What Are You Playing is a weekly column about video games. Given that Powerglove is a band that combines video game music with power metal, catching up with the Boston-based band to talk about gaming was a given to happen eventually. We caught up with guitarist Chris Marchiel to discuss his earliest memory as a gamer, indie games, and a bit about the band’s next album.
What came first for you, music or video games?
Video games. I think the first time I really got hooked on video games was when I was six and that was the original [Super] Mario Brothers. It’s probably my earliest, real, defined memory is getting really mad at the first Mario Brothers and throwing the controller at the TV. I do have memories earlier than that, but that’s one of the first defined memories of getting so angry. I was playing World 1-1 of Mario and running straight into the Goomba. I was a little kid and had no idea what a video game was and I was just going forward. I knew it was bad to run into the Goomba and to die and to have the death music and start over. I knew it was negative reinforcement. I just couldn’t put it together to jump over it. I did that several times and got so pissed off, but I figured it out. So that came first. Then I guess when I was about 8 or 9 the first music I really liked, and this is funny because it’s kind of a constant with the band, is Weird Al Yankovic. We all grew up, from being very young , loving Weird Al. I got introduced from my parents to people like Dr. Demento and comedy music and stuff like that. I liked that before I liked metal , which was 12 or 13, early teenager. I had a few years of pure Weird Al before that where music was nothing but comedy. So I guess that makes some connections.
Did you listen to Dr. Demento every week?
No. I got this anniversary CD or box set of a bunch of stuff that he aired. I wouldn’t personally listen to the actual radio itself. I just absorbed it through my parents so it wasn’t that regular. Then they gave me as a Christmas or birthday present, they gave me a box set of music that included “My Bologna” by Weird Al.” It was an early Weird Al song. Then a bunch of other weird, random comedy one hit wonders and stuff like that. I remember that being the first CD that I listened to a lot.
Getting into Powerglove, had you been in other bands before?
Yeah. I’d been in lots of startup bands and fun bands and stuff like that. I tried a bunch of different styles just for fun. I’d been in bands knowing that I would only be there for six months to a year and just experiment. The people in Powerglove, I’ve known for a very long time. We were actually an original band before that so as a band we’ve been playing for about 10 years now.
When did playing video game music click?
It was something I always did by myself, warming up or learning songs. It was really Final Fantasy and Mega Man, and there’s other game music that I like and remember and have nostalgic feelings for, but Final Fantasy and Mega Man were the ones that got me actually listening to video game music. I would record on cassette tape video game music that was being played. I know some of the other guys actually did this too . We had cassette decks and would record the loop of music on a cassette and play it on like a Walkman and stuff like that. It dates myself a little bit, but that was how we started. When I was little kid, when I played Final Fantasy VI, which is Final Fantasy III in America for Super Nintendo, I would go into a battle, and if you paused it, the music would keep playing as a lower volume and I would just keep that on for unreasonable amounts of time doing my homework to it, just hang out. It must have been a two minute loop of music, just endlessly looping A-B-C, A-B-C parts over and over again. It worked.
Do you still play a lot of video games?
Yeah definitely. Me more so than the other guys, although Nick does play a lot of games too. The other guys always say they don’t have time in their lives for it as much anymore and they lament it, but I think you can make the time. Your social life, your working life, your sleep, you can always cut something out.
What have you been playing lately?
Just now I’ve been very into Far Cry 3, that’s been the new game I’ve been very absorbed in. I started playing it maybe a day or two ago so I’m not very far in it. It’s really good. It’s kind of like a Skyrim-type of game with an open world and a lot of quests. I really like it. I always have little gripes with games, though, and the inventory system on Far Cry 3 kind of sucks. It’s not that bad, but Skyrim had a very good inventory system. It was very stripped down, the inventory system worked off of consoles and PC which was fine and really good. I think games should copy each other more. They shouldn’t be afraid to copy not the setting and the characters and what makes it unique, but the things that you have to do like inventory systems and crafting systems and things like that, there’s people that do them way better than others. Stuff like mechanical stuff like that you shouldn’t be afraid to just copy. Once you get used to something being very good, a really good inventory system, a good control scheme, I mean that’s how control schemes worked. Control schemes were very customized and unique, and now you can pretty much define genres by their control scheme. You say first person shooter, it’s W-A-S-D, mouse, space bar, and shift to do things, you instantly know where it goes. Like a dual stick shooter, or a left stick, you run around the right stick aim, it’s independent. I’m kind of getting on a tangent here.
Haha, yeah. Do you play more PC or console games?
Definitely PC. 80 or 90% PC. I do have an Xbox 360 here and there are people in my house who have a PS3 so we have that too, but I really do mostly PC. Recently, I do some AAA games, like Far Cry 3, but I’ve also been into a lot of indie games that have come out in the last 3 or 4 years. It’s been this golden age for indie games and it’s really cool. Their stuff is on Xbox live and PC so I’ve been getting it there so it’s really cool.
What kind of indie games have you been playing?
There’s this very pretentious game but very fun called Thomas Was Alone. A lot of indie games tend to be a little on the pretentious side. It’s about artificial intelligence and loneliness and what makes friendship and what not. That was really fun. I just did Super Meat Boy a little while ago that’s a very good indie success story. I’ve played No Time To Explain which is kind of like a flash game that’s very silly. Lone Survivor, I’m actually in the middle of that right now. It’s a very weird, syndrome, contagion type of thing all about paranoia, it’s pretty cool. I just wanted to throw those out there. I don’t know what it is, I guess it’s the new development tools that are out or people of the right age have come of age. Those people who grew up from day one with video games now are able to make indie development teams and are skilled to do it, but there’s been this golden age in this past couple of years in indie games and it’s been pretty cool.
I guess a casual gamer wouldn’t even catch on because it seems they’re making less console games because they cost so much and it’s a lot easier to develop something yourself and sell it on Xbox Live.
Yeah, that business model makes so much sense. Once game makers weren’t afraid to lower the price from $60 for a box game in a store and they realized they didn’t have to do that if they did things all digitally and they could make a different price point and make their own model on that. It’s actually been really good. There are all sorts of games that are like $10 or so that are really good. They’re great. The business model section of their team is small enough and it’s the type of game that by giving them $10 from digital distribution to sell off copies, they’re making money just fine. You’re not paying like $50 for it so honestly I think it’s been really great.
Is Powerglove going to continue to do anymore video game type music?
Yeah that’s what we’re doing right now. The last thing we did Saturday Morning Apocalypse, it was always an odd album to explain. The thought for that came up when we were driving back from the Dragonforce tour in 2008. We were just naming all of these songs. All of us had these TV and movie songs that we really wanted to do and we kept saying “oh I have all these ideas for it, oh we should totally do that.” There was just a lot more than the video game songs at the time. I remember on that ride, we said “why don’t we just do our version of a concept album that’s devoted just to that?” So that’s what that whole project was.
It’s nothing you’re going to come back to necessarily?
No. Doing another album like that, we won’t do again. The Mortal Kombat song is the song from the movie. It’s not the song from the game. Power Rangers is a song from a TV show. So there’s always been a few songs like that and we do have plans for one or two songs an album like that. It still fits in. It still makes sense and presses the same nostalgia button. It’s from the same era, but we do have one that’s on the list that’s like a TV type of thing.
Are there any plans on when the new album is going to come out?
End of this year is what we want. We’re writing it right now. We’ve been writing it for a long time and I want to be deep in recording in a few months and then have it done by fall.
What can you say about the band? Are you going to be playing or touring anytime soon?
Right now our real goal, and we’ve actually started making good on this, is to tour outside of the US. This year we’re going to finally, I’m 99% sure unless something obscene happens and wrecks this, we have a cool announcement about that. I’ve really wanted to do that since the beginning. It’s been many years. We’ve toured the US and Canada so much. It’s really good, but it’s always been so hard to get the money or offer to go out that way. We got an offer to do Australia a few years ago. It was actually a pretty cool tour, but we obviously would have lost a lot of money. Even if it went great and super well, we would’ve still lost money on it. We had to make the tough decision there. It’s tough because it would’ve been a really cool adventure. I remember what our guarantees were a few years ago which is much lower, but I remember the offer wasn’t even that bad. If it was in the US and Canada, it was a fine offer. The cost of flying everyone out there and the cost of transportation out there. We also were less experienced a few years ago, so we wouldn’t even have known. Now we’d know how to tour over seas. We as least know how to do it and are preparing what we have to experience and people with us. Back then we would’ve been lost like children lost at the airport. We had no management or anything like that, so that would’ve been fun.