So… Rock Band + my band = pretty amazing for me.
When we recorded the songs for “The Shadow Out of Tim” we had two extra tracks that we didn’t put on the album because they didn’t fit in thematically. That is to say, they had nothing to do with a musical adaptation of Lovecraft’s The Shadow Out of Time. We decided to save them for the next album and…whatever opportunities came in between. We submitted them to the CFOX Seeds competition but nothing came of that.
When we were graciously invited back to PAX this year (thanks Jerry) one of the reasons I was so stoked about it was that the people from Rock Band and Guitar Hero would be there and would have a chance to see us live. We dared to dream that maybe they would like us enough that they’d consider adding us to their respective rosters.
Little did we know that the people at Harmonix already knew about the band, and that they and the Penny Arcade guys were planning on doing a pack of songs that tied in with the convention. In mid-July Robert Khoo introduced us to the Harmonix folks (via email). They didn’t have any particular track in mind. We suggested something off the new album to promote it, but we also pointed out that we had unused tracks and that we shouldn’t dismiss some of our best work from past albums (Math Song, 20 Minutes of Oxygen). As much as some of our songs are fun or rockin’ or whathaveyou, I knew some of them wouldn’t be appropriate for the video game. I imagine the criteria they have to consider would be length of the song, variety, appropriate lyric content (I make a point not to swear in the lyrics anyway), and a fair balance of the four instruments the game utilizes.
They initially decided on “The Innsmouth Look.” I was a little surprised they chose it, but since it was a definite Lovecraft riff I thought it was a good representation of the band for all those Rock Band players who had never heard of us.
An interesting point is that they wanted to get us involved in the project months prior, but because of our inability to confirm at that point they had to pass us over. It’s no secret on the internet that MC Chris was confirmed for PAX but then cancelled, and that opened up the slot for us to sneak in at the 11th hour.
The time squeeze, however, was against us. We recorded Spaceship Zero in 1999, on ADATs which are basically VHS tapes used in a special machine. That format is outmoded now and since the recording studio we used was dissolved by 54-40 we didn’t have access to the “stems” of the song that Harmonix needed to use to put the song on the game. We spent a weekend trying to hunt down equipment to get this done but since time was such an issue we suggested to Harmonix to pick a backup track off the newer material. “Shhh….” was their choice.
By this time it was well into August and the band had been practicing a very dedicated setlist for months. Warren wouldn’t be back in Canada until mid-August and the idea of re-learning how to play “Shhh….” live (we hadn’t played it for about a year) was pretty sketchy, so as much as we would have liked to play it during our performance at PAX, we just weren’t confidant we could pull it off in the two weeks we had left for rehearsals. Keep in mind that the five band members live in three different cities so typically we meet once a week at best. You don’t want to blow your performance in front of 10,000 fans and potential fans and industry bigwigs!
Finally PAX came and we met with the Harmonix staff as they went by our merch booth and we went by the Rock Band exhibit. I cannot say enough about how cool the Harmonix staff were. Very nice, very excited to work with us, very professional and fun! Heather invited us to come and play our song on Rock Band at their exhibit, and so I wrangled up the members of the band for a set time on Sunday.
If you’ve ever played Rock Band and played a musical instrument, you know that one does not necessarily translate to the other. I can play guitar on Rock Band well, but I can’t play a real guitar. Mario, Merrick and Jordan had never played Rock Band before, and they were somewhat nervous to do so. To our great relief Heather told us that the game was set to “no fail” so we knew that no matter how poorly we played the game we’d still get all the way through the song.
The whole thing looked a little like this:
What a hoot! I was surprised by the tambourine/cowbell deal on the singing section of the song – since the actual song has no such parts! Since there were only four instruments but five band members, Mario hung out and coached Jordan on the drums. At the end of the song we through out a spare tentacle on stage and by luck the one who caught it was a fan – he had us autograph it.
Since we’ve got back we’re trying to keep the promo ball rolling on this amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us: the only Canadian indie band on Rock Band!