Spiritfarer OST // Interview with Max LL

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Thunder Lotus Games are an indie dev team from Montreal whos catalouge includes Juntun, Sundered and the recently released Spiritfarer. All three of these titles have been scored by Max LL a Canadian multi-instrumentalist who has created the music for an extensive resume of short films, documentarys, games and commercials. His music has been preformed by Montreal's Metropilitan Orchestra and he recently released not only the Spiritfarer OST but also a lovely 5 song EP called Regeneration

Thunder Lotus describes Spiritfarer as "a cozy managment game about dying." The amount of care and detail put into this wonderful handrawn adventure is evident from start to finish. Yatzee Croshaw from The Escapist explained very poigniantly why this game is a standout title in it's genre saying:

"it treats its gameplay as a way to establish its themes and add greater weight to its emotional moments, rather than a bunch of meaningless checkpoint flags to fill the space between the metaphors."

It's a beautiful game and much of its emotional gravitais can be attributed in no small part to its music. I asked Max LL about his his work on the title, future projects and his process. Here's what he had to say.

Q1: In what ways do you feel you've improved as a composer since the release of your first game OST back in 2015?

Jotun was the first video game I worked on and the first opportunity I had to write large-scale orchestral music. I felt I needed to pull all the stops to make the soundtrack as grand and epic as I could. With time I've learned to embrace simplicity and vulnerability in music, as they can often be more powerful and relatable qualities than complexity. I'm still happy with the work I did for both Jotun & Sundered. When I'm facing writer's block I'll sometimes listen to Final Confrontation and a few other tracks I did for those games to remind myself that "I can do this". When you're passionate and serious about music there's always something you can do better or differently but with time you also learn to deal with those very common and healthy insecurities. Over the years, I've also improved the way I communicate my ideas to the musicians and soloists I collaborate with while also gaining a more in-depth understanding of how to better write for their instruments. This has made a world of difference.

Q2: You have composed for three Thunder Lotus projects. Have you found it beneficial working consistently with one studio?

Definitely! We grow and evolve together. We set new challenges for ourselves with each project and have gotten better at learning from past mistakes as a team. I'm truly lucky to be working and collaborating with such a talented group of individuals that are all so good at what they do. They are constantly feeding me with such inspiring ideas, stories, art & animations, it makes my job so much easier! As in any healthy relationship, our ability to communicate and understand each other gets better with time which really helps the creative process and workflow. Spiritfarer is the most ambitious and difficult project we've done together but it often felt like a breeze because of that. Furthermore, the kind of music I felt was needed for this project is exactly the kind of music I love to write so I'm truly happy that we had a similar musical vision and direction from the start! 

Q3: Are there any upcoming projects you are allowed to discuss?  

I have an EP and a full length album project that I'd like to finish within the next year. It all depends on my schedule. I'll be starting working on a new video game soundtrack very soon but I don't know how much I'm allowed to say about that! I usually give scoring assignments priority over my personal projects which is why I haven't released a personal full length album since Golestan in 2018. It's really important for me to do both, work on film & game projects as well as personal projects which allow me to explore and experiment more freely with music. 
I also make documentary films and I currently have two of them in production. My partner and I were actually shooting in India when the world started shutting down last March because of the pandemic. It was completely insane! We had to make some difficult decisions on the spot and had to abandon the idea of shooting some important scenes. We came back to Canada precipitously and 24 hours later, India was shutting down all its airports. Fortunately, we have enough material to finish both our films so we'll be focusing on editing and post-production for the next few months. 

Q4: When you sit down to compose a track where do you typically start?

Every score requires a different approach but I'll usually start by identifying the kind of music, instrumentation and tone that feels right for the project. I'll then immerse myself in various musical genres and influences. This process will often involve researching certain types of instruments and potential collaborators. I'll eventually pick up my guitar or sit at the piano and figure out basic themes, leitmotivs and melodies before moving on to recording, sequencing, sound design and orchestration. 

For Spiritfarer, I wrote the main theme early in production, back in winter 2018 when there were only preliminary concepts & artwork done for the game, but the story, art style and influences were so inspiring to me, right up my alley as well in terms of what I felt was needed musically. I came up with the theme after sitting for hours at the piano. Once the melody became clear, I was able to extrapolate from it and make different variations and arrangements for various moments of the game. 

If trying out ideas on an instrument doesn't lead me anywhere, I'll sometimes simply close my eyes and try imagining the music in my head. This will often lead me in directions I wouldn't have taken otherwise and has allowed me to compose some of what I feel is my best work. 

Favourite Tracks: Dust Bunnies, Mother Nebula Pillbug and Pulsar Pursuit. 

FFO:  Röki, The Flame in the Flood, Shantae and Windbound

Find more of their music below! 


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