This week marks the launch of Saber, a beautiful indie title that seems The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild mixed with a comic by Jean “Moebius” Giraud. However, it is not just the art of the game that attracts attention; The entire experience is accompanied by an excellent original soundtrack composed by Michelle Zauner, the leader of the indie rock band Japanese Breakfast.
Before Mourning suits release on Thursday and the release of the official soundtrack on Friday, I had the opportunity to speak with Zauner about composing the music for the game. He has a completely different sound than you might be used to from his other work, so I wanted to know what it was like to make the music and where he got his inspiration from. There was a lot to talk about, including fireflies, pop music, a huge Spotify playlist, and the Crono Cruz soundtrack.
Read on for the full conversation, which has been lightly edited for clarity.
The edge: How did you get involved with the project?
Michelle Zauner: I think in 2017, Daniel Fineberg, one of the developers, contacted me on Twitter in a DM. I had just released my second album, “Soft Sounds From Another Planet,” and to help promote it, this woman named Elaine Fath and I worked on developing a mini-role-playing game called Japanese BreakQuest which had mini versions of all the songs on the album.
Daniel and Greg [Kythreotis], the developers of Saber, I really wanted to work with a composer who was outside the gaming world and could offer something new to the world they were building. I think Daniel was a fan of Japanese breakfast and seeing that I was interested in games and enjoyed them, I thought it would be a good fit. I had only seen the GIFs of the art at the time because that was all that was really there. And I loved it and knew I wanted to participate right away.
What was the process of actually working on Saber? I’m curious how you collaborated with the developers.
I don’t know if it’s normal or not, but I think they brought me in very early. I was so excited to be a part of this. I had just finished my second album and was looking for new projects, so I started working on the music very early before I had seen much of the game. At the time, there was only one large document in Word of what they were attempting and what the different biomes would look like.
During the tour, I wrote a lot with plugins on the computer, [thinking about] what a glowworm cave would look like, based on one description. And then in 2019, more of the game and more of the narrative began to come together. I was watching some kind of videos of the different areas and I realized if the music that I had composed earlier fit better in different sections, so I kept writing.
In 2020, I’d say I spent most of my lockdown playing updated versions of the game. It was then that the true concentrated work began to occur; play the updated compilations every week and find where we could put music so that you can improve certain sections, where to put the songs, and how to integrate the music with sound designer, Martin Wallace.
Did the developers change anything based on the music you created?
Yes I think so. i wrote “Glider” pretty early in the process before the narrative was really propped up. He had maybe 10 keywords that he knew [the developers] That is why we were working on incorporating lyrics.
We all knew from the beginning that we were going to have an important moment in the game where you leave the main area and there is a theme that plays. When you leave your town [the developers] were inspired by the Composition of José González in Red dead redemption; there’s a long moment where you get a song that has voices that paint the mood and feel of what it’s like to leave your hometown.
I knew it was going to be a great time and I wanted to address that issue very soon. I think part of the lyrical content and part of the structure of that song helped inform part of the game.
I also wrote the final theme before there was a scene at the end, and they were able to cut and edit it. And I think that while they were coloring certain worlds, they were able to listen to the music that I had released and hopefully be inspired by that in some way.
What was it like to compose for Saber Different than for Japanese breakfast or writing your own music?
Super different in two main ways. One is that Japanese Breakfast is essentially like a pop project. There’s a real structure to pop music with repeating backing vocals, and you’re constantly trying to worm and get hooked as quickly as possible. While in these ambient instrumental pieces [in Sable] where you’re going through an open world, you really need them not to get irritating. Expanding ambient loops are a very new type of writing that I had to explore.
Lyrically [Sable] it was very different. Much of my work at Japanese Breakfast is very personal and based on specific details of my life, while Saber It has nothing to do with me. I had to write lyrics that were very broad and universal and touch on what it’s like to come of age or be uncertain about your future. It was a lot of fun learning that I don’t have to excavate my own personal trauma to write compelling music; I can write these topics that can be applied to anyone and can move in a unique way.
Do you think you will take any of what you learned working on Saber to your next album?
Yes absolutely. I think “Better the mask” [which you can hear part of in this trailer] It may be the best song I’ve ever written. I am very proud of my work on that song. I have become much more proficient in arranging strings and piano for the first time. I have grown a lot as a producer on this project, as the sole producer on the project, and I will definitely apply a lot of those lessons to the Japanese breakfast.
I saw that you had an amazing Spotify playlist with 150 inspirational songs. [note: it actually has 173 songs]. How did that come about and how did you use it while writing things?
I was fairly new to ambient music and I really fell in love with it during the course of my work on this project. I started compiling a Spotify playlist to make sure Greg, Daniel, Martin and I were having a conversation about what the vibe was going to be like and that nothing was displeasing them and because I finally felt like I was contributing to their world. .
I have not been the creative director of the project. I am just a contributor. I believe that [the playlist] It was a really wonderful way to share my inspiration and talk with Greg and Daniel about the kind of music that they were inspired and thought of when creating these different spaces. [The playlist] it was a really fun thing to toss around and use as a reference point.
What games were you inspired by, if at all?
The first video game I played as a child that made me realize that video games were a real art form was this game called Secret of Mana for SNES. It is an RPG that I played with my father. I love the soundtrack of that game.
the Breath of the wild The soundtrack was really important. I really love the Crono Cruz soundtrack, and particularly the theme variations they have for another world. I thought about it a lot when working on the day and night variations for the different biomes. [in Sable]. And I like all Final Fantasy games, which have amazing soundtracks.
I know Greg referenced majora mask a lot because there is an eerie and weird quality about Koji Kondo that we wanted to bring out for the skin launcher or certain areas of the game.
Do you think you would work on more games in the future?
I hope this is a nice addition to the resume to show my breadth as a songwriter. Hopefully another really fascinating project like this comes into my life sometime in the future.
What type of project would you find most interesting?
I do not know. Saber it was a perfect project for me. It was a real pleasure and an honor to get down to work.
It would be fun to work on some kind of platformer that was less ambient and more obnoxious with a straightforward type of theme. If I could do more songs like the song “Chum Lair” on the soundtrack, I think it would be a fun new area to flex for me. And it is very different from Saber.