From where I sit I can see a Space Jam poster, Power Ranger morpher and a Yogi Bear button. I’m not in the bedroom of a kid in 1995. I’m a 25 year old in her living room in 2012. It’s safe to say growing up is something I will probably never do. Armcannon and I share this love and need for the inner child. That’s what drew me to this band when an assembly of “geeky” bands were thrown my way from my BFF’s boyfriend (thanks again Aaron!).
Armcannon do their thing to construct their own versions of not only video game tunes, but also TV theme songs we all know and love. So to keep on keeping on with this month’s special feature, Armcannon’s keyboardist Chris Dlugosz the keyboardist takes on adult skeptics, untouchable songs, Nerdapalooza and more.
Kendra Beltran: Can you pinpoint the moment in your life when you decided that not only music was what you wanted to do, but this type of music?
Chris Dlugosz: I have been playing keyboard and piano by ear avidly since age 3 thanks to my parents continually supporting my growing hobby. With video games taking up a fair portion of my life, it was only natural that I ended up learning to play all of those NES and SNES songs that get burned into your soul due to the constant musical repetition the game play puts you through. By the time I was in college, I had a sizable library of gaming music on the keys stored in my mind. That’s when I met guitarist Dan Behrens (who currently goes by his solo chiptune monicker of Danimal Cannon). While casually chatting up music, we quickly discovered that we both knew a lot of gaming music. In particular, it was us favoring the Kraid theme from Metroid for NES that drove us to jam together in my dad’s living room. This led to the formation of Armcannon, and of course to our first official compositional album track being Kraid. We were originally called “The Armcannons” but guitarist Mike Willard thankfully came up with the brilliant shortening of the name. All of that was in 2005.
Kendra: What’s the nerdiest thing about you besides covering video game music?
Chris: Nerdy is such a broad word these days. I’ve been studying fractals since high school and I am definitely notorious for being somewhat obsessed with the aesthetics of geometry, particularly cubes. Our guitarist Dan makes music called chiptunes entirely out of original Game Boy systems, and is doing well as a solo artist. Probably the nerdiest thing ever though is that over the years, I have injected into the whole band an addiction to a form of word-play called spoonerisms, which is when you take two words and switch their beginning letters, with the hope of creating hilarious new words. Indeed very nerdy but fruitful in the amusement department. Good examples of this would be, “FROZEN BERRIES are enjoyed by BRO’S AND FAIRIES,” or “SIGN A DOOR with a DINOSAUR,” or “TELL ‘DA ZOO I just got ZELDA II” etcetera. We got a million of ’em! We literally text each other whenever we think of a good one. Within our circles of gaming music friends we are known for speaking in spoonerisms in all conversations at all times, enough to spread forth the addiction to others like some kind of linguistic virus.
Kendra: Are there songs, rather games, you guys won’t ever touch?
Chris: Our main criteria for covering a song from a game is “difficulty of musicianship.” We are audacious and will never admit to biting off more than we can chew. Our second criteria is the potent power of nostalgia [hence the mix of fun TV themes into our setlists.] With that said, we only really stray away from the soundtracks of modern games because they tend to be bland orchestra or pop nonsense that is decidedly unmemorable. The limitations of the NES and GameBoy hardware ironically forced the music composers to think up clever ways to make new sounds, often being necessitated to employ complex solos and arpeggios because it was impossible to play chords of simultaneous notes. That of course is the “difficulty of musicianship” factor we seek.
Kendra: Unlike other bands I’ve been checking out recently, you guys do TV theme songs too. Most awesome one (to me) being the Power Rangers. In the end, who was the best Ranger?
Chris: Definitely not blue. But the rest would probably be argued over endlessly into the night among the band members for a myriad of reasons. Japan has a strange emphasis on shoulder decorations. Namely, when the green ranger first emerged, he had big golden shoulder armor things, which visually signified to the viewer that he is better than the others. The exact same thing can be seen in the transition from Capcom’s Mega Man on NES to Mega Man X on SNES. Shoulder things equal power. Samus Aran is probably untouchable at this point.
Kendra: Do you frequent the different Cons with your music every year?
Chris: We have been well known headliners at lots of gaming conventions since 2005. The most important con to check out would be MAGfest. That stands for Music and Gaming fest. Note that the word music comes first. MAGfest gathers all of the biggest video game bands and has them perform back to back over a four day mind blowing weekend of overwhelming gaming stimulus. Last year they topped five or six thousand attendees, and their special guest was Nobuo Uematsu all the way from Japan, best known as the composer of ALL FINAL FANTASY MUSIC. He actually has his own rock band called the Earthbound Papas and indeed they performed right along with the rest of us. Check out magfest.org because this convention is on fire, getting bigger events and bigger names each year.
Kendra: Besides those, you have Nerdapalooza coming up in August. It sounds like a place I’d find my soulmate, but what are your guys plan of action for that? Like anything special planned for the set?
Chris: We just finished arranging a major new medley from the TV/movie world that has yet to be majorly deployed publically. The medley is an unholy mix of Star Trek and Star Wars. We call it “Star Wreck” and it features the 1960s Trek theme, plus The Next Generation Trek theme, Darth Vader’s “Imperial March,” a brief homage to “duel of the fates,” various genre-destroying mixes all of these, and more, in one song. Needless to say, we are quite proud of it, as it is rife with “mad scientistry” which is how we best enjoy arranging music.
Kendra: Something I instantly liked about you guys was this idea of your inner child. Are you ever looked down upon outside of the band life for embracing what you loved as a kid?
Chris: Pretty much 100% of non-gaming people who ask what kind of music we play end up rolling their eyes and chuckling dismissively at us. But aside from that, we are still here today for the sole reason that we are met with unbelievable waves of support and excitement by everyone else. Culture loves retro-chic, and 80’s Nintendo references are thoroughly embedded into society at this point, almost to the point that it’s already passé and hackneyed. Nostalgia is what tied this band together, and it has held strongly since 2005.
Kendra: For your mixtape I want you to make a Mixtape of 5 songs from your adulthood that you’d send to yourself at say age 10. We’re gonna call it the “Hey kid, you grow up to be awesome” Mixtape, go!
1. Something by Meshuggah. Probably “New Millennium Cyanide Christ” – to function as a lesson on our love of techy pretentious time signature show-boating.
2. ANYTHING by Guthrie Govan, currently the undisputed master of most schools of thought on the guitar.
3. Some of the amazing pounding energetic chiptunes by our own Danimal Cannon to show our young selves that chiptune music will flourish as a new niche circle.
4. This one track by our good friend, a genius piano virtuoso named Shnabubula, called “Playing Super Mario World While Taking Mushrooms.” Seriously this single song is a life-changer. DO check it out right here on Youtube ASAP. Put this in your blog now. Mind. Blowing. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDPonNlDZdI
5. Track five will be a repeat of the same Shnabubula track.