“To be fair, we thought this was going to be a tiny bit more chilled than it ended up being.”
Igor Haefeli is chuckling, cracking a smile, but his comment is not entirely a joke. The guitarist and bassist of Daughter, a London-based indie band, really didn’t know what was in store when they signed up for something new late last year: the writing and recording of a video game soundtrack.
And not just any game, either. It's fair to say that Daughter don't need to scrabble around for work: the trio's two albums to date, 2013’s If You Leave and 2016’s How To Disappear, both charted in the UK top 20. And when the band was approached to produce original music for Before The Storm, the forthcoming three-episode prequel to 2015’s smash-hit Life Is Strange, they didn't yet know anything about the game or its impact. But as they looked into the project, something appealed.
“We didn’t know anything about it, to start with,” Igor says. “We were finishing up a year of touring, and this opportunity came along at just the right moment. We discovered more about the first game, and really liked it. It spoke to us, for sure. And we met with the developers, Deck Nine, and that was that.”
The first track to be released, Burn It Down, shows that Daughter has vividly manifested a mood, an atmosphere, a richness of emotion that echoes what's special about Life Is Strange.
“Always said I was a good kid, always said I had a way with words,” sings vocalist Elena Tonra. “Never knew I could be speechless, don’t know how I’ll ever break this curse.” If you played through the original Life Is Strange, words like those, combined with sentiments like “can’t be bothered with the teachers, always trying to shape the way I act,” are so evocative of the attitude, of the personality, of Arcadia Bay renegade Chloe Price — our protagonist for Before The Storm.
“This is a story that really echoes what we talk about in our music,” says Elena, who began Daughter essentially as a solo project (this is how I first saw the band, playing a support set at London’s tiny Brixton Windmill venue). “It’s based in reality, and the human experience, in core things we can all relate to. Chloe is a real person, depicting relatable experiences. Well, she’s very real to me.”
This relation to Chloe is reflected in Before The Storm's score, and its frequent changes of pace and style. This swings through instrumental themes to vocal-led arrangements, builds up to explosive crescendos but has long stretches of calm reflection. There's something of the character’s own electric, quick-tempered disposition running right through it.
“Chloe was a thematic anchor for the whole process,” Elena says. “There were moments, making this, when I was very emotionally attached to her, and it was getting a bit overwhelming.”
The band worked from scripts and concept artwork provided by Deck Nine, alongside the movie references that were inspiring particular scenes. “They wanted to stick to the atmosphere of the first game,” says Igor, “but with the tone slightly changed, because now you’re playing as Chloe, not Max, and Chloe is this louder, more brash personality.”
The recording process took Daughter, their line-up completed by drummer Remi Aguilella, about three months — less time than they’d spend on their own, 'regular' albums. Which is not to say that Music From Before The Storm, the soundtrack album releasing hours after the game in question, is being treated any differently by its makers.
“Regardless of how these songs were to be used in the game, we wanted them to be able to stand on their own,” Igor says. “We wanted this to be something that people who weren’t playing the game could enjoy, too. And we were encouraged to follow our intuition, too — Deck Nine came to us because they liked what we’d already been doing, on past records.”
But working for someone else, rather than themselves, so to speak, freed Daughter up to stretch themselves in ways they’d not felt comfortable with, before. “We knew we’d need to have an open mind on this, and be receptive to feedback on the songs from the studio,” says Igor. “We had to be understanding, because people are expecting certain things from us, in order to realise their own artistic vision, and their own creative goals.”
“I think we’ve been quite experimental, with this recording,” says Elena. “The shackles were definitely off a little bit, perhaps because when you’re making music for yourself, you’re carrying it around with you for so long, and that can be very demanding. There was a greater freedom, with producing music, a concept, for something else — and I think that’s led to us working better together, as a band. There have been some… different vibes, making this.”
For Elena, working on a video game represents something of a reconnection with her childhood. “I grew up with games,” she says, turning her mind back to the 1990s, and 16-bit memories. “I used to spend most weekends in the front room of my granny and granddad’s house, playing video games right through the afternoon, Me, an army of cousins, and my brother, all playing through Zelda on the Super Nintendo, just gathering stuff for hours.”
And having her music appear on a video game — in much more than simply a licensed capacity, a single track on an in-game radio station, for example — gets her excited about expanding the band’s audience. “Having new people hear our music through this is great, of course,” she says.
“We hope it’s clear that we’ve put blood, sweat and tears into this,” says Igor. “We care so much about this music – and as an artist, this project, this collaboration, it felt really right. To make an original soundtrack, it’s been a huge thing for us. We always wanted to make something that we were really proud of, however it was used.”
Listening to Music From Before The Storm, if you didn’t know it’d been put together to complement the story, the action, of a new video game, I don’t think you’d immediately leap to it being designed for such a function.
Yes, there are instrumental pieces that hint at recurring motifs, melodies connected explicitly to characters, to moments. But there are also songs – proper, fully formed songs, of the kind that Daughter have made their name with, the kind that led to them being approached in the first place. Songs like All I Wanted, which channels the loss, in all its forms, that colours the very core of Chloe’s character; and the closing number, A Hole In The Earth, which sounds expertly-engineered to shatter hearts, perhaps as the credits roll. For fans of both band and game, the results are never less than captivating: articulations of magnificent melancholy that perfectly fit the frenetic life and times of one Chloe Price.
Episode one of Life Is Strange: Before the Storm is released on August 31, for Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Daughter’s Music From Before The Storm album is released on September 1, via 4AD in the UK and Glassnote in the US.
Three More Bespoke Video Game OSTs to Check Out Right Now
Daughter’s made-to-fit music for Life Is Strange: Before The Storm isn’t the first time a popular recording artist has been sourced to produce material for a video game. Here are three other records just from last year that you should really check out – your ears and quite possibly your soul will thank you for it.
65daysofstatic – Music For An Infinite Universe
AKA, the proper, propulsive songs that fit around the procedurally-generated atmospherics of No Man’s Sky. Sheffield act 65daysofstatic was approached early on in the development of Hello Games’ divisive survival title, with director Sean Murray a long-time fan of the band. And the four-piece’s experience with sci-fi themes — they’d previously recorded a score for the 1972 movie Silent Running, in 2011 — served them well; Music For An Infinite Universe is indeed evocative of distant stars exploding, titanic space cruisers casting silhouettes against dying suns, and sparkling vapour trails across cyan alien skies.
When it picks up the pace, so the action in your mind’s eye turns from meditation and exploration to fight-or-flight turbulence, rocking the senses just as pirates would try to shake your chosen freighter free of its most precious cargo.
Various Artists – Furi (Original Game Soundtrack)
Okay, so this isn’t one single artist – but as a cohesive, adrenaline-speeding experience, Furi’s original score clicks together amazingly well, collecting as it does a series of (predominantly French) electronic producers whose material proves wonderfully complementary. Montpellier developer The Game Bakers was determined to give their boss-rush fighter a soundtrack that really accentuated its dance-of-death dynamics, the everything-or-nothing encounters, and the sharp, precise strikes that would guarantee progression.
And it delivered, brilliantly, with many tracks here twisting a palpable tension until, snap, everything breaks down, but beautifully so. Perhaps it’s the Gallic flavour of so much of the music, but there’s something about the Furi OST that feels like what Étienne De Crécy’s semi-collaborative Super Discount would be, if conceived today rather than the mid-1990s, and with rather more hands on deck.
Hudson Mohawke – DedSec
Scottish producer Hudson Mohawke’s original music for Watch Dogs 2, collected as a 16-track album every bit as worthwhile as his solo material “proper”, pops and flexes in a very contemporary fashion — it’s all drum beats that march as if in a military formation, and synths that glimmer before they pop and fizz like crystalline bubblegum.
It’s a cool work, in both the sense that it’s exceptionally steely, hard to find an organic heart within, and cutting-edge of feel and freshness. But while that might sound off-putting to anyone preferring their music a little more, I suppose, human, DedSec’s pronounced originality and consistent imagination, evidenced on the crunchy hip-hop beats of Play N Go and digital summertime crush of Burning Desire, keeps the attention enjoyably occupied. For those willing to welcome something a little different into their listening gear, at least. And when it does find a moment of calm, like on W4tched (Cinema), there’s real beauty in the interplay of these robotic buzzes and circuit-board screams.