GamesBeat: You mentioned the rock and other ideas. I know there are more than 100 songs that were licensed for the game as well. How did that fit together? What were the appropriate moments for using original music versus licensed?
Harlin: The implementation of the licensed stuff, and the choosing of which tracks to license, that was all handled by 2K. That wasn’t something Jim and I were involved in.
Bonney: That was a lot of Matt and Haden, guys like that. But we were super influenced by that stuff. Both of us dug really deep into what music was going on back then, what people were doing. It was such a fruitful time, especially for the blues influence. All that music was influencing us while we were writing.
Harlin: It’s a funny thing. You talk about blues, but you’re also talking about 1968, which is the beginning of modern rock and roll. You’re getting away from early rock – Elvis, Bill Haley and the Comets – and getting more toward stuff like the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. The things those guys were listening to at the time, the things influencing their music—it was the blues. They were listening to Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. In some cases they were flat-out doing covers of Muddy Waters tunes.
We went in this strange feedback loop, where the blues influenced rock, which influenced Jim and I as musicians growing up. Then we came to this project, where we decided to the blues back in 1968, which was influencing rock. It’s all this big circle. It went together really well. But Matt could tell you a lot more about the specific placement of the licensed music, like the use of “Paint It Black” during the burning of Sammy’s bar and stuff like that.
GamesBeat: More from the licensed music, I got a sense of the political angst of the era. A lot of those songs are associated with images from the Vietnam War, like The Animals, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place.” Or “Eve of Destruction.” It was interesting to play the game with all this music that — it’s maybe half a generation before me, but I grew up with it as well. In a game with a lot of violence, there are all these anti-war songs.
Bonney: The role that Jeff and I did musically was to get behind the specific characters and the story they were telling. But there were aspects of digging into Lincoln Clay’s background, into his Vietnam experience, musically.
Harlin: There are times in some of the stuff we’ve written—in fact, you’ll hear this in the game a lot. If you play the whole thing, you may have noticed this little moment, a little musical stinger that plays every time you enter the enemy turf area. There’s a little swell of an instrument. That’s actually a Vietnamese instrument, and not just that, but a Vietnamese instrument with tons of reverb on it. It’s done to call back to this concept of the ghost of Vietnam, the ghost of Lincoln’s past. He went away to Vietnam and it impacted him. He brought something back with him. He’s trained in warfare. We wanted to call back to that.
One thing we did, we made sure that all of the main characters are represented by a different kind of guitar. Lincoln Clay’s guitar is a single-coil Fender, just like Jimi Hendrix was so famous for playing. Hendrix himself is a guy who was in the service. We had a lot of things that we tried to connect between the world of Lincoln Clay and the music we were writing.
The body percussion, too. I recorded a bunch of body percussion for the game. We got steppers in from Tennessee State University. If you’re not familiar with stepping, it’s this very percussive, very aggressive sound. Super rich in testosterone. It comes from a mixture of backgrounds, a musical heritage that rose up out of black fraternities and sororities in the U.S. It starts in the 1940s, but really gets rolling in the 1960s. It draws its influences from African rhythms, from military drills, and from choreographed pop-group dance routines, like the Temptations.
Being this thing that was coming out of black culture in the ‘60s, I wanted to make sure that it was reflected in the game. But when you consider that it came out of fraternities and Lincoln didn’t go to college, I figured it was a kind of thing that he probably was exposed to when he was over in Vietnam. Other guys in his unit may have shown him stepping routines or something like that. But it was a sound that I thought would have stuck with him. That was another thing I wanted to reflect in the score.
GamesBeat: Because there was so much political music in the game, I almost felt like that was part of the storytelling. I don’t know if you could speak to that? If you play the game without some of this music, and then play the game with, it seems very different. Did you guys feel like you were in sync with that, or were you doing something entirely different?
Harlin: It’s hard, when you’re doing something with no lyrics, to try to bring in a level political or cultural subtext. It was there. We were very much in tune with trying to make music production call backs to the music of the 1960s. We recorded in Nashville for two weeks with these amazing blues players.
Bonney: Any chance we got to try to really get resonant sounds from that period, we wanted to jump on that. The assistant engineer, Austin Atwood, had an old period Echoplex, which is a tape-based echo. When we still had a few hours of studio time left on the last day, we just started running tracks through this old tape delay so we could possibly use that later.
We did the same thing with a plate reverb in the studio. You send an electric signal through the plate and it excites the metal so that it shakes. It’s this very unique quality, very reminiscent of early recordings. We recorded a bunch through that plate to get that in as well.
Harlin: You can do it all digitally now, but there’s something about being able to do it with the original gear from the ‘60s that was a real pleasure.
GamesBeat: We talked about “New Bordeaux.” Are there other tracks you’d point to by name that are also particularly interesting?