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Ninterview: Smooth McGroove On A Life In Game Music

Posted by Darren Calvert

"I'm used to people calling me Smooth McGroove when they meet me"

If we say we're interviewing Max Gleason from Oklahoma, you may wonder what exactly we're talking about. If we say we've posed some questions to Smooth McGroove, however, there's a good chance that you already subscribe to his YouTube Channel, or will be doing so shortly.

Gleason, through his performing name, has become a YouTube sensation, with nearly 800,000 subscribers; it's a figure that's rapidly rising. His fame comes from acapella (unaccompanied voice) arrangements of classic game music, helped along by the simple but stylish approach of recording each segment for the world to see in splitscreen — the more Smooth McGrooves there are, the more complex the arrangement. Not only does Gleason have an impressive voice and overall level of skill, but the arrangements themselves are complex affairs. Throw in flashes of charm and guest appearances of his cat, and it represents some of the best entertainment on YouTube, along with the happy coincidence that the fame of Smooth McGroove is based on substantial talent.

With so much of his material being based on Nintendo games, in particular, we decided to catch up with Gleason to learn more about how this career started, the genesis of Smooth McGroove as a character and, of course, his feline companion.


To begin we'd love to know a little bit about your gaming history. What was your early experience in gaming? What are some of your favourite consoles and games?

I started gaming at three or four with the Atari 2600, which my dad traded for a Sega Master System. I played that for several years until I got a Super Nintendo, which changed my life. That console and its games made a huge impact on my life, and I played it for many years until we eventually got a PS1 and an N64. In high school I eventually built a gaming PC which made me ignore consoles for quite a while. I'd have to rank the SNES as my favorite console, and A Link to the Past as my all-time favorite game.

What gave you the idea of doing your first video, and how did you come up with the Smooth McGroove persona?

"I never imagined that it would turn out so successful! In the back of my head I thought that if I put enough work into making music, I'll eventually get a few thousand subscribers and that would be cool"

My first videos consisted of original songs written about video games, though they weren't done in A cappella. I eventually came up with the idea to do an acapella cover of Zelda's Lullaby from OOT as a way to get through a songwriting creative block. I had so much fun with it and knew I could improve, so I kept making them! The Smooth McGroove name originated as a joke, since I didn't want to use my real name for my music projects. I honestly never thought it would take off like this, but now I'm used to people calling me Smooth McGroove when they meet me.

How do you go about making one of your acapella arrangements from start to finish?

I start with the original song, and record rough takes of each track that I hear. If I feel that it needs any embellishing, I add rough takes of harmonies and extra percussion. Sometimes I use midi to arrange very intricate parts before I record them. From there I begin refining the takes until they sound great individually, and keep going until they sound great all together. The process changes quite a bit depending on if I do a simple NES or Game Boy song vs a complex Playstation-era arrangement or even a dense SNES or N64 song.

Has the process of creating your arrangements evolved over time?

It's come a long way since I posted that first Zelda's Lullaby video! I'd say that I spend way more time on the songs and videos than I did back then, because I know once they go up on YouTube and Loudr.fm/iTunes they're up there forever. I may only put out a song a week now, but I'm proud of each of them.

Which arrangement has given you most personal satisfaction to produce to date and why?

That's very hard because I put a lot of work into every single one, but If I had to pick one I'd say Castlevania - Bloody Tears really surprised me at how well it sounded in the end!

Which arrangement has been the most difficult for you to produce? Are there some tunes you are putting off doing due to perceived difficulty?

The faster and more complex a song sounds, the harder it is for me to arrange and record it. I've done a bunch of songs that meet those criteria, and many more exist that I haven't tried yet because I know they'll take a long time! A few examples would be JENOVA, Pokemon Mt. Pyre Theme, U.N. Owen Was Her? and other songs like that.

When you launched your channel, did you envisage that it’d be such a success?

I never imagined that it would turn out so successful! In the back of my head I thought that if I put enough work into making music, I'll eventually get a few thousand subscribers and that would be cool. Now it's a year later and my expectations have been blown away. I can't thank people enough for subscribing to my channel and supporting me in all the ways that they do.

Before you became a YouTube sensation, what did you do for a living?

Before YouTube, I gave private drum and guitar lessons and was in school for a random degree that I thought would be a safe career (not music).

What were your thoughts when you made the switch to working on your channel full time?

When I saw my channel start growing at a massive rate, I knew that I had the opportunity to put way more time into creating music and possibly have that replace my job. Though it felt risky, I'm glad I made that decision and didn't look back. I have always put my all into projects, and I saw this as another big project that I could enjoy and put my all into. I couldn't see myself doing anything else!

How do you balance your personal passions and fan requests when deciding which tunes to cover next?

I balance them pretty equally. I have plenty of songs I've wanted to do, but I also get some great ideas from fans every week.

Who are some of your favourite video game composers?

Too many to name, but my favorite ones as a child were Nobuo Uematsu and Koji Kondo.

Do you think some of these classic video game tunes are more memorable when compared to modern musical works?

I think that limitation breeds creativity. Back in the early video game days, composers had very strict limitations on their compositions due to the hardware. That made every note count, so some truly amazing music came out of that era. I think it works in a similar way to my acapella arrangements. Because I'm limited to my voice, I have to make some interesting decisions when it comes to singing or doing a percussion part. It keeps the process interesting.

"Because I'm limited to my voice, I have to make some interesting decisions when it comes to singing or doing a percussion part. It keeps the process interesting"

Have you considered doing a collaboration with any other famous YouTubers?

I have, and some great collaboration offers have come my way recently. I have to pace myself with things like that because I work very well alone, and it can sap my energy when doing work with someone else. It feels similar to being in a band, honestly. It can be great fun to make music with people, but you have to sync up schedules, personalities, ambitions, and all those things. I've been in many bands; enough to know that I enjoy working alone for the most part, unless you just gel really well with the other person or group.

As most YouTube artists rely on ad revenue for a living, do you have concerns about the way Content ID claims are being handled? What impact has this had?

Content ID concerns everyone that does music or gaming on YouTube. I happen to do both, so I definitely have concerns about this. It's made me seek out licensing and other protections for my work, which I've had success with so far.

We noticed that your Patreon page has been very successful. Can you tell us a bit more about why this is such a vital channel for you? What benefits can patreons get?

Patreon is an amazing way for anyone creating regular content, especially YouTubers or musicians. It has allowed me to get valuable support from my hardcore fans and also get in touch with them more directly. Depending on how much support a patron gives, they get access to my weekly blog or even Google hangouts or one-on-one Skype sessions. I'm extremely thankful for Patreon, and all of the people who support me on that platform!

If someone wants to buy a high quality version of your arrangements, where is the best place to look?

Loudr.fm is the best place to buy my albums. They're a great company and have been extremely supportive, not to mention the high-quality downloads they offer. I also have my music up on iTunes, Bandcamp, and Google Play. I have links up on my YouTube "about" page for anyone interested.

The artwork on your digital albums is always a highlight. Have you enlisted some help with these?

I've been working with an artist named Kyle Peterson for the last few albums. He's great, and we've already started planning the next one. It's going to be awesome!

What are some of the funniest or most bizarre comments you have had on one of your videos?

I get some pretty funny ones. They range from dudes wanting to procreate with me to marriage proposals from girls or... yeah, it gets a bit weird.

We’d love to know a bit about your feline sidekick Charl. What’s his personality like?

He's extremely laid back, but also has a dominant personality. If I don't pay attention to him for a while, he'll force me to. He also gets very vocal when he's hungry, and absolutely loves fresh meat and certain lettuces. I'd say he's an awesome kitty friend.

Do the multiple McGroove’s in your videos all have different personalities in your mind?

I don't really see them as having different personalities, but they definitely have different jobs. The ones doing very hard parts have to stay determined when singing, while the ones with more laid back parts can goof around and not take things so seriously. I never know how Charl will react when I'm recording, so that's always a surprise.

In closing, could you tell us about some of your hopes and goals for the future?

I want to continue to make videos and improve on my techniques. I've got some difficult songs in mind for the future, and I'll have to improve to do them properly and make them sound as good as I want them to. I also want to thank everyone supports me by watching my videos. You guys are awesome!


We'd like to thank Max Gleason for his time. Do you have a favourite Smooth McGroove video?

Ninterviews are a series of interviews where we get to know interesting people with a passion for Nintendo. Please contact us if you have any suggestions for future Ninterviews. Click here to see the full series.

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User Comments (68)

Kyloctopus

#5

Kyloctopus said:

Smooth is awesome. I've been a fan of him for a while, and I'm glad NL made this interview thanks.
I think my favorite song he did his has to be Dr. Wily's theme. But I also really liked when he did My Cat Knows What You Do in the Dark.
Also: Smooth, if you're reading this, I think it would be really awesome if you did the Smash Bros. Melee theme, and I don't think I'm the only one.

Tasuki

#6

Tasuki said:

Great interview. My son introduced me to his channel and I have to say I do enjoy it alot. He is one of the few youtube channels that I subscribe to.

Hunter-D

#7

Hunter-D said:

"Do you have a favourite Smooth McGroove video?"

I don't know! That's a really hard question!

Gioku

#8

Gioku said:

He's frickin' amazing. 'nuff said. His Castlevania theme is my favorite. :*

Action51

#13

Action51 said:

Shave that neck beard you damn hippie!

Just kidding! I am listening to the Castlevania 2 mix of Bloody Tears right now, and it's pretty amazing.

Interesting interview.

BinaryFragger

#16

BinaryFragger said:

When I first heard about him a couple of months ago, I spent the rest of the evening listening to every video on his channel. Amazing talent.

Xiao_Pai

#19

Xiao_Pai said:

Probably gonna listen to everything later tonight, but I'm gonna attempt to see if he'll be able to do something from monster Hunter. :p

ricklongo

#20

ricklongo said:

Some company should seriously call him to write an acapella original score for a game. That would be freaking awesome.

unrandomsam

#21

unrandomsam said:

I had never heard of him until now.

My favourite game soundtracks are Panzer Dragoon Saga / Final Fantasy VI (I bought the solo piano CD ages ago) / Castlevania up to Rondo of Blood. (Best of the old style).

BlackStar9000

#26

BlackStar9000 said:

Smooth Mcgroove is a guy that provides inspiration, I plan to start remixing old VGM tunes, but its gonna mostly be Hip-Hop, maybe if I do well enough I will get to collab with Jesus of Video Game Music, and Cat. That would be fantasic, More streets of rage music please McGroove.

unrandomsam

#27

unrandomsam said:

I wish he did some of the X68000 Castlevania songs instead of the NES ones. (Or the ones from the Famicom - Castlevania III if it has to be NES ones)

Holly

#28

Holly said:

Two favorites: Super Mario Kart - Rainbow Road and Super Metroid - Prologue theme. The dissonance in those two is remarkable and sounds great.

Also, I agree that the limitations placed on composers of the 8- and 16-bit generations brought out some fantastic creativity. The song Filmore Act 1 from Actraiser is one of my favorite examples of that.

sinalefa

#30

sinalefa said:

I did not know about him. Nice to see he is working in something he likes so much.

3DSfan134

#31

3DSfan134 said:

Cool cat where I got a cat the same color as him too and nice guy. I'll try to contribute to his music one day.

Prof_Clayton

#34

Prof_Clayton said:

The talent it takes to do this is amazing~
I discovered him months ago looking for Pokemon acapella! His theme of Mount Pyre... wow. :o
Keep up the fantastic work (and you really should try and get your music into a game... really. :D)

KeeperBvK

#39

KeeperBvK said:

@Dyltheman lol, nice one. Had me laughing out loud there for a moment. ^^

My favorite has to be Spark Mandrill from Mega Man X. Still gives me goose bumps EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

Nintenjoe64

#40

Nintenjoe64 said:

A Link to the Past could well be my favourite game too. Nearly everything I like about other adventure games is in alttp.

Favourite video game composers/soundtracks (besides Koji Kondo because he is everyone's):
Barry Leitch -Top Gear SNES
Richard Jaques - M.S.R. DC
Yuzo Koshiro - Super Adventure Island SNES
Hajime Hirasawa - StarFox SNES
Soyo Oka - Super Mario Kart SNES

KiwiPanda

#43

KiwiPanda said:

Seeing him do Mt. Pyre (such an unheard of soundtrack) made my day a few months ago. <333

Kmno

#45

Kmno said:

Discovered him last year, the guy is simply on another level, his acapella vg arrangements are the best I've heard. One thing that makes me curious is how he gets away with selling his songs since they are copyrighted material, and selling them on iTunes for example should be illegal.

Still I love this acapella Jesus, and I hope he continues without any problems. He already did my favourite song so I'm pleased.

Squid

#46

Squid said:

He is so very talented, I love his work and I'm happy you guys at NL were able to interview him.

But why didn't you ask him about his fabulous mane, man? And don't forget about that beard! Everyone's gotta know how to have hair like that.

JellySplat

#47

JellySplat said:

My favorite one is probably Dr. Wily's theme... But his LTTP Dark world theme was awesome, Oh! And his Phoenix wright "Cornered" theme...

Way off subject but......@CaptainSquid Your profile pic is amazing!

jreed3842

#49

jreed3842 said:

I've been a huge fan of this guy for a long time!
I'm glad you guys interviewed him, it was really nice to know more about him and the work that goes into his videos!

MuchoMochi

#50

MuchoMochi said:

They should make a smooth mccgroove rhythm game on the 3ds. You have to hit buttons to the beat of your favorite SNES game soundtracks.

AJWolfTill

#51

AJWolfTill said:

Off the top of my head his version of Cornered from Phoenix Wright might be my favourite. Cats, videogames and music... This guy is the heart of youtube!

SpookyMeths

#53

SpookyMeths said:

I learned about this dude a few months back and I'm glad I did! He does excellent work. Great mix of nostalgia, personality, and talent.

My favorites of his so far are Cornered (Phoenix Wright) and Gourmet Race (Kirby Super Star).

WiiLovePeace

#54

WiiLovePeace said:

Personally I'm not a fan at all. The recreations he makes just sound like cheap knock-offs to me. But I at least feel respect to him for the effort he puts in & I'm happy he has found great success in doing something he loves. His music is just not for me I guess, I'd much prefer to listen to the originals & rarely, fan instrumental recreations.

sketchturner

#56

sketchturner said:

This guy is my wife's cousin and he is super nice. The one time I hung out with him we had a discussion about Super Metroid that was the most memorable gaming conversation of my life.

LDXD

#57

LDXD said:

First herd of him about a month ago and it was the bloody tears cover I was blown away the dude is amazing
Its funny to me because he reminds me of Frank Mir the UFC fighter he talks just like him and looks like him with a beard

AuraStryker

#63

AuraStryker said:

When I need inspiration for my drawing or I just want to hear some awesome music, Smooth is my go-to guy. Just awesome.

Dpishere

#65

Dpishere said:

After reading this article I decided to check some of his videos on youtube. Let's just say he did not disappoint, the guy is amazing and has superb vocal range.

rayword45

#67

rayword45 said:

I found out about this guy through his cover of My Girls by Animal Collective.

His stuff clearly takes quite a bit of talent, and that cover was fantastic. I'd like to see him attempt a live performance, just to see how he would handle it.

WitchSugoi

#68

WitchSugoi said:

I subscribed to him months ago after someone linked one of his videos here and I checked out his channel. I'm glad he's seeing success, it's refreshing to see someone get famous on YT for actual talent/skill instead of making a fool of themselves.

Had no idea his work was available for purchase, I'm going to have to get his rendition of Super Mario Kart Rainbow Road.

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