Interview with Jeremy Soule: zOMG! and More
Interview with Jeremy Soule: zOMG! and More
September 15, 2009 conducted by Patrick Gann

Hopefully, you already know the name Jeremy Soule. The meister-composer behind such games as Guild Wars, Knights of the Old Republic, Dungeon Siege, Morrowind and Oblivion ranks among other high-profile game composers, including Inon Zur and Nobuo Uematsu, for so thoroughly infiltrating the market with high-quality melodies and stellar orchestral arrangements.

I have personally been looking for an opportunity to interview Mr. Soule, and I finally got it, thanks to the release of his newest score, for the MMORPG zOMG!. Through this interview, one can plainly see that Jeremy Soule is self-aware, confident, meticulous and very intelligent. He also has a great sense of humor and knows how to have fun, a trait which Soule has shown us before with his music, and now with his words.

Along with asking about zOMG!, we get to question Soule about his first work in VGM: Secret of Evermore, a Super Nintendo game from Squaresoft. Maybe this prodding will help lead to a reunion between Soule and Square Enix...

RPGFan: First question: how did you end up writing music for a game entitled "zOMG!" and were you at all skeptical over applying your talent to a game that seemed to take itself not very seriously?

Jeremy Soule: When they sent me a plaster bust of my head, I knew the game was worthy of my music! Haha! Actually, I love working on JRPG games. and this game reminded me so much of my beginning days at Square. There's a great dynamic to something that is just made for fun. I like the fact that the team and the fans are so enthusiastic about this game. I'm still bummed that some mean person took zOMG off my list at Wikipedia. Shame on you whoever you are because this game is a "prominent work" of mine!!

zOMGWTFBBQ!!! Awesome wallpaper.

RPGFan: What are your thoughts regarding MMORPGs such as zOMG!, that are free-to-play and use a very bright and animated style? Was it a difficult transition for you to score for this after working for so many years on the dark epic fantasy games such as Guild Wars, The Elder Scrolls, or any number of Dungeons & Dragons titles (Icewind Dale)?

Jeremy Soule: Oh no, not at all! There's a misperception out there that composers have a "style" and that more than a few of us are like idiot savants that don't know how to put notes together in too many combinations. I suppose it's a way that people process information in general about life — in these mental shortcuts and reductionist assumptions. But what's worse is that many people simply attribute a clever composition to being a result of luck. I guess to non-musicians, the creative process might seem to be very random and (perhaps) frightening as this music seems to just appear out of thin air. However, there is a method to the madness in music. I can engineer music just as someone at Boeing might engineer an aircraft. Right now, I've been busy making Top Ten hits for the Japanese pop market with my partner Jeff Miyahara so there really isn't anything that is jarring to me in terms of creativity. I actually changed how I described myself to people on myspace to the term of "musical practitioner" as this really is true. I'm sure I feel like most composers in that I know music theory inside and out and can basically analyze any composition on Earth and tell you what elements make it tick. To me, music is a language and I've been exercising my knowledge of musical tonality for a long time. To say that I'm confident is accurate but I'm always wary of the challenges of music. She can be a tricky adversary. But in a way, I find this to be thrilling and uniquely challenging.

RPGFan: Now, I've personally heard the score you've written for zOMG!, and I have to say that while it is a departure from your usual style, it is fantastic work that at times sounds similar to the more whimsical works of Danny Elfman, but always manages to break tradition with any one compositional style. Are you proud of the music you've written for this MMORPG? If you were to compare it to your full body of work, would you say it's in the upper half, or lower half, of what you've written?

Jeremy Soule: Well, of course I'm proud of the work. I try not to ship music that I don't like as I don't have any other way to gauge quality other than my own convictions. There was more setup for this score than a traditional RPG. Every song required a different set of paints which made the production more complicated but the thing I have to say is that I still have many tricks up my sleeve as a composer. It has been fantastic to work on beautiful games like Elder Scrolls but each game to me is a blank page. I have to fill that game with the appropriate notes and that may mean that I radically change my techniques. Fortunately, I am a creature of change. What so many people don't know is that the underlying tech that I use to make this music is constantly evolving. That there is any consistency at all to my "sound" is purely a result of discipline... Because let me tell you, Apple Computer has this wrecking ball that they like to run every once in a while with software vendors for music tools. It's crazy. I might have entire toolsets that just go off the market with a single hardware update. Any composer that might be reading this can relate, I'm sure. But as far as this score goes, I feel it is as good or better than anything else I've written. I always swing for the fence with each new project. Fans are telling me that I did a good job so that's really gratifying.

RPGFan: Many aspiring Western composers, whether they intend to write for commercial purposes (game, film, television) or for other reasons, look to you as a model of success. Do you think you've "made it" in your career, or do you think these people should be looking to someone else for guidance? And if so, who? Who are your models of excellence in this business?

Jeremy Soule: I'm honored that people consider me to be successful! However, I've felt successful in music from the days of when I was mowing lawns and delivering papers to make the loan payments for my equipment when I was a teenager. I either wake up with energy or optimism or I try to psyche myself into a positive mode. On a hard day, I just try to get outside and listen to Brahms for a few minutes. Brahms never fails me. To think that there is such glorious beauty in music is always an inspiration. I've not written my best work yet. Not even close. This is due to the fact that many of my compositions are written in hours or just a few days. Wagner worked for years on certain operas. I have plans to work at that scale but right now, the reality is that I am having great fun with my collaborations in this business. I don't want anyone to feel like I'm resting on my laurels. I still have improvements that I wish to make in my future works and I see the evolution of games as being the most exciting thing to happen to entertainment in the history of the Hominidae.

The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion soundtrack, (formerly) available digitally at DirectSong.

RPGFan: It's been over fifteen years since you had your first and only interaction with the Japanese giant of RPGs, Squaresoft (now Square Enix). We have a few questions for you about Secret of Evermore, the first being: who owns the rights to that music?

Jeremy Soule: That was my first game and Square holds the rights. I've thought about calling them a few times to get a license to sell the score but I've been super busy.

RPGFan: We ask this question because the limited pressing of that CD has become quite a collector's item and can sell for upwards of a hundred US dollars. What has to be done for this classic soundtrack to be reprinted? If not as a CD, at least through digital distribution...?

Jeremy Soule: I'm always up for a reissue but there's nothing in the plans right now. If Square has the desire, I have the means through DirectSong and Naxos.

The Secret of Evermore soundtrack. We want it. Again.

RPGFan: Have you ever thought about approaching Square Enix to collaborate with them again? After all, they are becoming more and more involved with Western developers (Gas Powered Games, Double Helix). Would you want to work with them again? And do you think there's a chance that this may happen someday? After all, you did compose the soundtrack for Supreme Commander (as well as other Gas Powered Games titles, like Dungeon Siege)... and Square Enix is publishing Supreme Commander 2...

Jeremy Soule: As a matter of fact, Square Enix is publishing Order of War and I maintain the rights to that score. While I'm not composing the music for SupCom 2, I'm sure there will be opportunities for future collaborations with Square. I have a tremendous respect for the organization and I have to say that Nobuo Uematsu is a friend of mine. My door would always be open to Square Enix, as they provided me with the education for what quality means to this business. They are a very special company.

RPGFan: Your music, particularly for Guild Wars and the Elder Scrolls series, has been a favorite for live orchestral performances. What are your thoughts on organizations like PLAY!, Video Games Live, and Eminence? How much have you worked with these groups, and do you think these game music concerts are just a fad, or will they become a long-term international trend?

Jeremy Soule: Trends come and go but I have a feeling that video game concerts are here to stay just as video games are. The real acid test is proven in that the shows are selling tickets. Many concerts are sold out and there are a few touring companies in the field now. I know that fans of video game music aren't crazy and what composers have been writing for these games isn't trite garbage. There is no difference in the quality of the creativity that goes into a video game or a feature film. I've never received a call from an Oscar winning composer telling me that I can't use certain notes for my scores. In fact, outside of the budget restrictions that we have with games as compared to films, there really isn't a single excuse why a composer can't deliver a score that will stand up to the test of time. It's my hope that I will have a tune or two that becomes recognized 100 years from now. Of course, the audience might by completely cybernetic by that time but that's another story...

The most recent photo of Mr. Soule that we could find. Thank you, MySpace!

RPGFan: Do you enjoy playing videogames, and RPGs in particular, when you can find a few precious moments of free time? Or is your time with videogames limited to the development phase while you're composing music for a particular game?

Jeremy Soule: I wish I had more time to play every game out there. I do play games. In fact, Oblivion is in my Xbox 360 right now and of course, I'm in zOMG! every once in a while. Playing games in the dev stage is a different experience than the retail product. This is probably obvious, but usually stability issues prevent long sojourns into a game while I'm scoring the music. I often work with Quicktimes or whatnot as that's really the only way sometimes that I can view a game.

RPGFan: Back to zOMG!, one final question. As Guild Wars, another free-to-play MMORPG, continued its development and had expansions released, you recorded new music for these expansions. Are there plans in place for you to do the same with zOMG!?

Jeremy Soule: Every aspect of zOMG! is in development. Dave Georgeson is a big fan of music (and he's the boss) so I'm sure that the game will probably have a steady supply of music.

Our thanks go to Jeremy Soule for answering our questions, as well as to Christina Simmons and the good folks at Mullen PR, and to everyone at Gaia Online, for helping facilitate this interview.