Interview With Musician, Film Composer and Educator William Carlos Reyes
William Carlos Reyes is a classically educated guitarist, film composer and music educator with an interest in a wide variety of guitar-based music. As well as having collaborated with musicians across many genres of music, he also performs with several video game music cover bands and has contributed to a number of albums in that capacity.
In an email interview, he tells me about how he got started, his sources of inspiration, his creative process and his latest album Guitar Collections Final Fantasy IV for Scarlet Moon Records.
Karl Magi: What sparked your passion for music in the first place?
William Carlos Reyes: I think everyone I know has a passion for music in some way. Mine just developed into a deeper curiosity and possible addiction to trying to understand its inner workings, realize its power and later try to produce it myself through various mediums. I don't think I can accurately pinpoint any one particular spark but rather a combination of several sparks throughout my entire life. I grew up singing and listening to music with my brothers. My parents loved to sing and there was always a guitar in the living room. My older brothers also performed in front of large audiences as children, and watching them as a toddler was inspiring to say the least. We would even listen to film scores on cassettes that we recorded on a handheld tape recorder placed close to the TV. Music has always been there in some way.
KM: What are the factors in classic video game music that excite you?
WCR: I was born in 1980. I know video games were already around before then, and we even had an Atari system. I'm glad that I was able to witness and experience the arrival of the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was revolutionary in my world. The music was simply fascinating and more valid than that of an older pop star to whom I couldn't relate. This music was made for me, or so I felt as a child. It was my own soundtrack as I destroyed enemies, saved princesses or became stronger. I was a ninja. I was a tank, a hero with my own catchy themes! You know what I'm talking about. To answer your question more clearly, what excites me about listening to or arranging classic video game music is that it gives me the chance to bring up those powerful feelings, relive the truly visceral moments from when I was young and unstoppable.
KM: Who are some of the musicians and composers (both VGM and non-VGM related) that are inspiring to you and why?
WCR: Literally hundreds of musicians have inspired me for hundreds of reasons. I can honestly say that every single musician that I have listened to or met has had an influence on me for better or worse. I believe I've always made it a point to seek out music from different parts of the world. This may be due to my second generation heritage or it may be because I feel the need to listen to something strikingly different every so often. It is refreshing to have a diverse palette especially after hearing any particular style for a long time.
Today we have such wonderful and easy access to music from everywhere. When I was young, I had the local radio stations in my small town and the cute collection of cassettes and CD's that I worked to buy from doing house chores and, of course, the borrowed music from my friends. As far as my inspirations, it is very hard to narrow it all down without giving everyone credit.
I had originally started listing all the musicians to answer this question, but after I got to thirty, I thought, “This isn't going to work!” I will try to give you my major inspirations, although I may change my mind next week. Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Piazzola, Tárrega, Segovia, Paco de Lucia, John Williams (film composer), Koji Kondo, and Antonio Carlos Jobim. (I admire each of these musicians for a myriad of different reasons, but also for some of the same reasons. They were brilliant and bold. They were passionate poets of music. They set new standards with innovation and creativity, and they influenced people all over the world.
KM: How do you approach the process of arranging the tunes that you cover?
WCR: I have several approaches to arranging. To me it's like choosing which path to take when you go on a nature walk. It will often depend on my mood, the song, the game and my motivation. I will say that my first step is almost always to learn the song as is and analyze it. I get familiar with the melodies, harmonic progression, rhythms, tempo etc; From there, I can choose how to recreate and add my own colors. I also really enjoy composing a few measures of original music that I can put in the song either at the beginning, middle or end. I try to make whatever original music I add be minimal and for it to sound as if it could be part of the original. I love re-harmonizing using either diatonic or non-diatonic substitutions. It brings a sort of freshness to any well-known song. Sometimes I use it subtly, but other times I might use this technique a little too much. For this album I was very careful with these sorts of techniques, but when I arrange songs for The OneUps, it don't always hold back. Whatever devices I use to arrange a song, I still try to make sure the tune has a nice flow without anything being too jarring, although that can be very cool as well sometimes.
KM: Talk about The OneUps, Trio De Janeiro and the Altered Beasts and what each project means to you.
WCR: The OneUps are like a family of brothers. We come from different musical backgrounds, but we come together and mix in our influences and people seem to enjoy the end result. We've had amazing experiences all over the country that help keep us unified. I owe a lot of my growth as a musician to being in The OneUps. I owe a lot of my confidence as an artist to the fans of The OneUps. I value all of the friendships and the entire VGM community that I would have never known about if it weren't for all the work my band and I have put into this funny little project.
The Altered Beasts was an opportunity to arrange songs with more limitations which allows for more creativity in my opinion. Tim and I were able to step outside of our musical bubble so to speak. For me, when you only have two guitars, the challenge is making sure each one is always doing something cool and interesting. I also wanted an album of more relaxing VGM. At that time, I felt like the community might enjoy it. We were trying this experiment out around the same time as the Super Guitar Bros. who are a more popular guitar duo and very cool guys. We put an album out the next year and people seemed to enjoy it. We've been asked by a lot of people to do a second album, so that may be happening in the near future.
Trio de Janeiro and the three other local groups with whom I play are side projects that get booked somewhat consistently for weddings and other events. I'm fortunate to be able to play with such talented musicians and these other bands have challenged me in a very positive way. I always have to keep up my classical and jazz chops as well as singing in Spanish and Portuguese. These bands have also become a significant source of income.
KM: Tell me more about the Final Fantasy IV Guitar Collections and what approach you took to performing those pieces?
WCR: Jayson (Napolitano with Scarlet Moon Records) had originally wanted one or two guitars for the Guitar Collections album. I secretly wanted an average of five guitars per song, so we settled on three, and I ended up making a lot of them five guitars anyways (don't tell him I wrote that!). He and I chose the songs together. We both had some criteria. I listened for songs that I felt could really work well and be interesting on just classical guitars. I also listened for strong intriguing melodies. He agreed with most of my choices, but made some good suggestions and we switched a few out to make the album more cohesive.
Since I hadn't played the game before I started listening to the music, Jayson helped out and gave me a detailed description of what each song represented, a back story so to speak. As far as performing these pieces, I had to write a lot of musical ideas on staff paper and simply practice each part over and over. Some parts were short and simple, whereas some required a lot of attention, depending on how challenging they were. Tone was important. Timing was important. Articulation was important and phrasing was everything.
KM: Where do you think VGM fits into the broader world of contemporary music?
WCR: I think there is no denying the importance of video game music. Some music can have a short shelf life even if it becomes super famous. Some of these video game tunes are just as relevant today if not more so than when they first came out. The Legend of Zelda theme is known all over the world, never mind the thousands of bands that cover it. That tune is over three decades old and people still love it. Video games are everywhere, and as I stated before, the music is our own soundtrack. The influence is astonishing and definitely deserves recognition as an important art form in contemporary music.
KM: What are your future goals as a musician?
WCR: I have many future goals as a musician. Music is never-ending for me. Near the top of my list is always to keep practicing and learning more songs. I want to make more guitar arrangements, compose for different instruments, play jazz and classical music, and branch out more with singing and playing piano. I try to push myself. I like being unique, and I try to be innovative. I love creating, collaborating and I'm always trying to explore more artistic mediums in which I can add music, so that is what I intend to do.
KM: How do you recharge your creative batteries?
WCR: I love this question. I wish I had the mental capacity and endurance to work on music twelve hours a day, every day. Unfortunately, I do not. There is so much of life that I love outside of the music world. To answer your question in a simple way, I take a break. I take a trip out of town. I go to Europe or South America to visit family. I go to different U.S. cities and see friends. I have a couple beers with friends and talk nonsense for fun and I try to get some sleep. I read, I cook, I watch movies or I go for a walk. All of my experiences add something to my creativity, so all I need to do is live.