Interview with Ryan Shore

Following in the footsteps of his very successful uncle and Academy Award winning film composer Howard Shore, Grammy nominated composer Ryan Shore started playing the saxophone at age 11. Ryan continued his studies at the prestigious Berklee College of Music and soon after began helping his uncle (Howard Shore) on such films as Cop Land and Gloria. Ryan Shore has also earned numerous honors and awards, including the Elmer Bernstein Scoring Award and the Clive Davis Award. Since then, Ryan has built an impressive list of film credits. Some notable films include Confession, Prime, Cabin Fever 2 and, of course, The Shrine, which earned him his first Grammy nomination. We had the opportunity to talk to Ryan regarding his score for Spy Hunter — which marks his first time scoring a video game. Spy Hunter is a reboot of the classic game featuring players taking the role of an agent driving a car equipped with sophisticated weaponry taking on a global terrorist organization. For SPY HUNTER, Shore composed a contemporary hybrid music score by fusing live performances with electronic grooves and overdubs. Recording with a jazz big band Ryan acoustically re-created Henry Mancini's iconic theme to 'Peter Gunn' and remixed the new arrangement with modern electronic sounds. Both the game and soundtrack were released earlier this month. The soundtrack can be purchased via Amazon MP3 or through iTunes.

Most of our readers are familiar with the work you've done for movies such as Confession, Prime and the Grammy-nominated film, The Shrine. Is Spy Hunter the first video game (of any platform or system) that you've scored? How did this project come about?

My friend Jeff Nachbaur, who is one of the producers of the game, brought me on board. We've known each other for about 20 years, going back to high school. My interest in composing games has been steadily growing over a very long time, and when Jeff called me and told me about the game and the music they would like, everything about the project just felt right to me. Spy Hunter gave me a chance to write a type of music I haven't been asked to write much, and I couldn't have been more thrilled to jump in and be a part of it.
• Spy Hunter consists of very interesting musical material that fuses electronic sounds, rhythms, big band elements and even wobbly basslines. Retaining the Peter Gunn theme makes perfect sense for the franchise but for the most part we hear your own arrangements and ideas. Tell us more about how you decided you wanted to score this particular game knowing that you had a very iconic theme to work with.

I began by creating a large palette of acoustic big band music (trumpets, trombones, saxophones, piano, organ, guitars, bass, drums, strings, etc.), and recorded all of it in stems so that any of those elements could be later manipulated. I then worked closely with a great remixer named Cheapshot to remix all of that music and bring all the current electronic sounds and production techniques into the score. One of my primary goals was to make sure the music is constantly sounding fresh and not repetitive, so towards that I composed many musical leitmotivs of my own that were inspired by Mancini's great Peter Gunn theme. I would do that, for example, by taking his bass line and composing my own music melodies on it. Or vice versa, by taking his melodies and writing my own accompaniment to it. So that hopefully all of the elements, new material and classic material, sound like they were cut from the same cloth. In the end, the Peter Gunn theme comprises about 20% of the score, and the new material is about 80% of the score.
• My guess is that your career as a professional saxophone player helped tremendously?

Absolutely. Particularly because I've spent so much time playing in big bands and writing for them. So when I came on board for this game, musically I was right at home. I really didn't need to do any extra research about jazz, big bands, the style of music, etc. I could really just jump right in and get to work.
• The Spy Hunter game franchise dates back to the early ‘80s. It includes games for different platforms and systems. Were you familiar with most of these games and did they have any influence in how you scored this newest installment?

I was very familiar with Spy Hunter since I grew up playing it. I loved playing it in the arcades, bowling alley and go-kart track (where I did most of my arcade playing in those days). It's been awesome to see how the series has developed over time, and quite amazing to now be a part of it. Musically, I mostly remember the arcade version, since that's the version I played most. It's funny though because when you go back to listen to that one, there really isn't very much musical detail in it at all. It's incredibly simple sounding, so it was fun to dive into it and create this new version with all the instruments and electronics. I didn't go back to listen to the music from the other versions of the game. Knowing what the producers were looking for, I just began from scratch.
• After hearing the Boss Fight 1 & 2 cues I instinctively assumed you were an avid gamer as a child and teenager. Only someone who grew up playing video games in the ‘80s and ‘90s could have produced such fun, enjoyable and classic tracks. Is the assumption correct?

That's true. I played a lot of games in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I had the classic game consoles: the Atari 2600, the original Nintendo, and my friend had the Sega console so between those systems, I played a ton of games. I think the sounds from them must be instinctively embedded in my memory because I definitely loved channeling my feelings for those games when writing this score.
• 'Nuclear Fallout' is such a fun and engaging cue to listen to. Having not played the game, can you use this particular track as an example and describe to our readers the role it plays inside “Spy Hunter' and how it adapts to the gameplay?

Thanks! That was a really fun one to create. The direction I was given from the producers was to create pieces that are about 3 minutes in length that could also loop. So I would make sure the end of a track would be in the same key and tempo as the beginning so that it could loop seamlessly. Regarding how this piece adapts to the gameplay, I had also seen some of the gameplay and had some opportunities to play earlier builds of the game, but I didn't compose this piece for a specific scene. It was one of the many pieces I wrote and then the producers decided where they wanted to have it heard in the game. In a way, one of the most exciting parts for me is seeing where the music now lives within the game. It brings a whole new perspective to the music when I have the opportunity to play the game with how they put it together, and I love it.

• Video games are becoming the preferred medium for composers to work in. Now that you've scored Spy Hunter, do you think you'll want to explore and score other games in the near future?

Definitely. Video games are an exciting, vibrant medium with amazing stories to tell, and they offer tremendous opportunities for composing. It's a medium for which I want to write much more music. I loved writing the score for the game, and I really look forward to scoring many more.
• Where you given more freedom as a composer for this particular project? I am talking about time/deadlines and in general more liberty with the music you composed?

I definitely felt quite a bit of freedom in writing the score, particularly from the point of view that I didn't need to write music around dialogue or specific internal timings. That's a very musically liberating place to be for a composer. So for this game I was able to create and arrange the music with greater detail. Schedule-wise, I had about 3 months, which coming from the world of film composing where you would normally have about 4-6 weeks, felt very luxurious. I absolutely loved having the extra time to develop the music more.
• Did knowing the game would be released for Nintendo 3DS and Playstation Vita affect in any way how you composed or produced the music? Did the game developers ask you to do anything that would be different from a console game?

Not at all. I wrote exactly the same type of score I would have written if it were a console game. My inspiration came directly from the premise of the game. Watching the gameplay was a constant inspiration, and pretending that I was the driver of the G-6155 Interceptor Supercar was all the inspiration I needed to get right to work. I've always loved sports cars, so pretending to be the driver for this one was very much at home for me. I actually wished that there was even more music required for me to deliver for the game because there was no shortage of ideas. I wanted to keep going and going. Those feelings were my guide for the composing, and the thought that the delivery format would be on the handlelds vs. the consoles didn't play into my process.
• To conclude this interview, can you tell our readers what are some of your upcoming projects?

I'm currently scoring a new animated television show for Disney, and I just wrote two new songs for Sesame Street. There are also a few more movies on the horizon which are currently shooting that I'll be scoring when they're ready. I love writing in different media, and after scoring this game, I can't wait to write for another one.