Okay. My name is Paul Wolinski. I am 35 years old somehow and I'm in a band 65daysofstatic.
We've been a band for about -- coming up to 15 years now, I think, and for most of that time we've made instrumental kinda noisy music. It's always been quite cinematic. We've always used a lot of electronics in our live show and in the writing process. We've always had quite a sort of heavy technological element to what we do, but we try and keep it as sort of a live band setup rather than just anonymous stood behind laptops or whatever. We're very much a band of people and we have live drums and live guitars and so on. Right now I'm in Manchester. The band is based in Sheffield, which is across the Pennines and north of England, about an hour away. So, we're kind of -- we've never been what you'd call a particularly fashionable band. [Laughs.] Which, we've always been kind of grateful for. There was a moment in our early days when we started putting out records that if things had gone slightly different might have been picked up by a hype train briefly. Instead, we've sort of -- like, we never moved to London. We never really engaged in the music industry in the way that a lot of bands do. We kind of preferred to keep ourselves to ourselves and do our own thing and just try and make that work for as long as possible.
We've always wanted to do soundtrack work. Especially the last few years -- I suppose we started getting a bit restless maybe because writing records is brilliant and touring records around the world is equally brilliant, and it's not that we're bored of those two things. We more started to get the feeling that there was more that we could be doing. There was more places that bands should be able to operate beyond just albums and live shows. And so we started thinking about -- I suppose, like, musical form, in a different way than we used to. Like, we put out a record in 2013 called Wild Light, which was our last sort of proper album, if you like.
It definitely felt like a big step forward for us. It's definitely the favorite record of all of ours. And part of the writing process there was -- I mean, I don't know how different it sounds to the outsider listener, but for us it was an attempt to kind of rather than catch the definitive version of this song that we've been writing for 18 months or this collection of songs, it was more about finding what was best suited to the recorded form and getting that version down for the album even though it might not be what we considered the definitive version of the song. And, in parallel to that, we sort of wrote the songs for the live show, approaching them from a different way and kind of focused on what would make them best for that particular form. Because we have a singer, we can kinda get away with being a bit more flexible with the way that we sort of arrange our songs or chop and change our songs to sort of suit the medium or the form or whatever. And, we also did quite a big sound installation around the time we released that record which was based on one of the songs from the record, but we turned it into a 30-minute soundscape kind of drone piece which was recognizably the same song but we kind of changed it to fit a space rather than a slice of time on an album.
Anyway. This is quite a long way around to saying this sort of breaking music out of just sort of the usual way that we wrote and a kind of less linear approach to the form and the arrangement of it sort of moved us towards computer games in the sense that it's a medium that needs soundtracks and that's something that we've long been sort of aiming for because the kind of cinematic quality our music tends to have. Whereas when you're scoring for a piece of film, obviously that's kind of fixed and is never gonna change and exists over a finite period of time. Obviously computer games aren't necessarily like that and it felt like a really kind of exciting way to push what we could or couldn't do with music and so over the last few years -- I mean, we weren't thinking specifically about computer games when we were doing Wild Light because we didn't have that sort of opportunity. But we were playing about a lot with music software and sort of learning how to write our own software and so we were kind of -- it was quite serendipitous that the No Man's Sky project came to us as we were sort of ready to meet it because we had all of these ideas almost formed. I mean, I still can't imagine a more perfect vehicle for us to sort of begin testing out these kind of different approaches to making music.
Yeah. No. If you're talking about experimenting with 30-minute sound collages for physical spaces -- have you scored or anyone else in your band scored other games before? I mean, it just sounds like it's sort of a perfect fit for the freeform-ness of what you were talking about and what it seems to be.
Yeah. Well, we haven't because we've been -- well, it was never something that we chased as actively as perhaps we could have done in hindsight.
I suppose my history with computer games is like me and Simon [Wright] from the band, I think, have a kind of similar sort of history in that we both played a lot of computer games in our teenage years but throughout our twenties, when we were sort of getting the band off the ground, we kind of lost track of it a little bit.
And in between the band, we're never huge gamers anyway, so this sort of evolution of the computer game industry was kind of there in our peripheral vision but we weren't paying as much attention to it as perhaps we could have done, well, probably because our band is so weird and it kinda took everything we had to keep it going. Like, we never sort of reached that magical tipping point of financial success or ever knew that we would necessarily have a record label with our next record or be able to afford to go on the next tour. So, that kind of -- and we're very aware of becoming too not narrow-minded, but we were very sort of blinkered in our kind of striving to make the band successful and it was hard enough to do that in the traditional ways, like with touring and records. It took us a while to start widening our scope.
Obviously you're not the first established band to collaborate on a game, so in a respect you're joining some sort of club. For bands or musicians -- and I don't know if you've talked to other bands or musicians who have done this -- do you have a sense that the content of the game, is that considered as something you need to look at as an extension of your band and your catalog and your image and what matters to you as a band? Do you look at opportunities like that through that lens?
This one, yeah. And it's a distinction that's kind of -- I mean, again, I don't know how general this sort of project is as a frame of reference, but it's kind of caused quite a lot of ripples in the 65 master plan over the past couple of years because when we first got involved with this project it was very clear from the computer game side of things that it was like -- Sean Murray, who is the director of the game, he was a big 65 fan. When we first started talking to him about the project, it wasn't that they wanted to commission us to write a soundtrack for them so much as they wanted the soundtrack to the game to be like the next 65daysofstatic record, which was a huge distinction for us because we're sort of pinning our colors to the flag, you know? We're not just sort of stepping up as composers for hire to write a sci-fi score. We're kind of putting everything that we've spent the last decade building in terms of finding our own sort of sound and approach and integrating it into this thing, which is much bigger than us.
And that was quite scary. [Laughs.]
What's bigger than you and what's scary? Are you talking about the game industry or this game?
Well, this specific game. When we first met them, they were like an indie games outfit. And over the past couple of years, it's the development of this game. It's blown up in a way that I don't think anyone quite expected. So that, as a game, as an artistic project, however you wanna describe it, that's several orders of magnitude bigger in terms of the amount of people that it's gonna be reaching than we ever have done.
Yeah. I mean, for people reading this who don't recognize it or remember what we're talking about, this is a game that Sony sort of announced from its press conference during E3 a few years ago. It feels like 15 years ago now.
It was a thing from a small company that I think at that time a lot of people had not heard of. I think I've seen pieces about it since then in The New York Times and there's all sorts of interesting math going on in the game and a bunch of different hooks. I know it was on Colbert's Late Show.
You step in, you think it's gonna be one thing and it's turning into something bigger. How does that impact collaborating on a thing like this? Because it's shifted from small to big to high expectations rather quickly. How does that change the nature of your collaborating on it?
We've been very patient, I suppose, in the kind of -- it's all been pretty harmonious on a creative level. I think there's an interesting discussion to be had about the nature of the copyright and the sort of admin side of the music industry and computer-game industry and copyright's complete lack of ability to deal with any kind of generative music and notions of authorship and the way that royalties work on, say, radio or in films versus how that's not possible for it to work in computer games. But I'm sort of still stuck in the middle of that and haven't really got the right perspective to have a proper opinion on it until it's all over. [Laughs.]
I've been in bands myself and I got my degree in music business.
It was 11 years ago, when Napster was happening.
Everyone was questioning everything.
What is it -- please feel free to delve in. I know the copyright law in general is always slow to catch up, but is it just that it doesn't even have any framework for the sort of music you're making? Or how do you mean?
I suppose this soundtrack, the way that we decided to approach it in the end as a kind of collaboration is that we would write a record in an old-fashioned way, a bunch of linear arrangements in a fixed length that will get released on a vinyl and a CD and so on. But at the same time, what we were doing when we were writing those songs, we were keeping in mind the fact that they were gonna get pulled apart again and we were also kind of building this sound library and we're still working on it at the moment. But sort of a massive pool of audio which we would then work with the audio director of the game who was building some logic that would turn this kind of pool of stuff into generative soundtracks so the game would be writing the music. But we've sort of wrote the raw material for the music and the algorithms that the game is using are based on conversations between the audio director and us determining what logic it can and can't use and what it should and shouldn't do.
And there's no easy way to kind of put that down on paper, you know? And so, to the best of my knowledge and I'm not an expert in this so please correct me if you know better but as I understand it, the sort of general thing is it just works in the computer game world as a fairly straightforward commission so the computer-game developers own all of the music and then it doesn't really matter because they can do whatever they want with it then. It's theirs. So it's never really gotten down to being quantified in a way that can kind of go down on a contract.
For musicians, yeah, because you're talking about what's basically a work for hire?
Yeah. Yeah. To a degree. But what I find interesting is even in the abstract, like, if this game works the way it's intended to, they'll be kind of these sonic landscapes being generated that we will never have been able to ever imagined, you know?
[Laughs.] Right. Right.
Also, this is, regardless of this specific game that we're working on, like, clearly, just having seen the things that I've seen in this project and the potential for all of it that even if this particular thing doesn't fulfill that promise of being this infinitely generative thing then it's clearly coming in five or 10 years down the line as more and more audio resources can be given to the computer game side of things. It's gonna be a case of making algorithms to make music rather than making music itself.
And that's really interesting for me. I'm a massive geek and I'm really into that kind of stuff. But what's really been the most interesting aspect, I think, is we've found ourselves in the composition process really pulling in the other direction because -- the algorithmic side of this music, it's very kind of ambient, it's very atmospheric. It's completely functional in the game and we're doing our best to make it sound as good as possible, but an algorithm is never going to come up with -- or not yet, anyway -- that kind of big sci-fi melody that you might need when a spaceship lands on a new planet or whatever. It's just not gonna happen quite like that.
No, I'm just laughing a little bit because -- are you aware of this Microsoft Twitter bot thing this week?
[Laughs.] Yeah. Right.
So I don't think we're quite ready to hand over the reins of pure unabashed creativity to --
Absolutely not. Yeah. [Laughs.]
It may be five or six years, but I think a lot of stuff has to happen in those five, six years. You know, that stuff, I am always fascinated by that kind of music creation approach because of its random element. Like you said, it's never like Star Trek where you can be like, "Okay computer: Give me an ethereal sci-fi soundtrack."
Maybe. But even still then, and without prying: Do you get royalties on a thing like that? I feel like when they were writing up the copyright laws, they couldn't have even conceived of stuff like this.
Well, yeah, exactly. Honestly, I don't think I can really go into that side of it --
I think it's fair to say that on the whole no one's behaving badly anywhere.
But the fact that this was gonna be happening but the fact that it was also gonna be a 65days album that we would release that wasn't quite just like the official soundtrack tie-in but was in fact also our album.
This kind of quite simple idea that should be quite simple to make happen in real life is a lot more complicated in terms of bureaucratic infrastructure around it than I think anyone really anticipated. Maybe one day once it's all finally figured out that story can finally be told.
You said you didn't really push to be a certain type of band, but in your dealings with the music industry and your dealings with the game industry, what seems different about them? What stands out to you? What have you noticed about the games industry that there's a learning curve with for you? Just very broadly, what have you noticed?
Well, I should say that the only direct experience with this kind of -- it's like a small and widely independent computer games company. I've not really had many run-ins with the big juggernauts that are EA and the big AAA Sony stuff. So I don't know how that really operates, but I'm really taken with this indie community. "Reminds" isn't the right word because I'm a bit too young to remember, but I'd like to think that it was how record labels were back in the '70s and '80s, that kind of indie record label scene because I guess there's a big enough pool of people in the audience that are willing to support them financially and it kind of -- it seems like an industry that is floating on top of the kind of sort of globalized technology that the internet has allowed for in comparison to the music industry, which is drowning in the torrents of the instantaneous digital.
"Floating" is an interesting word. Is it on a life raft or a cruise liner or is it on a little inner tube?
"Floating" is precarious.
Yes. That's a good point. I'd say it's a pretty well built ship but it's certainly not a cruise ship maybe. Maybe a little tugboat or something.
[Laughs.] Actually, this metaphor has come up before. Last year I was talking to someone who's been in the industry since the '90s and he said his sense of things is that the game industry just grew way too fast and to him it's kind of more of a jet ski that no one knows how to drive and they're still building it while they're steering it.
Right. Right. Okay. [Laughs.]
I mean, I'm not asking you to comment on that but I guess water is a theme here.
But you were saying in our emails that you hoped the game industry finds a better way to navigate the future than the music industry did. How do you feel the music industry lost its way?
Well, I suppose, again going back to what we briefly touched on, just the notion of how you quantify the kind of music that we're making, it's like for the game industry it doesn't really matter. They can sort of -- let me think of a better example. Our last record, the Wild Light record, we had the most ridiculous arguments about getting that record for sale as a digital download on our website and after months of back and forth, the best our record label was able to offer us was, like, some kind of embedded Amazon player running at an embarrassingly low bit rate, which people could link through to buy the record from the Amazon digital download store because this weird sort of network of digital distribution that our particular label relied on meant that because we were based in Europe, there was one, I think it was Universal Digital or something. I can't quite remember. One particular company was in charge of the digital sales of our record.
Meanwhile, this record label has sub-licensed the album to a tiny little Australian independent label because they weren't releasing it in Australia, and that Australian label used Bandcamp. So, all we kinda had to do was just on our social media outlets and whatever, if people were looking for the best way to buy the digital album, we just sent them to the Australian Bandcamp, which was cheaper than iTunes or Amazon or whatever and a lot simpler for us. I mean, whatever kind of money we get from any of these sales is essentially nothing anyway. [Laughs.] But I'd much rather than it was our Australian indie label getting a few dollars minus the small cost in Bandcamp than going to the massive machine of iTunes and so on.
There's all these huge legacies of copyright and mechanical royalties and distribution networks that's so tied to physical product that they're just sort of tried to twist into the template for other digital stuff and it's just so -- it's, like, weighed down by its own stupidity and nobody's having any fun. It's just loads and loads of middlemen taking their little slice of the pie that no one's buying anyway.
But the computer-game industry, from what I see, and I think I probably have a rose-tinted view of it because I just see these cool little indie games and indie developers doing their own thing, and this sort of emergence of quirky games that aren't just about, you know, shooting and killing people, but exploration or weird simulations and a little just like interactive novels and stuff, it seems like there's a huge audience for interesting things. The industry just seems a bit more alive somehow? Things like that Humble Bundle outfit or whatever you can say, "Oh yeah, I'll stick my game on there because it's just mine and I'm not beholden to this weird hierarchy of old-school music industry that stops me from simply saying, 'Yeah, give me a few dollars and you can download this game. Thanks.'"
I would agree with you that there probably is a huge audience for these types of games but in what you just said about things sticking to the old system, I just wonder for games that don't become the No Man's Sky model of unexpected hugeness: How are people supposed to find out about these things? Bundles are certainly one way, but you know, it's the same as the music scene or film scene where there's just so much stuff you just will never hear of.
When I look at games, that's a lot of what I see, in-fighting among the independent scene that are not taking enough risks or being different enough.
How are people supposed to hear about those things? You don't need to have an answer for that, but that's what I wonder. Because those games are not being written up by The New York Times or going on Stephen Colbert.
Sure. Do you think that's why these games people that you speak to are sometimes more careful about what they say? Because the internet is the only way for them to kind of reach people and the internet is so much more potentially hostile than the kind of tried and tested real world outlets that -- less so these days, but, say, music and film and book publishing, I guess, they always had a firmer foot in --
[Laughs.] I think so. You know, there is no CBGB's of videogames. There is no really cool place you went to physically to leave the house to find out about stuff. I mean, all of this stuff exists on screens. But I don't know what that really means. Do you think the fact that all this stuff exists digitally impacts the way people act around this stuff? Is that what you're sort of saying?
Well, I'm not sure. I do find it interesting there's a kind of toxic element, isn't there? Like, the whole Gamergate stuff that happened over the last few years, I can't really think of -- or maybe I'm just being naive here, but presumably all of those teenage boys talking nonsense on the internet, the majority of them, I would hope, wouldn't ever do that in real life but that sort of mask of vague anonymity that the internet gives them enables them to be awful in this way. It seems like -- I can't think of an equivalent of that kind of behavior on such a scale in the history of popular music.
I was thinking the closest you could get is, like, GG Allin might count?
But that's not very widespread. Maybe the Disco Demolition or Woodstock '99?
I'm sure going to rock concerts if you're a teenage girl is more problematic than being a teenage boy because teenage boys can be quite horrible.
Yeah. I always like to ask people who are in another country: Does this Gamergate stuff and the toxicity around games, does it seem like an inherently American kind of thing, you think? You won't hurt my feelings. It's okay if you do.
I'm not sure I'd say American thing, but perhaps Americanized thing in that sense that say everyone on Reddit seems to speak like an American regardless of where they're from.
What does that mean? What is that American style of talking?
It's, well, I don't know. Maybe it's not even -- I'm not sure why I'm using Reddit as an example. But, you know, the sort of the in-jokes and the language that they use becomes sort of an inclusive thing for the people that know the jokes and exclusive to the people who don't and that sort of -- I don't know. It kind of reminds me of, you know, there was that spate of a certain kind of American comedy in, like, the last decade or so. Superbad and I'm struggling to think of the names now, but, you know, that sort of gross-out comedy thing.
That's also reference humor, too.
Yeah. For sure.
The joke is, "Don't you remember this thing?" [Laughs.]
Yes. Right. And that's about as far as it goes.
Very deep stuff.
[Laughs.] I'm not sure. I'm not trying to make a particularly profound point here.
No, no, that's fine. But I do think there is something to that of -- but this is sort of seen as a sort of final frontier before we reset the clocks on videogames as being more creatively progressive. That what the medium is sort of crying out for is to cross-pollinate more and to involve people from other mediums and disciplines more. Just for different perspectives, for things and people and lives that have not been filled with, like we're saying, just existing in videogames.
So I think, you know, someone could look at a game like No Man's Sky and sort of feel like your band is lending that game legitimacy because part of it is coming from a different place. Does that sort of assertion feel silly to you or do you think that's flattering or neither?
Well, it's certainly flattering.
I mean, it's hard to say. The grass is always greener, right? Everyone always thinks the other thing is cooler than the thing they're part of.
It's nice to think that that's true in a sort of -- well, legitimacy is a good word, yes? Although I'm not a huge gamer, I'm certainly of the opinion that the things that are being created, the things that are being done in computer games at the moment are so much cleverer than people give them credit for if they're people who just think computer games are still just playing Sonic on a Mega Drive or whatever and just haven't been paying attention.
Whereas, yeah, like, certainly you still get bands being covered in the mainstream press and pop music in general as a big deal. Whereas I'm kind of -- pop music's sort of, it's not a spent force, but there's not many new things that I think you can do with it? There's a music critic, like an academic critic called Mark Fisher who talks about this a lot. He wrote a really interesting book called Ghosts of My Life, which really hit home for me. He's sort of talking about the end of music in that sort of postmodern end of history atemporal sense: All of these ideas have been had and it's now kind of churning 'round and 'round in this sort of weird sort of postmodern retromania nostalgia fest. There's a kind of uncanny valley of music that's harking back to a past that never really existed. People like Adele or I think Amy Winehouse is an example he might have used. Or The Arctic Monkeys, arguably. You know, these bands that are sort of referencing this kind of glorious past of '60s soul music or something, except it sounds so much better than that music ever could because of the recording techniques that exist now that didn't exist before and it creates this weird sort of flatness or uncanny valley, as he said. It's like music is trying to be this thing and it's so close to being this thing, but so close and yet not that thing. It becomes kind of weird.
And, like, further to that, there's a kind of idea that if you played pop songs from 10 years ago to people in the 1970's, it'd blow their mind in terms of the way they sounded, the production techniques, and the super-tight arrangements that people were writing. But if you played a pop song from today to someone from 10 years ago, it wouldn't take them by surprise in the slightest. There's a kind of -- I think we've sort of hit a saturation point with the pop song that's -- I mean, there's a good chance that it's just me starting to get old. [Laughs.] But then again, it does feel like nobody said that this was gonna last forever. Modernism only happened once and then we sort of hit post from doing it again at some point in the '90s, and then everything kind of got a bit weird and we're slowly working out, but it's all kind of getting a bit smashed together.
I am a little bit younger than you but I have thought the same thing: "Maybe I am just getting old." [Laughs.] But I think if you're a reasonable person and you're willing to consider how you're affecting the outcome of what you're measuring and so many people are arriving that same outcome, doesn't that mean anything? Like, I don't think the answer is simply that we're both premature curmudgeons here.
I'm sure you've talked to other people who feel similarly, right?
Yeah. And I think there's a sort of logic to it. It wasn't really that long ago that Buddy Holly was inventing rock 'n' roll, right? It was back, what, 70 or 80 years ago. In terms of all human history, or even industrialized technological kind of history, there's nothing to sort of say that this right now exists and it's going to continue existing forever and is full of endless possibilities. Like, this is the sort of thinking that lead us to do new things in the first place that it's just like -- not that any modern pop song can't still be absolutely magic because it's all about, you know, so much more than the actual music. Just the idea of a pop song and the state you're in when you hear it and the band that's playing.
Sorry, the reason I went down that path was in contrast to games industry, it feels like it's going through its own sort of modernity. I'm not sure that's quite the right way of phrasing it, but it seems year upon year there is technology or developments in game engines where you can unequivocally do things that you could not do a year or two before.
I mean, there's new ground to be discovered. I mean, just again, this No Man's Sky project, there's so much potential in the system these guys have built. I don't want to sound like I'm blowing my own trumpet too much but I'm really glad. I think they chose the right band for this because we're kind of geeky enough and interested enough. We're not coders or anything. We're interested enough in music software and sort of modular software building, the techniques, that we're kind of meeting this progression which is getting ever more user friendly. It's still pretty oblique in terms of when you get down and dirty with actually building the sound systems. It's still pretty tough. It's not like firing up Ableton on your laptop or something. It's a bit more confusing than that. But clearly that's where it's heading and we're sort of heading on the way to meet it.
But as exciting as this particular sound system is, there's already so much more that looking at these things from a musical perspective and not being sort of burdened with the programming perspective is sort of hinting at something really exciting to me because already there's been some great moments where we've suggested things without knowing the maths behind whether or not it would be possible to program and which turned out to be really easy for them to sort of slot into the system, but hadn't occurred to them because they're coming at it from a programming perspective, if you see what I mean.
This is dipping back from your email and kind of related. I think you're saying you sense, and I agree, I sense there is a pivotal moment happening right now where there is potential in the air and a lot of things are possible but they aren't all being considered or explored. You were saying in your email that "it would be a shame if the game industry became yet another industry completely subsumed by capitalism before it even got a chance to fully work itself out."
So, this may be above both of our pay grades, but how do we prevent that from happening?
Might have to Skype somebody else in here. I don't know. It's interesting to think about, and I'll just listen to whatever you have to say but no pressure.
[Laughs.] Yeah, right. Gosh. That's a great question. God, I don't know. I tend to have --
Don't say algorithms. Don't say that's the answer.
[Laughs.] God, yeah. I don't know. No, it's definitely not algorithms. I have a pretty bleak outlook, I think, when it comes to things escaping the deathly hand of capitalism. [Laughs.] Because that's not the way anything seems to be going at the moment. I mean, I've forgotten who said it, but that sort of aphorism: It's easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.
[Laughs.] It's true.
Yeah. All kind of possible alternatives, they're just kind of getting squeezed out of the human psyche it feels like. I mean, I don't know what happened to Greece over the last year or so with the European Union and their kind of destroying or threatening to destroy them because of the debt that's been forced onto them by the sort of European Central Bank. I don't know how much of that was kind of reported in America. I don't know how big of a story it was. But it was a pretty sort of depressing demonstration of how hard it is to escape from any of that stuff.
And the computer game industry is -- I don't know. [Laughs.] Last year in Manchester, where I'm living, I had a nice little studio space in an old factory. There's loads of old factories in Manchester. This one old building had been given a local art gallery that was sort of looking at the building and it was just renting out rooms and spaces to working artists in the city for free, which was fantastic.
Last year, the art gallery got thrown out because some software company had decided they were gonna -- even though this building was getting knocked down in about four years ago because the whole area was getting redeveloped and that's why it was free, this software company, I don't know who it was but they sort of came in and hired the whole building and threw out all of the artists. This was reported in the local press as a huge success for the kind of future of technological cultural industries in Manchester because there's quite a lot of software companies in Manchester these days. Quite a few games development software companies as well have started appearing. But in order for this to actually happen, they kind of turfed all of the artists out onto the street, which I think was an apt little analogy. Because, I don't know. It seems like it's a bit of a buzzword, software and the games industry. If you ever see it in the news in that sense, it's usually just kind of because government are using it -- you know, it's like top trumps with economic growth and the financial forecast of the country.
The way they sort of threw this into creative industries, it's tricky because it's not really why they're supporting it. I think they're supporting it because at the moment computer games are making a ton of money, right?
Are Rockstar based here? Grand Theft Auto?
Yeah. They have an office out near you.
I think there's enough really big deal companies in the UK that sort of at the moment are given some space because they're bringing them loads of cash. But I don't know how long that's gonna last and I don't know -- I don't know. I don't know a lot about them.
Did you see a while ago Prince talking about the internet and how that's affected bands and how no one's really making money off of music anymore?
I didn't. No.
Is that an overstatement of things? Do you feel like it's still realistic for creative or artistic people to support themselves with that kind of work? Or like we mentioned, is that just people in the '60s and '70s?
[Laughs.] I think that -- I mean, when we started we were right on the cusp of things like Napster and MySpace sort of changing the internet-based music in a really significant way. So, I hate to imagine what it's like if you're trying to start a band now. I don't even know -- I have no idea what you would do. [Laughs.]
I think it's the same if you're a writer or a freelance journalist or you're a game developer. In my head, I don't see them as being all that different in that regard. The output might be different, but the struggles are the same, and I think a lot of that is because of the internet.
Yeah. Yeah. I think that's about right. I mean, what we did was we never made any money personally with any record sales outside of anything that we've done. It's just never happened. We've not sold records in those kinda numbers. We all live incredibly frugal lives. We just about make a living off being in this band, which we just count ourselves so lucky for. We don't worry about how little actual money we have because we can pay the bills and buy food, which is amazing.
We used to kind of tour, basically all the time. Especially in the early years of the band, just keep, keep on going. And that helped things sort of break even. But that's getting more expensive as well.
So, what I find funny is that when we started as a band, it was when that conversation of the MP3s killing music sort of kicked off in earnest at music conferences all around the world to the various boards of people talking about their time in the industry and try to figure out what happens next. That conversation just hasn't moved forward in any kind of interesting or useful way. [Laughs.]
Like, since we've been a band, the MP3 is still killing music. The MP3 itself is pretty old-fashioned.
Because, you know, who even downloads them anymore. You just listen to the music on YouTube, right? And the best response has been lots of the kind of big labels to -- like, a friend of mine who lives in Germany, who are particularly kind of overzealous about copyright takedowns and YouTube and stuff, like, she can never see anything that I send her because 90 percent of the links that I ever pass on to her just don't work in Germany.
And it's just stupid, you know? It's not gonna save anything. It's just slowing down other people. It's not any kind of reasonable sort of master plan to make the internet work for musicians again. It's just everyone else in the chain of the music industry looking for ways to sort of either keep their jobs or pretend to be relevant. It doesn't feel like a forward-thinking industry anymore.
Yeah. I mean, you were saying in our emails, too, and you were talking more about ecosystems and making music with stuff like GarageBand and -- I can just read that quote back to you.
You said you found that the digital software ecosystems and how those have taken hold is a bit troubling: "They're lowering the barrier to entry for people interested in making music, like GarageBand, which is obviously a good thing, but at the same time all the audio software giants like Ableton Live and Native Instruments have their own particular ecosystems they try to encourage people to stick inside of which carries the danger of homogenizing workflows so people start making stuff that all sounds the same." Actually, there is something similar happening in videogames. There's development platforms, which I think you mentioned, like Unity. But there's also distribution platforms like Steam and a bunch of others.
But I don't think you see tons and tons of music that ends up on iTunes that ends up being pretty similar, like the way you do in videogames on Steam. I wonder why that happens. Because it's not like the store shelf it's going to end up on in the end should really always so strongly inform the sort of thing that's being made, but that is what's happening in games. Is there anything from music games could learn in that regard or the games ecosystem could learn to avoid? Or are we just sort of doomed to repeat ourselves sooner or later?
Good question. I don't know. Like, what would be the equivalent of a music festival in the games world?
They're either gonna be some sort of corporate thing or it's gonna be someone with a modicum of internet fame curating something.
But that's also going to need to have sponsors because I don't know of people who have hundreds of thousands of dollars at their disposal to book an arena or book a small convention center and then get the TVs and the hardware. Maybe, to your point, there isn't a correlate?
It depends what kind of festival you're talking about.
Well, sure. I don't know. I don't know what it would be, but, like, obviously with music festivals there's plenty of corporate rubbish out there but there's still thriving, smaller indie festivals with carefully curated line-ups that are brilliant and they allow for a space that people can go to who like finding new music and seeking out new music and they can sort of trust there's places they can go to where they're probably gonna like whatever it is that they see. So, I don't know. Some sort of curation, I guess, like indie curation -- I mean, it doesn't have to be out there in the real world. It could be some sort of digital space. But something that's more -- that's less like Steam and more like, I don't know, considered?
But then -- well, no, I don't know. Am I just talking about another website? It doesn't really seem like a real answer, does it?
Being in a band, there used to be X number of corporations that if you wanted to "make it" as a band, you'd need get signed or affiliated with under their umbrella. There's fewer of those now. Now there's RSS feeds, there's DVR, there's YouTube, there's Twitter. Basically, we're no longer beholden to gatekeepers deciding for us what we can or can't be exposed to. Maybe this isn't really a binary, but do you feel we're better gatekeepers ourselves than the gatekeepers were before us?
There's a lot more noise to weed through, isn't there?
I think so.
[Laughs.] And also, like, the things -- I know they don't portray themselves as gatekeepers. I guess this is all changing quite quickly, but Twitter and Instagram have just introduced algorithmic timelines and Facebook's got that already, so you never really know if you're really seeing everything.
So it's more a kind of -- I don't know. Clearly what they want is for you to become the same old passive pair of eyeballs because they're doing all of your gatekeeping for you.
They're just giving you the illusion of choosing your own content that you're pulling towards you. But it's not. It's just them pushing what they want. But then again, we all have these tools to use to fight that in ways that we never could before.
I mean, but what does make me feel old is what I used to say is that if you really want to be in a band and do that for real, then when we were starting out, it's like, you need to be able to do things like have basic HTML skills because you need to build a website and do mail-outs and you need to know how to use spreadsheets because they're really useful when you're trying to budget for a tour and no one's got any money and you need to know how much petrol's gonna cost to get from this city to this city. You know, that kind of thing. It's like, if you really want to be in a band, then one person in a thousand is gonna be that rockstar with the sunglasses who gets signed by a label and has all of this taken care of for them. But really, most people in bands, you're a little -- whether you like it or not -- small business trying to sell T-shirts.
Yeah. There's a lot more using Excel in those days. That was more part of being in a band than I think people wanna remember or realize, and I think the same is true for people making games today.
But you saying that, I'm sort of remembering. Because it was a lot more complicated then. It wasn't, like, integrated into your email address.
You couldn't use the phone when you wanted to go on the internet in those days.
It was either/or.
We used to go -- when we first started touring, we didn't even have satmaps and stuff. And so you'd have to drive across Europe with real maps. [Laughs.] Yeah. It's cool. I mean, I'm glad we did all that, but my point was gonna be that I don't know what -- even with all of that advice, which seems pretty outdated to somebody who's starting a band now, like, I mean, I don't know. You use Patreon, right?
I find that as a really interesting concept, and maybe you can help explain this to me because for reasons that I still can't fully understand, I think it's a really nice idea and I think for, like, what you're doing it's really well-suited. There's something that I find a bit kind of weird about the idea of people, like, being a band on it or making music being funded in that way. And I don't think that's just because of where I am in all of this or what.
I think it's because when you're talking about starting a band, you don't really have an audience yet. Like, that's part of the job of being in a band is building a following. And when you're talking about Patreon, I think the disconnect and what sounds sort of silly to articulate is I can't picture someone starting a band and then just going on Patreon immediately.
Yeah, yeah. Sure.
But I will say, to connect it back to games -- and I think this is something many people who make games don't realize -- is because we are struggling to think of the correlate for a festival, you make a game, you put it online, and you sort of hope or expect someone should care. There's certainly a lot of process in both, but if you're starting a band -- maybe you would now, I don't know -- do you just go to your garage and stream all your rehearsals? [Laughs.]
Like, there seems to be an erosion of respecting that the creative process can be kind of secret, kind of private, and intentionally so because when you're ready to share stuff, that's when you share stuff. But I don't really see that sort of mentality broadly around videogames.
But I don't know how closely you pay attention to that and I don't want to get too far away from answering your Patreon question. I am curious to hear you react to any of that, though.
Well, I find it quite interesting. I've thought of that before, the sort of -- there's an element of being in a band where you really need to sort of engage in some myth-building, you know? Because a band is about so much more than the music than they make.
I mean, they used to even keep it secret who wrote the songs.
Yeah, right. Because you don't want a band to just be regular people.
It's the poster on your wall. Those rock stars. When you were a teenager, everyone has those bands when they were young. That's what a band can be and that's really powerful.
Whereas, the strength of game development to me is, like, I'm really interested in the abilities to have the process be relatively open compared to writing a record. Seeing, like, game development blogs and things. Even in snippets of code and an openness of sharing ideas that reminds me more of sort of an academic environment. Whereas a band, you don't really share chord progression or guitar pedal chains in quite the same way because -- well, I don't know why.
I don't know. I mean, there are certainly hardcore enthusiasts with anything who want to know everything about it. I remember spending time on guitargeek.com or writing guitar tabs, but that comes from really passionate fans. I never see bands bragging -- like you said, on Instagram or whatever, "Here's my pedal board and everything I use!"
I wanted to ask you a little bit about the audience for games. I know you said that you don't pay close attention to the conversation around games. Is that intentional? Does it just not really interest you? Or do you just choose to look away because you don't want to hear it?
No, none of those things. I did -- I think, because I went to university and I did film studies, so I used to read a lot more about film and the conversation around film. And was in a band, followed the music press very avidly for the first six or seven years of being in a band. It's hard to explain exactly why but something about -- I mean, it might just be me being contrary, but there was something about music press in particular. It started to just annoy me in a way that I still can't really articulate but sort of reading around music perhaps at a time when it became so much easier to just hear the music very quickly and perhaps reading too many 65 reviews in the early years of 65, whether they were good or bad, it would just freak me out to see somebody else's interpretation of it. Not because it was wrong but because it was like, "Oh, wow. That's fascinating that you interpret it that way, but at the same time I don't want other people to read your interpretation of it because if they don't maybe they'll have their own completely unique interpretations themselves."
Anyway, so, for whatever reason, I've not really examined it very hard but I kind of stopped reading the music press and my film studies degree meant that that kind of put me off a lot of film criticism reading as well. [Laughs.]
Because I wasn't playing games, it kind of never came upon my radar. What's interesting is I'm slowly kind of getting back into it because I don't know if you know a journalist named Mike Diver. He now runs the Vice gaming and he's, like, a friend of mine from forever because he used to be a music journalist and he started writing about music basically when 65 started being a band. So, we crossed paths a million times and he's written about us a million times. He's always been a very big supporter of us, which is really nice. And he's sort of left the sinking ship of the music industry and kind of moved his perspective on the world, like, putting that towards games in a really kind of interesting way. There's some parallels, I guess, with where you're heading in that he's clearly trying very hard to make game criticism appear to be something, like, more substantial in the eyes of people who might have previously dismissed it.
Was Mike the guy you were talking about in our emails who "writes about videogames and you enjoy seeing him wind up angry teenagers?"
[Laughs.] Yes. Yeah, yeah, that was Mike.
I mean, do you guys ever talk about that? Some of the audience for games being like that and sort of winding them up? Especially him also coming from music, like, what does he make of it? What do you make of it? What do you guys make of it?
You know, I'm gonna see him next week for the first time in a long time, actually. We're more like acquaintances than close friends. It's more like the odd kind of Twitter back and forth or Facebook exchange. But in his writing -- I don't really read any other games stuff but because I see him my online streams, I like the way that he writes and so I read them.
He's certainly got no time for the Gamergate people, which is great. What makes it more interesting is when that was all kind of kicking off and I was just reading around to try and get my head 'round what it was all about because it seemed significant and worrying and I wanted to understand it, I think in his early articles trying to address it he was trying to sort of hold out a hand of understanding or something or a kind of, "Let's have a conversation about this." [Laughs.] And then quickly gave up because that wasn't reciprocated.
It's important to understand because we all live on the internet and it's the really early days of the internet and everyone's kinda still figuring out. Can't help but think that decisions made in this decade that no one'll really know the big decisions until years later. This is, like, putting aside kind of impending climate disaster and the end of civilization and so on, I can easily believe that this weird period of I guess what cleverer people than me call postmodernity that we found ourselves in over this past decade or so, it's not like a little blip. But it's in fact, we had modernism. That was 200 years of industrial revolution. And what's about to happen now is like the beginning of a very, very different era that could last for a really long time because of where technology has brought us and nobody has a clue how it's all working.
What do you think feeds the kind of the pissy entitlement you see from videogame fans? I mean, is it really different from in music people getting upset over Dylan going electric? [Laughs.] I feel like any game that's semi-big or has the potential to be big, it seems to build this pool of people -- and I don't know if it's the same people -- but there just seems to be this role that gets cast by a group who gets upset and feels that the game is being made the "wrong" way.
I'll use an example from No Man's Sky. I saw Harry Denholm, the senior programmer at Hello Games, a while ago tweet a complaint that No Man's Sky doesn't have enough lines of code in it.
Rainbow 6: Vegas 2 had nearly 2 million lines of code and it's unacceptable.
[Laughs.] Was he being serious?
I mean, so you've dealt with music fans and maybe you're dealing a little bit or starting to deal a little bit with videogame stuff. But, just, like, what is going on? [Laughs.]
That's crazy. That's crazy. I don't know. Could it be a symptom of late-stage capitalism? It's like, everything is portrayed as being on demand and instant. What makes it even stranger for me is computer games above music, above films, possibly even above novel writing, like, the amount of time it takes to make a computer game just, like, in literal hours of work is colossal, right? It's a huge amount of time.
So, the people, they don't go into projects like No Man's Sky half-heartedly. It's a huge undertaking. But it feels like they're singled out for an incredibly strange breed of people expecting -- or maybe it's because of that? Maybe it's because these things are on people's horizons for such a long period of time that they feel like they can, I don't know, put in requests or something? [Laughs.]
"Please add 1.5 million lines of code."
[Laughs.] Maybe this is one of the downsides of having your process on display and maybe bands don't get that so much because no one ever knows what we're doing unless we announce an album or announce tour dates. I suppose when we announce tour dates we, without fail, will get a bunch of people saying, "Why aren't you playing my city?"
But people like that don't say it angrily in the way they say things to computer games makers.
Yeah, you're probably not getting threats that you better come to their city. [Laughs.] In fact, that's probably a good way to guarantee you would not go to their city.
But I think part of it, too, what we've seen change and in our conversation we did stretch back to Buddy Holly, but music used to be the central culture. This was before internet, before everything could be so much more fragmented. And I don't mean "fragmented" in a bad way, it's just that there's tens of millions of things going on at any moment in all these scenes on all these different platforms you and I will never know about and they will never read this interview or know about us.
I think it's difficult with what we're talking about -- you said it feels like music is stagnating a little bit and games have all this potential. Is it just harder for a medium to learn where it wants to go when it doesn't even have a center anymore or it isn't even the center of the culture anymore?
Maybe. Maybe. Well, I'm still a bit confused as to how when you compare sort of -- I don't know, like the speed of this year's iPhone with one from two years ago, it's crazy. On the one hand, there is that rate of change in technology still which is insane, but then you've got computer games that necessarily take what, say, between two and three years to make? And people have to plan ahead based on what they think is going to be available in consumer devices or know? I don't really know the logistics of that. But by the time whatever, however it is you plan to navigate that kind of change over the time that you're making your piece of art, like, regardless of how you approach it, by the time you're ready to do the next thing the landscape is gonna look completely different, which is hard to kind of imagine from the world of music because a guitar has been a guitar for a really long time.
As I was sort of mentioning in that email from a while ago, being the member of the band that does most of the electronic side of things, I've been very aware of the technological changes in music hardware. And there was a period of time when I started learning how to use samplers, I had a sampler that would hold about 45 seconds of audio in total and you'd have to make a whole song from that amount of sounds. But now you've got 32 gigabytes in your pocket or whatever. So I experienced a little bit of that, sort of the tail end of music technology hitting a kind of saturation point. But since then, it's been -- you know where you are, you know what your resources are and you know how to use them and there's a sort of consistency there.
But it doesn't seem like -- it must be very different in the games world. And also, if you kind of buy that kind of perspective on postmodernity and all of that, then there is no grand narrative anymore that anybody is following. There's just thousands and thousands of little personal narratives. If you've got this unlikely state of affairs where you have an indie games company like Hello Games and No Man's Sky competing with -- I mean, I know Sony are kind of publishing it, but creatively it's just a little indie team of 10, 20 people who have made this game and they're somehow competing with these hundreds-strong giant studios. And all those entities are going to have very different perspectives on where they want the games industry to go. So, it's hard to guess what's gonna happen but maybe they could all be right? You know what I mean?
[Laughs.] I think you're right.
I think there's room for all of it. Then maybe that's what the future is, like, whichever one of these things to be true is true.
It's just all a lot more confusing because they're all true at once.
And it's on you to find it if someone's not putting it in front of you.
That feels right. Okay, so, this is a very important question but how often do people misspell your last name as my last name?
[Laughs.] It happens very, very rarely.
It happens to me all the time.
But do you say "Wolinski?"
Yeah. But isn't that how you say it?
Yeah, it is, but phonetically isn't that how mine is spelled?
It could be two "e"'s.
Oh, it could be two "e"'s. I would say that yours would be “Wolin-sky.”
That just sounds wrong to me.
It sounds wrong to me, too. I suppose if you're unfamiliar with Polish names then arguably there's a difference. I don't know.
It's okay. It's not that important. It was meant more as a palate cleanser before something a lot more broad and thinky like everything else we've been discussing.
What do you think videogames have accomplished?
Oof. [Laughs.] I have had -- I mean, I've got very fond memories of playing computer games. Especially as a younger kid, the kind of imagination that it must've inspired in me, playing, like a Spectrum when I was 7 or 8 years old, being able to sort of move around in these other worlds, actually sort of interact with them as opposed to just passively being told or passively reading them or seeing them on TV or whatever. That interactivity is clearly something that is sort of essential to its form. I'm very fond of whatever medium you're thinking about or trying to work in, you just kind of find the thing that can only be done in that particular medium and focusing on that. It feels like that's the best way to make something good or useful. Clearly, that's what computer games can do that other mediums can't, is that it can give you an agency that you don't get. It's not that you have no agency when you're reading a book or listening to music because you can create those things in your head. But obviously with a computer game, it's a lot more literal and I'm sure that psychologists would be able to explain it better but having that kind of -- giving kids the ability to think logically or be able to exist in environments where you can teach yourself or discover things for yourself rather than being just given the information must be, you'd hope, is useful.
I think, too, not to pick on algorithms, but with some of the stuff we've been talking about, it's a valuable thing that I think at least some adults seem to forget to try to stay aware of.
Yeah. A friend of mine runs this conference called Haunted Machines, which is about this worrisome trends about trying to make technology magical and all of these black boxes that kind of work just like magic. And algorithms are sort of an extension of that. It's a word that's thrown about so often these days to describe computers doing stuff for you. But all of these algorithms are designed by humans with their own sometimes malevolent aims. It's not like a neutral function of emergent thing that's, like, a natural byproduct of technology. They're always made by real people to do their bidding.