An Interview With Video Game Composer and Pianist Holland Albright
Holland Albright is a New York City-based freelance composer who is self-taught. He has a particular passion for creating music based on memorable melodies and is influenced by the music of Japanese video game composers, jazz artists like Vince Guaraldi and classical composers of the Romantic era.
I talked to Holland about how he got started in music, his approach to composition and how he inspires himself creatively.
Interview with Holland Albright
Karl Magi: What started you down the path towards making music?
Holland Albright: I started making music when I was in high school. I had listened to various video game soundtracks that my friends had given me, that’s also how I got into gaming. My friends would give me soundtracks, I loved them and eventually I played the games. Once I started gaming and I heard all of this beautiful music, it really inspired me to start writing. I also really loved the Studio Ghibli films and my favourite composer, Joe Hisaishi, scored them. He was also a big inspiration for me and that’s what got the ball rolling.
KM: Who are some of the composers that you've found inspirational?
HA: Joe Hisaishi is a big one for sure. I feel like Nobuo Uematsu is an influence for everybody in video game music, Yoko Shimomura is another major one and recently I’ve started enjoying a lot of Yasunori Nishiki’s work. Outside of those genres, I love Vince Guaraldi’s style of jazz. It’s just beautiful, so I like to incorporate some of those elements of jazz into my own music. Some of my classical influences include Debussy, Tchaikovsky and Satie.
KM: How do you approach the process of creating new music?
HA: I approach music in a couple of different ways. Sometimes I have a very strong idea of a melody and I’ll start figuring that out and then during that process I add chords. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out where it’s going and what chords to use with the melody that I’ve started writing. Lately it seems like I’m mostly starting with melody. Sometimes I start with harmonies and I move the melody around to try and make it fit within those harmonies. It’s kind of 50/50.
KM: Tell me more about the projects on which you've been working lately.
HA: I just finished revamping a bunch of previous works that I recorded new piano parts for (because I’m a pianist as well) and released them on an album. I’m also working on my first holiday album that is coming out soon. I am in the process of negotiating a contract for an RPG game. All that I know for now is that it’s an RPG, and I’m hashing out details with the developer.
KM: What sorts of projects would you like to do in the future?
HA: I would like to score fantasy games because I love fantasy RPGS! I also have a strong interest in animated films. I think that recently they’ve got more adult themes and they get their point across very powerfully. It’s a beautiful art form. I also like it when video games can incorporate an animated film feeling into them. It adds a level of depth that you don’t really get with the realistic looking games. I mean, I love realism, it’s super cool but there’s something about the hand-drawn animation that just pulls me in.
KM: Where do you feel video game music (and music for other media) fits into the broader world of contemporary music?
HA: I think that video game music has been on its way towards being recognized as the classical music of our age. I’ve seen more of this kind of stuff going around in articles and interviews. Some big publication, I think it was Classic FM, released an article that said that younger generations are discovering classical music through video game concerts.
I also think whatever era we’re in now with music, in 50 or 100 years, is going to be seen as a "classical" era of some sort. It’s interesting to see it getting recognized more, but there’s also a weird dichotomy in saying, “Well this music is for media, so it’s not a concert piece” but some of it is composed like concert music. So much animated film music, too, is something that I would consider to be in a classical style.
KM: How do you recharge your creative batteries?
HA: I go for a lot of walks. There are days where I just have no ideas, so I’ll go out for a walk. I’ll come home and I still won’t have an idea, but I feel like eventually doing that a certain number of times, something will happen and I’ll get some inspiration.
I also like to paint. I don’t think I’m super great but it’s fun and it’s a different way to be creative, so I like to do that. I like to play video games, too. I need to step away from music and do something else so I can come back fresh. There’s a number of ways to recharge, and I can’t really pinpoint any one way that works best. It’s a culmination of different things.