Interview with Jason Graves Composer of Until Dawn

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Jason Graves is a brilliant composer whose credits made me excited once I received a email to speak with him. He composed Dead Space, The Order: 1886, Tomb Raider (2013), and Until Dawn and much more. Last year in October Dead Space was my halloween game, and this year it was Until Dawn, so it only made sense that I’d need to speak to the man and find out the details of how he got into the video game business, his favorite composers, and the idea of being seen as a horror game composer.

Johnny: So first off I’ve gotta ask, how did you get into scoring video games?

Jason Graves: I actually started out in film, TV and trailers. Worked in LA for a few years and made as many contacts as I could – networking with folks and even putting out a monthly newsletter (back in the days before the Internet). As it turns out, someone knew someone who knew someone else who was a game developer in Australia, quite literally the other side of the world from where I was! They needed a soundtrack produced fairly quickly and reached out to me. That was my first game I had worked on and after that I was hooked – such a wonderful industry and group of collaborators.

Johnny: Awesome!

Jason: And that was my first game called “King Arthur” that came out in 2003 based on the film.

Johnny: Cool, yeah I was looking at your credits for everything you’ve done and it’s pretty awesome, you worked a lot with G4 back in the day.

Jason: Oh yeah I’ve got a lot of music that’s in libraries for TV shows; I know I’ve done some interviews for those game channels and they’re like “oh my gosh! Some of your music is underneath our shows!” and I didn’t even realize it because it’s the library stuff…

Johnny: ooh right, right.

Jason: Which is great! We call it mailbox money basically because the world gives us payments without having to do a thing!

Johnny: Haha yeah! That’s like the best of all worlds, get paid, have people recognize your work and not know exactly where it’s coming from! Well that’s cool. When you were composing The Order well, I believe you did The Order before Until Dawn correct?

Jason: So this is the funny thing about games, the order that they were released
(especially this year) has absolutely nothing to do with the order that I worked on them. I actually did most of my work for Until Dawn in 2011 and 2012.

Johnny: Oh okay, so back when they were still working on the game for PS3 and way early, okay!

Jason: So a lot of that was for the PS3 platform and when everything shifted, really not much with the music changed. We tweaked a few things but the original storyline and overall idea of the game stayed the same.

Johnny: Cool, so was it more entertaining for you to work on The Order or Until Dawn? I played both those games and I do like The Order a lot, I was really into that game and I just actually recently had a friend bring The Order up to me and asked my opinion on it because he recently picked it up and I told him “oh yeah I picked that up a while ago, the score is amazing” and he was saying “oh yeah that’s what I wanted to talk to you about, because the score is so big” and I was just like “yeah it is, it’s pretty dark!” So, yeah haha which one did you like more?

Jason: Hahaha, well that’s always a tricky question because they were so different and with these two particular games, they were three years apart. Normally my answer is if I had to pick favorites, not necessarily what I enjoyed working on more because they’re all a lot of fun, but the more recent ones I’m less uncomfortable going back and listening to, because the production value is a lot of it. Until Dawn is interesting because that was all done with a one-man show with me doing all the parts and recording the orchestra and doing all the crazy sound FXs here in my studio and mixing everything, and it was supposed to have a cold kind of feel. With The Order, Sony had a whole team that helped me with the orchestra and doing all the mixes, and the guy I usually use for part preparation he even helped with some of the choir stuff, but The Order was 100% live and we recorded that at Abbey Road. Like you said it’s a very heavy dark feeling, there isn’t many highs in the sonic soundscape music so they’re actually kind of opposite each other in many ways….which is funny since they only came out what? 6 months apart from each other?

Johnny: Yeah exactly!

Jason: To me you see it’s 3 years apart!

Johnny; Yeah, haha wow that is crazy! That is awesome! You know to me, it’s interesting getting into these games and really learning their history and when I reviewed Until Dawn is when I really got to learn so much, like how they had been working on it for a while. Before knowing that though it is interesting to find out how you worked on this because, yeah I just saw both games and listened to both soundtracks and was just amazed at how different they are which is something I enjoy from all types of artists just to see what they’re capable of, and it’s always nice when you’re presented with something that sounds so different from the same artist because it makes you think “gosh what else are they capable of doing?”

Jason: It’s definitely one of those things with games especially… the games are so different. If you look at The Order, and you look at Until Dawn and they’re hundreds of years apart in when they take place and they take place in two different countries, the tone is really different within the game – not the music, well obviously the music but the tone of the game minus the music is completely different and all of those things make it so much easier to discern musical differences, especially when I’m first getting started and trying to get the vibe of a game, I just look at the game and play the game and think about as specifically as I can think about things that will work with that game. It makes me happier, it makes the dev happier because they get something really customized and it’s a lot more satisfying creatively; you know doing some different things, pretty radical sometimes but you know in the end it’s all music for a game so why not take some chances and have fun with it?

Johnny: Yeah for sure! I mean, as a gamer I really appreciate that. I always like really interesting soundtracks for games and so far I know you’ve come out with two of the most interesting that I’ve seen this year.

Jason: Ah well that’s great to hear, thanks. And they’re both Sony titles.

Johnny: Yeah right exactly! Well, I am a bit of a fanboy for Sony. So I only had one last question to ask you. I’ve noticed a lot of people are focused on Until Dawn and you’re composing for more horror games or horror movies, do you feel like you yourself would be trapped in that? Well, first would you be interested in doing a horror movie soundtrack?

Jason: I think it’s pretty understood, it’s like an actor almost and that’s how I equate it a lot of times, but people are going to associate you with what they’re most familiar with and I don’t have a problem with it. Until Dawn is the perfect example – they didn’t come to me and say “we love Dead Space and we’re doing a scary game so give us some scary music like Dead Space.” They were a lot more interested in doing their own thing and there is some scary stuff in Until Dawn but there’s also some really melodic and beautiful moments in the score, and it’s those opportunities that I really jump on to try to differentiate between everything. Now if I were stuck doing horror all the time I’m sure I would get pretty tired of it, but with Until Dawn even though it’s a scary game, I got to do lots of non-horror stuff, and I’ve got some other things coming out next year that is not scary at all. You know it’s wonderful that the developers really ask more, what can you as a composer bring to the table that is more interesting and unique as opposed to just saying we want something scary. So I don’t have a problem with it but I also love doing lots of other stuff, but the reason I don’t have a problem with it is no one has really painted me into that corner yet.

Johnny: Awesome, well I’m glad to hear that because as I was saying I was excited with what I’ve heard and I’m excited to hear new interesting stuff soon!

Jason: Ah I can’t wait…we’re going to be doing some fun stuff and we’ve got some great things coming soon!

Johnny: Well great I can’t wait to hear it! Thanks for talking with me and hope to chat again soon when your new projects come out!

With that we will have to wait to see what Jason Graves has in store for us next, but I can definitely say I am very excited! If you’re interested, you can check out some of Jason Graves music over at his soundcloud page or purchase his music on iTunes!

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The Author

Johnny Ketchum

Johnny Ketchum

Writer and content creator from Denver Colorado, mostly knowledgable in the realm of retro video games he also creates music and music mixes.