Exclusive Interview: Battlefield Hardline Composer Paul Leonard-Morgan
With Battlefield Hardline (Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PC) set up like a television show, you’d think the good people at Visceral Games would hire a composer who’s worked in TV before. But while Paul Leonard-Morgan has done the music for such TV shows as MI-5, it turns out that it wasn’t his TV work that got him this gig.
I always like to start at the beginning. How did you get the job scoring Battlefield Hardline?
Some people at Visceral Games had heard some of my soundtracks, in particular Dredd, and asked if I would come in and have a chat about it. But when we sat down and they were like, “Where do you want to take it? Where do you see it?” I had to confess, “Well, I’ve never really played that many games before.” So they made me watch them play a bunch of games to get the vibe for it. Obviously, I knew the Battlefield games, but they said, “This is going to be very different from that. This isn’t Battlefield 5. We want to take it down a completely different vibe, which is why we’re coming to you.”
Given that you’re not a gamer, what made you want to do it?
Because I have a very short attention span. I get very bored doing the same thing, basically. I do a lot of film soundtracks, I produce a lot of bands, I like doing different things. And I think doing different things has an effect on the rest of the work you do. I think if I just wrote soundtracks that I’d get itchy fingers.
I’ve also got nephews, cousins, and friends who all rave on about games. Though the reason I’ve never had a PS4 in my studio is because I’d never get any work done. If you have one lying around, as I’ve learned working on this game, you just play the thing all the time.
That’s funny because I interviewed Trent Reznor once, and he’s a huge gamer, and he said that having games in the studio helped him because if he ever got stuck, he would just go play a game for a few minutes, and it would clear his head.
That’s an interesting point of view. For me, if I’m working on a guitar part, I become so focused on it. And if I started playing a game, I wouldn’t stop until I finished the level.
What was interesting for me was that I got this director, Pete Cornwell [The Haunting In Connecticut], who’s a huge gamer, to come in and bring his Xbox, and I just sat and watched him play. And what was really cool was when he said, at one point, “This is where I would normally switch off the music and put my own on,” to which I said, “What? Why would you do that?” Which was part of the learning process for me, and why, when I started to work on the game, I didn’t want to do something that people would switch off, something people would get bored of straight away, not the same theme over and over on a loop.
How far along was the game when you started working on it?
I started working on the game…must have been May of 2013. And I think they were about a year and a half into it at that point. So they didn’t have anything concrete to show me, it was more just concept art of what the streets of L.A. and the Everglades were going to look like. Which was good because it really gave me a good idea of what was going on in the game.
One of the conceits of Battlefield Hardline is that the campaign is set up like a TV show. Since you’ve scored TV shows in the past, was your approach to this game similar to when you’ve scored a TV show?
No. With a TV show, you have thematic elements coming back to tie characters in. And we did that with the cutscenes. But with the action scenes, like the chase scene, you don’t know if someone if going to be at the same spot for one minute or ten minutes, it depends on how bad they are, so if you wrote it like a TV soundtrack, it would be too dense, hearing the same music over and over. Which is why I went with something more spacious.
One of the interesting things about your Battlefield Hardline score is that you hired both Josh Freese [from nine inch nails and A Perfect Circle] and Gregg Bissonette [David Lee Roth’s band, Ringo Star & His All-Starr Band] to play drums on it. Why did you bring them in?
I thought they could make me sound good. [laughs] There’s only so much you can do with programming. So Josh was the first one I reached out to, and it just brought a completely fresh approach to it. Like I would say, “I think this kind of vibe would be good for this cue,” and he was say, “Oh, I see what you’re getting at,” and then go off and do that but in his style.
Then why did you have both of them?
When it came to the last session, Josh wasn’t available. Fortunately, someone knew Gregg. Which actually worked out because what I wanted for that session was perfectly suited for Gregg, it wasn’t as hard hitting, it wasn’t as full-on. Though that sounds awful, makes him sound like he was sloppy seconds.
No, it sounds more like it ended up being a happy accident.
Oh, that’s a lovely phrase, “happy accident.” It was totally that.
You’ve also worked with a number of bands and musicians over the years, including No Doubt (on their Push And Shove album), Snow Patrol (When It’s All Over We Still Have To Clear Up), and Mogwai (Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will). When it came out that you’d done the soundtrack to Battlefield Hardline, did any of those guys call you up and be like, “Dude, I totally would’ve played on that”?
No, because those guys are always so busy. Johnny [Quinn] from Snow Patrol has said to me that he’d love to do a session for one of my soundtracks, but every time I’ve called him about it, he’s always on a world tour.
So, now that you’ve done one, is your thinking that you’d like to do another game soundtrack, or is it more, “I am never doing that again”?
[laughs] Oh, I would totally doing another game. The only issue is fitting it in. Eighteen months, which is how long this took, is a long time to work on something. Granted, it’s not eighteen months straight, it’s more like a couple months and then a couple more months, but it’s still a commitment. So you have to love it. But that’s true for everything. If you read a script for a movie, and you don’t love it, why would you want to do it? Though I haven’t been offered anything. We’ll have to wait and see how this one goes down.
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