With a nod to their 4AD forbears, they’ve dished up two languid albums of intense urban folk and experimental indie on the label, both of which have charted in the Top 20. Now, for their latest project, they’re transposing their sonics onto the world of videogame scores for the very first time.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm is the new title from Square Enix, the company behind the successful Tomb Raider and Final Fantasy franchises. Before the Storm is the prequel to Life is Strange, the BAFTA Award-winning videogame which drew on real life issues and characters for its narrative. The 2015 original featured music from the likes of Mogwai, Foals, Breton, Sparklehorse and alt-J, but for their latest instalment, the game developers wanted something bespoke.
Daughter’s soundtrack, also entitled Music from Before the Storm, features brand new material alongside three tracks from their back catalogue. It sees the band tread more experimental waters than ever, with electronic layering adding a new sense of urgency to their sound.
Entranced by its haunting, powerful sound, we caught up with Elena and Igor from the band to found out how the project came about and how they set to task writing a game soundtrack for the first time...
Elena: We got an email in late December 2016 asking whether we would interested in being involved. We weren't really that familiar with Life is Strange at all before that but we looked into it and thought it was a really beautiful concept. It seemed like a really good fit for us and we had just finished tour so we actually had the time to do it - we knew it was probably going to be an intense period of time.
Had it ever been an ambition of yours to create a soundtrack?
Igor: Definitely yeah, it's something we really wanted to do for a long time. We've been lucky enough to have some of our music from our own records be played in movies and TV shows and the like... so to be able to actually create it purposely for that was really, really great. It's something that we've been dreaming of doing.
Would you say you had more creative freedom than with how you normally write?
Igor: It's funny because in a way, yes. We were sometimes given certain limitations of being told 'this is vaguely how we would like it to sound'. It sort of, in a way, frees you from the fact that if you're your own boss, any option under the sun is possible. Obviously the three of us need to be happy about it when we are making a record and that's already quite difficult, but knowing that ultimately someone else says 'yes' or 'no' really helped free our minds.
Elena: We had to almost just make very instinctive decisions when we were coming up with stuff because we had to meet deadlines.
What information were you given about the game, did you get to see any of it before writing?
Igor: They gave us a script, some artwork and a rough scene. We knew that they were kind of working towards a similar vibe to the first game in terms of aesthetic and the way the story was told. A big difference was that the main character Chloe in Before The Storm is quite different to Max who's in the first game. Max was quite shy and introverted and Chloe is a lot more rebellious, assertive, kind of rude sometimes and also very funny and witty.
How did you begin writing? Did you all sit together and brainstorm your ideas after reading the script?
Elena: I think to be honest it was a little bit more disorganised than that! Our studio for a long time was just lots of bits of paper everywhere and lots of different ideas on phones. It was kind of just piecing things together. Lyrically, the script was very influential.
Igor: We also had to update all of these people quite often, so there was an initial period of just sending as many ideas as possible just to kind of get an idea of what they liked. From there, we built on some of those ideas and then there was the process of actually recording. It was a little bit disjointed but we did try to have some amount of organisation to make sure we could actually finish it on time. There were different degrees of levels of completion depending on each track.
Like a game!
Elena: Yeah, just constantly trying to fight the big boss like, 'argh finish the game!' I guess we knew what we needed to create, we had the guidelines of "these are the themes, these are the scenes in which we need to translate those feelings into music'. But then within that, it was kind of like 'let's just experiment'. Basically it was quite a playful experience.
Lyrically, did you enjoy the approach of being given a character to work around?
Elena: Yeah, definitely. It made me think in a completely different way or approach things from a different perspective: the kind of nostalgia and thinking about how I felt as a teenager, or how I would feel in Chloe's shoes mixed in with my own past memories. It was a really interesting experiment for me to see how to write.
Did you listen to any game soundtracks for inspiration?
Igor: I checked out a few things from a few games that I had played and I remember the music fitting really well to them. The Last of Us, Beyond Two Swords. If anything, I was actually more inspired by soundtracks in movies. I would never compare ourselves to them, but Jóhann Jóhannsson, Nils Frahm, Alexandre Desplat, Michael Nyman... you know, all these amazing composers. It was not so much about what they were doing but more about how it fits with the picture.
Are there any plans to perform the soundtrack live?
Igor: It wasn't our intention and it was quite freeing to not think about that actually. When we're making a record, we're always trying to remember that we want to play these songs live, so we make sure that we don't go too far that it will be impossible to make it translate on stage.
Elena: There could be a few songs that we could actually play in our current form as a band, but I think we'd need some time to figure it out especially because a lot of the parts I can't remember what I did. It's kind of a hazy, slightly sleep deprived moment in time.
What's next for the band?
Elena: We are going on tour so we're doing a few festivals and we're supporting The National in America which is exciting and terrifying because their shows are BIG.
Igor: And then we are going to South America for a summer tour there.
Music from Before the Storm will be released on 1 September.