PAX East Feature - The World Is Square Interview

Keith Richards once said, "Good music comes out of people playing together, knowing what they want to do and going for it. You have to sweat over it and bug it to death. You can't do it by pushing buttons and watching a TV screen." He clearly has never been properly introduced to The World Is Square. This Boston, MA 5-piece folk VGM band puts as much blood, sweat, and tears into their tributes as they did playing the RPGs they were based on.

Their debut album, No Phoenix Down Can Save You Now, cherry-picked some of Squaresoft/Enix's finest musical compositions and approached their recreation by incorporating nearly every instrument that's difficult to spell. The resulting sound is organic and truly unique.

In the midst of their crazy performing schedule, and the chaos that was PAX East 2013, the band took some time to sit down with me and discuss their origins, inspiration, and future plans.

Trent Seely (RPGamer): First off, thank you for taking the time out of your performance schedule to chat with us. For those unfamiliar with The World Is Square, could you give us a quick rundown of what kind of band you are?
Lauren Michelle Christerson (mandolin, ukulele, guitar, keyboard, percussion): We are a Squaresoft/Enix folk band out of the Boston, MA area. So far, we've focused mostly on the Final Fantasy series, Chrono Trigger, and Chrono Cross.

Nick Doane (glockenspiel, keyboard, bass, djembe, tambourine, shaker, hits things): We play a bunch of different instruments and switch instruments from song-to-song. We play unconventional instruments like the glockenspiel or mandolin, and most of our percussion is composed of hand drums, tambourines, and shakers, so we have a really different sound than most of the other VGM bands.

Trent: How long have you been together? Has the focus of your music always been on video games?
Dave Reardon (bass, percussion, keys): It's been a little over two years now. as [The World Is Square] it has always been about video game music, but we've all played in bands before that weren't VGM focused.

Trent: What is it about Squaresoft/Enix music that you feel sets it apart from its peers?
Josh Edginton (lead guitar, rhythm guitar, shaker, tambourine, synth, bass): With Square music in general, a lot of the games hold my most dear memories of gaming. A lot of my early memories of RPGs come from the Final Fantasy series, Chrono Trigger, and Chrono Cross, where the stories are amazing, but wouldn't be the same without the great OSTs to accompany them. Thinking of what we wanted to do with video game music, we knew that we didn't want to do the standard electric guitar with Mega Man music. We all enjoyed the music created by Nobuo Uematsu, and figured we'd focus specifically on Square.

Nick: We'll do any sort of game that has anything to do with Squaresoft/Enix, though. One game we picked a song from is Grandia II, which was only published in Japan by Enix. That's the only connection it has, but if we can get a game under the umbrella in some way we'll do it.

Dave: That means we can do Under the Sea because of Kingdom Hearts [laughing]. I'm pushing for that one.

Joe Corbett (bass, keyboard, djembe, glockenspiel, castanets, melodica, designated clapper): Also, we could do a couple Michael Jackson songs from Michael Jackson's Moonwalker [collective realization].

Lauren: We like loopholes [laughing]. Bubble Bobble is a really popular song we've been toying around with. It was originally released by Taito, but through acquisitions and different mergers it actually falls under the umbrella of Square Enix. But yeah, Michael Jackson — that's an interesting one.

Joe: It's our most anticipated loophole, I think.

Trent: The most striking thing about your sound is the use of musical instruments. Both modern and traditional instruments are thrown into the mix for good measure. Why did you choose to incorporate such variety? Do you try to line up instrument sounds with original tracks?
Josh: Honestly, we wanted to start the band with electric instruments and a full drum set, but for the sake of where we were first rehearsing — Nick and Lauren's apartment — we couldn't. There were very thin walls and we figured that we'd just play with acoustics to rehearse. Then we started accumulating all these random acoustic instruments from family and friends. From there we figured that we'd try to use as many of them in our arrangements as possible.

Nick: We started off being pretty conscious of our sound as well — trying to match the original tracks with these instruments. For Lizard Dance, the mandolin fit perfectly with the lead of that track because it sounds very mandolinny [laughing]. We've branched out from that approach a little bit once we started to find our sound, but in the beginning we really tried to sound as close to the original tracks as possible.

Trent: It's clear, based on No Phoenix Down Can Save You Now, that you’re fans of both the Final Fantasy and Chrono series. What other video game soundtracks can fans expect you to pay tribute to in the future?
Josh: We are working on some Secret of Mana stuff. It may or may not be a secret. We did just debut a new Super Mario RPG track, and I know that we may want to do a few more from that OST because it's just so amazing. Like Nick said, we just added Grandia II. Breath of Fire is also on the table, as the original was published in the West by Square.

Trent: Which RPGs would you say are your favourites? Do they feature your favorite musical pieces?
Josh: I would have to say that my favourite RPG would have to be Final Fantasy VII, because it was the first game to get me into RPGs. It definitely includes one of my favourite songs, JENOVA. It really sums up the intensity of the game.

Lauren: We don't do any songs from it yet. Final Fantasy X is in my top three games of all time, and I think To Zanarkand is a gorgeous piece. In fact, I think Those Who Fight will be debuting To Zanarkand [at PAX East]. Other than that, Sight of Spira is a song I wish we could do, but it's really just a two guitar part. It's not something I think we can elaborate on with a five piece.

Joe: It's not Squaresoft/Enix, but I think The Legend of Zelda Series was where I really started with RPGs. Those soundtracks really got me into the VGM scene. I was blown away from Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VI as well, but Zelda is what really got me into appreciating video game music.

Nick: I've been pretty lucky with this band's song choices, because my three favourite games were Final Fantasy VI, Final Fantasy VII, and Chrono Trigger. I've played tons of RPGs, but those are my top three and it's awesome that I'm already able to play a lot of [songs from] them.

Dave: I guess my favourite RPG, if you could call it that, is Final Fantasy Tactics. We do perform one song from it, the Shops Theme, which is pretty cool, but I think a lot of the soundtrack is heavily orchestrated and it would be tough to translate into a five piece rock group. It's an awesome soundtrack, but maybe not the best fit for us.

Trent: Which other video game musicians inspire you?
Josh: I'd have to say MegaRan, definitely. He's the beginning force behind Nerdcore. I honestly had no idea that kind of music existed until hearing and immediately buying Black Materia. Other than that, I'd have to say Those Who Fight. They are doing an amazing job with a Final Fantasy rock opera. Unbelievable people and musicians.

Lauren: I'm a bit of a Protomen fangirl. Just that, from a creative standpoint, they were able to tell such a unique story with their music (a dark and dystopian version of Mega Man's world) and also switch instruments and vocalists between songs. It's really amazing. Other than that, I'm a really big fan of Bright Primate. They're also out of Boston, MA and focus on chiptunes, but layer almost Jazzy vocals over a dancey beat. It's a really unique sound and I can't speak highly enough of them.

Joe: Honestly though, the whole VGM scene is wonderful. Every band I've seen so far has made me strive to be a better musician. Very encouraging and kind — I don't think you could pick a better group of people to be around. I'm at my happiest when I'm at conventions like this.

Josh: It's like a family reunion.

Joe: It really is. It's great.

Nick: Who is that band that does Schala's Theme [laughing]?

Dave: Oh, The OneUps?

Nick: Yeah. I've only heard some of their music, but their take on video game music is really unique. That being said, I really like metal and I feel like the Mega Man soundtracks have some of the hardest music out there. The X-Hunters do an awesome job playing some of the craziest songs from the Mega Man catalogue. So, I have to give props to them.

Dave: A band doing what we're striving for is The Star Onions. They tribute Final Fantasy XI tracks and do an amazing job. It's right up our alley, as it's mostly folky sounding. Another band that I think fits in line with us are the Super Guitar Bros. Awesome scene in general though.

Trent: Any teases for future album releases?
Dave: We have a secret.

Josh: Something about what I said about Mana, or something.

Lauren: We have a secret and a lot of other bands are keeping secrets too. Sometime this summer we may just let you know. In a big way.

Josh: Something might come out that a lot of people who are recognizable in the VGM scene may or may not have worked on together for the past year. It's a secret though. Other than that, we'll probably just keep doing what we're doing: have drafts every couple months — pick songs, and learn them.

Joe: Explain the draft system, Josh [laughing].

Josh: Oh, God. The draft system. So, we never just say "Hey, I wanna' learn a song." We have a democratic vote. We basically will get hammered one night, each bring two or three songs, listen to them, and vote like drunken fools. At the end of the night we argue about how awesome our picks are [laughing]. The following week we actually try to start playing them.

Lauren: I have a lot of fun with these guys.

Josh: TWIS Draft 2k13. We even got our fans involved. Last time, we asked them to vote and they gave us twenty-six picks. We whittled that down to eight, and of that group two got in — Frog's Theme from Chrono Trigger and Beware the Forest Mushrooms from Super Mario RPG. Figured we'd do something a little different and it worked out great.

Trent: Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Lauren: Keep listening. We can't wait to record again and we're so thankful for everyone who has supported us.

RPGamer would like to thank Lauren, Josh, Dave, Joe, and Nick for participating in this interview. The World Is Square Will be on tour throughout the year and just announced that they'll be playing ConBravo! this July in Hamilton, Ontario Canada — check out their official website, Facebook, and Bandcamp page for further details and media.

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