Interview With Michael Mollo (Composer Of Strider HD)

We had a chat with composer Michael Mollo about his latest protect Strider HD for PSN and XBL. We talk about his beginnings and challenges of composing. Can you tell us the moment that you fell in love with music and what inspired you to choose this profession?

Michael Mollo: I've had music in my life for as long as I can remember. There was an old piano in my house growing up and my grandmother sang shows tunes for most of day while she looked after me. She would also take me with her to church on Sunday to sit up in the balcony with the choir and try to follow along in the hymnal. The Catholicism never took but the music sure did. My whole life, my dad played the guitar as well. We were always listening to the Beatles, Paul Simon and The Allman Brothers etc. It was just natural that music was a part of our everyday lives. When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a rock star, like serious Jimi Hendrix style. After high school I also knew I wanted to go to college. The natural step was to become a music major and that led me to discover music composition. I also remember the day when my music theory professor gave me a D on my Beethoven assignment because it sounded too much like Danny Elfman. That was probably the day I decided to pursue music for films and games. Is there any other genre of music that you would like to try?
Michael Mollo: I consider myself a student of sound. There isn’t much music that I don’t like or at least respect. When I take on a project I try to make sure I can explore some new avenue of music that I have yet to try. That way I can always bring a fresh perspective. I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to work on a number of really cool films. For ‘How To Train Your Dragon’ we recorded 15 bagpipes and a bunch of penny whistles at Sony. For ‘Rio’ we brought in 12 Brazilian percussionists to FOX for some authentic samba school grooves. I love exploring new music. I have a thriller film project coming up and the filmmakers are really into Philip Glass, so I’m really excited about that right now. So yes I’m always excited about trying new things."Strider HD" is your latest video game soundtrack. Can you tell us on how you came abroad to work on this project?

Michael Mollo: My involvement began in November 2012 when I was working on the film ‘Star Trek: Into Darkness.’ I was doing some synth programming and arranging with composer Michael Giacchino at the time. Michael had worked with the Head of Studio for Double Helix, Patrick Gilmore on the ‘Medal of Honor’ series and when Patrick reached out to him for some help, he forwarded Patrick to me. I went down to Orange County and met the team and then spent a few weeks demoing some new materials for the game. The guys at Double Helix really had a passion for Strider and I was glad to get to work with them on this game. What is the difference between working on a video game soundtrack that has had a previous soundtrack oppose to composing an original work for a video game?

Michael Mollo: Strider is my first game soundtrack so I can’t really comment but I’ve worked on enough projects without previous material to say that the inspiration always comes from the source material and the team you are working with. Film directors like design directors at a game studio are generally very invested in the sound for their projects. They often listen to music throughout their own creative process so when I’m brought on to a project, there is already a good deal of information to start with. It is their input which gives the general direction so whether I’m starting with source material or not, the project always dictates the music. That is exciting because inevitably every project throws different curve balls and I am constantly discovering new ways to solve musical problems. Since ‘Strider’ had a previous soundtrack did you get much freedom on how you wanted to do the soundtrack?

Michael Mollo: Double Helix really wanted the music to be true to its roots. Every aspect of their development was targeted towards hardcore Strider fans. It was really important that we embrace the nostalgia of the previous games. That said, we also wanted to add to the experience and bring ‘Strider’ into the 21st century. A lot of early game music was a precursor to the electronic genres of today so I knew the score was going to be heavily electronics and synth based. We also knew that the game had to be incredibly fast paced, and the music would be key to helping mold the gameplay experience. But even with all of those parameters, I still felt very free to explore the music for this game from a fresh perspective. What were some of the challenges of working on this project?
Michael Mollo:The biggest challenge for me was how to create something new and fresh while still paying homage to the original material. I spent a good deal of time digging thru the back catalog of ‘Strider’ materials and also listening to some of the other chip tune and early game composers. I felt it was important to really synthesize how these composers were creating their tunes and adapt that process to the new ’Strider’ material. Taking all of that info and applying it to modern arrangements was a challenge because i never wanted to stray very far from the original tracks. But I spent a good deal of time crafting and creating new synth sounds that were retro but also modern. Therein was probably the biggest challenge. Did you feel any pressure composing for the remastered ‘Strider HD’?

Michael Mollo: I played ‘Strider’ on NES as a kid so I knew some the tunes already. When I first started on the game, I was very excited, but also a little nervous. ‘Strider’ has a great heritage of music and I knew that if I was going to contribute to the legacy, the music really had to fit with the existing materials. The original composer Junko Tamiya composed some great melodies atop some whacked out harmonies. Its such a great combo. I really wanted the new material I was writing to blend in with the complexity she created. So yes there was a ton of pressure, most of it self imposed. But the guys at Double Helix gave great feedback a long the way and together I think we really created something both unique and reverent at the same time. As a videogame composer do you play any videogames yourself? If so what are you currently playing?
Michael Mollo: I played a lot as a kid on NES and SNES. I also dumped a good deal of my allowance into the arcades each week. My gaming dropped off when I got into music for a long time but I’ve come back to it every now and again. I’m not much of a strategy or FPS guy but every once in a while a game comes along that gets me interested. A year or two ago I got into ‘Thomas Was Alone.’ I thought David Housden’s soundtrack was really compelling and I just played a couple of really cool Indie games while at GDC this year, so I look forward to those coming out soon. I also enjoy anything I can play on the PS4 with my little girls.