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Level 6: Track By Track

 

You guys often ask me to talk a little about the creative process behind the songs so I decided to do a brief piece about all the songs on Level 6. I hope you enjoy it and it gives you some insight into how the songs are written & made! Gav

 
 
1. Don’t Say A Word

(Inspired by Metal Gear Solid V)

For the MGSV song I wanted to combine the 80s rock vibes of the game’s licensed music with the more contemporary, darker synth drones of the freakin’ awesome original soundtrack. Metal Gear is a very emotionally histrionic series so I also wanted the vocal style to be right up at the top of my range from the start, bordering on manic-sounding. This is also the reason the chorus is mostly just ‘WOOOAHS’ as opposed to lots of lyrics (as well as being linked to the idea of not being able to use language to communicate).

The themes of language & communication in the game were great and were the primary inspiration for the lyrics. The fourth wall breaking middle eight & outro section (‘You are the voice in the song’) are a nod to Kojima’s similar antics, particularly in MGS 2 and MGSV. I feel like they also serve as a nice way to welcome the listener to Level 6, like Welcome Home did on Level 5!

This also felt like the most natural album opener for me for a number of other reasons. First off, I always tend to open up with a standard structure, mid tempo ‘epic’ sounding song that focuses on both rock guitars and electronic synth layers. I guess it just always feels like the most frequent and ‘neutral Gav’ style I do & therefore most representative of the MOS project overall. It also got a lot of positive feedback on the vocals & in general, so best foot forward & all that.

 
 

2. London Town

(Inspired by Assassin’s Creed Syndicate)

I was really glad when I heard AC: Syndicate would be set in Industrial era London because a) It’s a really interesting time period and b) It gave me an excuse to make a song that paid tribute to all my favorite British rock & pop artists from the last few decades.

The aim with this one musically was to make a big soup out of Oasis, The Beatles, Blur, Suede, Bowie, Pink Floyd etc… there’s even a pinch of Massive Attack in some of the background beats in quiet sections.

Lyrically I focused more on the political & social events of the time period as opposed to Jacob & Evie, with the AC references still there but much more subtle than in previous songs.

 
 
3. Lady Of Worlds

(Inspired by Witcher 3)

Ciri quickly became my favourite videogame character ever while I was playing the masterful W3 this year and writing about her story was a real pleasure. I wanted the song to focus on the balance between her desire to live wild & free and the greater good that would come from her reluctantly accepting her external responsibilities. ‘The shimmer of white skies’ refers to the Wild Hunt and her inevitable eventual confrontations with them.

I used my Irish Bouzouki to write and perform the musical parts, just like I did with Wake The White Wolf (It’s like a little lute or mandolin). The percussion, strings & other plugins were also all the same ones from that song.

For the vocals I knew from the beginning that I wanted my old friend Ailin Kennedy to sing it. We’ve had many a drunken night in pubs and clubs over the years singing & yelling Led Zeppelin & Pantera at eachother and I always wanted to record her. Happily, she absolutely nailed the song and took it to a fantastic place, better than I ever expected it to be. Her voice just fits Ciri perfectly – strong and elegant, powerful and vulnerable.

The response to this one was wonderful & made us both really happy!

 
 
4. Road Rage

(Inspired by Mad Max: Fury Road)

The idea with this one was to try & mix the pounding war-like rhythms of the War Boys & Doof Warrior with the more emotionally intense story of Furiosa & Max. Industrial metal was an easy pick for the genre as it tends to feel both aggressively mechanical & full of raw, organic rage.

The War Boy style drums & percussion took a long time to program and I did more work on them for this album version. I feel like they sound a lot heavier & more violent on Level 6 than on the single version.

I particularly enjoy the guitar solo in this song. I think it’s kinda fun & silly, almost has a country feel to it which I thought made a nice dichotomy with the pounding beats.

 
 
5. Stay By My Side

(Inspired by Journey)

This one was a challenge for me because it’s quite sparse at times and the vocal is very naked & conspicuous. I’m not used to singing quietly and frankly, I’m not very good at it. I got some good advice from my friend Malukah though and in the end it worked out pretty well. My favorite description I heard of this one was ‘It sounds like getting a hug.’

I wanted the song to run parallel with the journey the player takes in game, starting softly and running into lifts & falls and bittersweet emotional peaks. Musically I just tried to make it sound like Austin Wintory’s beautiful, poignant OST – or at least as close as my limited skills would allow. He really enjoyed the song when I linked it to him which was incredibly flattering!

 
 

6. Going Nuclear

(Inspired by Fallout 4)

This song presented me with a huge challenge: How to make a song recorded on modern digital gear and a computer sound like it was from the 1950s. I used a tonne of cheats & tricks to achieve the effect as best as I could, including:

– Sparse arrangement: Just vocal, acoustic guitar, guitar, piano, drums & double bass.
– Tonnes of analogue tape saturation on everything (this is an effect that adds harmonic frequencies that make the sound feel ‘warmer’, as if it it were recorded on very old analogue gear), then another layer of tape saturation over the entire mix
– Made the entire song mono (i.e no separation between the left & right speakers)
– EQ-d the vocal in a way that is similar to older recordings, with boosted high mid frequencies
– More tape saturation
– Used vintage plate reverbs on the vocals
– Put a subtle reverb over the entire mix, to give the impression everything was recorded in one room at the same time
– Used a tape flutter plugin that gave slight detuning & flaws to the sound, like a very old cassette tape
– Added white noise or ‘hiss’
– Added vinyl record needle scratching & noise, which happily actually ended up sounding a little bit like a geiger counter at times
– Slapback echo on the guitar riffs
– Did I mention tape saturation?

As for the lyrics, it’s just a jolly, fun little number about being excited to get out & explore the wastes.

 
 

7. Friends

(Inspired by Guardians Of The Galaxy)

Another one that had to sound like it was from a particular era i.e the late 70s/early 80s – just like the songs in the GOTG movie. I did this by choosing instruments & sounds that were popular in the era: Funk bass, brass & strings playing disco riffs, big chunky 70s guitar power chords and very tight, dry, punchy drums with no reverb. I double track my vocals more often than not (singing them twice and playing both back together) but it worked particularly well in this one to help nail that 70s feel.

The theme that stood out to me in the movie was friendship & learning to accept & support your buddies despite their flaws, so that’s what I wrote about. I like the cheesy little puns in there that reference parts of the movie… literally 😛

 
 

8. I Am The Night

(Inspired by Arkham Knight)

Musically this one’s a pretty standard Batman song. Lots of dramatic, angular, stabbing strings, sinister brass and rolling percussion. Lyrically it focuses on the flaws in Bruce Wayne’s character and his difficulty in doing what he does without himself becoming a villain. There are also some musical callbacks to ‘Rise’ and ‘Mind Of The Bat’ which the keen-eared among you spotted!

The chorus for this one popped into my head in the shower after watching one of the trailers. It’s funny how often the best ideas happen this way – by accident!

 
 

9. Evacuate

This song is all about dealing with friends or loved ones who let you down. I wrote it around 7 or 8 years ago (while I was in my old band) for a close friend who was going through a hard time with her peers and it seemed to universally speak to people who had been in similar situations. It’s a pretty typical Gav-rock song: Big guitars, big synths & drums and an even bigger chorus going on about trying to remain positive during life’s shit times.

 
 

10. My Shooting Star

(Inspired by Firefly)

I had the core idea for this song floating around for almost 2 years and decided it was finally time this winter. Musically it aims to mix the bluesy, western-esque slide guitars of the series with a very subtle eastern/Chinese feel in the background layers.

The lyrics have a double meaning – it’s never quite clear if Mal is thinking about Inara, the Serenity or both. It’s up to the listener to decide which it is!

This was another tricky one to sing as it’s quite soft & gentle, but I got to show off my deep-as-fuck lower range which is always fun.

It’s also currently my favorite song on the album!

P.S. I’m really sorry about the ‘Leaves upon our graves’ line, I’ve been told it made a lot of you get the sads. 😀

 
 

11. Paleblood Moon

(Inspired by Bloodborne)

I love the Lore in FROM’s games. It’s all very abstract & implied which leaves room for player interpretation – something not enough games do in my opinion. Bloodborne has a buttload of deep, interesting lore & it was ripe for song inspiration. I chose the themes of decay, rebirth, pregnancy, menstruation & the relationship between blood, symbiosis and life for this one but kept it kind of abstract so as to fit with the game’s vibe.

The arrangement in this song is insanely dense & complex.. Programming all the orchestra parts in this song took feckin’ ages – I would estimate about 100 hours.

I programmed the choir using Voxos then layered it up with my own voice, multiple times over. I also had to write, record, play & program all of the following parts: Violins, Cellos, Basses, Violas, Trombones, Trumpets, Music box, bells, drums, percussion, church organ, atmospheric synths and 16 layers of my own vocals. It’s a big one – was not easy to balance & mix all the sounds!

I like the second, louder chorus in this song so much that I kind of regret not having it repeat a third time, but it just wouldn’t fit the overall dynamic of the song. I couldn’t find anywhere to put it that didn’t fuck with the natural flow of the piece.

 
 

12. Friends To Foes

(Inspired by Halo 5)

For this one I wanted to make a straightforward cinematic rock song that paid tribute to Marty O’Donnel’s amazing Halo OSTs from the past as well as capturing a little of the soundtrack from the new game (Which was also pretty great). The big strings & piano sweeping over the modern rock backdrop do a good job of this, I feel.

Lyrically, the song obviously focuses on the core theme of the game (hint: its in the song title) and also Chief trying to move on from his past & the tragic events of Halo 4. Consider it sort of a direct sequel to Reclaimer (complete with with full lyrical & musical callbacks to that song)

 
 

13. Metasonic

(Instrumental)

This song was an exclusive for the Groupees charity bundle earlier this year but I liked it enough to include it on the album. It just came about from me playing freely with synths & beats, not really trying to achieve anything in particular other than making something purely for the enjoyment of creation. It’s very similar to the stuff on my Vistas instrumental album, if a little more aggressive at times.

 
 

14. I Am Pudge

(Inspired by DOTA 2)

Silly, fun song for a silly, fun character. What more can I say? It had been a while since I did a light hearted, stupid song so felt it was time for one. Doing the impersonation was fun but wrecked my throat, haha.

 
 

15. Hard Cash 2015

(Inspired by GTAV)
The idea with this was to make a more modern sounding remix to coincide with GTAV coming out on PC..

80s synths, catchy hooks & themes of growing old & trying to rediscover what motivates us to work & make money. Still one of my own favorite MOS songs and the theme to Podquisiton, this one was a pleasure to revisit!


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