Grant Kirkhope Interview: What to Expect from Yooka-Laylee
Grant Kirkhope is one of the most popular game composers in the Western games industry. He achieved great recognition at Rare for his scores to the adventure titles Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64, first-person shooters Perfect Dark and GoldenEye 007, and, of course, the life simulations Viva Piñata and Trouble in Paradise. His more recent projects include co-composing Civilization: Beyond Earth, A Hat in Time, Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z and the recently-funded Yooka-Laylee.
In this humorous interview conducted on the first day of E3 2015, Kirkhope talks about the Yooka-Laylee Kickstarter, which had been fully-funded for £2,090,104 (roughly $3,304,590 USD) earlier that day, and what to expect from its nostalgic orchestral soundtrack. He also discusses his partnership with David Wise, his plans to write metal covers, and the hoopla surrounding the removal of his Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64 soundtracks on Bandcamp.
Interview Subject: Grant Kirkhope
Interviewer: Patrick Kulikowski
Editor: Patrick Kulikowski, Chris Greening
Coordination: Patrick Kulikowski, Chris Greening
Patrick: Hi, this is Patrick Kulikowski from Video Game Music Online, and joining me on the first day of E3 is Grant Kirkhope, the one and only. How’s it going?
Grant Kirkhope: The one and only!? I certainly hope so! [laughter]
Patrick: There are clones of you out there! So how’s your E3 going?
Grant Kirkhope: Well, it’s not gone very far. Today I’ve just been doing interviews all day for Yooka-Laylee, so it’s not been a thing yet really.
Patrick: So Yooka-Laylee got funded today, around, what, 3:59pm?
Grant Kirkhope: 4:00pm.
Patrick: How much did it finish with?
Grant Kirkhope: I think it was 2,090,000 quid/pounds? At about 3,220,000 dollars?
Patrick: How does that make you feel?
Grant Kirkhope: I dunno, it’s just a bit bizarre really. I tell you what, in some respects, because I’ve been moaning about it for years, “we should make a game about Banjo-Kazooie all over again” and everyone thought it was bloody nonsense. I kind of feel that maybe I got something right for once? All joking aside, it’s been absolutely incredible, the level of response from people who support this. People put their hands in their pockets to finance this game. There’s nothing better than that. It’s people that really want this game have gone, “I want it so much and prepared to put money up for it.” I’m not really at a loss for words, but I’m at a loss for words. It’s amazing.
Patrick: So were you following the press conferences at all that were going on yesterday?
Grant Kirkhope: A little bit, I watched the Microsoft one, because I was keen to see what Rare were going to do, so I watched that one.
Patrick: I was curious what you thought about the Rare Replay that they revealed?
Grant Kirkhope: I think that’s really cool, and that’s a great idea. I knew about it because when I went to GDC this year, I recorded some interviews for the project. Developer interviews happen throughout the games, so as you play them, people pop on and say stuff, sort of recounting old Rare stories of old when we used to do silly things. I wanted to know what the new game was, so I was keen to see that too.
Patrick: No involvement from you musically with this collection?
Grant Kirkhope: None whatsoever.
Patrick: All the music was done already, so I guess they really didn’t need you. [laughter]
Grant Kirkhope: Robin Beanland is doing the music for the Sea of Thieves game. Sir Robin is a fantastic composer so I am really excited to hear what he does with that.
Patrick: I must say it’s great to actually see a new IP from Rare, it’s been such a long time since something like that happened.
Grant Kirkhope: When we did Dream years ago, we had a little bit of a game to play, but the only cutscene was kind of wandering through a kind of forest, and he walked onto a beach, and it’s exactly like that in Sea of Thieves, Greg Mayles! You one-trick pony! You kept that idea for 20 years and used it! Disgraceful, disgraceful! [laughter]
Patrick: A little bad blood started over there, I’m sorry, jeez! [laughter]
Patrick: You’re co-composing with David Wise on Yooka-Laylee. How do you balance familiarity with newness with that game? From what I’ve heard from some of the samples you’ve released so far, you could compare it to Banjo-Kazooie, with that same kind of style and similar instruments and everything. Are you just trying to hearken back to that? What are some new things you might be trying with the music?
Grant Kirkhope: I think when I wrote that jungle piece… honestly we all thought the Kickstarter would maybe not fund… I know it sounds daft but we thought it wouldn’t…
Patrick: Yeah, crazy! I would never imagine…
Grant Kirkhope: Honestly! We thought “who knows, maybe people might not want it?” I really thought that it might take a couple of weeks to get to the $175,000. So I thought, I wanted to write a tune that compressed all the Banjo-Kazooie-isms into one piece of music. So, that’s why it sounds like that. Even if it’s a new piece of music it does sound like Banjo-Kazooie, right? And that’s what it’s supposed to be. But going forward, I did an instance of that Glacier tune that’s on there. That still sounds like Banjo-Kazooie but not exactly like it. I’d like to think I’m a better composer than I was then. I may not be, but I surely hope I am! I’ll try to put in things I’ve learned in the last 17 years.
Patrick: A nice blend of old and new…
Grant Kirkhope: Yeah, Yooka-Laylee is not a retro game. We’re looking over our shoulder to the older games, but we’re still looking forward to something new. So we want to have the spirit of that thing we all love, but add new things. I’ll try to write music that’s got the spirit of Banjo-Kazooie or the feel of it, or whatever that may happen to be, but also have new things I can do hopefully that’ll be equally as interesting, perhaps. It’s going to be a mishmash of all our stuff, I’m going to try to put it all together, and try to have enough reference to the old stuff but also looking forward to new stuff too.
Patrick: Something I personally really loved in the first two Banjo games was how the feeling of the track changed depending on what you were doing, whether you were underwater, swimming, that sort of thing. Is that something you’re looking to implement in Yooka-Laylee?
Grant Kirkhope: Definitely! I don’t think you can do a game like this without doing that. We’re going to do it. The channel-phase stuff will be there. I guess we’ve got to get to the “nuts and bolts” of it…that’s a pretty bad phrase, I suppose.
Patrick: Hahaha, I see what you did there.
Grant Kirkhope: We need to get into the code-y part of it to make sure it all works and stuff. I have to know the games in Unity that work with it so that I know it does work. It’s all about that technical thing where at some point, a programmer at Playtonic will be tasked with dealing with me moaning at him night and day, “why isn’t it working, Jens [Restemeier], I’m looking at you!” Or maybe Chris [Sutherland], I don’t know. So yeah, we’re going to do that.
Patrick: You’re employing an orchestra for this soundtrack. How much of the orchestra is involved in the soundtrack? How many tracks are going to actually have an orchestra? Most of it?
Grant Kirkhope: I don’t know that, really, because we’ve only done that one level tune and that glacier tune so far. But I would imagine that most of it would be done by orchestra. You know, some people say they would like it to sound like the old game. I do say it’s not a retro game, it isn’t supposed to sound like that. I always think games like Super Mario Galaxy sound fantastic and that changed because they got live orchestra in there. I think sometimes people think it’s going to sound like something it isn’t going to sound like. Nuts n’ Bolts was live orchestra but it still sounded like Banjo-Kazooie music.
Patrick: It used the same melodies, same tunes.
Grant Kirkhope: Also, when I did Banjo-Kazooie originally, the sample set that I used was clarinets, bassoons, flutes and violins. I used orchestral samples, they just sounded crap because of bad quality, right? [laughter]
Patrick: It’s crap that we got really attached to.
Grant Kirkhope: I know! All I can say is, people that might be slightly doubting it: believe me, it really is going to sound great. There’s nothing to worry about, honestly.
Patrick: You have in the past worked with orchestras so what’s that process like? What are some of the challenges you have to face?
Grant Kirkhope: I mean I really like working with orchestra. I think because I was classically trained as a kid… I spent a lot of years sat in orchestras, playing trumpet you know? So I know what it sounds like, I don’t find it too difficult really. Writing good tunes is hard, and I try my best, but I’m used to how an orchestra sounds so I know how it works. I just think it’s a really rewarding experience that is really fantastic to do.
Patrick: Who are you going to work with in this regard?
Grant Kirkhope: We’re going to hire an orchestrator, probably Nic Raine, because he’s done a lot of stuff for us. And we’ll probably go to Prague with James Fitzpatrick and the City of Prague Philharmonic. I’ve had a great experience with those guys on Kingdoms of Amalur, so I think we’ll do that. It’s a great thing to do. I will create a “MIDI mockup,” so it’ll sound like the Jungle tune that’s all orchestral things, apart from the drums. Bassoons and flutes and things like that, so I’ll mock it up like that, and then I’ll send an MP3 and a MIDI file to the orchestratation guy who will then turn that into parts for the orchestra and that’s how it’s going to work.
Patrick: When do you think you’re going to get into that process, finally?
Grant Kirkhope: Probably not until next year. We’ll write music as we go along; it’ll keep changing. But the game will have fully-fledged music in it from me, Dave [Wise], and probably some Steve [Burke] as well. It’ll all be fully-functional and working, it’ll just be a case of swapping out the .WAVs of the orchestra with the .WAVs from what we’re doing at home.
Patrick: What’s it like working with David Wise, I’m curious? I mean, you’re pretty legendary yourself, but Dave Wise is so highly regarded for his Donkey Kong Country soundtracks and Battletoads, so what’s it like working along with him for this game?
Grant Kirkhope: Right so you’re saying Dave is better than me? [laughter]
Patrick: Oh no, not at all! I hope that’s not what I was implying here. [laughter]
Grant Kirkhope: No, I love Dave, Dave’s a great guy. Dave and I had a pub rock band towards the end of our days at Rare which was super fun doing that. I was a singer, I sang, would you believe! Dave was doing sax and guitar and everything else.
Patrick: Was that the MainEEaxe band?
Grant Kirkhope: No no no, that was a metal band. We did a pub rock band and we had super fun doing that. We used to call him Diamond Dave at that point. Diamond Dave Wise, that was his name. It’s super fun. That said, it’s probably unlikely that we’ll collaborate on actual tracks. We’ve kind of got bits of the game that we know is right for me and bits that are right for him, so we’ll probably do different bits ourselves and keep it separate. Not for any reason apart from that we know that our styles fit certain things that Dave is great at this bit and I’m great at that bit. So I think that maybe we’ll not collaborate – we might, but probably not. We’ll probably share themes and a lot of stuff like that, but it’s going to be super fun working with Dave, so it’s going to be a good laugh. We’re really looking forward to it.
Patrick: He’s still in England, right? Will you do Skype sessions to get in touch? Mostly e-mail?
Grant Kirkhope: We haven’t done anything like that yet, but I think we will do. It’s just we’re still right at the start, so I don’t even think I know what all the levels are yet, and he doesn’t know either.
Patrick: Still a long way.
Grant Kirkhope: Yeah, so we’ll do a lot of stuff. It’ll be back to the same old piss-taking that’s been going on for years, don’t worry. [laughter]
Patrick: I wanted to shift over to your presence on Bandcamp, because you’ve been a huge proponent in re-releasing your classic soundtracks on there for Name Your Price, so people can snatch it up for free if they wanted to. Were there any hurdles in re-releasing the Donkey Kong 64 soundtrack? I believe you re-released Perfect Dark as well. How difficult is it to make something like that happen with regards to licenses and everything like that?
Grant Kirkhope: “Hurdles” is a very good word. Alright, so what happened was I got a lot of e-mails often from people saying “I would like to have the Banjo-Kazooie soundtrack or the Donkey Kong 64 soundtrack” or whatever, and I kind of got a lot of those over the years. I just kind of got, not sick of it, but I just thought I really just should put it out there so people could get it. And it’s not legal, and I can probably get sued to heaven by Microsoft. That’s why I put it up for zero money, I thought if I put it for zero money, I’m not trying to sell it. I’m just trying to put the music up there for the 50 or so people that might want to get it, right? That’s what I really, really honestly thought in my heart.
Patrick: That’s very true. If you think about it, no publisher really goes after anyone for putting out NSF rips of NES tunes, and things like that, so it’s similar.
Grant Kirkhope: That’s what I thought. But I put the Banjo-Kazooie thing out and it got like 30,000 downloads. It was number one on Bandcamp for a week and I was like, “oh I’m just going to get put in jail at this point, Microsoft is going to be so mad with me.” I did get a little bit of contact from Microsoft, sort of suggesting that it might be a good idea to take it down, and that is the reason I took it down, it’s not there anymore. Microsoft has to be seen to be protecting their copyrights, as that’s the law, and that’s what they did. They didn’t threaten me, they said “look Grant, [chuckles] play ball. You had a good run of it now, take it down.” So that’s what I did, I took it down.
Patrick: At least they were kind of nice about it.
Grant Kirkhope: Yeah, they were very nice about it, there was no animosity at all and I was kind of expecting it at some point. I really genuinely thought I’d get 55 downloads of people who wanted it and I thought that would be it. It went a little bit ballistic and got a little bit out of control.
Patrick: Everyone started writing about it, yeah.
Grant Kirkhope: It was in Game Informer, and I thought, ah Christ, Game Informer writing about it, I’m just going to get jailed! So I left it a little while, but I took it down for that reason. I mean, maybe one day Microsoft might do a release of it, I don’t know. I think they should do it at some point, I think people would like to buy it probably. But that’s why it disappeared.
Patrick: I guess it’s kind of fruitless to ask about the GoldenEye soundtrack then, right?
Grant Kirkhope: The thing about the GoldenEye soundtrack is I would never dare do that at all, because Eon, the people who own Bond are so litigious and Monty Norman is so protective of his things, yeah I probably would be in jail at that point. So, Graeme Norgate and I have often talked about it but we could never ever, ever release it because, we would be in jail forever. [laughter]
Patrick: I suppose fans have already done those game rips and stuff that you can find online.
Grant Kirkhope: Yeah, if you really want it, it’s on YouTube, just go and get it.
Patrick: Right, that too. I wanted to wrap up – I mentioned MainEEaxe, that band. Didn’t their music recently get released on iTunes, or has it already been there?
Grant Kirkhope: Yeah, I think so. I played for two metal bands years ago, one called Syar and MainEEaxe, and we had an album out. So with each of those we did a little bit of touring. Give me a break, I was like 20 or something so you’re allowed to be in a hair metal band, when you’re that old, I think? That’s not against the law, is it?
Patrick: No, not at all!
Grant Kirkhope: Yeah, you know it was really cool that people can buy it. I wrote the songs, so I was still learning. It was cool to do it. For the longest time I wanted to be a metal guitar player in a metal band, that was my dream – to be a composer never entered my head once, ever. And I mean that, ever. Until Robin Beanland said to me, “look Grant, you’ve been unemployed long enough, don’t you think you should try to get a real job?” He was working at Rare at the time, so he said “come on, try doing what I’m doing.” It’s his fault, I blame Robin Beanland for being a composer.
Patrick: Well if you ever want to shred on stage again, MAGFest seems to be the place to go, it’s like a videogame music mecca. Have you attended before?
Grant Kirkhope: Yeah, I lived in Baltimore for four years, because I was with Big Huge Games and Dominic Cerquetti, one of the guys who runs [MAGFest], I did a couple of panels there for two or three years in a row, then I moved to LA so I haven’t been there in a while.
Grant Kirkhope: Actually, I keep talking with Danny Baranowsky and [FamilyJules7x] from YouTube about some kind of metal Meat Boy meets Banjo-Kazooie meets Donkey Kong something or other, and Dave Wise too. Whether we’ll get around to it, I don’t know, but I’ve got this thing about coming on to the Donkey Kong rap. I think it would be great to play it and march onto the DK rap with everyone singing it. That’s my dream in my metal/rock star mind. Perhaps it will happen that way, I might get booed off stage, but that’s my kind of dream. One day, one day!
Patrick: I hope that happens, because that sounds marvelous. How about a “GK rap” instead, Grant Kirkhope rap?
Grant Kirkhope: I am supposed to do the “GK rap” for Yooka-Laylee because one of the Kickstarter goals was “if you raise this much cash, Grant will do another GK rap.” And I was like, for Christ’s sake, they never asked me about it, they just put it on the Kickstarter and I’ve got to do it now.
Patrick: What would the chorus be like for that?
Grant Kirkhope: Oh, Christ knows!
Patrick: I have an idea of it, I’m going to make an ass of myself.
Grant Kirkhope: Well, tell me!
Patrick: [rapping] G-K! Grant Kirk-hope! G-K! Grant Kirk-hope-is-here!
Grant Kirkhope: I have to say that my rapping is so bad. That is probably way better than what I can probably manage anyway.
Patrick: Do you want me on for that?
Grant Kirkhope: Yeah, I think you’ll have to come over to do it for me.
Patrick: That would be pretty swell.
Grant Kirkhope: I’m just thinking, what am I going to do for that? I haven’t got a clue. I’ve actually said to Danny Baranowsky, because Danny is a great friend, and he’s way better at things like that than I am, so I might get a little help from him to kind of point me in the direction of credible rap music ‘cause I’m pretty shit at it. But the plan is to try to get all the Playtonic guys to contribute to the rap. And Chris Sutherland was the original rapper on the DK rap, so he came to do that again. And hopefully the less involvement that I have with it the better. [laughter] I shall do my best but hopefully it’ll be as bad as the last one, let’s put it that way.
Patrick: Finally, to end, any ukulele action going on outside E3? I know Playtonic was kind of goading you into doing that.
Grant Kirkhope: Again, that was something they did without asking me. “Wouldn’t it be a great idea to get Grant to play the ukulele?” and I was like oh, for God’s sake! So, I do have the ukulele in the car but it’s probably gotten all warped because of the heat right now. I don’t know, I may be talked into it, I’m still thinking about it. I’m hoping to get out of it, really!
Patrick: Fingers crossed we’ll see some YouTube videos of that in the coming days. Any final messages to the fans?
Grant Kirkhope: Honestly, from the bottom of my heart, and I really mean it. I know I joke around a little bit, but it’s so special that these people have put their hands in their pockets for this game. If I talk about it long enough I might cry about it, it upsets me that much, in a good way. So seriously, it’s really, really, really mega and we’re going to do our absolute best to make a game you’ve been waiting for, for the last 17 years and we’re really going to work our balls off, we really are. It’s going to be a labour of love and we’ll do our best for you, it’s all I can say.
Patrick: Awesome to hear. Grant, thanks so much for being here. Thanks so much for taking the time, and thank you so much for the music over the years, it’s a real pleasure.
Grant Kirkhope: [singing] Thank you for the music! [laughter] Thank you for wanting to talk to me, I know I’m a hard person to talk to. Peace!
Posted on June 24, 2015 by Patrick Kulikowski. Last modified on June 25, 2015.