Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Interview: William Reyes of The OneUps

Since this blog is about all things video game music related, I thought that I would try to get some inside info from people actually in the thick of the business. The OneUps are one of the more famous video game music cover bands in the nation, and I was lucky enough to get an interview with them for the blog!

The OneUps, from left to right: Jared Dunn (drums, keyboard), Mustin (bass, keyboard), Tim Yarbrough (electric guitar), and William Reyes (guitar, guitar synth)

Although The OneUps have fluctuated in number since their beginnings in 2000, they have always been dedicated to creative interpretations of video game music, ranging from jazzy tunes from Toejam & Earl to Christmas songs from the Mushroom Kingdom. Originating out of Fayetteville, Arkansas, the band first formed when "Mustin, Nathan Mcleod (the OneUps' former saxophonist) and [I] sat in a room one day and talked about how much fun it would be to play video game music together," says William Reyes, The OneUps' original and current guitarist. They started out as a neighborhood band, playing local functions. A few of these original performances can be found on Youtube, including the following song that was my introduction into The OneUps, "Koopa Beach" from Super Mario Kart.

"Koopa Beach" - Super Mario Kart (as performed by The OneUps-- the album version can be found here, but although this video doesn't contain many of the band's original members, this performance/arrangement was the one that first captivated me, and it also shows the scale of the venues that The OneUps played during its first few years)

This song holds a particular significance for the band: "One of the first ideas was to play Koopa Beach as a Bossa Nova jazz tune," Reyes explains. "Jazz/funk seemed to be the most common ground for all the musicians that came in and out of The OneUps over the next 10 years, and it also seemed to be the most suitable for the venues in the area." The jazz/funk style fits very well with a lot of the band's repertoire, "Koopa Beach" included. This song is a perfect example of how The Oneups can take a simple, 16-bit song and turn it into a fun, creative explosion, taking its original potential and pushing it to its outer limits.

Regarding the often-alternating members of The OneUps, Reyes says, "Since we are all musicians, we all have friends that are musicians. When we felt like we needed another voice in the group, we would think about our friends first and try playing together." From saxophonist Anthony Lofton (who recently had to take a hiatus from the band) to violinist Greg Kennedy to pianist/arranger Dale North (who is currently a writer for the gaming news site Destructoid), the members of The OneUps changes fluidly, depending on the desired sound. For instance, compare the following song, "Mario Circuit," with "Koopa Beach":

"Mario Circuit" - Super Mario Kart (a OneUps music video, featuring Anthony Lofton on the keyboard) 

This arrangement doesn't have saxophone and is a lot more reliant on synth and piano accompaniment. While the band's overall flavor is still the same, the musical presentation is radically different (and equally as fantastic). In addition, this is The OneUps' only music video, and it really shows off the band members' quirky personalities.

The band's love for the music of Super Mario Kart is pretty apparent (and, if you'd like to learn a little more about the soundtrack, you can check out my last article here). In fact, the band released an entire album of Super Mario Kart music in 2009. Reyes mentions that, "...A few of the songs (from Super Mario Kart) influenced the inception of the band. Mustin came up with the idea to devote an entire album to this wonderful music. We tried to make the album have the same musical variety that the game has." Indeed, despite the vast difference in musical technology, The OneUps did an excellent job staying true to the game's bouncy, light feel while adding their own style of rock/jazz to the original compositions. Their rendition of "Rainbow Road" is one of the best examples of this fusion:

"Rainbow Road" - Super Mario Kart (as performed by The OneUps)

The OneUps' latest album, Intergalactic Redux, has a drastically different sound from their other albums. With a harder, more synthesized core and a more funk-oriented drive, this album is yet another departure from a previously established style. When asked about this new sound, Reyes responded, "We love playing with new sounds and trying new styles when we can. When our saxophone player (Dr. Lofton) left, we decided to go a different direction with a more modern funk style." Although it certainly a different flavor, it is no less technically impressive or astounding. Here's a track from Intergalactic Redux  from the (already funky) Toejam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron:

"Ain't No Love Like Lewanda's" - The OneUps

It's hard to describe this song with any word other than "funky." It also emulates the electronic style of the Toejam & Earl soundtrack while, once again, fusing the original music with an intense jazz/funk feel. 

The OneUps' infinite adaptability and pure creative talent are what make it such a leading force in video game music today. They've persevered through thick and thin, including a brief disbanding before their reunion at PAX in 2007. In an interview with MSNBC following that performance, Reyes mentioned that he would get strange looks from people whenever he mentioned that he was in a video game cover band. I mentioned getting similar looks when I tell people that I write a video game music blog, and asked him what he and the other band members felt was especially appealing about video game music. This is what he had to say:

"We love video game music because we love music. There is no genre called: "video game music." The number of musical styles one can find when listening to the soundtracks of so many games is fascinating. Arranging these tunes and inserting your own musical ideas is so much fun that it almost becomes addictive. We may still get the same reactions, but we don't notice anymore because we realize all that matters is that we're doing what we love."

I couldn't have said it better myself. 
If you'd like to listen to more of The OneUps, you can check them out on Youtube or head over to their website, Help support them by buying some of their albums or seeing them in person, if you're in the area (you can find a tour schedule on their Facebook page).


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  3. Now this first time I have seen interview these guys that was done well. Have you stop blogging ?

  4. No, I haven't! I just haven't had the opportunity to blog for a while. Be on the lookout for a new post this week! And thanks for the comment. :)

  5. interview these guys that was done well. Have you stop blogging