Interview with Magnus ‘SoulEye’ Pålsson of the VVVVVV Soundtrack

How does an artist like Magnus 'SoulEye' Pålsson wind up in Rock Band? He's certainly not a traditional rock and roller - in fact, he's best known for his pure electronic compositions from acclaimed indie game VVVVVV. But "Positive Force" and "Pressure Cooker", both from the VVVVVV soundtrack (called PPPPPP), have been released on Rock Band via the Rock Band Network, and both songs have met with great acclaim from the Rock Band audience for their fun sound and difficult gameplay.

Rob Witko of Fairwood Studios is responsible for bringing SoulEye's music into Rock Band. Witko explained to us: "I reached out to Magnus when I was about 90% through VVVVVV. I figured I would never actually beat the game, and I kept enjoying the music throughout, so instead of playing I did a little research and found Magnus' info. I admitted it was a kinda silly idea (since it's not really rock music) but he was all for it."

When asked about the challenges of charting these unusual tracks, Witko said, "These were the first purely electronic tracks we got, which made the arrangement a real challenge. Anyone who saw the original previews, compared to the final versions, can see there's a ton of changes to what's considered guitar and keys. (Bass and drums are a bit easier to handle.) Normally we just make one, maybe two previews of a song for the artist before release. The first two VVVVVV songs went through four videos each, with Magnus pointing out note errors and suggesting arrangement changes each time. I'm glad we did that though."

Carolyn VanEseltine (HMXLachesis) recently had the opportunity to talk with SoulEye about his music and about Rock Band, and we're glad to bring you this in-depth interview.

HMX:How long have you been composing music, and how did you get started?

Magnus 'SoulEye' Pålsson I've been back-and-forth composing ever since I can remember, going back to my parents piano while I grew up. So I guess the short answer is "all my life." But that was nothing that got recorded. Then, I laid my hands on an Epson HX-20 laptop computer. That machine was able to produce one beep at a time, at a specific pitch and length. Needless to say it was great fun for me, but perhaps less so for any nearby listeners... But the composing didn't really take off until I got my Amiga 500 computer, and I made music as a hobby. I might even release those old tunes some day.

HMX:- How did you get involved with the VVVVVV project?

SE: Terry Cavanagh (VVVVVV's creator) had played his good friend Charlie's game called Space Phallus. While playing it, he heard my tune and it stood out to him. So he contacted me afterward and asked me if I was interested in making the music for his game. At first I was happy just to have my songs in a game, but after talking more to Terry, I was even more delighted to get involved because Terry turned out to be a brilliant, creative genius of great integrity and sense of humor. We exchanged a few emails and I was on board! Right now we have just finished working more with the game; VVVVVV got featured as one of five awesome games in the Humble Indie Bundle, something we're very excited about!

HMX: What were your goals and inspirations when composing music for VVVVVV?

SE: My goal at first came to me immediately and was set in stone. My brain told me to "create music that fits a platforming game." That's how the song "Pushing Onwards" was born. I had played an early version of the game and got a good sense of the gameplay and a rough idea of what he wanted, and so I just let it flow. I had some audible inspirations from Street Fighter 2 (Ryu and Guile stages) in "Pushing Onwards" and "Positive Force" but I didn't notice them myself while in the zone and creating. Looking back at what came out I can't deny some of the inspirational themes. Other than that, I have always loved the Mega Man 2 and 3 soundtracks (which is why I was delighted to be the one to make the music for the Mega Man 2.5 game), and a whole slew of other game music that is lodged in my subconscious. I'll always have melodies from Rob Hubbard, Chris Huelsbeck, David Whitaker and Martin Galway in my head forever... If any of you guys are reading this, I'd love it if you contacted me for a co-op song!

After I made a few songs, Terry used them as inspiration to make more levels, and then he needed more music, and it became a positive circle where we boosted each other. I played levels, made music, he listened, created more levels. He didn't give me any more direction than a few words, so I basically had complete creative freedom, and while making some of the songs like "Potential for Anything", I felt like I could do no wrong. It was magical.

HMX: What equipment do you use to compose your tracks?

SE: I use a normal PC and the program MadTracker. MadTracker is an outdated "tracker," full of bugs and quirks. I know it by heart and I love it. I'd love for it to be developed more but Yannick, the author, has abandoned it. It some clever programmer wants to improve upon it, he should contact Yannick as soon as possible! Oh, and I have a microphone that I use sometimes too, for instance in "Max Confidence" where I do all the voices.

HMX: How did you get involved with the Rock Band Network?

SE: Initially, the thought of having my songs on RBN never entered my mind as I didn't think of myself as a rock band (naturally). But after VVVVVV's release, I got contacted by Fairwood Studios who were impressed by my music and explained about how they bring songs to RBN "that RBN didn't know they needed," and they subsequently prepared my songs for RBN. They also did the same for my good friend Danny Baranowsky of Super Meat Boy fame.

HMX: Do you play Rock Band yourself? If so, have you tried playing your music in the game yet?

SE: I play it at parties and so on whenever I can, as its a great way to socialize. I haven't had the chance to play my own stuff yet, but that would be really fun. I suspect it'd be a challenge to complete them on the hardest levels. There are some tough speedy solos in there!

HMX: Where does the 'SoulEye' name come from?

SE: I needed a new nickname once and thought of the saying "In the eye lies the reflection of the soul." It's said that you could tell a lot from looking into somebody's eyes. Of course, a completely uninteresting appearance can hide the biggest, most interesting of secrets and intriguing depths. I liked the ring of it and the associated spiritual connotations.

Interestingly, there's apparently an American rapper with the same name who happens to be married to Alanis Morissette, and his friend once emailed me asking if I have any "phat bangin' beats" for his live sets. I toyed with the thought of sending him a chirpy chiptune and telling him that I've done a heel turn and was venturing in another musical direction, wanting to know what he thinks about this "new style"...

HMX: What are some of your favorite games (both in terms of the music and in terms of the gameplay?)

SE: Gameplay wise, the top game ever has to be Starcraft. It's unparalleled. It sucks up all your attention and there is no ceiling for how good you can get. I also enjoyed Counterstrike for it's great addictive action. Music wise, there's a whole bunch of games that I like of course. I like to go back to the early Commodore 64 and NES days because they shaped my own evolution musically a lot. Top slot gets taken by Wizball (title track) and some other mentions from the plethora of awesome retro music go to Ghosts 'n' Goblins, Giana Sisters, Punch Out, Zelda 2, and Delta.

HMX: Have you considered moving outside chiptunes?

SE: I'd actually like to compose a real rock album. That'd be awesome. But since it'd be tricky to learn all the instruments I'd either need some help producing it or write the songs in the way I already know how and have others remix it. This already happened to the songs from VVVVVV actually; an awesome group of hand-picked musicians who know their stuff helped me out to make a remix album. I've also made some remixes myself for a rhythm game called Pulsen which will release this year, where one song will be a melodic dance tune. Also, the title track from the free web game Extreme Road Trip isn't chiptune, although my music is almost exclusively produced in my beloved MadTracker.

HMX: I understand you also perform live in Sweden. Any favorite stories to share from your live gigs?

SE: I am actually available for live performances worldwide. I would love to perform at Magfest if I could, that would be completely awesome. My favorite story isn't something I'll to talk about online, but a fun thing that happened recently was at the social part of Nordic Game Conference where club music was being played. I wasn't actually gigging, but managed to talk Nifflas into playing my latest song while he was DJ'ing there. It was quite cool to have my song blend in with the other stuff in such a club setting and seeing people bob their heads and dance a bit even though they might not have been expecting this kind of music.

HMX: Any last words for your fans in the Rock Band community?

SE:I love each and every one of you!

And I would LOVE to see some video feedback of you playing the game with my music! Upload a video to YouTube and mention me on Twitter and I'll check it out! I use Twitter mostly to keep people up-to-date, and sometimes give away freebies too. Check out my homepage for ways to get hold of my music if you want to keep me in business, or if you already have everything, sign up for my newsletter for when something big happens, and you'll know before anybody else what's up!

If you'd like to hear SoulEye's music in its native setting, VVVVVV is available right now (along with four other indie games) as part of Humble Indie Bundle #3 (a pay-what-you-want game pack that supports charity). "Positive Force" and "Pressure Cooker" are available for only 80 MSP each on Rock Band for Xbox 360, and both songs will be released on PS3 this coming August.


"...and both songs will be released on PS3 this coming August." News to me! :D I also cannot plug the Humble Indie Bundle enough. Five great games, two weeks of free Minecraft, for whatever price you want to pay- which goes to whoever you want it to go to. You can donate $10 to Child's Play and get $50 worth of games in return, pretty good deal.