An Interview With Video Game Composer Andrew Nyte
As a drummer, Andrew Nyte has toured across the U.S. and internationally with several bands. He has also composed music in many different styles and is currently involved in scoring three different video game projects. I talked to him about his musical background, his sources of inspiration and the process of composition as it works for him.
Interview With Andrew Nyte
Karl Magi: How did you first get interested in making music?
Andrew Nyte: I started music with drums. Drums are my main instrument. When I was about 14 years old, I hadn’t had any lessons or anything, but asked my parents for a drum kit and got it. I fell in love with the drums and for most of my life, since I was about 18, I’ve been on the road touring with bands and different people playing drums. I had some random piano lessons and I’ve played guitar for about the same time as drums, but drums were definitely my start.
KM: Where did your interest in video game music come from?
AN: The reason I asked my parents for a drum kit (and an electric keyboard) was that I wanted to learn to play the songs from Megaman X2. I first noticed video game music because the first games that I owned were Donkey Kong Country II and Megaman X2. My parents bought a SNES at a flea market and I was inspired by the music in those games. I’d leave the game on and fall asleep listening to the soundtracks. Video games were there from the beginning. It’s why I started playing music, but I was too scared to write for video games for a long time.
I knew how to play music, write music and make records but it always seemed like another world to try and compose. When I met Carlye (my wife), she was going to school for audio and she wanted to do game audio. She’s now a game sound designer. I was still playing in bands and going out on the road, but she put the idea of writing for games in my head. She encouraged me to do it and helped me to meet other people in the game audio sphere.
KM: Tell me about some of the composers (both contemporary and past) who have influenced you and why?
AN: The works of Erik Satie and Maurice Ravel changed the whole way I think about composition and music theory. When I first heard Yasunori Mitsuda’s music for Chrono Trigger, I just lost it. From the very first moment of hearing the music, I had never felt that passionate about a song before. I was 11 at the time. I will also say Dave Wise, of course. His music for Donkey Kong Country is untouchable. Yuki Iwai did Megaman X2. She had been part of the Capcom Sound Team and had worked on Megaman X as well. She is unbelievable! I was so inspired by the way she uses pitchbending and how she helped develop that classic overdriven Capcom guitar sound.
The other big one would be Michiru Yamane, especially her music for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I hate using the word epic, but it is the most epic, grand score I’ve ever heard. I also have to include Jun Ishikawa who composed for the Kirby games. You can’t help but smile when you hear his music. I can’t forget Soichi Terada who did Ape Escape. When I listen to that soundtrack, it still gives me goosebumps. It’s so fun, dancey and groovy.
Right now, I don’t listen to much modern game music, except for the stuff my friends write. The number one reason I got into doing game music and away from playing in bands was Shannon Mason (@pongball). She is just unbelievably talented. I heard her music before I even started composing. Carlye (@carlyenyte) said I should check it out. It’s the kind of music that makes you sit up and go, “What is this song?” I hadn’t felt that way since the days of the PS1. I got to know her, she’s a wonderful person and spirit of what she’s doing has inspired me.
I will also mention my good buddy Grahm Nesbitt (@grahmnesbitt). We have a band together outside of composing for games. He lives in Seattle as well. His music is so cool and inspiring. He has a unique take on melody, texture and the way he writes long form is very cool.
There’s somebody named M. Gewehr (@mwgewehr) and they live in San Franciso. They are one of those composers where go you, “What the hell are they doing?” Every time they send me a composition, I tell them, “M! I don’t know how your brain thought of this.”
KM: How do you approach composition?
AN: It all ties in with the drums. Every composition starts with drums, even if I don’t have drums on the song. Basically I’ll chop up a beat or do something that gets me really excited about the track. Even songs that are piano and strings, I will have a drum track. I’ll do it to a click. I’ll compose something, turn the click off and record it with no click, but I’ll try to get the spirit of what I just did.
KM: Talk to me about the current projects you have in the works.
AN: I’m on board with three games that are in different stages of development. The first one is called Vivid. Vivid’s being developed by this dude named Luke Rossback. In style and aesthetic, it’s very much like Kirby Super Star. It’s 2D, happy and much like the name it’s very vivid. My inspiration for the music was Jun Ishikawa, but I didn’t want it to be a Kirby ripoff. Basically it’s me sitting up at 2 a.m. listening to Kirby’s Dreamland 3 and going, “What am I supposed to do?” With that game, there’s a lot of high tempo drums and fast basslines. I’m trying to make things sound cute without being gimmicky. The approach has been a lot of trial and error. I want to figure how to make something fast without it being like Megaman.
The second one that I’m working on is a game called Cirrata that’s being developed by Aaron Ingersoll. He lives near me in Seattle. Cirrata is a really cool 2D rogue-like Metroidvania game with a really crazy plot. You play as an anthropomorphic red panda. The whole world has gone to hell and you’re trying to figure out what’s going on. The soundtrack for that is like half-Castlevania, half-Diablo 1. The Diablo 1 soundtrack is really weird in that it’s only 8 tracks, but each of them are seven minutes long. There’s not much looping, it’s all like one gigantic track. Diablo 1 is a very sparse soundtrack that’s haunting, but there’s some really beautiful songs in it.
I’ve been trying to use very few VSTs for Cirrada. I’ve been trying to record only real instruments, but processing them in different ways to get that really unsettling but pretty sound. That one’s a fun one because none of the tracks really have a driving drum beat, so it’s been a challenge for me.
The third game and the one I’m closest to having the music done with is called Bombear. Bombear is developed by two dudes who work out of Mexico City. The game is really cool. It’s like a platformer/puzzle game. You’re a bear that got captured and scientists put a jet pack on you. You become sentient and decide to escape the lab using the jet pack. It’s pretty funny but it’s really smooth and plays really well. The soundtrack was initially supposed to be an 8-bit thing but now it’s turned into drum’n’bass if Wario was a DJ. I want you to imagine Wario with a drum machine.
KM: What are your plans for your career going forward?
AN: I would love to work on a Megaman-type game. I’d love to do a really fast 2D platformer where the soundtrack is blazing shitty guitars. Career-wise, I took a long break from the old band I was in to focus on games, but I’ve come to a spot where I’m really happy trying to do both things. As a whole, I used to be so caught up in having to do games, but there’s so many different aspects to me as a musician. I want to keep the doors open to explore different options. When I’m busy with games and I get really stressed, I can go play music and go on the road. When I’m out on the road, I can’t wait to get home and sit down with a coffee and my computer and write music.
KM: How do you recharge your creative batteries?
AN: I need to have the element of playing music and not being a composer. I also like to do other things that have nothing to do with music. I literally like just sitting down and watching anime with my wife. I feel like the way I recharge is just doing simple things that make me happy.