It’s not often that an artists manages to create something that resonates with me for days. It’s like they created the right content at the right time, without even realizing it you craved for it. Even though the indie-game My Friend Pedro has been on my radar for quite some time, its amazing soundtrack was something that only struck with me after release.
My Friend Pedro is a stylish, side scrolling action game that allows you to choreograph your gunplay in slow-motion. The game manages to encapsulate the same sensation you might have felt while playing the first Max Payne game. Its unrelenting gameplay can be punishing when a move is wrongfully executed. On the contrary, it has great pace and always pushes you forward. A large majority of the game’s pacing is because of its soundtrack. An unique high octane mix of dark dub techno and synthwave. Equivalent to the songs featured in the neo-noir shooter Ruiner.
My Friend Pedro’s soundtrack is a collaboration between artists Noisecream, Nounverber, Battlejuice, Maks SF and Navie D. The works of the latter make up for the majority of the songs featured in the game. When I enthusiastically tweeted about Navie D’s works, he generously thanked me moments after. Eager to know more what drove him to create these stunning sounds and how his creative process looks like, I approached him with a few questions.
For those out there that do not know, would you be so kind as to briefly introduce yourself and what drove Navie D to score a videogame?
Sure, my name is Navie D. Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. I’ve been a making music for a little over a decade now. I started off wanting to be a hip hop producer initially. After doing that for a few years, I eventually got bored of it and I felt that it was ultimately a dead-end. Eventually, I had the idea to try my hand at video game music since people often told me that my music felt very moody and cinematic. I began looking for projects to work on a couple years back, and eventually stumbled upon My Friend Pedro.
“I don’t feel I have any sense of responsibility to the larger audience. “
The soundtrack of My Friend Pedro heavily influences the game’s overall atmosphere and pacing. Realizing the value of your contribution to someone else’s work and the amount of influence you have on the overall experience, how do you try to maintain balance?
I’ve never really considered the audience’s experiences when making my music. For me, the first step is to make sure I enjoy the music. Next up is to make sure the person I am making the music for enjoys the music as well (whether it be a musical artist, or a developer). Beyond that, I don’t feel I have any sense of responsibility to the larger audience. That would be too paralyzing to try and please that large of a crowd.
What are your favourite soundtracks, movies or composers you’d like to take inspiration from?
I think my time creating hip hop has really coloured my music-making process. Guys like The Alchemist (my favourite music producer of all time), J Dilla, Havoc, Q-Tip, Pete Rock; these guys really helped shape my approach to creation. Outside of that, I grew up playing video games and really loved soundtracks to games like Xenogears, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy. Fundamentally though, when working on a project, I try to draw from the influence of the project itself. For example, when making the music for My Friend Pedro, Victor Ågren (the developer) let me play the game early on and I got to see what the levels looked like and got a feel for the atmosphere of each area. I let this guide the process most of all.
Rather than contracting a fully-fledged symphonic orchestra, the creation of a soundtrack tends to happen more behind a desk with the help of a computer and plugins. Do you still work with instruments or is everything digitized? How do you make sure your work is unique sounding? With what gear do you work?
I work purely digitally, using my Native Instruments Maschine. When pursuing a unique sound, I think this is one of those things that you don’t really have control over. You like what you like. Some people like straight-forward conservative music, others like experimental music. All you can do is understand and hone in on your own taste, and pick projects that are congruent with what you like. The rest of the chips fall where they may.
Synthwave and alike is very much on the rise in popularity. Videogames like Cyberpunk 2077 and Ruiner really helped invigorate the genre. Is it your trademark style? Was it picked specifically for this game?
I do enjoy using synths, and I felt that it fit with this game in particular. But I wanted to try my best to steer clear of the 80’s nostalgia love that seems to be prevalent currently. I wanted to take this aesthetic and combine it with more trance and industrial styles. I wouldn’t say this is my trademark style though, I like to try different things all the time. I get bored easily.
“I wanted to try my best to steer clear of the 80’s nostalgia love …”
I often wonder how a soundtrack is conceived. How much creative freedom do you have? For movies it’s often the director who already has a strong sense of how the music should sound like. Is this the same case with a video game? Or are you responsible for pitching the right sound?
I think Victor was great in this sense. He and I initially discussed what the songs should sound like, and a lot of the tracks I made early on in the process were in-line with this initial idea (like Cave Crawl, Slinky, Atomic Clock). But he understood that having those big, aggressive songs throughout the entire track would have gotten mundane and monotonous, and so he really pushed the idea of letting things loose and seeing what I could come up with. I made around 150 tracks for the game, and he curated the game using whatever he felt fit best at the end of the process. It was a really productive and great way to get different types of moods and ideas into the game.
Let’s state the obvious. My Friend Pedro is obviously inspired by The Matrix, Max Payne and Hotline Miami. Did that somehow influence your work? Are you familiar with the Max Payne games?
Yeah I loved playing Max Payne 1 and 2 as a kid. Especially 2, with how noire it was. I would say that the gameplay was inspired by Max Payne, but I don’t think my creation process drew from that well unfortunately. Awesome games though!
Were you required you pull of any special tricks to make sure the music would “fit” the game? For example, do they support the pacing within levels or did Victor intend for some sections to be more relaxed while others needed to be high octane chaos?
Well there are a variety of tracks that are high energy and others may be a bit lower, but fundamentally what I wanted to encourage was a sense of constant forward motion. For me, the most fun part of the game is when you are about to walk into a room, see there are 3 or 4 guys standing around, and instead of slowing down and calculating what you’re going to do, you just walk in and figure out who you are going to kill and how on the fly. So I wanted to reinforce this sense of momentum; I wanted to make sure the music wasn’t too melodic, nor did it have crazy high peaks and valleys within each song. I wanted the music to be pretty linear in its energy levels so the player felt this same sense of constant forward drive.
Soundtracks for games are, in my opinion, transcending those of film in terms of quality, atmosphere and uniqueness. In your own words, how come?
Oh wow, that’s an interesting opinion. Maybe a lot of other artforms are in their maturity phase, and our idea of what and how a film should look and sound is too well established. For video games, it’s still a very young medium, and one that is constantly evolving quicker than any other medium. I feel that may help encourage more outside of the box thinking by creators (especially in the indie scene) since people are more acclimatized to seeking new types of games, styles, sounds, and visuals. Not sure if any of that is right, just making this up as I go.
I bet we’ve all had this experience – You are working on something big, and you are very proud of what you’ve accomplished so far. However, you keep tweaking and changing your work in order to improve it even more. Sometimes you take one step forward and two steps back. How and when do you decide your work is ‘done’?
My constant sense of boredom is how I know something is done. Also giving myself limitations has also helped with this. If a song gets boring before it’s finished, I move on. If I can’t “figure it out” within 2-3 days, I move on. This may not be the best means of finishing things, but for me, I would rather explore and seek out new ideas rather than sit on one idea for an extended period of time, trying to make it 5% better when I can look for something new that may be 500% better than what I am working on now. I definitely look back on some songs and think “I could have done this or that better”, but that same approach has also led to me creating better music as well. Pros and cons to everything.
Sometimes during interviews actors or directors often say they don’t dare to touch a certain project because they feel they are not the right fit. How do you think about this? Would you turn a project down for this reason?
Absolutely. As cool as it would be to be a part of something big, if I don’t feel like I am adding value, then it feels like a selfish act. I would much rather work on something else that I can actually contribute to, and add value to. With those types of projects, you are walking into a well-established world where the audience already has its pre-conceptions. I feel that I can’t really add much to something so entrenched in the zeitgeist already. The fun I have is exploring what’s on the outside of that line.
And that concludes our talk with this talented composer. If you’d like to learn even more about Navie D’s work for My Friend Pedro, why not take a moment to visit his website?