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One of the most beloved action role-playing video games last year was Bastion, created by independent developer Supergiant Games and published by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment. Besides the fairly flawless combat system, and unique narrative style that actually narrated based on how you played the game, one of the things people loved about the game was the incredible soundtrack. In fact, one of the main song’s, "Build That Wall (Zia’s Theme)" won Best Song in a Game at the VGAs in December. Ashley Lynn Barrett is the singer behind "Build That Wall", as well as "Setting Sail", "Coming Home (End Theme)" and she was kind enough to sit down and talk about how she got involved, the recording process and where you can see her sing live next.
How did you get recruited to sing the two main songs in the game?
I have been friends with the Audio Director for Supergiant Games, Darren Korb, for years—we knew each other through our old theater company in the Bay Area. Darren and I had worked together in the past on some side projects and we always kept in touch. I was so flattered when he asked me if I could help him out with the Bastion soundtrack because I have always thought of him as a musical genius. As his brother Dan says: “Anything he touches turns to gold.”
How much did he tell you about Bastion before you signed on?
Darren told me the story about the calamity and basically how The Kid wakes up at the beginning of the game on a floating rock with nothing and no one around him. He also told me about Zia, what her song meant to the Ura people and how The Kid finds her. I remember thinking that there was a lot of back story for this game (not to mention the entirely new language they had written!) and I could tell everyone working on it was super passionate about the Bastion story and production.
Was this your first role in a videogame? Is this something you'd like to continue doing more of?
Yes, this was my first video game role. I actually did a lot of voice over work when I was younger for English as a Second Language tapes for Japan. I loved every second of the recording process and would definitely want to continue doing it. My lifelong dream has actually always been to voice a Disney princess character in an animated film – maybe one day we can convince Disney to make a Bastion film and I could voice Zia!
Any opportunity I have been given to sing, I have taken it. Singing has been my passion since I was about six years old. I’ve done rap song hooks, commercial jingles, etc. but this one seemed like a lot of fun because not only did I get to work with my good friend, Darren but the music was ridiculously good. From the first chord I heard of the music for the game, I knew it would be something totally unique and something that I wanted to be a part of.
Tell me about some of the rap songs or commercial jingles. Or better yet… can you point us to a YouTube link?
I met some guys in NYC who were aspiring producers and when I told them I was a singer, they had me sing A cappella on the street. Next thing I knew, I was in a recording booth in Brooklyn recording a hook they had me write for a beat they were producing. I’m not sure that song actually went anywhere but it was a great experience. In terms of commercial jingles – the only thing you can see online is a song that was used in an Avon Breast Cancer Fundraiser Promotion in October 2008.
They used a song I wrote about my Dad, called “Little Birdie.”
How did the recording sessions work? Were you recording in a studio?
All of the recording was done in Darren’s bedroom closet in his Brooklyn apartment. At first it seemed very strange, staring into Darren’s graphic tees and his pairs of converse while singing Zia’s soulful song. After a while, however, it felt super comfortable and I think it actually allowed the song to sound more raw and authentic than it would have if we used a traditional sound booth. We probably did about 6 different takes of “Build That Wall” in one night - all in different tones, loudness, accents, etc. I had the lyrics taped to one of Darren’s hangers and would be able to talk to him about each take through my headphones. In the end, Darren opted for the softer version of the song (with no accent…thank god!) which I think really worked well with Zia’s character and that particular point in the game.
Do you play video games in your spare time? What are some of the ones you're really looking forward to later this year?
Admittedly, I am not huge gamer but I have become much more exposed to the world of gaming in recent months thanks to Bastion. Before I got involved with the game, the last game I played was probably in 1994. It was either Duck Hunt or Mario Bros 3 on Nintendo. Now I’m listening to podcasts and reading up on new games on the horizon. My sister, Cori, actually helped Sega launch the Dreamcast—so I think video games have always been in my blood. I love games on Wii or Kinect that allow you to interact with the characters. I’m currently obsessed with Let’s Cheer!, being an ex-cheerleader myself and I am a legit Wii Tennis pro. In terms of upcoming games, I recently saw the trailer for Bioshock Infinite, which looks like it’s going to be sweet. Video games sure have come a long way from my Mario Bros. days.
Were you involved at all in writing the lyrics or was it pretty much completed when you were asked to perform?
Nope. That was all Darren. To be honest, I really didn’t know what to expect when he asked me to help him with a video game that he was working on. I was anticipating a lot of computer type sounds or crazy sound effects but what Darren did was incredible. He wrote a bunch of original music that people wanted to listen to even when they were not playing the game. It’s music that I was really proud to help make and music that I think really helped the game come to life.
Did you play Bastion? How far are you from the end?
I actually just downloaded the game on Chrome and started playing it a few weeks ago. I think the Supergiant Games team did such a great job with the artwork - I really love the old-school gameplay too. It’s nothing like anything else I’ve seen. I haven’t made it through to the end yet, but my guess is that I’ll probably want to do what’s best for Zia. The song I sang in the game brings her back to a time in her life that she didn’t like. If there’s a chance to help her start anew and make new memories… I think I might just have to take it.
Has your life changed at all since the game came out and wound up selling more than half a million copies?
Well, my five year-old nephews Luke and Liam think I am famous, so that’s been pretty hilarious to watch. I’ve definitely received a ton of new Twitter followers and received a lot of Facebook fan mail which has been super flattering. People are really enthusiastic about the game and the music - some folks have even made their own versions of the songs on YouTube.
Really? That’s amazing. Any particular ones you want to call attention to?
Yes – here is one I really like. This guy Sebastian Freij (I think he’s from Sweden) did an instrumental version with certain melodies on loop. There was also a pair who recorded the end theme right when the song came out – they got a lot of hits too!
It’s been really awesome to see how much the song has moved people and how much they enjoy listening to it. For one of the first times in my life, it’s made me start to believe that people (aside from my loving friends and family) would want to listen to me sing.
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Darren and I performed a mash-up of “Build that Wall” and “Setting Sail, Coming Home" at the New York Gaming Critics Award show in NYC. We’re also hoping to do another live performance at an upcoming event, though we’re still figuring it out. I’m really excited to perform the songs live—Darren and I have a lot of fun singing together.
I’ll also continue to do acoustic shows around New York City with my friend Dustin Cohen in a band we like to call, “Ashley Lynn & Co.” We have a few videos up on YouTube. I’m hoping to sing as much as I physically can in 2012 and keep the voiceover gigs coming in! Maybe I’ll even shoot for a Spike VGA nomination, round two! I’m currently in the process of developing my website – but you can find more at www.ashleylynnbarrett.com or www.gigmaven.com/ashleylynnandco.
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When is Bastion coming to the PlayStation 3?
You’ll have to ask the guys at Supergiant about that one. I know they’ve said they don't have plans for a PS3 version, but that they haven’t ruled anything out for the future either.
OK. Final, final question. Will there be a sequel? Are you working with them on anything else?
I have been keeping in touch with the Supergiant team and would love to work with them again but as of now I don't know their plans. I'm sure they've got something brewing in their SF studio but I guess we'll need to wait it out together!