The following article was originally produced for the site Nindie Nexus! They’ve had to move hosting sites, so all of my content will be uploaded on both my blog and their new site. They’re some of the most passionate players I know. Please go support them!
FamilyJules is a YouTuber who is well known for his guitar work on Crypt of the NecroDancer and, more recently, the NecroDancer x Legend of Zelda mashup, Cadence of Hyrule. On July 2nd I sat down with him to discuss things ranging from his work on Cadence of Hyrule to his personal YouTube career. I want to thank Jules for his time and for providing many interesting facts for you guys to read here!
Thank you for sitting down with me. We’re gonna start off with few clichés, but I’m sure you won’t mind. What is your favorite instrument to play?
Probably the classical guitar. Nylon strings are very soothing to play, and they sound very nice. I obviously like electrical guitars, that’s usually my primary focus. It’s hard to choose, but I think I would say classical guitar.
Oh, that’s a good choice, I always think when you do pull out the classical guitar it sounds really nice. So what inspired you to create video game song covers for YouTube?
It was a few different things. You know, I’ve always been inspired by video game music, just in general before I even started playing music. I remember when I was playing guitar for the first time one of my end goals was always wanting to be able to play F-Zero music. I was like, “man, if I could ever play the music from F-Zero X, I’ve made it, I’m a master guitarist at that point.” So I would always be looking up guitar tabs, and trying to figure out how to play that stuff.
I was also inspired by a YouTuber named ‘csguitar89‘ who was also doing video game metal covers that I liked. I really, really enjoyed what he did; I liked that he was able to make these cool little YouTube projects out of something that he enjoyed a lot. Not to mention the fact that he was able to do that all himself; he didn’t need a studio, or a drummer, or anything, he was able to just do the entire project all by himself. I was really inspired by that, and then the final nail in the coffin? I was playing a lot of Golden Eye Source. The music in that mod had a lot of really heavy guitar arrangements. I was like, “man, I would love to give this a try myself.”
So all three of those things kind of came together, and I started my channel.
You produce weekly covers for your channel. What motivates you to keep this pace?
Um, (pause) money (laughing). It’s my job. I’ve worked very hard for many years not making any money for doing it, so that at some point either what I was doing on YouTube or something that would derive itself from YouTube would be what I pay the rent with. Coming out of college, I knew that I wasn’t going to be happy unless I was paying the rent with my rock so to speak.
My motivation and inspiration for the stuff is just the fact that I love doing it, and I would do it regardless. I love taking video game music and playing it on guitar. I think that it’s cool. Every time I hear a video game melody and I play it on a guitar, it’s just such a cool instrument to hear melodic lines on. It never gets old. So it’s something that I would do regardless. I knew early on that the way media was moving – and this is not how media was moving in 2010 – was that we were moving from a format of artists being able to put out an album every other year and being fine, to where if you’re not making singles weekly, then you’re going to be buried by every other artist that is making content at that extreme rate. Especially now that we have the technology and willpower to be able to produce music so quickly.
But I don’t believe that in general it’s a very healthy place for artists to be. Being forced to push music at the quantity and speed that they have to, but regardless, it is kind of where it is. There’s not really much you can do about it. I did know that consistency was key. So I did a cover, the GoldenEye medley, and I did it as fast as I could. It took about a week. I decided “okay, let’s see how long I can just make weekly covers.” And here we are in 2019. I’ve taken a few breaks, but I’m still doing it.
You’ve covered a lot of video game music over the years. What’s a song you have not covered yet but want to cover in the future?
There’s been a bunch of those for me throughout the years. I always find a way to finally nail it, and at this point I’m not really sure if there’s anything on the radar that I’m afraid to hit up for whatever reason. Today I actually just released the Castle Theme from Super Mario World. That’s a song that I’ve been kind of afraid to play because it’s a very difficult song and I was afraid that I wouldn’t play it very well.
It’s also a very iconic song.
Yes, it would be very detrimental to mess that up (laughing). Off the top of my head, I’m actually not sure. There’s some big projects, things that I want to revisit, or new ideas that I would love to set in motion, but since I’m taking on so many other jobs outside of YouTube, like Cadence of Hyrule, it’s really hard to devote as much time to the YouTube channel as I used to when the YouTube channel was really all I was putting my whole heart into.
What is your favorite piece of past work?
I think The Super Mario Medley from last year was probably one of my favorite projects of all time, mostly because it was one of the most rewarding experiences artistically. It wasn’t a video that got the most views for my channel, or whatever. What I did was I brought together 70 other artists, from across YouTube, and had each of them play a small section of this huge, almost twenty-minute Mario medley. It went through the ages of Mario from the first Mario to Mario Odyssey.
There was a lot of enjoyment out of seeing all of these different talents come together to work on one project, and then once it was done, all of the artists seeing what the final product was. Each individual artist only knew these 10 seconds of Mario 64 or something like that. Then they saw the entire project come together, and I think that was a really cool experience.
Do you have a favorite song in general?
I’m not sure, it’s constantly changing. My favorite video game song of all time is probably Dire Dire Docks from Super Mario 64, but there’s always others. I feel like when you start making one song the king, the top favorite song, you do kinda have to ignore a lot of elements of other songs that might be your favorite for other reasons. Different songs make you feel different ways, depending on how you want to feel. Favorite song or favorite artist is always difficult.
So, this may be an odd question, but it’s one I personally wanted to ask because I love it so much. Many were first introduced to you through The Runaway Guys Colosseum, including myself. What was your experience like going to those events?
It was amazing, I love those guys. Chuggaaconroy is one of my best friends. Myself and Adrianna very often hang out with Chuggaa when we go to conventions or go to Georgia. I think it’s really cool, just being able to work on something that’s for a great cause, but also fun. Work that doesn’t feel like work, because we get to just play video games, be goofy, and hang out with our friends.
Raise a bunch of money for slapping someone.
Yes, exactly (laughing). I felt very bad about it all throughout.
Now that it has been a few years since release, what do you think of your work on Crypt of the NecroDancer?
I do look back at it very fondly. I think given what I had at the time skill-wise and equipment-wise, I did a really good job. That mostly came out of my passion for working on a game like [Crypt of the NecroDancer] and with Danny [Baranowsky], since Danny was a composer that I’ve looked up to for a very long time after his work on Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac.
He showed me Crypt of the NecroDancer a year before it was announced. I loved the music, and I asked him if I could hear some of it; the first thing I did when I went home was do my own little cover arrangements of it. I did the first three levels without him even asking me, just because I wanted to. He listened to it, and he liked it, he was inspired to have more remixes.
The point that I was at with mixing and production, I feel like it wasn’t quite there yet. So I was also really lucky that Danny had Andrew Aversa, who goes by ‘zircon‘, on hand to be able to mix all of the metal stuff to make it sound more level with everything else going on. Eventually for the last few remixes that were released for that game, I was able to do an updated soundtrack that I mixed and mastered, and that was a really rewarding experience for me. To get to that point where the whole team was like “yeah, these sound great,” you know? There’s a great sense of accomplishment with that project, so I do look back at it very fondly.
I guess sometimes you talk to some people in creative industries, and most of them look back on their past work and believe it sucks.
I think it’s important to recognize that we’re all growing as musicians. I think it’s a beautiful thing to look back at your work that’s worse than what you can do today. I think when artists look at some of that, they’ll just be like “oh, I hate what I did back then,” I feel like that doesn’t really respect where you were as an artist. An important part of respecting yourself as an artist in the present is also respecting yourself in the past.
How did you feel when you were first asked to work on Crypt of the NecroDancer and then Cadence of Hyrule?
[For Crypt of the NecroDancer,] it felt weird, I almost felt I shoved my foot through that door. Once I was on board with the project, it was incredibly exciting. I worked on the DLC for The Binding of Isaac, Wrath of the Lamb, just for the final boss, I did the guitars for that, but to be a part of the core of a core game was an absolute dream come true. But I feel like with the way that I went about getting into that, like, I didn’t feel like I cheated, but I definitely did feel like “oh, this is not what I expected to happen.” I just wanted to show Danny some covers that I would eventually release on YouTube. It really was just like “Oh well, I will have these covers ready to go if I ever need to release something and I don’t have time,” or something like that. It was really cool.
[For Cadence of Hyrule], it was otherworldly. To be asked if I want to be part of an officially-licensed Legend of Zelda title, it’s not something that somebody with my passion for gaming has the capacity to fully process. Anybody could relate with having such an intense passion for something, and then [to imagine] being asked to contribute to that thing you’re intensely passionate about… It’s not something that hits you in a way that you would expect. It was really just a dream come true of a dream that I wouldn’t dream of having.
What do you think of the tracks you produced for Cadence of Hyrule?
I feel like there is a bit of a misconception online about how the soundtrack works. There were no individual tracks that I myself completely produced. Danny Baranowsky did all of the arrangements and all the compositional parts of the OST for Cadence of Hyrule. I did the [guitar], any time there was a guitar. Not a bass guitar, the bass guitars were mostly done by Joel Ford, who also mixed and mastered the whole soundtrack. But any time you hear an acoustic guitar or a heavy metal guitar on that soundtrack it is me.
I think my favorite song that I got to work on was the Death Mountain combat section, so when there’s enemies on the screen for that. Then also the peaceful area for Gerudo Valley, where I got to show off some classical guitar. Those were my favorites and I had the most fun working on those tracks.
They’re both really iconic Zelda areas, with multiple recognizable themes. Were you ever afraid that Cadence of Hyrule was deviating too much from classic Zelda music?
Of course. Obviously not me, Danny was doing all the arranging; I had very little input into the actual songs. Danny had a vision with what he wanted from a song and it was my job to fulfil that vision in the best way I could. But when I heard a lot of these remixes, I was worried. They deviate very strongly from the originals in many places, but in exactly the ways that they need to. I feel like it would have been a very big missed opportunity to just slap on Koji Kondo’s Gerudo Valley right into that area, and I think it’s cool that Danny took that opportunity.
I was worried that the Zelda fans were not gonna be happy with all these changes, but of course they were. They love the music, they love the melody, and Danny is an absolutely incredible composer and remixer. He’s been remixing Zelda music since probably before I was born. He would scream at me if I ever told him that. It’s also not true (laughing). But Danny was exactly the perfect person for that job. So to answer the question, yes and no. But my job was always to fulfill Danny’s dream of how the music should sound.
Is there another existing series you would like to work on in the future?
F-Zero. My end goal would be F-Zero. We haven’t had a great track record in the past few years of getting F-Zero games in general, but my ultimate ‘made-it’ point is doing guitars on an F-Zero game.
That’s not a common answer. With how Nintendo’s been in the past couple of years, I really could see it happening.
So you work on a lot of larger projects. Do you ever have a tough time and/or feel blocked when you’re working out where to go?
I think forcing myself to a weekly schedule on YouTube has forced me to figure out ways to get around feelings of block. If you have a deadline for something, and it’s way out in the future, you think “oh, whatever, I’ll deal with it then.” You’re not very motivated, energized, or inspired to work on that thing with the deadline that’s very far away. Then there’s this dire deadline for school that you need to finish, otherwise you’re not gonna get your degree, and it’s due tomorrow. Suddenly you’re very inspired to do that (laughing). You’re probably going to do a lot of your best work during that crunch. What that tells me is inspiration and motivation aren’t these mythical, divine things that just grace upon you. They’re things that happen within you, and you can control when they happen, just based on that evidence alone.
Like, why do you always have this inspiration hit you when you have a deadline, but when there isn’t one you’re way less motivated or inspired to do something? That was a huge clue-in that this feeling of being motivated comes from inside of you. So how do you harness it? The best trick I’ve always found is just doing 10 minutes of work regardless of whether or not you want to do it. Almost 9.99 times out of 10 you will get back into the groove and feel the inspiration, and if you don’t, well, you got 10 minutes of work done – that’s pretty good.
There are a lot of dormant IPs that could work well if they were rebooted today, like F-Zero, Banjo, and Earthbound. What series would you like to see come back in the future?
F-Zero, a million times over. I used to speed-run Banjo-Kazooie, I really should pick it back up again. I’d love to see Banjo-Kazooie again.
Well, you have with Super Smash Bros!
That’s true (laughing).
So actually, here’s an interesting tidbit. Grant Kirkhope is the composer of Banjo-Kazooie, he and I did a metal version of the final Gruntilda battle from Banjo-Kazooie. I went to his house, and we shredded next to his pool. It was another one of those experiences, a dream come true of a dream I never thought would happen. He mentioned what was funny about that was we were both working on music for one of Nintendo’s biggest IP, and neither of us could tell each other [as Kirkhope was working on the Banjo-Kazooie tracks for the Smash Bros. DLC at the time]. It was such a strange thing, it was just so silly.
Do you have a favorite indie game?
Right now it’s Cadence of Hyrule (laughing). Honestly I’ve been playing it a ton. I’m biased obviously, I’d be lying if I said any other indie game at this current moment was my favorite.
For the most cliché question I have written down: what’s your favorite video game of all time?
That keeps changing. For a long time it was Jet Force Gemini on the N64, I’ve never played a game again that gave me that feeling of satisfaction. When you play Jet Force Gemini, you’re shooting all of these ants and they’re exploding in the most ridiculously violent way that only an 11-year-old boy can appreciate. But it’s unfair because any satisfaction past that is so hard to match. It really was the Gears of War of the N64 era, just by the satisfaction of defeating these random faceless aliens. I still would say that’s my favorite game. But just because of the sheer hours I’ve put into it, I could probably say Super Mario 64. I still regularly speedrun Mario 64, I’ve actually been obsessed with the Super Mario 64 Randomizer.
But Jet Force Gemini will always have a special place in my heart, for its soundtrack as well, which was primarily composed by Robin Beanland. […] The soundtrack for Jet Force Gemini is absolutely monumental. But as far as my favorite soundtrack in a game, that actually shifts between Jet Force Gemini and a game called Snowboard Kids which is also on the Nintendo 64. It’s a silly little racing snowboard game with a soundtrack that’s just way better than it has any right to be.
This is the last question that I have for you: would you like to see Cadence in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate?
It’d be very interesting to see that for sure.