Prescription for Sleep: Stardew Valley is the latest Prescription for Sleep album from Scarlet Moon Records, just released today. In addition to our album review that we posted on Monday, RPGFan was fortunate enough to conduct a trio of interviews via email with three key people behind the album.
Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone is well-known to fans of the wildly popular farming title as the developer of Stardew Valley, in addition to composing all of its music. Barone also served as a producer for this album. Prescription for Sleep: Stardew Valley‘s arrangements and performance are courtesy of GENTLE LOVE, a duo of Norihiko Hibino on saxophone and AYAKI on piano who have a “unique therapeutic approach to music.” Finally, we have Jayson Napolitano of Scarlet Moon to thank for arranging this interview—and for being the album’s Executive Producer—who answered some of our questions as well.
Without further ado, put on some relaxing music and let’s go!
Questions for Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone:
RPGFan: Much of Stardew Valley’s original soundtrack conveys a sense of nostalgia for a time and place players have never actually visited. Was this dreamlike quality a deciding factor in choosing which songs would be on the album?
Eric: Maybe indirectly. I chose the songs that not only capture the full essence of Stardew Valley, but also are some of my personal favorites. They might be my favorites for the reason you described.
RPGFan: How familiar were you with the Prescription for Sleep series before this album? Do you have a favorite P4S release, and how did that inform the process of working with the others and choosing tracks?
Eric: I was a fan of the series; it’s what prompted me to reach out to Scarlet Moon Records with the idea of a Stardew Valley album. My favorite P4S release (prior to Stardew Valley) was Lullabies of Mana. I listened to that a lot while making Stardew Valley.
RPGFan: Prescription for Sleep: Stardew Valley is a unique music arrangement experience, but there have also been piano and symphonic albums for Stardew Valley. Can you give us your thoughts on these arrangement experiences so far? What should we know about the process and Stardew music arrangements?
Eric: I enjoy hearing talented musicians re-interpret the Stardew Valley soundtrack in new and interesting ways. Prescription for Sleep is great because it’s a wonderful jazz album on its own, but then the added emotional weight of the Stardew Valley melodies make it really special for fans of the game.
RPGFan: Given that Stardew Valley has had recent patches and new music, are there other arrangements you’d like to hear, or plans for more arrangement albums in the works?
Eric: I have no plans at the moment, but I’d be open to anything new and compelling.
RPGFan: What did you keep in mind while working from the large OST to select the setlist for Prescription for Sleep: Stardew Valley?
I tried to pick songs that captured the broad essence of Stardew Valley. But also, knowing GENTLE LOVE’s style and the amount of soul and emotion they bring to their work, I tried to pick songs that already had a certain gentle, soulful feel to them.
RPGFan: What are some tracks from the OST that almost made it onto Prescription for Sleep: Stardew Valley, but were left on the cutting room floor, and why?
Eric: “Spring (It’s A Big World Outside)” is one that comes to mind. It’s one of the more iconic tracks from Stardew Valley, because it’s the first season song you ever hear. But, I chose “Spring (The Valley Comes Alive)” because I like it better.
RPGFan: Finally, the most important question of all for us serious SDV fans: Which character theme is your favorite?
Eric: That’s really tough, and I don’t like picking favorites, but I am really proud of Emily’s theme. I think it has a unique feel to it.
Questions for Norihiko Hibino:
RPGFan: Many of the recent P4S projects involved taking louder/faster music and translating it to a softer soundscape. What was it like going back to source material that is already so soothing? What did you focus on adding/removing in arrangement and performance to make Prescription for Sleep: Stardew Valley successful?
Hibino: Regardless of the original source intensity, I am always trying to capture the composer and game producer’s thoughts in creating a specific stage and express that from a different angle in our approach. If I’m asked what the key to making it successful is, I try not to put my experiences and my own cliché way in the approach, and try to stay neutral.
RPGFan: The original soundtrack uses many percussion instruments, especially in the Spring and Summer tracks and the Stardew Valley Overture. Were there any challenges in adapting those songs into jazz pieces, and was the goal to convey a different kind of nostalgia?
Hibino: As I mentioned in the previous question, original instrumentation does not affect us at all. The gamers will not listen to the instrumentation of the songs; instead they listen to the air and melody. The only thing we do is just “feel the air.” AYAKI and I both lived in Boston, where the climate is quite different from Japan. So we talked a lot about how we felt in fall, what we see there, and how we happily feel in summer there. Sharing the air was the first step.
RPGFan: You’ve focused on wellness and therapeutic use of music/sound in your work (including relaxation apps!) recently and with the Prescription for Sleep series. What unique properties does Stardew‘s music have that make it useful in this way?
Hibino: Stardew Valley‘s music itself was quite complete in terms of evoking the special feeling that we have in each season. What we did was just suggest a different angle of feeling the seasons. Using acoustic instruments and nice reverb helped us with this a lot.
RPGFan: The seasons play an important role in Stardew Valley, and we noticed the original song on this album really celebrates that. How much did this seasonal theme inspire the album as a whole?
Hibino: As I mentioned above, rather than talking about arrangements, AYAKI and I talked a lot about how we feel in each season. AYAKI traveled to Finland, and I spent quite a time in Southeast Asia too, so we both have quite unique experiences to share. Considering the place where the games live may be fairly wide-ranged, we can’t specify how it is like, but we can at least share the nostalgic feelings, hopefully even to someone at the bedside as well in this COVID situation. I really enjoyed that work so much.
Questions for Jayson Napolitano:
RPGFan: Similar to your arrangement with Lena Raine for the Celeste album, you worked closely with the game’s original composer on this one. Does this change some of the production process when working on a P4S album, and does this closer collaboration give birth to new ideas for future albums?
Jayson: For Celeste, I’d heard the buzz about the soundtrack, listened to it, and then ended up playing the game as a result. I then met Lena at GDC that year, and we discussed the series, which she was familiar with. I largely co-produced the album with Lena, running the track selections by her, having her read my recording notes directing GENTLE LOVE, and, most interestingly (which I don’t think people realize), giving the two sections of “Resurrections” their own subtitles (“Dream” and “Chase,” respectively).
This process differed pretty significantly with Prescription for Sleep: Stardew Valley. ConcernedApe approached us for this project who noted he was a fan of the series and wondered if we’d consider doing a volume dedicated to the game. I haven’t played Stardew Valley, although I’ve seen several videos of it being played and am familiar with the music, having worked on the piano collections album that was released some years ago. This time I went and listened to the main soundtrack, but noticed there is a huge amount of music between the original score and updates. Knowing ConcernedApe’s interest in having an album made, and knowing I didn’t have a great sense of context for the music, I invited ConcernedApe to produce the album from the standpoint of track selection, direction to GENTLE LOVE, and signing off on all the masters and visual materials. So you can see the two processes were quite different.
RPGFan: What were some of the challenges and rewards of putting Prescription for Sleep: Stardew Valley together? Also, how does it compare with the rest of the P4S series?
Jayson: Hm, we faced a number of challenges this time around that were based on timing more than the project itself. Firstly, our long-time graphic designer, Connary Fagen, was unable to participate. So it took us some time to get Daniel “ROZEN” Jimenez (a musician and also very talented graphic designer) up to speed to whip up visuals that were in line with this established series. Also, we waffled back and forth on whether or not to produce a physical edition. Given the extra design time that would go into that, delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and other factors, we decided not to pursue a physical release this time. However, it’s the number one question we’ve received from fans about this one. Maybe we’ll do one after the fact, but it’s hard to say.
In terms of how it compares to the other albums in the series, in my mind, I suppose it aligns most closely with Prescription for Sleep: Lullabies of Mana, which covers Secret of Mana. This is interesting because when ConcernedApe approached us, he told us he listened to that album a lot while making Stardew Valley. It’s also the volume I listen to the most personally, as it’s the music my kids sleep to every night (I suppose this is helped by the fact that it’s the only free volume on Amazon Prime music!). I think it’s the theme of nature that perhaps aligns them in my mind, but otherwise, it was nice to have music that was already pretty soothing and “jazz it up,” as it were. I think that’s something that makes this volume different as most of our past volumes have been from games that have a lot more action in them.
RPGFan: Have Hibino-san and Jayson played Stardew Valley, and if so, do you have favorite songs or moments?
Jayson: I can speak for both of us in saying that we haven’t played the game, but again, I’ve watched numerous trailers and gameplay videos and have a good sense of what the gameplay is about. It’s the sort of story elements that I’m largely unfamiliar with, which is why it was imperative that ConcernedApe take the reins on directing GENTLE LOVE by providing context for the music. Admittedly this is the first volume we’ve ever done where I haven’t played the game, and it does feel a bit strange. Perhaps it means the series is finally growing beyond my self-serving selection of music that I’ve chosen to cover up through now and now belongs to “everyone.” Or at least also to ConcernedApe [laughs].
Speaking for Hibino-san, we get this question for every project we’ve done so far, and he’s not much of a gamer. But he does take the recording notes (which we always include in our digital booklets) to heart and incorporates the context of the music in his performances. We also provide him with video of the games, so he has a firmer grasp on what it’s all about. What resonates most with Hibino-san are the sort of overall themes for a given game more than the actual story beats. These overarching themes (like Mother Nature for Secret of Mana, determination for Undertale, overcoming your fears for Celeste, or nature/seasons for Stardew Valley) guide their approach and also the original track they record for each volume.
Prescription for Sleep: Stardew Valley is the 11th album in the Billboard-charting jazz album series. The album was released on May 19, 2021, and is available on Bandcamp, and several other platforms such as Spotify, Apple Music, and more. Be sure to also give our album review a read!
Patrick Gann, Giancarlo Vazquez, and Hilary Andreff all contributed to this interview. RPGFan extends our thanks to Jayson Napolitano at Scarlet Moon Records, Norihiko Hibino of GENTLE LOVE, and Eric “ConcernedApe” Barone for their time and insightful responses to our in-depth (and otherwise) questions.