phenomenon where many of the fans were “in the know” so to speak, but more efforts have been made to push some of these bands to the forefront and perhaps the most concerted effort has been on the part of the folks at Microsoft. It started with 2001’s Amped which featured over 100 tracks from some of the best bands that Indie had to offer. The baton was then passed to Project Gotham 2 which boasted a soundtrack that successfully mashed Indie and mainstream music to form one of the greatest soundtracks of all-time. While racing games tend to have great soundtracks, most of the Xtreme crowd knows that the best music comes from snowboarding videos.

I don’t know about you but I’ve grown pretty tired of the trite that passes as “music” nowadays. You’ve got your Avrils, your Good Charlottes, your PODs, your Creeds and a whole cavalcade of clones and wannabes. For this I’ve always turned to the Indie scene in order to satisfy my aural cravings. You may not be too familiar with the Indie music scene yet but thanks to the advance of new mediums, such as video gaming, these formerly obscure bands are being thrust into the forefront for your listening pleasure.

A few months back, we began our coverage with our review for Hudson River School's first nine tracks and our interview with the band's bassist and guitarist. This week we shift our focus to the Chicago-based Polyvinyl Record Company which leant some major talent to Amped 2's soundtrack. This time around we sit down with Ed Lewis of the band Sunday's Best. If you’re a fan of gaming and music you won’t want to miss our massive feature.

Click here to jump to our interview with Ed Lewis or move on to the next page to check out our session with Utah's Hudson River School. Remember to keep checking back for more reviews and informative interviews.

Hudson River School
The Skirts
The Red Hot Valentines
The Ivory Coast
Sunday's Best


Hudson River School
The Skirts
The Red Hot Valentines
Sunday's Best

Spencer Jacobs(guitarist) and Steve Babcock(bassist) from Hudson River School were kind enough to take some time from their busy schedules to answer a few questions for our readers. We thought about grinding them, but then we figured that having to live in Utah was punishment enough.

Charlie Sinhaseni - Gaming Nexus - You guys had a massive listing in Microsoft's Amped 2. I'm sure that there are a number of other bands who would love to get the same billing. How did you get so many tracks into Microsoft's marquee title?

Steve - Spencer. You can answer this one.

Spencer - Brenner Adams (one of the Co-designers) is an old snowboarding chum of mine. He heard our new demos and really liked them, so he submitted them to the rest of the Amped 2 team for approval. I got a call from the Microsoft "acquisitions manager" asking if we'd be interested in licensing two of our songs for the game. Further down the road, and into the process, they kept asking for more tracks. We eventually let them use nine songs for the game. We joke that we've released an album on Microsoft.

Charlie - What was your initial reaction to the news?

Spencer - We were down.

Steve: Our initial reaction was, "Do we get free X-boxes?"

Charlie - I'm sure those are in the mail as we speak. Do you feel that the band's prominent exposure in Amped 2 has helped your careers?

Spencer - Most Definitely. Just about every day we receive a few emails, or someone posting on our message board with compliments and questions about where they can buy our stuff.

Steve - Definitely. Ever since the game was released, we’ve noticed a significant increase in traffic to our
website and people joining our mailing list. We also get a lot of e-mail from people all around the globe
telling us how they heard us on the game. And Bobby is a total video game heartthrob now.

Charlie - Are you guys video game fans?

Spencer - I'm a fan, but kind of a "behind-the-times" fan; I'm currently stuck with only a PSOne and a pretty weak catalogue of games.

Steve: Let me put it this way: If we didn’t have to make money to pay bills, we’d all spend the majority of our
days playing video games. Okay, so maybe that’s not completely true. Maybe only 75% of our days. Okay, maybe 80%. Yeah, probably 80%. Or maybe 85%.

Lowridin', Utah style

Charlie - How do you feel when you're playing the game and your music suddenly blares through your speakers?

Spencer - I've only been able to play it once over at Bobby's, cause he's the one with the Xbox. He's such a die-hard, he actually bought the game before our copies came in the mail. We set up a time one Saturday to go over and have an Amped-fest, and before we got there, he had characters all made up for each of us with our nicknames and our corresponding snowboarding outfits — pretty funny. It was totally rad to hear our songs while we were playing, totally rad.

Steve - It depends. Amped 2 is a hard game to play so if I’m doing good and the song comes on, I feel great. If I’m doing poorly and the song comes on, I feel as though I’d just been kicked square in the chuckle. I just wanted to say chuckle. In all honesty, yeah, it’s really cool. I mean, we’ve grown up playing video games and getting into the bands that were featured on the games, so it’s really cool to be on the game and hopefully be a band that kids dig when playing it.

Charlie - Gaming ineptitude aside, why don't you tell us a bit about your music. Who are your influences?

Spencer - I'd say HRS is a rock band with hooks, harmonies, and the ocassional guitarmony. I grew up skating and snowboarding, so naturally I listened to a lot of punk and hardcore. Some of my favorite bands/influences are Swiz, Dag Nasty, All, and Reason to Believe, but I would have to say my all-time favorite singer/songwriter is Nick Drake.

Steve - I think everybody in the band would answer this differently. As for me, I think we’re a straight up rock band. We are a mix up of four guys who all have different influences and bring those inspirations to the table. The result is a pretty unique blend of rock. As for actual bands, my influences would include The Foo Fighters, Jimmy Eat World, The Jealous Sound, Saves The Day, Hey Mercedes, The New Transit Direction, and more. You know, stuff like that.Charlie - We heard you financed your first album by selling ‘Days of Our Lives’ videos on eBay. What’s up with that?

Spencer - True. We recorded our fist demos with that money. But if I remember correctly, there were only 4 copies that we had to sell ... unless Steve's holding out and pocketed some of the loot. STEVE!

Steve - Well, that’s partly true. We did sell “Days” videos on eBay to earn money, but it wasn’t to finance our first record, but rather our first set of recordings. Spencer and I worked at a big advertising agency and one day NBC (or whatever the network is) sent a bunch of 35th Year Commemorative videos out to all of their business vendors. It just so happened that about 10 of them worked at the advertising agency. At the time, my job was to sort and deliver the mail, so I pretty much snaked all the copies. I then did a trial run just to see how much one would go for on eBay. Low and behold, some old retirement court lady bought it for $80! That’s all I needed to see. I sold all the others for just as much and more. We then had enough money to go in and do our first demos. The moral of the story? We’re frickin’ rebels!

Charlie - Alright, I'm calling the cops. But before you hit the slammer (I hear snaking Days of Our Lives videos is a pretty harsh offense in Florida and other retirement communities) tell my girlfriend how she can get her hands on some of your tracks. She lives in California and you guys rarely make it out there.

Steve - First of all, is she familiar with what the acronym SOL stands for? Kidding, kidding of course. Actually, no I’m not. Currently we are 100% sold out of all of our music. The good thing is, pretty much every song we’ve ever recorded can be found online. It just takes a little determination and some elbow grease. We are fully aware of the problems our music supply shortage is causing our great economy and have thus devoted ourselves to our sophomore release. We are currently demo’ing the tracks and will most likely post the demos online to let people help us pick the best ones of which will be recorded again and released on the next record. So for the meantime, the best thing anybody can do is go to our site and post a message on the message board about where you can find the songs for download and somebody will tell you.

Spencer - Have her email me, and i'll burn her some CD's.

Thus concludes our interview with Utah's native sons. If you'd like more information about the band make sure to check out its Web site and our review. We'd like to thank them for taking the time to answer our pressing questions. Wait a tick... did Spencer Jacobs just hit on my girlfriend???

What's there to do in Northern Califonia, you ask? Well if you're five talented girls you get together and form one of the best all-female bands that the music industry has ever seen. In the next part of our feature we take a look at The Skirts' latest release and discuss their involvement in Microsoft's Amped 2.

Charlie Sinhaseni - Gaming Nexus - The Skirts contributed four tracks to Microsoft's Amped 2. Can you tell us a bit about the selection process?

The Skirts - Our first dealing with Microsoft actually took place first with Amped 1. We have a friend who knows the Microsoft people so a plethora of CD's were sent in and our last CD, Take Off, made the cut. We had one song on that game. When it came time for Amped 2 they came back to us. We sent them our newest CD Smashing the Sky and low and behold, they took five songs. Eventually, it was four songs because our 5th song said "God Dammit" and they had to cut it! :)

Charlie - So let's assume that you ladies can clean out those potty mouths, any chance that the Skirts will be featured in more video games down the line?

The Skirts - We would LOVEEEE to be in other games-Hey Game People-call us!!!!!!!

Charlie - Are any of you avid gamers? If so what are some of your favorites?

The Skirts - We unfortunately are un-cool in the game department. (possibly some other departments too! :) Here are some collective faves:

  • Diablo
  • Myst
  • Final Fantasy Series
    Charlie - So you're featured quite prominently in Amped 2. Are you big fans of the game? What goes through your minds when you're tearing up the slopes and one of your tracks comes on?

    The Skirts - Only ONE of us has actually heard our song during the game-apparently it was quite exciting!!!!!!!!!!

    Charlie - All right, I can see that these gaming questions aren't quite as exciting as I would have hoped they'd be. Let's move away from them for a bit. How about your music? It has a very distinct sound to it, can you tell us some of your influences?

    The Skirts - We are always asked about our influences, and it's a hard question because for some reason, all five of us have VERY different answers. I guess that is what makes our sound distinct. It is an eclectic blend of five individual tastes. The Skirt's luckily have never intentionally TRIED to sound like any other band, so I think it has paid off because we often told our sound is "distinct" and "different"...We HOPE that's a good thing! :)

    A few individual faves: Christian Death, Jawbreaker, P.J. Harvey, Queens of the Stone Age, Portishead, Bauhaus, The Shins etc etc etc.

    Shania Twain's got nothing on Lynn Mayugba

    Charlie - You probably have a pretty diverse fanbase. Has anyone done anything interesting to try to attract your attention?

    The Skirts - Hmmmmmmm Let's see, we have had "inappropriate" hand gestures, "inappropriate" comments, flashing, grabbing, thumb sucking, masturbating and you name it, we've seen it! he he he We used to get upset and horrified, now it's pretty entertaining! :) We've learned to have a good sense of humor about things. Wendy has a fan that is obsessed with her gum and begs her for it at every show.Charlie - That's just gross, yet oddly intriguing. Does she eventually give in?

    The Skirts - NO WAY does Wendy give in! Finally the guy asked me for the gum, I didn't know he had been hounding her for years-I got her gum from her, gave it to him and he proudly put it in his mouth and blew bubbles throughout the show! Wendy was livid at me. The next show he came to, he announced that it was on his wall by her photo and wondered if he could get another piece!

    Charlie - Oh yea, I remember that incident. I still have that piece of gum. Actually it's hanging right next to my- err. I mean, good for him, whoever that was. Speaking of stalker-like behavior, let's break a few hearts. Many people know that you (Lynn) are married, who else should the perverts give up on?

    A deleted scene from 'Peter Pan, the Female Rock Star Years'

    The Skirts - We're excited if we actually could break a heart!!!!! he he he All five Skirts are taken actually. If we only knew we had heart breaking ability when we WERE single!

    Charlie - Well, I've got what I needed to know. But before we end this interview, how about you give us a little taste of what we can expect from the Skirts' next album. You are working on another one, right?

    The Skirts - We are. We will either do a full length or an EP. We have yet to decide. We spent the summer writing and still are in the works. This CD will be a bit more rock then the last three! The rockers in the band finally won! he he he Overall, we are really looking forward to being in the studio and producing everything. We all have a lot of fun together, so the studio is where we can really utilize our great chemistry. Hopefully we'll make magic.

    Sadly this ends our time with the Skirts. We'd like to thank Lynn and the rest of the ladies in the band for giving us what little free time they have. They have a few shows coming up in the near future so make sure to check out their Web site for more information. Also, a new album is in the works so keep your eyes open for that one. Make sure to check out our review for Smashing the Sky in the meantime.

    I don't know about you, but I'm getting pretty tired of all of these power pop punk groups that populate today's music scene. One-dimensional acts such as Good Charlotte still dominate the charts while the whiney brats in Simple Plan are getting copious amounts of air time on MTV. But for every pitfall there's a savior and I'd like to think that it comes in the form of The Red Hot Valentines, a power pop indie group on the Polyvinyl Record Company label. We had a little chat with the boys from the group to learn more about its roots, its inspiration and the mastermind behind the creative album art.

    Charlie Sinhaseni - Gaming Nexus - Most of the gaming world's first contact with the Red Hot Valentines was through Microsoft's Amped 2. Does it excite you to know that a whole world of gamers are now exposed to your music?

    Red Hot Valentines - Its definitely exciting. I know that having a song played at me for all of the hours I play video games would really familiarize me with the group. Distributing music in such a way is much more constructive than other avenues.

    Some of the boys relive their old Broadway days

    Charlie Sinhaseni - Are any of you guys gamers? If so, are you fans of Amped 2?

    RHV - I play a lot of video games, but I've never played Amped 2. I've heard good things, though.

    Charlie Sinhaseni - Ah, you're missing out. Tons of people are huge fans of the game. What do you think runs through their heads when one of your songs comes up on the playlist?

    RHV - I would probably wonder if people were annoyed hearing all the time on a game.

    Charlie Sinhaseni - Let's get off the topic of games, you guys have a pretty interesting name. How did you come up with it?

    RHV - Back in 1999 when we started playing together, every mainstream rock act it seemed was rap-metal. They all seemed to have names like 'Scrapevein' and 'Bloodtummy', so the band as a whole agreed it was kind of funny when our guitarist Toby thought his name of 'Red Hot Valentines' was the greatest idea.Charlie Sinhaseni - Your "Wait for Summer" album has some very unique packaging. Who's idea was it to come up with the notebook motif?

    RHV - I think our keyboard player Tyson thought of the initial idea, but Gregg Bernstein made it happen in a way we didn't imagine. He is incredibly good at what he does.

    Charlie Sinhaseni - The album encompasses a wide range of moods and emotions. Is there any inspiration behind the music? Perhaps a few of you were jilted by a former lover?

    RHV - I don't really think there was any attempt at or desire for lyrical depth on that record. Our vocalists, Jeff and Toby, usually write from a position that isn't necessarily real for them, I think. I know they haven't had any high school breakups lately at any rate, since they are both very married.

    Charlie Sinhaseni - Married? Man, lots of high school girls are going to be disappointed. If you had to pick one song for our audience to listen to which would it be and why?

    RHV - I would have to say that its a toss-up. Either "This Heart of Mine" or "Don't Bother". The first being a good example of our sound, the second being a personal favorite of mine.

    I swear officer! She said she was 18!

    Charlie Sinhaseni - Now that the album is finished are you guys heading right back to the studio? Or are you taking it easy and slacking off a bit?

    RHV - We toured some after the record came out, but right now I'm paying off some bills I've neglected by being in this band. I was fired six times for schedule issues due to touring, and those bills don't pay themselves. We're also taking a hard look at what we do in the meantime. Its not laziness actually; just looking to see if there is a more constructive way to operate.

    How come when I tell my girlfriend that I'm not being lazy and that I'm just looking for a more constructive way to operate it never works? Either way, we'd like to thank the guys for taking the time to answer our questions. Make sure to check out our review and their Web site for more information.When your band's biography reads like something out of a Melrose Place script you'd expect the band to bitch and moan about the bad hand that life dealt them. Then again, the guys from Sunday's Best aren't really ones to mope over their past. We chat with Ed Lewis to discuss the band's influences, its experiences and its inclusion in Amped 2.

    Charlie Sinhaseni - Gaming Nexus - Polyvinyl is represented pretty well in Microsoft’s Amped 2; were you guys chosen as a package deal or were you approached individually about the project?

    Ed Lewis - Sunday's Best - I think someone from Xbox contacted Polyvinyl. It was real random. It’s funny how things work out sometimes.

    CS - Do you feel that the exposure in Amped 2 has helped to increase your audience?

    EL - Yes. I think it is always a good thing to get your music out to a mass audience. It’s just another avenue to be heard.

    CS - Have you actually heard your music in the game?

    EL - I actually haven’t heard the music. I wasn’t really aware that our music was in the game. It makes me want to get the game now…

    CS - Any chance that we hear more from Sunday’s Best again in the videogame realm? If so are there any games in particular that you’d like to see your music in?

    EL - I am all for having our songs in the videogame realm. I think I would prefer some of our songs in a ‘first person shooter’ type of game. Maybe some type of spy game would be great!CS - Are any of you guys gamers? If so are there any particular games or franchises that you’re fans of?

    EL - I used to be an avid gamer back in the days. However, I feel real guilty some times when I get hooked on a particular title. Ian is the real gamer in the band. He actually works for Activision. I have been known to own a couple EA Sports basketball games.

    CS - Alright this interview is getting a little too geeky, let’s move away from games. Your music in general has a very unique sound to it, to what do you attribute your ability to differentiate yourself from the masses?

    EL - I think our various musical backgrounds and interests contribute to our sound. We each bring something to the table and in turn that shapes our sound. We are not all into the same bands or music. If we were, I think we would create something really boring.

    CS - Your bio shows us that the band has been through a lot of turmoil in the past. How has this helped you advance yourselves as musicians and songwriters?

    EL - I think whenever you have change it makes you a stronger person. You automatically have life experiences. These life experiences aids in your musical outlook. I believe that it gives us more fuel for the fire so to speak. As a result, you can communicate those experiences through your music. Your music suddenly has rich fabric or backbone.

    CS - Let’s say we gave you the opportunity to collaborate with one artist of your choice, who would it be?

    EL - I would love to collaborate with The Notwist. I think they create some pretty darn interesting music. Their ability to utilize sound textures is amazing. I would love to sing over one of their tracks.

    CS - You guys were a pretty big hit with the gamers who played Amped 2. When’s the next time that they can expect to hear from Sunday’s Best again?

    EL - Unfortunately, we do not plan to play as Sunday’s Best for a while. Band members have gone there separate ways for now. I am currently working with Ian in a new project. Hopefully we can get out there soon.

    That concludes our time with Ed Lewis of Sunday's Best. How good is their music? It's so good that they didn't even know that they were in a video game. How's that for excellence? Hopefully we'll hear from these guys again because their musical talent is just amazing. In the meantime make sure to check out our review of their album, The Californian for more info.
  • * The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

    About Author

    Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

    It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

    It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

    When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

    As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

    When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

    Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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