Trent Reznor, who most recently scored The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo with Atticus Ross, is not for a film, but for the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops II.
Reznor has composed the game's theme song, an "aggressively sounding" piece of guitar, bass and drums-based rock. Well-known video game composer and Video Games Live co-producer Jack Wall (Mass Effect 2) composed the rest of the music for the game.
A lifelong video gamer, Reznor is no stranger to collaborating with game developers having worked on Quake and Doom 3 with id Software. His teaming with the game's development studio Treyarch is a suitable one as the Nine Inch Nails front man is a fan of the Call of Duty franchise and 2010's Black Ops. "I have always looked to that franchise as the cutting edge of what seemingly unlimited budgets and full-on not cutting any corners can do in the current day and age," he says.
When Treyarch studio head Mark Lamia began talking with Activision's music affairs team, "we were trying to think what is the kind of artist that could represent something a little bit dark, sometimes conflicted, bold original and engaging," says Black Ops II director and writer Dave Anthony. "Honestly, Trent's name stuck out. He was perfect for it."
Reznor recently talked with Game Hunters about Black Ops II, video games and his upcoming music projects.
How'd you get connected with Treyarch on 'Black Ops II'?
I'm not exactly sure. I started dipping my toe into film scoring. That led me to film-scoring agents and whatnot, and a variety of projects start to get thrown at you to check your level of interest. And quite a while ago I had heard, 'Would you be interested in a big franchise video game?' Being an avid gamer my whole life, I said, 'Yeah, I would be interested in that.'
Coming off of doing two films in a row, I wasn't looking to really dive into a super big project, so the idea of scoring the theme song for this came up and it sounded interesting to me so I pursued it.
How is doing music for a game similar or different from composing film soundtracks?
Here's a similarity. When David Fincher called me up a few years ago and said, 'Hey, I'd like you to score this film The Social Network.' I said, 'I'm flattered but I really don't have any real experience scoring films and I'd rather not screw it up on a high-profile project. And I like you and I don't want to compromise our friendship.'
He talked me into it, which I'm glad he did. My strategy going into that was the one I used since then on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and certainly on Call of Duty, which was really to sit and listen and realize that my role in this is a supporting role. He had lived with project, and I'm talking about The Social Network right now, and thought about it a lot more than I have. Let me try to find out exactly what it is he is wanting and why he reached out to me. I found that strategy, although it may seem obvious, really worked.
In Nine Inch Nails, I've been the guy calling the shots since inception. I'd gotten used to that. I was interesting to be in a situation where I was working under somebody I respect and playing a supporting role. When I sat down with the Treyarch guys, I wanted right off the bat to say, 'Guys, first of all, I am working for you on this thing. What are the moods you are looking for, because the role of this piece is greeting the gamer into the game. Let's really talk about themes and as I start throwing iterations at you, please feel free to say, That's not right.'
How did you arrive at a sound?
When I sat down with these guys. I kind of wanted to extract 'If you are looking for a big orchestral, Hollywood-y feeling, traditional-type patriotic score, I can do something like that, but I'm not excited about doing it,and it's not my strength. There's a lot of other people who can do that better than I can.
I was intrigued by the idea that they were willing to get out of the zone with something a little bit different. What I did was present them with the concept of 'Let's have it arranged semi-orchestrally, but let's have the voice be an instrument. Let's veer it more toward guitar, bass, drum rock band aggression. And I don't mean in a corny rock-and-roll way, but let's have a more modern foundation in terms of how it sounds. But let's have the way the voices are arranged mimic an orchestral range.' If that makes sense. The first thing I sent back to them was what really wound up being the foundation of the core of the end result.
What I learned in listening to the full story and the amount of effort that has gone into the back story and the characters and the full preparation (is) there is a lot of reservation and angst and sense of loss and regret and anger bubbling under the surface. So it didn't make sense to have a gung ho, patriotic feeling theme song. It has to feel weighty. There is a lot of remorse and apprehension here. So choosing to arrange it a bit more with guitars and drums and aggressively sounding, that struck a tone with them.
If it was set purely in World War II, for example, I wouldn't have chosen the instruments that I did. The fact that it is set slightly in the future made me feel like maybe it is OK to get away from an orchestra. So we did it the way we did.
Have you completed work on that?
The phone hasn't rang for a few weeks. I'm on call, but we'll see how it goes. I'm assuming that is a good sign but maybe I'm being naive here.
Can you update us on the How To Destroy Angels album (the band includes Reznor's wife Mariqueen Maandiq and Tattoo and Social Network soundtrack co-composer Atticus Ross)?
We have a finished album. It's been finished for a little while. We're doing a little bit of tweaks on it. The record will be out soon. We are doing a different type of distribution this time so it's taking a little bit longer to coordinate stuff. There's a lot of music about to be unleashed, videos, etcetera. I'm working on some new Nine Inch Nails stuff.
Did you say also working on new Nine Inch Nails music? That's good to hear.
Dot dot dot. Hopefully, it will be good to hear. Right now, it's in its gestation period.
READ THE ENTIRE INTERVIEW HERE.