Part of a good horror game (and sometimes absent from one, depending on how one looks at it) is its soundtrack. Music sets the tone and mood of anything it is applied to. Fear, thrills, and so much more can be communicated to and felt by players by mere sound alone.
To that end, OnlySP was recently able to speak with Michael A. Levine, a composer on Capcom’s hit Resident Evil VII: Biohazard, to discuss the impact of music on the horror game, the creative process, and a few behind-the-scenes tidbits involved in making a track for the title, marketed as one focused on coming back home to the survival-horror roots of the franchise.
OnlySP: Hello, Michael. Nice to meet you! And congratulations on the success of Resident Evil VII. So, ‘Go Tell Aunt Rhody’… why did you decide to rework an old folk song for the game’s soundtrack?
Michael A. Levine: A few years ago I produced a dark and dramatic version of the ’80s dance hit ‘Everybody Wants to Rule the World’, which was sung by Lorde. I think the clients (Capcom) were intrigued by the idea of taking a familiar song and transforming it in a similar way.
I thought of ‘Rhody’—a charming children’s song—because I knew that there was a Japanese children’s song called Musunde which has the same melody with different lyrics. By changing the American chorus from “the old grey goose is dead” to “everybody’s dead” it became a lot scarier. I also wrote music and lyrics to a couple of new verses that directly relate to the game.
OnlySP: How much about the game were you told or shown to give you direction for the composition?
Levine: I had a storyboard (pictures) and a written description. Scary enough without the V.R.!
OnlySP: So I’ve been told your daughter actually lent her voice for some of the back-up vocals. How precious. Got any behind-the-scenes tidbits to share about that?
Levine: My daughter, Mariana Barreto, has sung on many of my projects including the Lorde song and the theme to several film themes including the closing credits song to Landfill Harmonic, which was shortlisted for the Oscars. I think to this day she is the only person other than Lorde to sing harmony with Lorde on a recording.
The lead vocal to ‘Rhody’ is sung by Jordan Reyne, an outstanding singer, like Lorde, originally from New Zealand. I think she has the perfect compelling quality for this song. Her website is JordanReyne.com.
OnlySP: For the sake of others like me who have no idea how the process is like, how did you get tapped to produce/arrange the track?
Levine: I am fortunate that one of my agents is Koyo Sonae, who is Japanese American. He not only got me the job, but served as translator, not just for the language, but, equally importantly, for the culture.
OnlySP: Finally, and I had no idea about this until I looked up your name, you’re the guy who wrote the Kit Kat ‘Gimme a Break’ song, right? Did you ever have any inkling of how huge and mainstream the catchy jingle would end up becoming when you wrote it?
Levine: I composed the music – the lyrics are by Ken Shuldman who still works in the advertising world full-time. (I only do a commercial now and again when someone asks.) No I didn’t have a clue it would be such a hit. In fact, it was never supposed to air. Here’s the whole story.
OnlySP: Thanks so much for your work over the years and for taking the time to answer these questions, Michael. Last but certainly no least, can you please list your current projects, website(s) and social media profiles?
I scored five films that are in various stages of completion:
- City 40 – on Netflix
- Landfill Harmonic – on HBO
- Served Like A Girl – just premiered at SXSW
- The Summerland Project – release date not set yet
- Love Meet Hope – release date not set yet
Resident Evil VII: Biohazard is now available for the PC/Steam, Playstation 4, and Xbox One, with VR solutions for the first two platforms.
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