After a short break, I am back and looking to take care of some long overdue business. Celeste, as many of you know, is a successful indie game noted for its exceptional soundtrack.
While Celeste remains of my “to play” list (and I will be using my Nintendo Switch to remedy this situation soon), I did get a chance to peruse the Bandcamp and compile a list of my top three songs from the game’s original soundtrack.
I’m going to have to admit that the title of this track instantly connected with me, which probably skewed the results in this track’s favor. That being said, the track is not without its merits. Anxiety comes and goes like a single wave, with a disorienting and oppressive rhythm that elevates in volume then falls off in a way that reminds me a little too much of my own experiences. It’s a perfect little burst of uneasiness packaged in just under two minutes of song.
If the above track did a good job encapsulating the dizzying high of a wave of anxiety, the piano-driven Exhale reminded me of the gentle calm and euphoria that sets in after it ends. While the two tracks aren’t neighbors on the soundtrack list, both stand out to me as different moments in the same experience.
#1 First Steps
Instantly catchy and reminiscent of the whimsical old school themes of my childhood, this track was an immediate download onto my phone. If you need any one song to draw you in, I’d recommend First Steps. If you can stretch your listening sessions out to two songs, I suggest pairing it with the preceding track, aptly titled Introduction, which climbs from a sober tune to a burst of energy that flows well into this song.
I want to do a dive into Celeste as a whole once I’ve had some time to give it the attention it deserves, but for now, I hope this list serves as a useful set of recommendations, and as a warm welcome back aboard Grog Boat.
It didn’t take me too long to stumble across this little gem on Bandcamp.
This dizzying little electronic romp (with an exceptionally long title) is the opening track to the album “Mir” by artist Ott. As I continue to branch out my musical taste, I’ve made sure to bookmark this artist for deeper exploration.
I often find the dialogue placed into songs to be somewhat jarring (though, admittedly, most culprits are on the lofi playlists I have in the background) but this song seems to pull it off without being too invasive, and it even sets me in the mood for the rest of the song.
It’s often easy to be cynical about music videos, which oftentimes inane or indulgent, but it’s projects like “Fly for your Life” that validate the marriage of the two mediums. I’ll have to find another example of this combination done right for a future Song of the Week.
For now, you’ll have to settle for the audio side.
This Monday’s song brings to us Irish-inspired folk music from Australia (confused yet?) “The Miners Way” provides a trudging, oppressive rhythm as it describes a dismal life of poverty and hardship working in a mine.
Australian folk duet Gone Molly nail the vocals on this one, offering an atmospheric tune.
If you’ve perused the Grog Boat archive, you will already have a sense of my anticipation for the February 8 launch date of Bootdisk Revolution’s “Bleed 2”. The subject of a positive review and a follow-up interview with creator Ian Campbell, the next adventure of purple-haired protagonist (Wryn) will be the subject of a forthcoming review.
With a division of labour in its development cycle (a soundtrack by Jukio Kallio and sound design by Joonas Turner) Bleed 2 shows promise as an all-around step up from its predecessor. While the more sophisticated audio is a welcome addition, this game’s arcade style necessitates that it boast tight gameplay and controls. From what I’ve seen in gameplay demo, the more integrated sword mechanics merge seamlessly with the existing control scheme.
Ultimately, I’ll have to wait about another week to see how the sequel stacks up to the original, and how much of a step forward it is. In the meantime, I managed to fire a few questions Ian’s way, for your enjoyment.
With the handing off of the soundtrack to Jukio Kallio, will we see the soundtrack of Bleed take a significantly different turn, or will this be a polishing of the original’s style?
Jukio and I shared the exact same vision of how the game should sound, which was very close to what I was trying to accomplish with the original — so it does come from the same place. But his creativity and mastery elevate the music about a thousand steps up… it’s definitely its own (better) thing too!
For fans of the first Bleed looking to climb the leader boards, to what gameplay changes will they be adapting?
Most obvious is the reflect as a core mechanic — maximizing damage from enemy attacks and bullets is a risky way to pull off better times. Also, you can hold as many weapons as you like now, so using them all together can give you a huge advantage if you’re up to the task!
You finished production of the first Bleed with leftover ideas that you would later integrate into Bleed. Are there any ideas that you had to hold back this time around that may appear in future games?
I’ve tried very hard to include every good or fun idea I had for Bleed 2 in the actual game (which is part of why it took so long to make!) The only thing to get cut was a mode that randomly generated levels, because it just wasn’t enjoyable. If I could design it better in the future, who knows!
Am I going to be trapped in a giant apple (trapped in a giant dragon) again?
Spoiler warning!! Sadly, there are no giant apples or dragons featured in Bleed 2. There are other giant structures, like the massive enemy warship, so I hope you’ll look forward to being trapped inside that at some point!
My first encounter with Doll was also the first show I had ever seen in college. Doll was opening for The Creepshow, and lead vocalist/guitarist Christina Kasper’s raw voice ripping through the chorus of “Sally Lost Her Shoelaces” was instantly etched into my memory. Her vocals were accomanied by the exceptional skills of her bandmates Pete Kasper, Nick Richer and Julie Anne Madore. It was there that I bought the only t-shirt whose destruction I was ever saddened by (oh the ravages of college life!) Sadly, I wouldn’t be able to buy their music for another two years.
In 2009, they released their debut album “Inside the Dollhouse”. The album was a testament to their punk/grunge roots, and Christina’s visceral vocals added the perfect edge to track list, from the searing opener “Daddy’s Little Girl“, to the dark album closer “Drown”. The aforementioned “Sally Lost Her Shoelaces” held up well in studio, and “Grunge Never Died (You Did)” is a gut-punch to banal contemporary music trends.
In 2011, Doll followed up their debut with “The Ragdoll Dairies”, having welcomed their new bassist, Alex Vance, into their ranks. If you peruse their YouTube channel, you will find that a majority of their music videos are for songs on this album. Doll retained their dark overtones and hard punk sound for this album, and closed with yet another infectiously oppressive score “Sleeping in the Clouds of NYC“. You can find a great live acoustic version of this song, but I have to recommend giving the studio version a solid listen.
Over the course of two albums, Doll explored themes of abuse, addiction, alienation and suicide, often using a fictional girl named “Sally” as a focal point. For those who favour a more casual listen, there are songs that offer levity to their catalogue, such as the second album’s opener “City That Fun Forgot” (an ode to the band’s hometown).
Though the band had two solid albums and international touring under their belts, it wouldn’t be until earlier this year that we would get a taste of a third album. In January, Doll released “The Man Outside“, a song from their upcoming album “Voodoo”. This gentler piano-driven song parts ways from the rest of their catalogue, and peaks my interest for what’s in store for their upcoming album.
I had the opportunity to ask Christina Kasper a few questions about the band’s work and their future plans.
Firstly, how is the new album coming along?
“Pete and I had 2 kids since 2014 so we’ve had our hands full! Despite that, we’ve managed to write over 20 songs which are in the bank for when life becomes a bit less chaotic and when we can focus on writing material for “Voodoo”.”
Doll came right out of the gate in 2016 with a raw demo of The Man Outside. This song was a stark departure from your usual style (though it did remind me somewhat of “World of Mine”). Is this departure indicative of what’s to come with Voodoo?
“When I was pregnant with my first child, I decided to take piano lessons. I took piano lessons when I was younger but I hadn’t touched it for a very, very long time. I fell in love with the instrument again and wrote several songs. That’s how “The Man Outside” came about. No I don’t think “Voodoo” will be that much of a departure of our older material but I wouldn’t be surprised if we had 1-2 mellower songs in the mix.”
Will Voodoo have an overarching theme?
“It’s hard to say at this point since the album is not complete. It’s definitely an idea we’d like to explore. All of our albums have the word “Doll” in them. Inside the Dollhouse, Ragdoll Diaries, and then this one Voodoo Doll. That’s how the idea for the album title came about.”
What was the inspiration for “The Man Outside”?
“It’s about how people in society have become desensitized to people in need. Someone could basically be dying or crying out for help on the street and people won’t take a second to take a double look and help. It’s a sad reality.”
Doll has already released a few kickass music videos for “Sally Lost her Shoelaces”, “Youth of Today, Hope for Tomorrow” and “Plastic Lies”. Are there any music video ideas in the works yet for the Voodoo tracks?
I always have trouble staying married to one genre of music. Within my identity crisis of a library, I have Leonard Cohen for early Saturday mornings with a cup of coffee, classic Green Day for car trips and Queen for when I feel like a champion. Today’s featured musician, if what I’ve heard so far is any indication, is a shoe-in for my Friday night, booze-fueled playlist.
Rhys Sutcliffe is a musician hailing from Wales, UK. He began playing guitar at the age of seven, and by the age of 11, he began working on his vocals. Playing for various bands over the years, he also gained proficiency with the bass and drums. Using his multiple talents, Rhys has already released two tracks, giving us a glimpse of what’s to expect from his upcoming LP.
“It’s a total of six tracks and we are currently working on track 4. It’s great because I’m working in a really professional studio. And because I play all the instruments and sing all the vocals myself, I get to use some really awesome equipment, like microphones that cost more than your first car, [laughs].”
The EP will feature a contribution from pianist and viola player, and previous Artist’s Cove subject, Phoebe Williams. Guests aside, however, Rhys provides the core instrumentation and song writing for the entire EP.
“I can’t tell you what you should expect from it when it comes out because there are so many different styles songs on there. That’s the great thing about going solo; you can do whatever you want.”
On his Soundcloud, you can find “Boston Barfight” and “Amsterdam”, the two aforementioned tracks.
“Boston Barfight” is a lively alternative rock jam. It’s the type of instantly catchy song I can imagine finding on the radio. A song with a steady build and enough internal variation to keep the five-minute playtime fresh, Boston Barfight is a solid step into the spotlight.
As much as I liked Boston Barfight, however, it was Amsterdam that won me over. If I was to kick back with a whisky and a song, I would certainly choose Amsterdam, by virtue of my personal taste alone. With the combination of excellent vocals and lyrics, as well as a touch of the variety that made Boston Barfight so endearing, I heartily endorse Amsterdam.
After sampling these two songs, I was able to connect with Rhys, and we had a pleasant back and forth. I asked about his songs, his home and his sources of inspiration.
Can you walk me through your creative process of your songs?
“Usually I would write the guitar melodies first. Though, recently, I’ve taken to recording vocals on my phone and then playing that back whilst playing guitar. The lyrics always come last. I’m very critical of my music; it has to be something I’m truly happy with. There’s a song on the EP called “The Desert”, which took me 8 years to write.”
Can you shine some light on “The Desert”? What about the song makes it such an extensive work in progress?
“[The Desert] is probably the most personal song on the EP, and also probably the simplest in lyrical content. I met my best friend Jennelle when I was twelve years old. She lives in Idaho, America. You’d think we were exactly the same person if we met. She wrote an EP and recorded a song on there called “11:11”, and it’s about how we met. Since then, I’ve been writing versions of this song, and I don’t feel that’s it has ever been good enough to actually record until now. It’s a song about loving your best friend and wanting nothing more for them but to realize their hopes and dreams. I imagined her taking her first dance with her groom to this song, so it had to be perfect.”
From where do you find your inspiration?
“I’m quite a sentimental and emotional guy, and I find inspiration in the smallest of things, like an old man holding the door for his wife or something, [laughs]. Primarily, I think it’s the people who I love that inspire me. My mother and father, sister and brother, my best friend Jennelle, and my friends from university. Most of all I think music in its entirety inspires me. It’s the greatest thing we can create. It’s either that or food [laughs].”
Was there a particular time in your life that drives your inspiration?
“For me, the inspiration came from when I developed an emotional connection with music. All my siblings and I struggled growing up against bullying, being accepted. And the more I started writing my feelings down, the more I was inspired to make my voice heard, so I started writing music. Music started meaning something completely different after the first time I fell in love, cliché as it might sound. Since then I’ve always wanted to be with someone who has a genuine emotional connection to music.”
You mentioned how critical you are of your own work. Do you feel as though you can ever “complete” a song, or do you feel as though you have to just put an end to the refinement process?
“I believe a song is finished when you decide to release it, but you owe it to yourself to write a good song. There’s no point in releasing a song for the sake of it, you should be proud of your work, and you should have your own stamp of approval that can only be used when you truly believe that a song has realized its full potential. I’m quite a selfish songwriter, I write songs that convey my feelings, so I only release songs that make me happy, in the hopes that it will have the same emotional impact on others as it does on me.”
How did you approach Phoebe Williams to lend her skills?
“I’ve been friends with Phoebs for a good while now. Being musicians, we both connected very quickly. She’s a very talented pianist and viola player, and I told her that some material on the EP needed those instruments to complete the sound. She said “yes”
without any hesitation.”
Have you always called Wales home, and do you have any hometown anthems in the works?
“Home is where I lay my head at the end of the day. Home is where you find love, and home is where you can truly be yourself. Wales has always been my home but I’m sure that as I get older and the more I move around, there will be other places I call home. The hometown anthem is a hard song for me to write. It’s in the works. It’s really important to me that that one is the best it can be.”
What are a few cities in which you hope to perform?
“I’d love to play in London. I think that’s where musicians realize whether or not they can perform to a wide array of people. If you don’t put on a good show where ever you go you aren’t gonna be asked to play there again. London will chew you up and spit you out. I’d love to play in California, though. Anywhere where I can play outside in the sweltering heat, so probably somewhere outside Wales [laughs].”
I found Rhys to have an infectiously positive spirit, and would like to thank him for the interview. If you would like to keep up-to-date with his work, you can click here to visit his Facebook page.
On one of my occasional Patreon expeditions, I stumbled across Shelby Sifers, a musician looking to make her creations free and open to the public. Curious, I decided to take her name to YouTube and see what came up. As I perused Shelby’s catalogue of music (available via a simple search of her name) I found a treasure trove of oftentimes sombre, reflective, and sometimes uplifting songs.
I promptly contacted Shelby and arranged an interview for Grog Boat, exited for her to be our first musician interviewee. Hearing her story and her passion was very heartening, and I’m glad to be able to share it with you.
At an early age, Shelby’s grandmother gave her piano lessons. Though she did like it, the education was short-lived, as the financial constraints of living in a single-parent household made the trips across rural California too expensive. It wouldn’t be until her 16th birthday, having received a guitar, that she would resume her path to song writing.
As it happened, a singer/songwriter had been couch-surfing with her family. In him, Shelby found a source of inspiration. He even taught her the first song she’d play on guitar (House of the Rising Sun).
Throughout her life, Shelby had balanced her creativity with daily trials, joys and her ongoing devotion to activism. The need to stand for those in need flowed into her professional life, bringing her to work in a non-profit dedicated to ending pet overpopulation in Mississippi.
“Sometimes it can feel as if I’m spreading myself too thinly in regards to the causes I am passionate about, but the more I dig in to each one, the more I am able to see how all activism is connected, in that it works toward a more equal and just situation for everyone- whether it involves animals, people of color, LGBT folks, the criminal justice system, cooperative economics, refugees, humanism/atheism, politics and the environment. By looking for commonalities in different movements and building coalitions, we can cover much more ground than each group can on its own.”
Despite these demands on her attention, Shelby has managed to create a growing catalogue of original music, consisting of both solo projects and collaborations with artists like Jordaan Mason.
One of the first songs of hers that I discovered was “In Grief”, which turned out to be a flooring experience. I’ve found Shelby’s lyrics to be the most powerful component of her songs. In an industry saturated with hyperbolic metaphors and scatter-brained imagery, “In Grief” cut to the core of its message with a simple second-person storytelling perspective and a semi-autobiographical narrative. I gave the song a few listens, taking the opportunity to reflect on my own life.
“Shower” was the next song on my list. This bright and peculiar song brought much-needed levity to my research. Taking its name quite to heart, the song consists of clapping, vocals and the sounds of a shower. The story told was that of a freedom in her young adult life (more on that in the Q&A below). Managing to be both minimalist and infectious, “Shower” is easily one of my favorites, just behind this next song.
For those who follow Grog Boat on Facebook, I linked to one of her more recent songs, “Death or Docked Pay”. Not losing her edge for commentary and honest lyrics, Shelby (now accompanied with a drummer and bassist that collectively form “Shelby Sifers and Hellfire Club”) focuses primarily on society, while managing to keep a personal tone.
“My ideals are definitely peppered throughout all of my songs. Voluntary human extinction and godlessness are topics that often float to the top, which may be because I feel that they are the ultimate solution to all problems. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to create something that wasn’t deeply personal; it’s a way to create something succinct and palatable out of a train wreck of philosophizing and ranting. I also think that because of the personal nature of my songs I am able to start a dialogue and find common ground with others through them, so that we can have much more substantive conversations right off the bat. “
I had the opportunity to talk with Shelby about her music and the stare of the music industry, in general.
On the Music Industry
Your desire is to produce music that is free for everyone to enjoy. What made you decide to take this avenue for distributing your work?
“I want to make sure that my music is accessible to everyone, regardless of where they live or how much money they earn. I want people to have the freedom to love my music and carry it with them, or hate my music and move on. Regardless of the outcome, they will learn something about themselves in the process.
I was given my first computer by a family member in high school, and got my first dial-up internet connection. I got Kazaa and downloaded a Dashboard Confessional song that was mislabeled as a Smashing Pumpkins song, and that’s when I learned that there was a world of music waaaay larger than the radio or the CD club catalogue I got in the mail each month. I went down a rabbit hole and became totally obsessed with discovering new music, and this kind of access enabled me to escape my isolated town of less than 100 people and my low-income upbringing and begin to imagine all of the things that music could be. It made me realize that there was music I could really love and that spoke to my interests- music that read my mind, stretched my mind and inspired me to be a better person. It introduced me to bands that I would later drive hours to see in basements and living rooms and venues in bigger cities. If I had simply had access to the music I could afford on CD or LP, my life would have been completely different. And probably not in a good way.
My day job is at a nonprofit that charges very little for services to the public. The rest is subsidized by donors. I love this “business” model because it is beneficial to those who cannot afford services, and allows for passionate people who have the means to give to offer their financial support. Others can give their time. Nonprofits create personal relationships with clients, donors and volunteers- like an artificial family. I think music can be the same way. Given away for free, supported financially by those who can, and others can assist by hosting shows and sharing songs. I don’t want my music to feel like a product that can be bought or sold- I want it to build relationships and finish sentences and be a reason to bring me and my friends together in a room. I am very lucky that it has done those things for me, and I hope that it can do the same for others, too.”
Staying on the point of music distribution, how do you think listeners can have the boundaries of their musical tastes pushed, as you had when you downloaded the Confessional song? Do you think this is an undertaking in which the developers of digital distribution platforms should play a role?
“I think digital distribution already plays a large role in pushing musical boundaries, especially with ‘related artist’ type features. Platforms like Band Camp and Last.fm have a much more inclusive platform for sharing music, allowing anyone to use it with less restrictions than spotify has. But, like it always has been, whether it be on the internet or in a record store, good music is worth doing a little digging for.”
What is your opinion of musical superstars? Does having such a level of celebrity undermine the quality and diversity of what’s available to consumers, or does the added incentive motivate musicians to increase their appeal and productivity?
“Celebrity worship in general is problematic, both for fans and the celebrities themselves. It elevates them to a level where they are both irrationally revered and horribly disrespected, losing their privacy and ability to do normal everyday things. For fans, especially children, the worship of celebrities can warp dreams and goals and turn them into obsessive fame-seekers.”
How do you feel about songs being used in commercials or similar promotions? Do the songs lose their integrity if they are tied to a product?
“In my perfect world, people would make their art and music, and those who relate to it in some way could find it, enjoy it, and be inspired by it to be a better person or contribute to the world in a positive way, whether that means getting out of bed that morning, telling someone you love them, or working hard toward a meaningful goal. I like to differentiate that music from the products that are manufactured by the music industry, just as I would differentiate a unique piece of pottery from a cup I bought at Ikea- one is created to express a feeling or make a statement, and the other to appeal to a broad group and make the most profit. But to be clear, I am not exempt from loving my share of pop music/pop culture and don’t believe that fame and substance are mutually exclusive.
My perspective is probably a strange one on this topic- I work in nonprofit communications (marketing) as my day job, and my partner works in audio and visual design. Part of my job is using music to help tell our nonprofit’s story in an effective and emotional way, and part of my partner’s job is composing music for films and commercials. So, being in a household that benefits from these things on the music side, I can say that I enjoy seeing quality music being used in advertising vs corny jingles. In the end, it’s up to every individual to decide if they are comfortable with using their music in advertising, and what advertising they are comfortable using it in. In terms of musicians that are locked in predatory contracts, that’s a whole other rabbit hole to go down.”
How do you feel about musicians endorsing specific political candidates? Should they do so, or should they stick to advocating for larger ideas?
“I personally feel an obligation to use my circle of influence to endorse both political candidates and ideas/causes, but I am also not obligated to anyone but myself. I feel that more discussion (civil discussion) is always better than less. There is always more to learn. When we are in the polling booth, we are often swayed most by the conversations of our friends and family more than what a candidate has proposed. By hearing from someone I feel a connection with (like a musician/artist whom I respect), I am more likely to research a particular issue than if I hear it from a newscaster. Some of the most memorable shows I’ve been to have started these types of conversations, and have been able to connect people who have some common ground and can learn from each other.”
On Her Songs
One of your most curious songs, at least to me, is “Shower”. Can you walk me though the creative process behind it, from inspiration to recording?
“For the most part, I am writing from direct experience or observation, or a combination of the two. I wrote shower during my first year of college, reflecting on how my life, that was really in my hands for the first time, was shaping up to be. I felt pretty amazed to have survived the year before (see in grief below) and had graduated high school early, worked my ass off at two jobs in order to save some money, and got into the only school I ended up applying for.
I moved to Santa Fe, NM with my high school-turned college boyfriend. I had a dorm room and he had a fantastic studio underneath a stained glass gallery. You can probably guess where I preferred to be. The apartment had a Jacuzzi tub which was everyone’s favorite thing in the world. It was large and round and we used it like an indoor hot tub, so myself and my friends spent a lot of time in the bathroom. I was a full-time student with two jobs, so my Saturdays (short work days) were sacred. I learned to make crepes and it became my routine. In a studio apartment, everything one does in the bathroom is public knowledge, and my boyfriend had a tendency to practice his own songs in the shower. It was annoying/endearing, but nonetheless memorable. It reflects on the awesome back yard we had, which was unconventional and had no grass, but was full of wind-powered sculptures. And then it ends with the observation about how my stress shifted from the intense experience and relationships in my family from the year before to a whole different kind of stress, a welcome and freeing kind.
It felt appropriate to record the song in the Jacuzzi tub/shower, so I did. We got the mic as close to the water as possible and I hopped in and took a shower, and recorded it. It was one track, one take, and a complete mess, which felt appropriate.”
I found “Death or Docked Pay” and “In Grief” to be sister songs. Both songs deal with the strain of life, with “In Grief” focusing primarily on interpersonal relationships and “Death or Docked Pay” incorporating larger societal issues, and both convey a certain feeling of exhaustion in our relationships. Do you ever find particular bonds between any two of your songs that you notice later on?
“I hadn’t thought about those two songs as being related, but really appreciate your thoughtful insight on them and think that you are totally right. They were written about ten years apart from each other, and (unfortunately) convey the same feelings of hopelessness and frustration and nihilism. But I agree with you that the focus is different- in grief is very micro- it follows the year when I was 17 and my brother had emergency brain surgery and was given a terminal diagnosis (which thankfully turned out to be incorrect, he’s still with us today.) As a busy 26 year-old and dad to a toddler, he was in disbelief. His way of coping was to isolate himself from friends and family- to stay invincible. My chosen grandmother (one not related by blood, but who I adopted as my own) had also just recently died from cancer.
This caused my mom and I to completely collapse and our depression fed off of each other in a horrible way. We are terribly alike and I think we both brought each other into a very dark place. After my brother’s diagnosis, I never went back to my high school (eventually homeschooled myself through graduation), and sort of dropped off the face of the planet. Both of us developed depression and insomnia and we tried desperately to keep our minds busy. I wrote a lot, she did a lot of crafts. She made an amazing collection of magnetic poetry that I still use on my fridge today. It’s a souvenir of where we were. We have always had an extremely close, friendly relationship, and a silent co-parenting agreement for my much younger brother. That year our relationship made a 180. We both turned into monsters and our closeness made it easy to tear each other apart. As we both recovered, our relationship did as well, and got even stronger. It was hard to play this song for her the first time. It made her very sad. But I am glad to say that it is in the past.
Death or docked pay is macro- it zooms out and shows that my worst memories are just mosquito bites compared to the true hurt that others experience every single day. As a teenager, it’s natural to turn inward and be self-absorbed. This song turns outward and recognizes the parts that each of us play (knowingly and unknowingly) in the oppression of others. Both songs work to expose surface religiosity as a poor substitute for direct action and sympathy as a way to distance ourselves from the problems of others in a socially acceptable way.
I do find a lot of relationships in songs, usually before they are complete, and many ‘completed’ songs are mash-ups of several different ones (Death or Docked pay’s chorus was a completely different song at one point). Partly I imagine is because they are all a very intimate part of me, and I don’t really write about that many different topics, and a lot of them flow together. I also believe that my elementary knowledge of music theory and process (lyrics then melody then accompaniment) contributes to this because my melodies subconsciously run into each other all the time.”
On Shelby Sifers and Hellfire Club
How did Shelby Sifers & Hellfire Club come into being?
“After someone close to my friends and I had a mental health crisis which rocked our worlds, it caused me to look at myself and accept the fact that I had been riding an untreated mental health roller coaster since that year I was 17. I got help and everything changed. I could think more clearly, I could stay awake, I could finish work and get excited to dig into another project, I could be around people, and the chronic pain I had dealt with for almost 10 years (which made guitar playing nearly impossible, as well as silly things like using can openers and door knobs) completely disappeared. I would have never imagined that something so simple could change so much. Part of me really wishes that I had noticed earlier, but the other part of me is so grateful to know the difference.
Throughout our friend’s crisis, 4 of us were faced with some difficult decisions and ultimately purchased the building that we all live and work in through a cooperative effort, spanning over 2 years of frustration and failures. Zach, a guy who had recently moved back to town, needed a place to live and some of us knew a little about him and knew that his dog was really cool. He moved in and we all got to know him a little better. My partner Tyler (AKA Spirituals) has played drums with me in the past and has recorded/produced several of my songs. He played some of them for Zach, who happens to have a degree in bass performance. Zach got really excited and wanted to start a band. I was just coming out from my mental cloud and was able to play guitar again, so we just started meeting up every day to hang out and play my songs.
I has been a huge part of my healing process and I am so goddamn lucky to have these two dudes. They are full of talent and love and insight and support. None of us are stressed or pressured about meeting deadlines, and we are just working to finish songs as we can while focusing on keeping our lives together. Though in the near future I think we will be living in different places, I really hope that we can keep the dream alive in some small way.
The name “Hellfire Club” comes from some high-society exclusive clubs that popped up in 18th century Britain and Ireland. These Hellfire Clubs met on Sundays to enjoy in-depth discussions, alcohol, and religious satire. Women and men were considered equal in these clubs. When I learned about Hellfire Clubs, I realized that our band had subconsciously created one.”
How has the band played live since its formation? Was there an instant on-stage chemistry, or was an adjustment period needed?
“We have played several live shows with this lineup in town, but haven’t yet played any shows in other cities yet. Since we are friends who know each other’s dark secrets, and since my bandmates are such talented improvisers, we’ve clicked for sure. It’s helped improve my playing to try and keep up.”
Do you feel long-distance bands can be viable, especially with today’s technology?
“Just like a long-distance relationship, sometimes it’s worth the work and pain to stay together. Recording can happen easily long-distance…it’s the shows that become a bit more difficult.”
What can we expect coming from Shelby Sifers and Hellfire Club in the near future?
“I’m hoping that this group can create a collection of recordings that either haven’t been recorded or have been recorded in a different way. Then we will release them into the wild.”
As an artist who has faced a great deal of adversity, emerging with a band and an impressive back catalogue of songs, what would you say younger artists who are facing their own hardships?
“Art does not make you a good person, but it gives you a unique opportunity to be one. Seek out what you wish you could change and use your medium as a vehicle to change it. Use your influence to stand up for what’s right and to protect others. Be honest, be empathetic, grow and change. It’s scary and you can work through it. Sometimes it means that people won’t like what you do, but that means that you’re doing it right.”
For those looking to learn more about Shelby, I’d recommend an episode of the podcast Directors Club which held an excellent interview with Shelby. You can connect with Shelby via the following links:
Recently, I had the opportunity to play a demo of the newly-greenlit “Downspiral”, a game by developer Hey It’s That Dog. This RPG dungeon crawler takes a humorous spin on fantasy tropes, from elves to fabulous vampires, while contributing its own race of anthropomorphic salad toppings to the genre’s pantheon of protagonists.
Set in an abandoned fantasy theme park, you must create a party of four adventurers to explore the ruins. With an array of races and classes, you are given a classic RPG experience, and the game is expected to have 4-player local co-op.
The demo provided a glimpse of the game’s humour and the gameplay, both of which I enjoyed. The experience is scored by a jazz soundtrack that will consist of twelve tracks.
So, what did I think of the game so far? Having had a taste of the tutorial level, I am certainly intrigued. I enjoy the music and the selection of races (mostly the Dumpster Elf). As far as gameplay goes, there is potential for a fun and challenging experience, but this potential will be tested in the deeper levels, when the game can finally show its teeth. I will be following Downspiral through development, and hope that it reaches its projected 2016 release date.
I had a chance to ask Matt Gunter of Hey It’s That Dog about the game’s features, his inspiration and his development studio.
Firstly, congratulations on having your game greenlit. Have you yet recovered from the post-approval buzz?
Thank you! No I haven’t recovered yet, preparing for the Greenlight was a huge amount of work, and I was expecting at least a month of promoting the Greenlight while finishing things up on the game. While I’m thrilled the Greenlight passed so quickly, I feel like I have to get right back into working non-stop for the release, but I’m trying to slow down and take a bit of a break before doing that.
What inspired you to eschew the elements of grinding that have been endemic to role-playing and dungeon crawling games?
I’ve tried a lot of dungeon crawlers and I’ve never been able to get very far into them. Whether it be because I found the gameplay too dated, or the dungeon felt too large and maze-like. I’ve always wanted to enjoy them, and I love the idea behind them, so I thought I would try making one of my own to see if I could eliminate the issues that prevented me from enjoying other games in the genre.
The Dumpster Elf, though created as a joke, quickly became my favorite race. Do you fear that your creation may escape the confines of Downspiral and crop up in future Elder Scrolls and Warcraft installments?
The dumpster elves do seem to be attracting the most attention. It’s definitely not the race I thought would be a fan favorite, but I guess everyone just loves elves! When I was working on getting things ready for the Greenlight, I kept debating whether I should change their name or not. I was worried it was too dumb (in a game that has twerking purple dinosaurs), but I’m glad I decided not to. I’ve already seen someone using the dumpster elf moniker on Twitter, and I’d love to see more people embracing their inner dumpster elf! The playable races in the game are supposed to be a group of weird but lovable underdogs, so it’s really great to see people getting super into them!
What made you select a jazz soundtrack?
I was introduced to wonderful local musicians Bruce Mackinnon and Jonathan Sloan by a mutual friend, and up until this point I had worked on the game exclusively on my own. I didn’t want to stifle their creativity by telling them exactly what I wanted, so I told them the setup for the game, the tone I was going for, and told them to just do whatever they wanted. They came up with this funky, jazzy sound that was nowhere near the typical kind of music you hear in most games. I was really drawn to that, because that was basically my goal creating this game, to make this weird adventure that’s familiar but unique at the same time. They surprised me with what they created and I just thought the music really fit and was perfect. But all credit goes to Bruce and Jon, I just thought it was a great fit.
When Peter Jackson picks up Downspiral for a movie franchise, how many films can we expect (prequels included)?
Well first, you have at least six parody movies right out of the gate, with potato people replacing hobbits and dumpster elves who are allied with Sauron because of the incredible amount of waste his war machine generates. After that the options are really limitless.
Is there a secret cow level in Downspiral? You don’t have to answer truthfully here, but just give me one blink for “no” and two blinks for “yes” as you write this (I’ll be able to tell).
There’s a lot of secrets in Downspiral, and I am really bad at keeping secrets, so you shouldn’t ask me about secrets because I won’t be able to keep them, and then they won’t be very secret anymore. But to answer your question, there aren’t any cows in the game, but there are a couple goats.
How did you get the name for your studio?
Resident Evil 4 is one of my all-time favorite games, early on in the game you can rescue a dog from a bear trap. If you chose to free him, later in the game during a boss fight the dog appears again to aid you and the game’s protagonist exclaims “Hey! It’s that dog!”, the line is goofy, the whole setup is silly, it’s great.
The one-touch arcade-style games seem to be primed for the iOS. By having fewer controls to clutter your field of vision and a simple pick-up-and-play format, the right indie game often mixes convenience and affordability.
Fotonica is an example of such a game. With a minimalist visual style, reminiscent of the old arcade aesthetics, and a price landing under the $5 mark, Fotonica fits well with its casual peers in the App Store.
Using a one-touch control scheme, you must run non-stop down courses and carefully time your jumps across gaping chasms. You will pick up speed as each course progresses, and there is a considerable difficulty threshold despite its basic mechanics.
If you find yourself in need of practice, you can always switch from the start-to-finish arcade mode to the endless mode. Additionally, you can race a friend on split screen, though I recommend using an iPad for this mode.
The visual style is best enjoyed in motion, so still photographs should be taken with a grain of salt. There are games that dazzle with rich environments and games that find their strength within elegant minimalism; Fotonica fits into the latter category.