I recently got the chance to review Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King. Going through it, more than a few tracks really stood out, so I tracked down the composer to compliment him on his work. We ended up chatting for a bit and what initially was an article that I thought was as good excuse as any to revive Rock Out With Your Cart ended up being a chat with Josh Brechner, also know as Visager and how he became involved with it.
What got you interested in composing music originally?
I grew up playing drums and tenor sax. In high school, I started devoting some of my free time to learning guitar and piano and writing short songs. When I finally got my first laptop, I slowly started exploring Garageband, piecing songs together and shamelessly using the built-in loops before later moving over to Logic, which is what I used for the Blossom Tales soundtrack. I was and am entranced by the way that songs are cobbled together – interlocking rhythm and syncopation are a big part of why making music, and in particular electronic music, is so satisfying to me. Video game music in particular has traditionally had a very mathematical precision to it, and it’s really interesting to me both using and subverting that expectation. As I hope stands out in the Blossom Tales OST, early Zelda soundtracks, most notably Link’s Awakening, were and continue to be a huge inspiration.
Do you have any particular composers that you feel have influenced you the most? Any that we might be surprised you enjoy (I’ve always loved Motoi Sakuraba’s work, even though I wouldn’t consider myself a fan of prog rock)?
Sakuraba is great! I actually would say I’m a big fan of prog rock. In general, I’m a sucker for anything that has a tendency to use lots of odd meter. To speak of some of his quieter work, I was stunned by his music for Majula in Dark Souls II. It has some incredible sparseness to it. Thinking about it right now, that track in particular reminds me of Manaka Kataoka’s approach to the music Breath of the Wild, which is also a new favorite for me. She also gives a lot of subtle nods to melodies from across the series, and it’s really rewarding to catch them sprinkled throughout.
But while I was working on Blossom Tales, I had just come off of binging on Toby Fox’s music and moved on to Jonathan Geer’s awesome soundtrack from Owlboy. Mort Garson was also on my mind, specifically his album Mother Earth’s Plantasia (it’s so good, everyone should listen to it), and Joe Hisaishi’s score from Totoro definitely bled a lot into the Overworld music. Really I find that I can be very strongly influenced in the short term by what I’m listening to on any given day, but I think that’s OK!
Near as I can tell, this is your first video game soundtrack, correct? How did you get involved with the project and did you have to approach it in any special way?
This is! Before Blossom Tales, my main composition jobs were in music for web series and bunch of different theater and dance projects. I had also been performing live as Visager and releasing a ton of work on my own. After a while I realized that making music for games was where I wanted to be above everything else. So, in an effort to buff up my game composer cred, I wrote two albums, Songs from an Unmade World 1 and 2 released them for free online for developers to use. A few months after that, Rob and Tyler from Castle Pixel came across the albums on Free Music Archive when they were looking for placeholder music for Blossom Tales, but were still in the process of nailing down a full-time composer. When they saw I was active on Twitter, they reached out to see if I’d be interested in testing to make music for the game! So, like a lot of things, the timing was just super lucky.
Something that’s always interested me with game soundtracks is the process. I’m sure it would affect your compositions, so I’m wondering how much of the game are told you about in advance?
I made my first tracks for Blossom Tales last May, at which point about 90% of the game was all fleshed out. There had been some serious development before I came on, including a Kickstarter campaign before the game was picked up by our publisher, FDG Entertainment. So I got to play through the full game and get really familiar with the environments before I started making the bulk of the music. They also gave me one of those stitched-together full game maps (like this one from Link’s Awakening) and as a visual person, getting to see the full top-down view of the playable exterior space was also a big help in figuring out how and where to parcel the music. We started with about 30 tracks we knew we wanted to make for the game, and we added an extra 14 along the way to give a bunch of specific locations and characters their own flavor.
You mentioned in a previous conversation we had that my favorite track, Wasteland, and Crocus Castle were initially different. How much did the soundtrack change as you went along and was there anything in particular that brought about those changes?
Yes — the suggested changes to Wasteland and the Crocus Castle music came from Joannis at FDG, who was our wrangler for the game. He’s great, and was able to give really specific feedback for me since he comes from a music background himself. For those songs specifically, my first drafts had the Wasteland music as a super intense, action-packed piece, with odd meter and short sections.
And by contrast, the Crocus Castle music was slow, and very minimalistic compared to the whole rest of the game.
But Jo really pushed for the opposite, which ultimately served the game the best! Because of those changes, I think you get a lot more dramatic tension as you work your way through the Wasteland into the castle.
Also, adding more energy to the Castle music carries Lily, our main character, into the final boss fight with all of her heroism.
The other big change as the game neared release was that we overhauled the Overworld music. I had made an Overworld track when I tested for the game and it ended up feeling out of place compared to the rest of the game’s music that was built around it. Here’s the original.
The final track ended up being much stronger and based around orchestral sounds, including several SNES-style violin patches that I built myself.
As interested in game music as I’ve been, I’ve never really had the chance to ask composers about their process, influences, and the business end of it, so talking to Visager and Tyler Mire this year has been a treat for me.