Composer Michael A. Levine Talks Resident Evil: Biohazard’s “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” & More
When Michael A. Levine produces a song, it not only becomes memorable but in many cases iconic. Levine is the man responsible for the famous Kit Kat “Gimme A Break” jingle and more recently Resident Evil: Biohazard’s “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” which has been listened to almost ten million times alone on Youtube. We decided to speak with Michael about his process creating these songs and some of his other recent projects.
-When you were creating ‘Go Tell Aunt Rhody’ did you have any idea it was going to become so impactful for this installment?
-Resident Evil is a huge franchise to step into. Were you nervous at all about the fans’ reactions?
I think I can answer both of these questions by saying I really had no perspective. I am a newbie to the RE series and, to be honest, to games in general. Maybe my ignorance was helpful because if I had known then what I know now I might have been intimidated!
-Were you familiar with the franchise before working on Biohazard? If not, what sort of research did you do before starting?
The research I did was to read through the outline of the story and look at the hand-drawn storyboards that Capcom had prepared. My job – whether working on film, television, or songs – is to tell a story. I was not trying to write a “good video game song” but to write a good song for this story.
I think the clients were drawn to me in part because of a track I produced (with Lucas Cantor) of Lorde singing Everybody Wants to Rule the World that was used to promote Assassin’s Creed Unity. That was research, in a way, because I discovered what gamers like.
-You have worked on lighter projects such as The Simpsons Movie and Monster vs Aliens and then ones like Resident Evil: Biohazard. Which genre have you found to be the most challenging?
Monsters vs Aliens is an odd one to pick because I did very little on it – it’s the very talented Henry Jackman’s baby! For the Simpsons Movie I was delighted to be on Hans Zimmer’s support team: I contributed the Spider Pig choir arrangement that proved to be important to the film. I have scored a number of other lighter-fare projects, though, including the not-yet released Star Wars Detours, an animated parody of Star Wars produced by George Lucas with the voices of Seth MacFarlane and Seth Green. I’ve also done more serious material such as the Cold Case television series. As a whole, it is not a genre that makes a score difficult, it’s how quickly I am able to grasp the concept. In the case of RE7, it went fairly quickly.
-You recently scored the documentary “Served Like A Girl” that premiered at South by Southwest. Can you tell us a little about your score for that?
That actually was a tough one, although I just loved working with its talented director, Lysa Heslov, and the rest of the crew. It follows a number of women military veterans who have entered a competition called Ms. Veteran America. Each deals with a trauma – losing her legs in combat, homelessness being raped, etc. – that is contrasted with their collective resilience. The hard part was to resist the temptation to indulge in their personal tragedies and, instead, celebrate their triumphs.
-What are the main differences in scoring a theme for a video game vs scoring a documentary feature?
On the one hand, everything. One is a song, the other a score, one is a few minutes involving lyrics and a singer, the other instrumental-only stretched out over an hour and a half. On the other hand, they are both telling stories and my job is to help tell that story to the best of my ability.
-You created Kit Kat’s famous theme “Gimme A Break”. When you were creating that, did it come to you immediately or was there a lot of experimenting?
After meeting with the team at the advertising agency, I got in the elevator to leave and wrote the music between the third and first floor. It was a slow elevator, however.
-What were your original guidelines for creating “Gimme A Break”?
Zydecko! (Louisiana rock and roll featuring accordion.) Of course, once the client heard the accordion, the reaction was “What is this? Lawrence Welk?” and out went the accordion. Here’s a link.
-Out of all the projects you have worked on which 3 have been your favorite to work on and why?
Right now, I’m psyched about an album I produced called Samira & The Wind featuring wonderful vocalist Mariana Samira Barreto. Mari sang backup on both the Lorde song and the RE7 song. (Lead on Rhody was sung by the incomparable Jordan Reyne). It’s beautiful, ethereal stuff – about as far from Rhody as possible. She’s also my daughter.
I have a great deal of fondness for the television show Cold Case. We did 156 episodes and it launched my TV career.
Not too long ago, I heard a piece of music featuring the violin in a dream. I woke up and recorded the violin as quickly as possible. (That’s my principle instrument.) It’s called The Space Between Silences. I’m rather fond of this one.
Apparently, I’m not the only one. Shortly after I put it on my website, a friend send me a link to this video. It turns out that there is this massive online puzzle/conspiracy theory called Cicada 3301 and one of the people commenting on it borrowed my music for his discussion of it. Just insane enough to be appropriate, I think.