Interview: Anamanaguchi On Making Sweet Chiptune Music And Loving Final Fantasy
Posted by Rory Cocker
In case you didn't know, Anamanaguchi is an American chiptune indie rock band made up of hackers and producers born and raised on the Internet from New York City. They make — and we quote — "loud, fast music with a NES from 1985." September sees the release of their new album Endless Fantasy worldwide, so we thought it would be an excellent time to catch up with this exciting band.
Nintendo Life: Could you introduce yourself and tell us what you do in the band?
Peter Berkman: Ary & I both play guitar and do most of the production work. Luke plays drums and does some production stuff, too! James plays bass and designs and builds our custom visual set ups for shows.
NL: Is it true that you started out by recording samples from actual NES hardware? What’s the process behind that, or is it secret sauce?
PB: Actually, no! We instead would use this old Swedish software to make our own sounds that would play on the NES; no sampling involved, just using old computers as synthesisers, really. The one we used was called NerdTracker II and it was made as part of a 'Most Useless Software' competition (laughs)
I hope we've made the program feel better about itself. But yeah, there's no secret to it, really. I found out about it in 2003 when I searched for "how to make NES music" online and found a huge community of people willing to help. Since then, we've opened our sound up to a ton of other platforms.
PB: Yeah, it's totally different, really. We normally like to write in 100 different styles because we have no attention span and like way too much stuff. The Scott Pilgrim game had us writing in the same way, but including other styles we don't normally do, like 'Bollywood boss fight' or 'giant robot attack'. It was fun, though; I got to write songs that sound like Goblin, Ary got to do some Daft Punk-y stuff and Luke got to write a bossanova 'shop music' jam (laughs).
It was really nice because, stylistically, it was such a perfect fit for us at the time. John Hughes/Kevin Smith young-love-meets-cool-music-meets-anime/comics/games - that was pretty much our dreamworld in 2010. It was such a rad thing to be a part of. I love games that have aesthetics, that really take you into another world where you can lose yourself. In a project like that, the visuals, the interaction, the feel and the music all have to be playing harmony to each other. I'd love to do more video game work if it means having to try new styles. Katamari Damacy is the perfect example I think.
NL: Who did the meow in Meow? Because it’s stuck in our heads and we think we may need extensive therapy to remove it.
PB: I was working on a track and Ary suggested it have some rhythmic thing, and he meowed the rhythm at me. So, I sent it back to him with me meowing all over the track and we just went from there (laughs).
If you want to remove it, you can listen to that Suzanne Vega song, Tom's Diner - but then the 'doot doo doo doo doot da-doo-doo' will be stuck in your head instead, so it's your choice, really!
NL: Do you guys actually listen to your own music, or are you kind of sick of it by the end of production?
PB: We're never sick of the stuff we made, but we typically get bored and want to do different stuff. We're perfectionists in a lot of ways, so a lot of times I can only hear the mistakes in anything we've made, but I try to see past it and think about it for what it was. I always want to put out 100 different versions of tracks, you know (laughs).
But yeah, we're always trying to move forward and try new sounds.
NL: Do you ever play live shows? If so, how do they work?
PB: Crazy lights, glow-y cubes, loud jams, and smiley, sweaty people!
NL; Do you agree that the Wii Shop Channel music is the single greatest piece of VGM ever conceived?
PB: It's rad, but you just reminded me of that James Ferraro track on Farside Virtual - Solar Panel Smile. That samples the Wii menu sounds. It's so alternate-future, it's relaxing but terrifying. I could listen to it forever.
NL: Try to spell ‘Anamanaguchi’ without looking at the word. Time yourselves. Who was the fastest?
PB: We all said it at the exact same time in perfect unison, but we spelled it wrong with "gucci" at the end!
NL: You're fans of Final Fantasy, right? Which is the best – Final Fantasy VII, VIII or IX?
PB: I only played through VII and started it near the end of the album process; I actually defeated Sephiroth the day before leaving for tour (laughs).
I love everything about that game - huge swords; huge hair; crazy worlds; big airships; outer space; science; magic. Arriving in the first new city with the whole party and seeing the world map for the first time...I swear it's the exact same feeling as heading to the van leaving for a long tour. Life is adventure.
I've gotta play through VIII & IX, though; I hear they're amazing.
NL: The new album – Endless Fantasy – is out in the UK in September. Talk us through it and how it differs from your previous work.
PB: It's 22-tracks long which is kinda the first thing to note. We didn't really expect anyone to listen to it all the way through, you know? We think it's ridiculous to expect that with a 10-track album these days. Each track is a different fun-size virtual fantasy world with its own rules. We're using a lot more sounds now, too.
There are a lot of 16-bit sample-instruments, some added synths, some real dance kicks and that kind of stuff. We were never pure chiptune - our first record was NES + guitar - and now we've basically opened that up to be the techy stuff we love with the music stuff we love. No rules! Our older stuff was also much more straight forward, hyper-melodic, super-fast electronic punk. This record has a lot more variety and puts a lot of the emotional melodic stuff into more of a dance setting.
NL: Do you draw any inspiration from, shall we say, more traditional bands or forms of music? Your first album had an almost pop-punk feel to it.
PB: Yeah, always. We all grew up playing music all the time. Our main love is pop music. For me, it's stuff like Weezer, Max Martin, anything Jackson - Janet, Michael, 5 - and stuff like that. For Ary, I think it's mostly about mood. He loves Tiesto and Venga Boys.
I don't know; we love way too much stuff to really call it anything; inspiration for us can come from anything. What I always loved about pop music and video games was their ability to take you to different places. I want to see what's out there in the world, hidden in everyone's cool, creative minds. Anything that's a key to a new world is something that inspires us, really.
NL: Did you ever play your own song on Rock Band?
PB: Yeah. It was so hard (laughs).
NL: We’ll end on a boring one – what’s your favourite video game soundtrack?
PB: Parappa the Rapper.
NL: Thanks for talking to us today, guys. Good luck with the new album!
PB: Thank you!