Interview: The OneUps
By Eric Stuckart
Ambassador to the Mushroom Kingdom
There’s bands that play video game music, and then there’s The OneUps. Employing a style of Jazz-Funk with touches of a little bit of everything thrown in for good measure, they’re a breath of fresh air in a style of music that tends to stick to aggressive or electronic approaches.
We were fans of their latest work, Intergalactic Redux, released last month, which brought their style to new heights, with interesting recreations of some pretty iconic songs from Zelda, Super Metroid, Castlevania, and a few others. That being said, we were more than happy to get in touch with William Reyes, rhythm guitarist of the group, to talk about their style and influences, as well as why the classic games tend to lend themselves more often to recreation than newer soundtracks.
1. Most bands that cover video game music usually opt to go the route of metal or electronic music usually. Did you guys consciously decide to go on the more jazzy funk path or did that style naturally develop? Are there any other elements that you’re looking to incorporate into the band’s sound?
We did consciously decide to make our arrangements more jazz/funk. Many of the video game tunes that we first started arranging already lend themselves to be adapted into a jazz piece. Music from the Super Mario Bros. series, Mario Paint, and even the Zelda series have a great deal of Latin and jazz influence. Due to the character of the chords and melodies, we were easily able to arrange them for a live band similar to what would be in jazz standard form. The more we played in local bars however, the more we found out that we needed to change our sound and arrangements. Funk seemed to be a good common ground while still keeping some of the jazz elements with which we were already familiar. Over the past several years, we’ve made arrangements that incorporate various other styles including hard rock/metal, electronic, disco, and even modern classical.
2. How exactly did the band come together?
As I remember it, the band started with Mr. Mustin, Nathan McLeod, and William Reyes discussing how great it would be to start playing video game music as a live band. One of the tunes discussed was “Koopa Beach” from Super Mario Kart. Later that year, a recording was made of an arrangement Mustin had put together of “Costa Del Sol” from Final Fantasy VII. The concept of the band was then solidified.
3. Everyone goes by pseudonyms in the band. How come? Also, are there any interesting meanings behind the names?
The pseudonyms are merely for fun.
4. What do you guys do in your free time? Are any of the members involved in any other musical projects?
Free time is spent continuing work for some, and recreation for others, or a combination of the two. Each member is involved in other musical projects. Mustin continues to arrange video game music on his own and works on original compositions as well. William composes and arranges pieces for solo guitar and works with three other musical groups outside of The OneUps. Jared is a singer/songwriter. He records his songs locally and is also involved in other bands. Tim continues to perform with several bands and is also putting together his own collection of original works.
5. A lot of jazz music tends to be born out of improvisation and jamming. What’s the typical songwriting process for The OneUps?
Because we stopped arranging pieces as Jazz forms several years ago, we have found it necessary to incorporate other musical elements and gather input from all the members. We start by either listening to or reading the melody and chords. We try altering them both in tasteful ways. When a member has an idea, we usually try it in order to hear how it sounds, then we keep experimenting with ideas over the span of several hours until we all like what we hear. We write down the form, record an excerpt, and that keeps us satisfied until the next rehearsal.
6. Not very much video game music has been published in tablature format. How hard is it to figure out the songs by ear, and then put your own spin on them?
It’s not terribly difficult. We certainly don’t count on finding the piece written in standard notation. Music has a been a part of our lives for decades, so we have been able to successfully develop our aural perception to a degree in which matching pitches and rhythms is as simple as an everyday task. As individual musicians, we all try to put our own spin on some part of the arrangement.
7. Have any particular artists (or composers, games, etc.) inspired your music?
Many many artists, composers and games have inspired our music. To name only a few: artists/composers such as James Brown, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, Greyboy Allstars, video game composers such as Koji Kondo, Nobuo Uematsu, Yasunori Mitsuda, and game series such as the Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy, Metroid and Castlevania games.
8. You’ve dedicated an entire album to Super Mario Kart. Any other game soundtracks you plan on focusing on in the future?
There’s been talk of Toe Jam and Earl, but nothing is set in stone.
I can’t say for sure, but it may be partially because older video game music has become standard repertoire for other video game bands. The people who were finally old enough to start a band drew from the music they loved when they were first playing video games, many of which were in the late 80s and 90s. Also, much of the music is reused in the later games of a series, and therefore has more of a chance of becoming popular. In addition, a lot of the older games were remade for newer systems and brought back the same music, thus giving even more opportunities to make the tunes memorable. It should also be noted that any music of a popular game when heard for hours on end on a loop becomes memorable.
10. Have there been any newer game soundtracks that caught your ear?
For some of us, the newer music is so very well orchestrated and complex that we continue to listen to older game music for our arrangements. However, we all love the music to the God of War series as well as a few others.
11. When playing live, do you guys try to recreate the songs the way you recorded them, or is there a lot of improvisation going on? Do you guys favor any particular songs over others when playing live?
We try to limit improvisation to sections of the music that call for it (guitar solos, drum solos etc..). We try to have consistency in our performance, although we oftentimes change the pieces during practice after we’ve recorded them. Recently our favorite songs to play have been from our newest album: Intergalactic Redux available at http://theoneups.bandcamp.com/album/intergalactic-redux
12. What’s a typical tour or concert like for the band? What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you guys while on the road?
So far, our “tours” have been one gig at a time. We usually fly out to another city for a weekend, perform for one night and try to sell some of our merchandise before returning home. Thankfully nothing too crazy has happened to us while on the road, but we like to have a crazy fun time while visiting these other cities.
13. One of the coolest things about The OneUps is that you can pretty much listen to it without even realizing that the music is covers of video game songs. Do you have any plans of ever releasing original music at any point?
All of the members compose original music, some with the intention of releasing it. As for The OneUps, we plan to continue arranging only video game music in as many interesting ways as possible.
14. Anything you’d like to add?
We truly appreciate all of our fans and anyone who cares to listen.
Front page photo by Tim Ryan Smith, from facebook.com/theoneups.