My afore-mentioned travels with a band that exclusively plays music from video games has granted me two things: A. a new-found appreciation for video game music in all its forms and B. a rather healthy knowledge of most of the other musical acts out there doing something similar. Really early on, one of the first acts I became aware of was the internet sensation Daniel Tidwell and his really solid Metal covers of video game tunes, seen here in all its green screen glory:
Now, my first reaction was “So… much… cheese…”, and rightfully so, but as I got to watching more and more, I could tell this guy has a real sense of fun that you don’t often get from Metal performers, plus the covers were quite good and getting better all the time.
I eventually met Daniel at an event called MAGfest and it turns out that he is the nicest man (and yes, completely aware of how cheesy his videos come off, in fact he relishes in such things, as we all should). We traded CD’s and that’s where I got to hear his fantastic debut album, Versus Video Games, which I will talk about another day. Today, I want to fast forward a year and talk about his brand new album, Versus Video Games 2, and at the end, you can check out a conversation I had with “The Daniel Tidwell”! For now, let’s get cracking:
Now, the first thing to know about this release, and indeed all Tidwell releases up to this point (2 full length albums and 1 EP, we’ll get to that in a bit), is that “The DT” works alone. The drums are all programmed and the instruments all passed through the mighty hands of this metal maestro. While one may indeed miss the dynamic of a “full band” in this release, it is more than made up for by the two things I think make for a fantastic VGM (Video Game Music, for you “nubes” out there) cover album: Superior arrangements, and song selection.
As far as the arrangements go, VVG2 is both solid and varied, which is so rare for a metal album and even rarer for a “genre” VGM album. The opening track, “The Vengeful Frog“, which is a reworking of the infamous “Frog’s Theme” from the Super Nintendo game Chrono Trigger, starts with a quiet acoustic rendition of the normally brassy ballad, then lets in a sort of mock-up of the game’s original synthesized sound, which is quickly blasted apart by the Metal version, which rings out for just enough “loops” to give you a good sense of the song without lingering long enough to trigger your ADD and click “next” in a huff.
While the Tidwell COULD have kept that solid enough arrangement theme going throughout the album’s 20 tracks, you won’t hear another acoustic intro until track 8, which is his loving tribute to that masterpiece of a horrible game, “Wizards & Warriors“.
Some other interesting arrangement choices actually see the album taking a much needed (depending on your preferences) break from the Metal. In fact, the Legend of Zelda-based “Ordon Village” theme features not only an entirely acoustic backing, but a guest Ocarina player, which is a first (as far as I know) for the Tidwell.
The biggest and perhaps best change of pace in this album is the rather climactic “The Planet’s Dyin’”, a medley of songs from the wildly popular Final Fantasy VII that is simultaneously rockin’ and epic to the core, which is a good thing because the song pushes 8 minutes like nobody’s business. Still, if ever there was a good choice for an ending song, that would be it.
Speaking of song choice, the thing that struck me with this album is that it varies rather nicely between eras, platforms, and genres of video games (and, naturally, of music), which is actually a lot rarer than you might think among the groups/artists that cover VGM. While the games I mentioned so far are all songs derived from adventure/RPG games made in the 80′s and 90′s, Tidwell brings in obscurities like Beetlejuice on the NES, Werewolf (a fantastic game where you not only play as a Werewolf, but a Werewolf with prosthetic blades for hands), and even the almost unheard-of classic Legacy of the Wizard (which features a soundtrack composed by one of my favorites, Yuzo Koshiro, but this isn’t about me).
Despite being a Metal album, all kinds of music is represented, and then promptly filtered through Metal. I already mentioned the almost madrigal-sounding Frog’s Theme, but there are also some jazzy numbers from platform favorites Super Mario World and Sonic The Hedgehog. Perhaps most surprisingly, one of the peppiest songs to come out of the NES, the theme to Tecmo Bowl, is represented, though the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV track “Sewer Surfin’” certainly provides a worthy challenge in the pep department. It almost seems that the more un-metal the original song was, the better Daniel Tidwell can make them sound through his use of power chords and crazy lead scales. I say ALMOST, because I haven’t even touched on one of the best parts of the album: the actual Metal songs.
Starting with the very second track, a very spirited tribute to the grandaddy of perverted, crass, and completely awesome one-line-spewing gun-happy anti-heroes, Duke Nukem, Tidwell really shows his roots with his re-interpretations, and he even included voice clips from the game to give it a nice level of authenticity, which makes for a very satisfactory tribute. He also tears the roof off the Iku Mizutani co-penned classic “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” game on the Super Nintendo (I have always loved that song), and the incredible afore-linked-to cover of Final Fantasy Mystic Quest’s Boss Battle Theme.
All in all, Versus Video Games 2 is a must-have for VGM enthusiasts, Metal enthusiasts, or just music fans with a curiosity for these kinds of things. The album is thorough, cohesive, and most of all, a lot of fun. It’s to be hoped that Tidwell will continue cranking out those cheesy green-screen videos, and in fact he just started a regular video chat channel (he’s just so cute), so make sure you check out both his channels on the ol’ Youtube.
Oh, also make sure to buy his album(s), you fool!
And now, live via Facebook messaging, an exclusive (?) interview with The Man Himself and your own Chris “ADJ” Taylor!
Chris Taylor: Daniel Tidwell, internet metal god legend, thank you for joining this humble blogger for an interview. My first question: As anyone just getting into your music will no doubt notice, you operate as essentially a one-man band, how has the experience of being a one-man force been so far? Any plans to pursue a Daniel Tidwell Band?
Daniel Tidwell: The pleasure is mine man, it’s cool to be a part of your blog! I’ve also seen what you’re capable of doing to a bass guitar and you’re far from a slouch in that department, my humble friend. The one man band thing sort of just happened after getting sick of having to rely on and deal with others to get anything done. If you are lucky enough to get a group of people together that get along and work well together then it’s undoubtedly a great thing. While I do enjoy having complete control on projects it’s sometimes hard to get perspective when you’re responsible for every aspect of what’s going on. The DT live band concept is definitely not far-fetched and I’ve been considering making it happen for awhile now. Also I am working with a live band now on an entirely separate original metal project.
CT: From what I can tell, both of your “Versus Video Games” albums feature a very broad range of different games from different eras represented. Is there a set criteria for the music you choose to cover?
DT: Not at all. The only criteria is basically it has to inspire me, of course. But I don’t exclude songs from games that I may have never played or even heard of before. There’s a greater nostalgia attached to games I grew up with but many of the songs are thanks to requests in which I heard and fell in love with the tunes on their own.
CT: Your Youtube channel, which boasts over 40,000 subscribers and a total of over 10,000,000 views, seems to be a hub not only for your unique “green screen” music videos, but also videos specifically made to interact with your fans, which you do on a regular basis. How has the experience with Youtube been?
DT: I don’t think it would be hyperbole in the least to say that YouTube changed my life. About 5 and a half years ago now I posted a video of me playing my version of the battle theme from Final Fantasy VII. I didn’t think too much of it at the time, just randomly felt like doing it on a whim. I didn’t even realize it was something that people did or people would care about. Well – long story short that video is what made me realize that I’m far from the only one dorky enough to think that this could be a really cool thing to explore. And exploring the concept has been a huge part of my life ever since. I definitely love the impact websites like YouTube are having on the music industry.
CT: I just mentioned the “green screen” videos, I wanted to ask how that idea came about?
DT: Basically just wanted to make the videos more entertaining and be able to do funky things with backgrounds or relate it to the songs. At the same time, I think there is a certain charm to being able to see my bedroom in the background, hahah. I prefer not reminding the audience that’s where I am though – I’d rather be on the goddamn moon or some shit like that! I’m definitely not much good when it comes to the video editing side but I guess it’s mostly about being able to transport myself and the audience to somewhere other than my bedroom!
CT: Your newest album is “Versus Video Games 2″, the sequel to your debut album, and it features 19 tracks of single songs from various video games and one big ol’ medley of Final Fantasy VII music. Was there a reason (besides it just being awesome) behind going for a full-on medley with FF7, and can we hope that such a thing will happen again?
DT: The main reason behind that track is that, at the risk of seeming like a cliché fan boy, it’s probably my favorite game of all time. And definitely one of my favorite soundtracks from a game as well. Beyond that – a big portion of the people who enjoy my stuff are big fans of the game as well and first found me via the battle theme video. So while I wasn’t pandering that’s also a bonus to know that much of your audience will have a similar connection to it.
CT: Being that you’re a Metal guitarist with a penchant for covering video game tunes, I have to ask, which came first: the Metal or the Video Games?
DT: For me? The video games. I never realized how goddamn metal some of the tunes were until later on after I got into the metal! When I was younger I liked the game tunes but didn’t give them much thought.. After I had played guitar for awhile and started to hear those old game tunes again I heard them in a totally new glorious light.
CT: Going back a bit, you also released a very cool EP of classical tunes turned up to 11 with “Echoes of the Elders”. How did that come about, and are there any plans to expand further on the classical covers?
DT: Kind of just one of those things that I had an idea to do and ran with. I love classical music so it just felt natural to pay tribute to some of the greats in my own way. There are a lot of folks out there who whine about recreations of classics. Y’know the rolling in their grave stuff yada yada. Seems silly because the original composition is still there – nobody is trying to replace it. It’s also worth noting for some people that there are no “original” recordings from Beethoven or Mozart or Pachelbel. There are people playing and recording their compositions the way they were (most likely) intended. And of course I can’t speak for them but even if someone was to “butcher” something I composed in an attempt to recreate it in a new way I would still be happy they thought enough of my work to do so. End rant. Yes I will continue to do classical stuff! Hahah.
CT: What are your favorite video games?
DT: Oh man… I hate the favorite questions but since I love you so I shall rattle some off: Final Fantasy VII, IX, Chrono Trigger. Of course classics like the old NES Mario games, Sonic games from the Genesis, Donkey Kong stuff on the SNES. I loved the old TMNT games too! I know I’m leaving out so many favorites. I hate to even start listing! Oh well – let’s end it with etc. Heh.
CT: Kind of a separate question, but what is your favorite video game song, soundtrack, and/or composer?
Overall I would probably have to go with Nobuo Uematsu for favorite VG composer. I mean there are so many amazing composers that I love but if I had to pick one who had the biggest influence on me it would be him. Again – hate favorite questions! For soundtrack I’d probably go with FFVII or IX. Again so many amazing ones I love so much and it changes with my mood so favorites are hard for me to pick.
CT: What are the future plans of Daniel Tidwell? Anything in the works at the moment? You don’t HAVE to answer in the 3rd person…
DT: Daniel Tidwell likes his chicken spicy. Right now the DT is working on original compositions for a separate project and also some to be released under the DT banner. Some cool live show opportunities have been popping up too which I definitely want to start doing more of it’s just a matter of practicality and figuring out the best way to put on a live DT show.
Again, my thanks go to Daniel Tidwell for the interview and for his fantastic music. If you’d like to follow him on Facebook, he has one of those! While you’re at it, you might consider “Liking” the official Album Du Jour page or maybe even my video game band’s page, where we love to interact with VGM fans on the topics of video games and video game music. Thanks for reading! Rock on!