Interview with John R. Graham (Composer)
Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV Soundtrack
John R. Graham created original music for the film, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV. Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV was shown in theaters starting on August 19, 2016 and was released on Digital on August 30, 2016. The original soundtrack for Kingsglaive is available digitally since August 30, 2016 (in the US), and now available worldwide as of September 7, 2016. There will also be a CD released on October 26, 2016. Graham wrote aproximately 100 minutes of original music for this film. Graham has also provided music for Bethesda Softworks, Disney, LucasArts, Warner Brothers, Universal, ABC, CBS, and many others. Graham's film credits also include Bitch Slap, My Brother's War, and Alleged. We had the opportunity to ask John R. Graham some questions about his experience working on Kingsglaive.
How did this project (Kingsglaive) come about?
I worked on a couple of earlier projects for Square Enix and they were great to work with - very team-oriented and positive. I did want to work with them again but was bowled over when I was asked to score the film.
How long did you spend working on Kingsglaive?
Altogether it was about four months, from initial sketches to recording and final mixes. We used a tremendous number of electronic sounds but also a full orchestra as well, so the composition process was very dense and involved.
What was it like creating a counterbalance to Yoko Shimomura's music?
I worked from Los Angeles, coordinating with director Takeshi Nozue via email and a number of video conferences. He made it clear he wanted a large-scale, organic-sounding score to support the epic story he and his team created. We used a full orchestra throughout along with thousands of electronic elements - warped acoustic sounds, electronic percussion and sound-design elements and so on. Takeshi didn't want anything that sounded pop or too much like dance or song music, but there is still a tremendous amount of non-orchestral sound supporting the score. Yoko wrote the main theme and several other cues from Japan.
Could you tell us about one of your favorite moments working on this particular project?
The movie features a lot of scope to bring out the full sound of the orchestra, complemented by large electronic resources as well. There is betrayal, a clash of philosophies and civilizations, a lot of action, and a great deal of personal sorrow too.
But the coolest part of movie scoring for me is the feeling of a coming-together of the efforts of so many people - the brilliant animators, the concept artists, writers, the director, and the actors. So, I think in many ways my favourite part of the scoring process was scoring a peak in the arc of the story - when Nyx fights his military nemesis late in the movie. That moment brings all the threads to a peak: story-telling, character development, artistic scale and the actors' contribution as well, along with a huge orchestral cue. It's those moments that are the most fun for me.
If you had to pick, what is your favorite song from the album?
I love when the Monster Bots turn up. At that moment in the story, you think it couldn't get worse for the Kingsglaive but - it does! The music is elemental and just plain LOUD at the outset and then goes into all-out destruction, with a feeling of loss at the end. Pieces like that are fun to write and also - importantly - a lot of fun for the orchestra to play.
I know you asked for just one favourite, but I'm cheating! Another really fun scene to score was when Nyx fights the General, closer to the end of the movie. That scene has a big theme and a huge number of French Horns playing, which helps make it larger than life.
Could you tell us a little about your musical background?
As a boy I was lucky to have this fantastic teacher, Mrs. Romer, who'd played flute in the Chicago symphony, but who had semi-retired to teach grade-school students in my town. Her flute playing was far beyond anything I'd ever heard before and she generously gave me free lessons as a child. I also was lucky enough to study at A-level and in college as well, later on, and studied orchestration and the traditional symphony orchestra.
But I also played in rock bands with loud guitars and noisy drummers. I do love the orchestra but I also like all that energy and basic in-your-face-ness of contemporary music, from the Sex Pistols to Sigur Rós to M83 and Beyoncé. Just about every kind of technique can be used in film these days and I love all that.
How did you get interested in this career?
If I have something special to offer, I think it's the love of what everyone else is doing on the movie at least as much as my love of music. I get my energy from the writers, the artists, the lighting people, the cinematographer, the costume designers and the actors.
I've always been at least as much of a story and images guy as I have been a musician. To me, music just “belongs” in a movie and I feel like I'm more on an exploratory mission to discover the music the film wants, instead of composing material and putting it onto the images.
I try to keep in an intuitive frame of mind for as long as possible at the outset, coming up with this or that fragment of melody, or a chord change I particularly like, or a rhythmic texture that comes out of what I'm seeing. Then later, after I've (agonizingly) dragged myself through that first stage, I turn my more analytical side on what I've already done to bring out the musical concepts and work with them through the rest of the score.
What advice would you give for aspiring musicians out there?
Read stories, travel, care for others, and try to experience life first. I think audiences can detect artificial emotion with unerring accuracy, even if they are not trained musically - phony sounds like phony.
Don't get me wrong; musical training is very helpful. It allows you to work over your material in ways that you might not otherwise have time to get to under the pressure of a deadline. But it is a risk with a lot of training to get caught writing music that has good technique but feels insincere to the audience. I think you do best when you bring your experience of the joys and losses of life and translate feelings as authentically as you can when writing for film.
Have you played the Final Fantasy games? (If so, which is your favorite?)
I have played FF, and I like that they try to bring authentic characters and ideas into the game. Unlike many other game worlds, the good guys and bad guys in FF take actions that are not always consistent with their set roles. There are meaningful differences of opinion, even among characters on the same side. Sometimes real life social or political issues are part of the game's narrative too, and I like that.
Do you have any other recent projects (or soon to be released) that we should be on the lookout for?
I have projects in the works but they are not publicly announced yet.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Kingsglaive was a rare project, rare because I had the feeling all through it that the producers were never going to jeopardise quality because of budget or other considerations. Throughout the process, from art design to costumes to cast to changes in lighting in the final version - and music too! - the producers came up with the resources to make the project as good as it could be. That's not so common nowadays.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions!
John R. Graham's Official Website
Official Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV Website