Joe Romersa Interview: Writing Songs for Silent Hill (March 2008)
Joe Romersa is a name that will be familiar to every fan of Silent Hill's music. A talented songwriter and vocalist, Romersa has worked as usic supervisor on Silent Hill 3, Silent Hill 4: The Room and the brand new Silent Hill: Homecoming. What's more, he's behind the song lyrics in these games and sings on "Hometown" and "Cradle of Forest" - plus he's voice acting for animes and video games, does sound engineering, plays several music instruments and even composes his own music.
Interview Subject: Joe Romersa
Interviewer: Michael Naumenko
Editor: Michael Naumenko, Simon Elchlepp
Coordination: Michael Naumenko
Michael: What's your first musical memory? When did you decide to become a musician and what was the first instrument that you played?
Joe Romersa: Beatles. The Ed Sullivan Show. That was the bolt of lightning that started it all. Didn't have money for a guitar so I grabbed a couple of coat hangers and started pounding on pots, pans, couch, anything that made noise. My grandfather was a sax player in Stan Kenton's band, back in the 40's, but my dad is not a musician, my dad was an artist at Disney. My dad knew one drum beat and three chords on guitar. Dad taught me what he knew, and bought me a drum kit when I was 10. By the age of 18 I'd learned how to play drums, guitar, bass, piano, cello, flute, trumpet, tuba, bassoon and harmonica. But drums are my main instrument.
In high school, I had already been in a few different bands, so I wanted something different. I studied electronic music with Moog synthesizers and Revox 2 track reel-to-reel tape machines. Studied Avant-garde and Muzik Concrete of pioneers in sound like John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Many of the musicians I played with in school went on to do great things. D.J. Bonebreak from X, Steve Lukather and Jeff Porcaro from Toto, and Michael Landow to name a few. Ever since, life has been in the studio as a producer/sound engineer or playing drums in various bands. And of course writing.
Some of Joe's free downloads
Michael: How big is your collection of music instruments? Also, we'd be interested to hear what hard- and software you use in your studio?
Joe Romersa: I have two drum kits, an Fender Strat. electric guitar, Gibson acoustic guitar, Hamer bass, Triton 66 keyboard, 300 year pump organ, and a list of other noise makers too big to list here. I'm a Mac G4 man in need of a G5. Use Pro Tools and Digital Performer with Waves plug-ins. Joe Meek and Presonus mic pres. Photoshop and Premiere for visual editing.
Michael: You've been working in anime for a long time. How much Japanese have you learnt by now?
Joe Romersa: Skoshi! I have a hard enough time with English! I live in Los Angeles, I should know Spanish, but I don't. I love the Japanese language, people and culture.
Michael: What hobbies do you have outside of music?
Joe Romersa: I love photography. Here's a link to some of my photos. Video editing - IMAGINE, TRIBUTE TO LOUIS PRIMA, WORDS FROM THE SUN. Other hobbies are poker and internet radio.
Michael: What can you tell about your last album You Are Here? When did the idea to record an instrumental album come about? How long did it you take to record the album?
Joe Romersa: You Are Here is a collection of instrumental moods. Each track was done in various states of mind and time. Like Past Masters, I wanted to just get them off my shelf and into your ears, so I can clear the way for new stuff.
Michael: The single "The New World" consists of only two tracks, and you're not singing, but reading texts. Do you have any plans on creating a full vocal album in this style?
Joe Romersa: I'm working on it. I'm fishing in Lake Muse for inspiration.
Michael: You have released three Past Masters collections, filled with songs by various artists with whom you have worked as engineer, sound producer, drummer and vocalist / back vocalist. Some time has passed since the last Past Masters release - do you have any plans to release Past Masters Vol. 4 and if so, which artists will be included on it?
Joe Romersa: Past Masters is all my older stuff. I want to move on to the present masters. I'm also trying to release an album that I did and which was never released, called "SOY COWBOY". A Thai-Western band I was in. It was my first East meets West type of project. Truly unique! I strongly recommend watching the Soy Cowboy video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=THMeilQKT9o You can hear samples of Soy Cowboy here: http://www.shadowboxstudio.com/soycd.html
Michael: Your first collaboration with Mary Elizabeth McGlynn was not for Silent Hill 3, but much earlier for the song "Highway to the Danger Zone" on Top Gun: Fire at Will (1996). How and when did you first meet Mary?
Joe Romersa: It was? Hmmm. "Highway to the Danger Zone" doesn't sound familiar, but that doesn't mean anything, I work on a lot of projects that have temp names like "Project 96". I've known Mary from the days I was directing dialog for Fist Of The North Star, she voiced Julia. When I was auditioning singers for Silent Hill 3, she was chosen.
Michael: How did you become involved in Silent Hill 3? How and when did you meet Akira Yamaoka? What can you tell us about him as a composer and as a person?
Joe Romersa: In 2002, Yutaka Maseba and Haruyo Kanesaku at ZRO LIMIT PRODUCTIONS brought us together. I work on many game projects with ZRO LIMIT. When Yutaka introduced me to Akira, we got together and jammed at my studio, I played drums, he played on my Strat and Line 6 amp. We talked musically before we spoke through a translator about Silent Hill 3.
Michael: There are rumors that more than 50 candidates auditioned for the female lead vocals in Silent Hill 3 - fact or fiction?
Joe Romersa: Fiction. There were only six.
Michael: Could you give us some insight into the process of creating the Silent Hill songs, as well as into the rehearsal and recording process? What influence did Akira Yamaoka have?
Joe Romersa: The music was done in Japan. My part is the writing of the lyrics and production of the vocal tracks, all of of which is done here in the U.S. Akira sends me mp3's of the tracks with a guide melody played on guitar or keyboards, and I write the lyrics. Then the scratch vocals are done at my studio SHADOW BOX STUDIO. I work out harmony possibilities and experiment a little. All pre-production work is done there, before we cut the master vocal tracks at MAGNITUDE 8 POST. Then all the vocal takes are sent to Akira to import into his master files. I never hear the final mix until the world does. Sometimes the music track ends up totally different from what we sang to.
Michael: Did Akira present you with already finished instrumental versions of the tracks, or were the songs composed in the creative exchange between you and Akira? Are there any particular challenges that come with the recording sessions and how long did these sessions take?
Joe Romersa: I usually get a script and list of characters when I get the mp3's of the music. I discuss the script and characters with Akira so I have a better feel for what I'm writing. It takes a few days to write each song, depending on 'the muse' and deadlines. They usually need these tracks done pretty fast. The rehearsals for four songs are done during a couple of nights in the week, approximately four hours per song. When we record the master vocals, we only spend a couple hours per song because we're so well rehearsed.
Michael: Can you recall any interesting incidents that happened during the recording sessions?
Joe Romersa: You mean the voices and mystery noises? We don't talk about that. Next!
Michael: In one interview, Mary Elizabeth McGlynn said that you used to shout out to her "Mary, we gotta do an album!" When was the first time that you voiced this idea and how come it hasn't been realised yet?
Joe Romersa: I thought about it, I don't think I shouted it, yet I was inspired by the thought of it. Akira, I'm sure, is attached to Konami, so I don't know if we can ever do a CD outside of the Silent Hill franchise. But anything is possible in the future. There's so many possibilities!
Michael: Do you have any ideas regarding this potential project? By the way, Mary also mentioned in an interview that she's working on a secret vocal project. Do you know anything about this?
Joe Romersa: Shhh!
Michael: There are no songs with your vocals in Silent Hill: Zero. How did this come about?
Joe Romersa: Everyone LOVES Mar'ys vocals. My voice is one that you either LOVE or HATE. I guess they like a sure thing!
Michael: Akira Yamaoka has recently said that work on the soundtrack for Silent Hill 5 has been completed and that the vocal tracks have already been recorded. Will there be a song with your vocals? (as long as there's no Non-Disclosure Agreement stopping you from telling us)
Joe Romersa: I'm sorry, you're breaking up, I couldn't understand that last question! Next.
Michael: Have you written any music for video games outside of the Silent Hill franchise? Have you played any games that you've been involved in?
Joe Romersa: I've done a track for Dragon Ball Z GTX, several tracks for various Bandai trailers, for Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War, Rumble Roses, Love and Berry, Beat Down, Wild Arms, Gundam, to mention a few.
Michael: You have cooperated with artists such as Bob Dylan, John Prine, Donald Byrd and many others. Who would you like to work with next?
Joe Romersa: It would be great to work with Paul McCartney, Peter Gabriel or XTC.
Michael: We've heard that you have new material for your next album. When will it be released and what style will it be in? What are your plans for the near future?
Joe Romersa: My problem with releasing my own work is, I'm a perfectionist! Always looking for a new sound! It's easy for me to write about Silent Hill because it's not me. I'm like a painter that paints everything except self portraits.
Michael: Which new music albums have recently impressed you?
Joe Romersa: New albums? Hmm... I like Foo Fighters, Bjork, Avenge Seven Fold, Beck, Linkin Park, Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Michael: Radiohead have released an album independently and sent shockwaves through the music industry, while Nine Inch Nails and other artists are parting ways with their major record labels and explore new distribution methods. How do you think the music industry will develop - will these developments continue or will everything soon get back to normal? Has the era of web 2.0 influenced you?
Joe Romersa: What I tried to do with The New World was to release it as a digital download only - if for no other reason, to reduce the waste of unwanted CD's in land fills. I'm a very green minded person, I respect and love the earth. We need to cut down on waste.
Michael: And now some words to your fans in Russia!
Joe Romersa: People of Russia, wish you were here, but be glad you're there! Protect the earth! Love your mother, father, brothers, sisters and children. I am honored for your interest in what I do.
Michael: Thank you for your time!
Joe Romersa: Spasiba!
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- Info about Joe Romersa