Video game & music: a brief interview with Shawn Lee

Shawn Lee is an American multi-instrumentalist musician and composer from Kansas. I learnt about him playing Bully, a Ps2 video game released by Rockstar Vancouver in 2006. Lee composed the game tracks: a stunning explosion of different sound vibes, something that rarely appears on console.
I got in touch with Shawn, explaining him that I would like to write a video game music column in my website and asking him for an interview. Even though I am nothing but a tergiversator, mister Lee accepted the proposal, showing me an unexpected helpfulness.

Before composing music for Leone’s movies, Ennio Morricone used to watch the video-montage with director. Sergio Donati – the screenwriter of “Once upon a time in the West” – wrote in his book that Morricone took notes minutely following Leone’s suggestions. Although a movie is pretty different from a video game, there are several similarities between Cinema and Video games: were you influenced in some way by the authors of Bully?
Well, I only saw a few drawings from Bully so it was based on my conversations with Ivan Pavlovich, the music supervisor at Rockstar NY. We talked about the overall tone and feeling of the game and about various musical reference points. This formed the basis of my approach.

Bully OST was a mixture of different music genres. It seems you liked the beats of 60’s, however you didn’t dislike even many sounds coming from 80’s. Could you tell me what was your composing method for that video game?
The music touched on the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and beyond. It was obviously influenced by film soundtracks and also various POP musical styles. Each musical cue had it’s own unique parameters and the trick was to pull together all these different styles of music, making them feel cohesive. This was down partly to the instrumental sound pallet and also playing real instruments in real-time which gave even the more electronic pieces feel both human and organic. I played everything so my sensibilities provided the glue.

Do you have a favourite composer of video games music?
I am afraid, I do not have a favourite video game composer to be honest. However, I am a huge fan of The great Italian film composers: Morricone, Cipriani, Umiliani, Nicolai etc. The Italians are the kings and they are the best of the OST and Library music.
I am also a fan of Lalo Schifrin & Jerry Goldsmith. Classic classics!

Any kind of musical project in the future?
I am busy working on an eclectic array of new projects.
The third AM & Shawn Lee album is almost finished. As well as a brand new project which sounds a bit like the new Hall & Oates! I am also working on the 2nd The Electric Peanut Butter Company album with Adrian Quesada which is all fuzzed & Psyched out! I am working on some music for a cartoon in development called Killer Rock from outer space at the moment.
I am also playing and collaborating with loads of different musicians around the world keeping things interesting. And fresh.
I am busy!!!

Have you planned tour dates in Italy over 2014?
I have no touring plans this year sadly. I hope to play in Italy as it is seriously overdue.

2007, Donati S., C’era una volta il west (ma c’ero anche io), Omero, Roma.

Three Lee’s albums that I suggest to you:
2000, Shawn Lee, Monkey Boy.
2006, Shawn Lee, Rockstar Games Presents Bully Original Soundtrack.
2012, Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra, Reel To Reel.

Shawn Lee’s website.

Italian translation coming soon!

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