Peat Rains & Michael Zucker Interview: This Place is Haunted
Peat Rains is the bassist and frontman of videogame music cover band This Place is Haunted and “pre-historic post-rock” band You Bred Raptors? Together with TPIH guitarist/chiptune artist Michael Zucker and their ever-changing band roster, they have covered classic videogame music spanning Castlevania, Marble Madness and even far more obscure tunes like the FM Towns Marty BIOS music. They are also known to dabble in TV show music, covering everything from Full House to Games of Thrones.
In this candid interview conducted in their hotel room at MAGFest 13, Peat Rains and Michael Zucker sat down to talk about the history of This Place is Haunted and Rains’ newer gig, You Bred Raptors? Together with their hotel mates, they shared all sorts of humorous anecdotes about their origins, thoughts on the state of videogame music cover bands and what the future holds for their bands.
Interview Subjects: Peat Rains, Michael Zucker
Interviewer: Patrick Kulikowski
Editor: Patrick Kulikowski, Chris Greening
Coordination: Patrick Kulikowski, Peat Rains
Patrick: Thanks Peat, and Mike for taking the time to do this interview. How did This Place is Haunted come about, and what made you decide to organize a band around making videogame music and pop culture covers?
Peat Rains: Well, we lived in Penn State College, before the scandal hit. There was only cover music and party music going on, and they wouldn’t allow original bands to play, so we just started playing videogame music so we could play covers and we did half videogame stuff and half original stuff. That way, we could actually play better venues, because the only venue that would allow us there was a head shop, that sold bongs.
Patrick: And they were only cool with covers?
Peat Rains: No, no, that was the only place that would let you play original music, but we wanted to play at better venues.
Michael Zucker: Bars and stuff, yeah.
Peat Rains: We still had the “Axis of Evil,” there was like five cover bands that just always played the same stuff. [to his friend] Luke, do you remember the name of any of those cover bands?
Luke: One was Velveeta.
Peat Rains: Velveeta, yeah. Giant of Science, or something? I would go on those archaic 2004 forums and I would talk crap about the cover bands just because we weren’t playing in the same venues, and then they would get upset. And then I stopped going on forums, that was the last time I ever went on a forum.
But then the band put out original music and we put out videogame music, and then we started playing stuff like MAGFest, and we just kind of went from there, we just found that that was a little more of our niche.
Patrick: When was your first MAGFest show?
Peat Rains: Well the first MAGFest show was actually our first show, ever. Well, we pulled one in the apartment, and I contacted Brendan [Becker] and I said “Here’s a list of all the game songs we do,” and we didn’t do any of those, these were just all the games I always liked. And they had a band drop off the bill, which is The OneUps, because I guess they wanted too much money or something. They wanted to play two hours, and Brendan is like “I can give you like, 30 minutes” and I went “we’ll take it.” So MAGFest 4 was our first show, early 2006, our very first, real show.
We played one time in our apartment – we played a 20 minute set twice, the same songs. And then we just basically learned those songs that I said we were going to learn for the next two months. It was just supposed to be a summer project in 2005. We were supposed to put out an EP just for fun. We weren’t supposed to play any songs, we were just a three-piece then. And Mike’s like, “If you learn ‘The Vampire,’ I’ll learn ‘The Plumber.'” So he learned Mario 2 and I learned Castlevania. The original music was going well, but it just wasn’t as receptive when we kept playing all these conventions, like MAGFest, Otakon and Bit Genocide.
Michael Zucker: Usually, [for] a set at MAGFest we would play at least one original.
Peat Rains: There was one MAGFest where we played three, and I think we were pushing the boundaries at that point. But that was when we only had three people. We’ve gone through 19 different people in this band.
Michael Zucker: A lot of people often told me they liked that, because especially back then, pretty much everybody was kind of just straight covers. We usually at least play one original.
Peat Rains: Yeah, the originals kind of sounded videogame-y, without being chiptune. We didn’t have a keyboard in the band so it was just rock. And we saw more and more people were getting into synth stuff, and the rock stuff was kind of dying. The Minibosses stopped coming, and they’ve stopped booking bands like The Advantage, and there’s more bands like Powerglove which play a lot to backing tracks and just soloing over everything. It wasn’t straight, rock covers anymore. You have Armcannon, but they’re very progressive and very orchestrated. We kind of fell into the cracks, I think. People either really loved us or hated us. We played TV and film stuff as well, and commercials.
Patrick: So you’re celebrating your tenth anniversary at this point?
Peat Rains: I mean, “celebrating” is a loose term, but yeah. We’re “observing” our tenth anniversary. [laughter] We got benched this year. We were here last year, You Bred Raptors? played MAGFest 8.5 so we weren’t allowed to play 13. I’m almost glad This Place is Haunted didn’t play this year, and Rex [Anderson, This Place is Haunted guitarist] can attest to this, we threw him in the band one year and we were like, “Hey, here’s two practices with the whole band before we go on stage.”
Michael Zucker: The lineup has changed quite a lot. We’ve been in it, but pretty much other than that, it’s gone from just us and a drummer, to having a keyboardist and another lead guy…
Patrick: Is that mostly because people don’t have the time for it?
Peat Rains: You get to age 30, and people are like, “why the hell am I playing videogame music?” It’s happened with people in our own band. They get divorced, or they’re pushing out a kid, or they’re just in too many bands. People around our age, they just have other stuff going on in their life.
Patrick: To that, I would say: “why the hell not cover videogame music?”
Peat Rains: Mike and I were talking about this. What we’re seeing now – concerts don’t mean as much as they used to, and straight videogame covers aren’t cutting it. There’s a reason that The Protomen had the most people. I talked to one of the event organizers, they said it was probably more than Earthbound Papas got.
Michael Zucker: It was ridiculous, last night.
Patrick: Yeah, it was a huge crowd.
Peat Rains: I mean, they only played 80s covers but I imagine they’re gonna get just as many people for their original night on Sunday. It’s just evolving.
Michael Zucker: I think it’s more than just The Protomen though. People like MAGprom. Girls like it, and everybody likes it and they all get dressed up and they want to dance. But yeah, I was there for all the concerts and there must have been like five times the people for that prom than it was for any of the main stage concerts.
Peat Rains: All the supporting acts are now on Sunday, ’cause I think they know the big nights are gonna be on Friday and Saturday, still, because of work schedules. I would love to do something this year for This Place is Haunted. We heard Rare Candy last night play Chrono Trigger and Mike and I just looked at each other like, “damn!” We were supposed to put out a triple album of Chrono Trigger and we had like, 50 of 80 minutes written. It was supposed to be our Mr. Holland’s Opus and things just kind of dismantled before we could – we had scratch tracks written – we just couldn’t get into the studio.
We made one last attempt last year. We were going to play a MAGFest-themed event in Baltimore, and then one of our guys was in Burning Man, and the other guy had some family guy thing going on. I can’t force people to write 80 minutes of material, I can’t do it myself either! I’ve never even played Chrono Trigger! That’s the truth.
Michael Zucker: Sad, man. [laughter]
Peat Rains: I just want to have a fun time. If we get all of our old members that we’re still talking to…that’s one of my favorite memories of this as a band, when we got 13 guitarists to play Castlevania. Rex arranged all of that. He was just like a guest guy in the band, he put up 13 guitarists on stage. I think that’s what we are known for – just doing fun, silly stuff on stage that would make us memorable. We weren’t the tightest, we didn’t stick as closely to the original soundtrack…
Patrick: But you had fun.
Peat Rains: Yeah, that’s what I always hope for, because we don’t take ourselves seriously at all. These new bands just…very serious.
Patrick: They understand some of the “cheese,” I think.
Peat Rains: I hope so! You’re not going to evolve in the scene or adapt if you can’t take a joke. Especially getting older…I’m 32 now. This better be a joke! [laughter]
Patrick: There’s nothing wrong with covering videogame music at 32!
Peat Rains: There’s something wrong with it!
Patrick: I don’t think so.
Michael Zucker: That’s probably the perfect age.
Peat Rains: I love videogame music, it’s just y’know. There’s bands like Powerglove who have made it officially a living. It’s just so few and far in-between, you have to be able to do other stuff between music, you know?
Patrick: That’s very true, yeah.
Peat’s Friend: Even with them, they have off-months. They have to be doing something else too. Chris [of Powerglove] went to go make videogames now.
Peat Rains: Oh, is that what he is leaving for? What a nerdy paradox to get yourself into – quit my videogame band so I can make videogame music?
Patrick: So I wanted to ask you guys, with regards to This Place is Haunted – how did the song selection process work for the band? Do you primarily just cover your favorite game soundtracks? Did you ever take requests from people?
Peat Rains: I remember getting requests but it was always from people who knew we played obscure stuff. Like “Play Bonk’s Adventure for Neo Geo!” [Editor’s Note: Bonk’s Adventure was originally on Turbografx-16].
Michael Zucker: I listen to it, when people said “Oh you gotta cover this!” And I’d listen to it, and if I didn’t like it, then “yeah, no.”
Peat Rains: I didn’t play like 95% of the games physically. I remember Fire Shark [for Sega Genesis/Megadrive], we chose that one just because it sounded like Iron Maiden. But FM Towns Marty, that old Japanese system – only Mike knows about it!
Michael Zucker: Yeah, I know all this ridiculous crap. So some things, like the FM Towns Marty BIOS.
Peat Rains: There’s not even a game in it! It’s just the opening music of the actual system.
Michael Zucker: We did the Sega CD BIOS, a lot of people liked that. And just me nerding out: “this would be effing ridiculous!”
Patrick: I love the Sega CD BIOS.
Peat Rains: We wanted to up the nerd ante by doing TV and film stuff so…
Peat Rains: Yeah. Mike had written out an entire soap opera – Dallas and Dynasty, that just didn’t make it on the album. Because it’s all this stuff that his mom watched when he was growing up. This niche just for us, growing up.
Patrick: It got stuck in your head.
Peat Rains: I still have a list of This Place is Haunted stuff I want to do. It’s so nerdy. I want to do all the NFL music from all four different networks, ’cause I think it would be badass. There’s people now with Fantasy Football that would love that crap, and nobody else is doing that. Sports are still kind of taboo.
Patrick: I was wondering where the name “This Place is Haunted” came from.
Michael Zucker: It was me, and our drummer at the time, Jeff. We were all drinking, I don’t even know where that name came from!
Peat’s Friend: A door closed in the back, and someone was like, “This place is haunted.” And everyone laughed and they were like, “That’s the new band name! Call Peat up!”
Michael Zucker: After we chose that, and we already played Castlevania, I got that idea to tie it to that, and that first shirt logo that I made…
Peat Rains: On Microsoft Paint!
Michael Zucker: On Microsoft Paint! With the little blocks and whatnot. But I made the Castlevania logo because it made sense if we’re saying “haunted,” to work that in a little bit.
Peat Rains: We never had a back-up name. it was going to be or something, a physics term that Mike thought of.
Patrick: At this point, is This Place is Haunted more of a side project, with You Bred Raptors? being your primary focus? How do you make them both co-exist?
Peat Rains: I think This Place is Haunted has turned into a seasonal gig. Which, I would love to do it more, just because four of the five members are in New York. But like I said, they’re out there doing their own thing. When they’re there, they love it. But getting them to actually do stuff is tough. And it’s fine, it’s because one guy is in three bands and one guy has two kids. And there’s not a lot of money in this scene. I can’t tell a guy “Yo, take off work for three days and come do this convention and get paid $400!” that we have to all split up and not sell any merch.
It’s funny, my original project kind of funds the side project at this point. I mean, I still see Mike, I still see Rex, I still see all these guys who have been involved in the project. I still want to do it, and I’ll still throw money at it. I’d rather keep it going, especially now that it’s so, with the decathlon here, this ten-year anniversary. It probably means more to me than it should, but it does. They exist pretty easily. I’ve done two shows – Raptors? and Haunted have been on the same bill. It’s exhausting, but…
Patrick: I mean, there are plenty of other videogame music cover bands that didn’t make it to ten-year anniversaries.
Peat Rains: I mean, we’ve never broken up. We just had long hiatuses between shows. We’ve definitely had people quit and say they’re never gonna be in the band again, and then, it’s like George on Seinfeld, like they’ll come back to the next practice like nothing happened.
Patrick: I wanted to shift gears to You Bred Raptors? I am also very curious about how that name came about.
Peat Rains: I stole that name. From Jurassic Park.
Patrick: Ah, ok.
Peat Rains: How do you not know that!? You only know about videogames? I saw like five people in Jurassic Park shirts! [laughter]
Patrick: Jurassic Park was the first movie I saw in theaters, but I guess that quote escaped me.
Peat Rains: I’m at the point now, ’cause I’m trying to contact somebody at Universal because the fourth one’s coming out. I’m trying to let them know that “Hey, I’m in a band that’s been kind of, praising your work for the past five years.” But I don’t want a cease-and-desist letter at the same time. There’s a band called “They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?” That’s a movie title. We’re not making a lot of profit off it, I just hope we don’t get sued. But I’m actually trying to contact people who are involved in the making of Jurassic Park, just if we get on some ancillary event. Each of our names are character names from Jurassic Park. But I think, when pressed, “Grant” could be a verb, “Hammond” can be the name of an organ. If we had a slick lawyer…
Patrick: So the album “Grant” is a direct reference to Jurassic Park?
Peat Rains: It was going to be “Grant/Sattler,” we were going to do a double-disc. “Sattler” was going to be the feminine, orchestral work and “Grant” was going to be the more masculine, kind of, pop structure. But it’s not 1992, nobody gives a damn about concept albums anymore. We play in the subway, so we can’t be selling double-disc albums. You got to sell one album for ten bucks.
Patrick: How often do you guys go busking in New York City?
Peat Rains: Once or twice a week.
Patrick: How do bystanders react to your music?
Peat Rains: I mean, all different ways. We play to upwards, 50-60,000 people a night. I mean, they’re not going to all stop for us, but a lot will. So we hit all demographics. Some people walk by with fingers in their ears, like comically, cartoonishly trying to block out the sound. I hate that, just because you’re exerting more effort trying to stop music from hitting you than just walking by. Most people wear earbuds now…
Patrick: Right, blocking out all external sounds…
Peat Rains: If you can get somebody to take their earbuds out and pause their music to listen to you, that’s a big feat in New York. People are just, blinders on and just go. Some people stay all three hours. Some people buy stuff before we even set up, because [they] just wanna hear more music. Those people are out there. We use busking basically to push our venue numbers up, because New York is really political with their venue booking.
Patrick: Have you ever encountered trouble from the police regarding your performances?
Peat Rains: Yes, we’ve gotten shut down. We don’t play Times Square anymore because of that. We got booked for Times Square on New Year’s Eve and we were like “forget that,” because they shut everything down at noon. Some assholes just stay there for 12 hours waiting for that stupid ball to drop. There’s bomb-sniffing dogs everywhere, so you can’t bring any packages around Times Square. But Times Square, you get so many complaints. They shut you down pretty quickly. The station personnel complain, they don’t like where you’re playing and the acoustics are just very loud and echoey. But, our permit says that we can sell CDs and we can be loud. And it says we can wear masks.
Patrick: I was going to mention the masks. Is that just to hide your identities?
Peat Rains: You’ve got a second and a half to capture somebody’s attention. If they do look up from what they’re doing, they can look up to see you just for a second. Then they’ll be like, “what is this?” There’s a lot of dancers that wear masks down there, so you have to kind of have something else other than [that]. We’re not really good at breakdancing. We’re working on it. I mean, it’s a theatrical thing. We don’t have lyrics, so we don’t want to be those sad guys on stage.
Patrick: Why is it instrumental? Is there any specific reason for that?
Peat Rains: I love listening to bands with vocals when they can do it well, I just think the music is more orchestral. I’d rather not pigeonhole a song out of one meeting. If we found a lyricist that was really good. I just cringe a lot of times when I actually start reading lyrics.
Patrick: You’d be surprised how much cheesiness there is.
Peat Rains: There’s a lot of people in the subway that go, “hey I noticed you don’t have a singer. Do you mind if I rap really poorly over all your music?” And the answer is always “no” because it drives the crowd away most of the time. Unless you have that weird, viral sensation hit, where it works. But it usually doesn’t. It snaps people out of that reality, when something bad or different is going on. It could go really well but it never does. And then they ask for the tip money afterwards. The breakdancers do that. Now we just shut it down, when somebody starts dancing, we just kind of stop. If it’s “okay” dancing, we’ll let it go on.
But some people do interpretive dance, and they think they’re good, and they’re not. All of a sudden we’re a jukebox to some joke. And then nobody takes it seriously. They get right in front of us and nobody wants to stand next to the dancing guy with the scarf. You know they’re not going to give you money.
Patrick: You guys have an interesting meld of genres, thanks to the guitar effects, use of the cello, the eight-string bass…
Peat Rains: There’s no guitar, just bass. [Editor’s Note: Peat Rains is able to replicate guitar sounds using finger tapping on his eight-string bass.]
Patrick: I see. What would you consider some of the primary influences for You Bred Raptors?
Peat Rains: I grew up with Celtic music. Bryan [Wilson, You Bred Raptors? cellist] went to conservatory, so he has classical. Bryan’s weird, he only listens to Enya, and really crappy pop music. He’s like, “I dunno what it is, man!” He puts on Michelle Branch when we get in the car. It’s not a joke, it sucks. It’s terrible. Patrick [Bradley, You Bred Raptors? drummer] is like, hip-hop and jazz-trained on drums. Patrick’s kind of brought new life in the band. Mike mixed the whole album, you could probably ask him.
I like to hear Primus in our music and a little progressive stuff but, I’m not really good at crazy weird time signatures or anything. I don’t think I’m that good of a prog player. I’m mostly influenced by movie scores. We’ve covered the Jurassic Park theme at the Jurassic Park birthday show. We waited until everyone was really drunk, and we played it last. There’s no way that two instruments, like bass and cello, can mimic an 80-piece orchestra.
Patrick: Is there any specific “genre” you would consider?
Peat Rains: We call it “prehistoric post-rock.” It’s kind of like a play on words. It is post-rock, but it’s not the sad, Mogwai, slowass song post-rock. It gets heavy. We’re writing more poppy and focused lately, but I don’t think it’s boring.
Patrick: After “Grant,” what does the future hold for in terms of album releases?
Peat Rains: Well, this year is important for us because we’re doubling down on the album. It’s been out a couple months, and it’s done really well, so we’re doing video now. If it doesn’t work in the next year or so in New York, then we’re probably going to take the music elsewhere, to a different city, because we can’t survive much longer in New York. We love busking, but people are giving less and less. The times are tough, but people just don’t care about art as much in New York.
Patrick: Any particular cities in mind?
Peat Rains: Baltimore and Philly, New Orleans, Chicago. Just really musically-rich places. Bryan, my writing partner’s down, he wants to move. I’ve been in New York…it’ll be like eight years soon. It’d be tough to leave, but I gotta make the decision if it’s whatever’s best for my music. We’re running out of Jurassic Park names, so we gotta figure something out.
Patrick: Maybe the new movie will give you some ideas.
Peat Rains: “Chris Pratt” will be the name of our newest album. [laughter]
Patrick: Perfect. Anything else you wanted to add?
Peat Rains: I think this summer, we’re going to try This Place is Haunted’s ten-year, thing. I haven’t broached it with any of the guys.
Michael Zucker: First time I heard of that! [laughter]
Peat Rains: I want to do something. I’m trying to keep it as realistic as possible. Maybe in Baltimore, just because that’s where we’ve had the most luck. We’ve only played a handful of really good shows in New York, and that’s sad because I’ve been in New York longer than I haven’t been.
Patrick: Given the amount of people there, too.
Peat Rains: This area is where the videogame thing came about. I would like to play some of our old, original stuff that we don’t play. It’s a big undertaking. I’d like to do that. And You Bred Raptors?, we have some contacts over in Europe that we’re trying to get to. We have a friend in Berlin who said he could get us like four or five shows for real because we live there. This year, we’re going to be gambling a lot with the band. We’re not playing it safe this year.
Patrick: It seems that Europe is a bit more accepting of the avant-garde stuff, that could be a good direction.
Peat Rains: I’d like to go to NAMM this summer, I think I might be getting sent there from my string or my bass company. I just want to be taken more seriously as a composer, and not just the guy with too many strings on his bass.
Patrick: Alright Peat, thank you very much.
Peat Rains: Yes, thank you.
Posted on March 11, 2015 by Patrick Kulikowski. Last modified on March 12, 2015.