Resident Evil 2 Interview: Composer Talks Ending Credits Song Saudade, PS1 Nostalgia, & More
The Resident Evil 2 remake has been a critical and commercial success for Capcom, successfully invoking that PS1 sense of nostalgia in every aspect of the game, while also keeping things fresh and energized for a modern audience.
With the remake, it was very important that Capcom struck a balance between keeping things familiar for longtime fans but also making sure that there were enough new twists and content that would prevent it from feeling stale.
That same line of thinking carried over into the creation of Resident Evil 2’s soundtrack, and that’s made clear especially through the game’s true ending credits song, Saudade.
I got the opportunity to speak with composer Cody Matthew Johnson, who was responsible for composing Saudade. The song was also performed by Shimon Moore, who used to be the lead singer of the Australian rock band Sick Puppies.
Johnson himself has worked quite closely with Capcom recently, and his work has been featured in Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite and the newly released Devil May Cry 5.
Twinfinite: Reading your bio, you eventually found your place in the video game music industry after your accident, which led you to experiment with music production and sound design, as well as venturing into electronic music. What was the transition like, moving from performing music to actually producing and creating your own songs and tracks?
Cody Matthew Johnson: It was fairly slow and arduous; these things don’t happen overnight! Writing songs came much more fluidly to me. I wrote a few albums worth of songs before ever moving into video games and film music, but, it took a long time before my writing and composing became good enough that I considered it professional.
When I started experimenting with music production and sound design, I was unfamiliar with standardized techniques and workflows. I existed within that blissfully ignorant sandbox of possibilities, which opened my eyes to an endless (and at the time overwhelming) slew of ways to create, mangle, and produce music and sound. Sometimes I try to get back to that mindlessness where all the rules are thrown out to create some interesting and bizarre sounds.
I brought everything I knew about music, about jazz, and orchestra, with me into producing and writing music. All of that knowledge has helped me enormously with writing idiomatically for all the instruments in the orchestra and “orchestrating” the frequency response of my electronic music.
It wasn’t until I started working full time on film and TV projects that I mastered my workflow processes and using the digital and analog tools at my disposal.
TF: Could you tell me about some of your musical inspirations? Any particular bands or artists that you look up to, or ones that inspired you to get into music?
CMJ: My musical inspirations have changed over the years, as any artist changes and adapts to their medium and surrounding culture. Some of the influences from my childhood that have really stuck with me are the slow-burn metal bands like Black Sabbath and Ronnie James Dio, and modern bands like Slipknot, which have directly inspired the industrial aspects of my recent video game work.
There’s also a side of electronic and pop music that deeply influenced me, from artists like Gary Clark Jr. to The Crystal Method. More than anything I’m always drawn to a BIG sound, from the piece itself to the production.
TF: What are some of your favorite video game soundtracks?
CMJ: I don’t think anyone my age made it through their younger years without humming and jamming to the iconic themes of Halo, World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, etc. There have been so many scores that have resonated with me.
My favorite all-time score is World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. Even today, when I fly back to Northrend I don’t get tired of singing along to the themes. Runners-up are Gustavo Santaolalla’s score to The Last of Us and more recently, Woody Jackson’s Red Dead Redemption II. Woody’s score might just take the cake for my new favorite game soundtrack.
TF: In your view, what is the most important thing or element to keep in mind when composing music for video games? How is it different from composing for something like Powers and other TV shows or films?
CMJ: For me, the most important thing is the player experience and immersion. As a gamer, nothing takes me out of the fantasy and the immersion of the game more than poorly placed and conceived music. With modern development and implementation technology there’s absolutely no reason not to be able to dig deeper and understand exactly how music functions in the game, what other sounds are in the game, and the exact emotion and point of view the game is trying to translate.
The nonlinear nature of video game music can make this difficult as you add layers of technical specifics and dynamic music. This is the opposite of TV and film, which exist in a purely linear format with regard to the narrative.
Video game music has so much more opportunity to tell a story around the player’s choice rather than forcing predetermined plot points on an audience, and a talented game composer knows how to exploit the dynamic nature of games to accomplish a more rewarding experience.
TF: I know that you started with classical and orchestral music. With your work on Devil May Cry 5 and Resident Evil 2, which are obviously quite far removed from those musical genres, along with your new album Raid Ready, how did you start to gravitate to this heavier, more industrial-sounding style of music?
CMJ: After the accident, as I mentioned earlier, I experimented with music, sound design, and production. I’ve always loved heavy, distorted guitars since I started learning years and years ago, matched with an affinity for rhythmically driving music, and a love of loud drums.
I found my sound leaning more and more into this industrial-sounding style of music —a strange cross-section of electronics, EDM, heavy guitars (not always necessarily metal!), and hybrid orchestra.
TF: Could you tell me more about how you got to work with Capcom? From starting with Marvel vs. Capcom, to Devil May Cry 5, then to Resident Evil 2.
CMJ: I’ve been working with composer Jeff Rona, who composed “Crimson Cloud” for Devil May Cry 5, for a while when he got a call from Capcom to tackle the score for their upcoming game Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. I worked on the tracks they wanted to be rooted in electronic, industrial, and metal genres, as well as some orchestra rock hybrid themes.
After we wrapped on Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, we got a call from another development team at Capcom saying they loved the work on MVCI and wanted us to do an unnamed game. That game was later revealed to be Devil May Cry 5.
Capcom really loved my work on “Subhuman” and they had an upcoming “grungy American cop” video game that they needed an end credits song for —not a song written for Resident Evil, but written for the time and place of the game; a la 90s grunge.
TF: Going into the project, how did you feel when you found out you’d be working on the ending song for Resident Evil 2? Were you a fan of the game or the series before this?
CMJ: When we first got the call for Resident Evil 2, I didn’t know what game it was, and coming off Devil May Cry 5, I definitely did not expect another huge AAA franchise right away; let alone from the same developer.
After a couple of weeks, they finally revealed the title of the game and how important this remake would be for fans. We knew we really had to step up our game and knock it out of the park for Resident Evil 2 just like Devil May Cry 5.
Resident Evil has grown to be such an iconic, genre-pioneering franchise, I think every gamer at some point in their life has played a Resident Evil game! I don’t fare well with horror genres, I get so scared (same with films and TV), but co-op games make it a bit easier to tolerate.
I had only played Resident Evil with friends until Resident Evil Revelations where the gameplay was truly cooperative. It was such a relief to share that horrific burden with someone else!
TF: Did the original scenario B ending credits song from the classic Resident Evil 2 have any sort of impact or influence at all as you were working on Saudade?
CMJ: Everyone loves that thing! That bassline, “it’s up to us to stop Umbrella,” the guitar solo… amazing, so classic.
In all honesty, Capcom wanted to catch a very specific emotion that was new to the remake. There is a nostalgia for the developers and players returning to Resident Evil 2, a game that resonated with a certain part of their lives (1998), and Capcom wanted specifically to convey that nostalgia through music at the ending, so a new direction was decided for the ending. You best believe I’ve now listened to it a ton.
TF: Compared to the original ending credits song, Saudade is way more melancholic, especially when you listen carefully to the lyrics. What was the inspiration or decision behind this tonal direction?
CMJ: Before we started writing the song, the director Kazunori Kadoi had written a short story for us to read. His story was about a working-class man who was reflecting on his life, his city, and the dreams he had when he moved to the city 20 years ago. Years passed, and instead of manifesting his dreams and aspirations, he finds himself stagnant in his career. He’s melancholic for the old city and the dreams it evoked in him.
Symbolically, Kadoi inferred that the changing city the man lives in reflects the time when Resident Evil 2 players used to play the original in 1998 when they were young, spry, hopeful, and aspirational. Kadoi wanted the lyrics to evoke nostalgia so that players would remember their fond memories, not only of playing the original but also of their lives and experiences since.
Resident Evil has always been about reunion, but this time around there’s an added element as the player remembers their lives 20 years ago.
This nostalgia, or “pain of remembering,” was carefully crafted into the song to preserve and translate the story Kazunori Kadoi wanted to tell through music. The emotion resonates well with Kadoi’s choice to name the song “Saudade.” “Saudade” is a word that has no direct translation but is deeply connected to the feeling of nostalgia and longingness of the past, which we conveyed in the main chorus lyric “The pain of remembering.”
TF: How did you get acquainted with Shimon Moore, and what was it like working with him?
CMJ: The search for the right artist was difficult. We needed someone that balanced nostalgia, understood how to accurately translate the emotion of 90s grunge, that also understood modern rock. We talked with a lot of artists, but everyone either leaned too far one direction or the other.
It was our mixing engineer, the multi-platinum, award-winning Mark Needham, that suggested Shim. He said he was working with an artist on his solo project that had a band in the 90s and 2000s called Sick Puppies. We set up a dinner with Shim, and after listening to his material, we knew he was the guy for the job.
Shim is a brilliant musician and songwriter. At our first meeting together he was jotting down lyrics and brainstorming ideas the entire time. Before midnight that night, he had already written, recorded and sent over a demo that was the nearly finished version of “Saudade” you can find on Spotify. A couple of days later, we had approval from Capcom and were in the studio with Shim.
Not a single ounce of pitch correction was needed nor used on his voice. He absolutely killed the recording session and Capcom loved the results.
Shim is a really nice guy, a good hang, and really funny!
TF: Could you tell me about some of the challenges that came with trying to inject just enough grunge into Saudade? Was it tricky, trying to create a song that would sound like it was taken straight from the 90s, but just fresh enough to not feel too dated in 2019?
CMJ: From the start, Capcom wanted the song to reflect the time of the game and the kind of music a young rookie cop like Leon might be listening to. They were looking to be inspired by the past, but not burdened by it. Shim was a huge advantage for us since he was a touring rockstar in the 90s with his band Sick Puppies, and is still a touring rock artist.
Musically, it took a few rounds of back-and-forth with Capcom. They had a sense of what they wanted to accomplish musically. Having their creative feedback was paramount in creating something special for the game.
Also, from the first demo, we knew the entire song had to be “outside-the-box.” Many scores are composed and produced entirely inside of a computer, with samples and sound effects. Even though the demo phase was digital, Capcom and I agreed from the beginning we needed live drums, live guitar, live bass, and raw vocals all pumped through an analog board.
For some added edge, Capcom suggested bringing in a featured guitar player. We knew just the guy: Peter DiStefano. Peter was the guitarist for the band Porno for Pyros, who were huge in the early 90s. The band was comprised by ex-members of Jane’s Addiction, including DiStefano, singer Perry Ferrell, drummer Stephen Perkins, and bassist Martyn LeNoble.
Peter was the perfect addition to help bring about the edge and angst for some new grunge revival.
After the team was assembled we quickly jumped in to record at Sphere Studios, where bands like Rage Against The Machine recorded their hits. Peter brought out his signature bowed guitar and effects and then wrought pure manic havoc on his fretboard for the guitar solo and instrumental feature.
At one point, Peter yelled to the engineer “Turn it up! I need it to feedback! Up! Up! Up!” in order to capture that angst, in-the-moment energy.
TF: Any upcoming projects you’re working on that we can look forward to?
CMJ: We’re finishing final touches on a game we’ve been chipping away at on-and-off for the last few months, a beautifully made narrative game with a score that’s mostly chamber orchestra —a bit of a change of pace from DMC5 and RE2, it’s nice to step away for a second and refresh the palate.
I’m also nearly on my first full-length solo album, the EP of which dropped last year, Raid Ready. After diving into DMC5, I felt inspired to spread my wings a bit and write music that unequivocally “me”, whatever that may be!
TF: Any takeaways or messages you’d like to share with fans about the positive reception towards Saudade?
CMJ: It’s incredible to see a positive reaction from the fans and the community around Resident Evil. At the end of the day, games are such a therapeutic and meditative escape. They’ve always been a way for me to immerse in fantasy, explore other worlds, and leave real-world problems at the door for a couple of hours. Nothing makes me more driven and excited than to hear that my music helped fulfill that fantasy.
Thank you all, it’s been a profound experience, and I want to hear from you and what you think about “Saudade” and Resident Evil on my socials!
TF: Final question: who has the better story? Leon or Claire?
CMJ: I knew this question was coming eventually! I regret to inform you that since Resident Evil 2 dropped in January, I haven’t had a chance to pick up the controller and play, and that’s not just because I don’t want to play alone!
It’s on my list, and I’ve watched a ton of gameplay videos while working. I can’t wait to get cracking on the game, so I can’t say whether Leon or Claire has the better story just yet! You know what they say, “there are two sides to every story…”
You can find Cody Matthew Johnson on Twitter, or check out his work on Soundcloud and full bio at his official site.