Community questions were submitted to MoTR in September for a Video Game Music Online interview with legacy composer Nathan McCree (Tomb Raider I, II & III). MoTR was tasked with consolidating these questions for a formal interview with the usually quiet McCree, who has relatively recently become active on social media platforms - using them to tease an upcoming announcement for months.
Nathan McCree amended his Tomb Raider album track lists with MoTR earlier this year, featured in our Community Discography. In the interview, excerpt after the jump below, the composer elaborates on his Tomb Raider work amidst an expansive 21-year career and mentions his desire to publish his back-catalogue in future. McCree ends with a thank you for the continued support from the Tomb Raider community, promising "...something big. It’s coming.".
Q: Released in 1996, Tomb Raider is almost two decades old. Looking back, how do you feel about the project and its soundtrack all these years later? Did you expect it to be a smash hit? How do you feel when people continue to express gratitude for your music at events like Video Games Live?
A: I am immensely proud to have been a part of the team that started it all. None of us expected it to be the hit it was. It really took us all by surprise. As far as my work goes, in general I am pleased with what I achieved with the time and resources I had. It’s great hearing from the fans and events like Video Games Live are just amazing. I remember being invited to submit two pieces from my Tomb Raider scores for their first show at Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. It was a dream come true to watch the LA Philharmonic orchestra play the "Tomb Raider Main Theme" and "Venice" to eleven thousand people. I was completely blown away!
Q: The mentioned Tomb Raider main theme has become an iconic emblem of the franchise, featuring in almost every score since. Did anything in particular inspire the Tomb Raider motif? Was it enjoyable to find different uses for it across Tomb Raider II and Tomb Raider III?
A: I remember speaking to Toby Gard about the music for Tomb Raider. He told me a lot about the character of Lara Croft. She was a beautiful English girl, classy and intelligent. He wanted the music to reflect that. We quickly decided that English classical music would be a good fit. I needed to add a sense of beauty into the music, and usually in life the simplest things are the most beautiful. So I kept the melody simple.
In terms of arrangements, yes I enjoyed working with the melody. Its simplicity makes it easy to adapt different orchestrations, harmonies and moods. I particularly enjoyed writing the theme tune for Tomb Raider III.
Q: Looking back on your work on the series, it’d be interesting to hear about your favourites. Which is your favourite score of the trilogy? Beyond the main theme, which pieces are you most proud of and why?
A: Out of the three, I think I probably listen mostly to Tomb Raider. There is an intimate feeling about the pieces in that score which I find pleasant to listen to, and of course it brings back some fond memories. Pieces from the three games which I am most proud of would be:
“Where The Depths Unfold” – Tomb Raider. Back in 1996 we didn’t have the budget for a live orchestra or choir, so making this choral piece using just synthesizers was something of a challenge. I remember spending hours editing volume curves for the choral parts to make them sound more expressive and as close to a real choir as possible (and it’s far from perfect). Listening to it over and over again, eventually I realised there was something missing – my choir wasn’t breathing! So I spent the next few hours recording myself lots of times breathing in all the right places, and then layering these on top of each other. Mixing these in with my synthesized choir, it started to sound something like a real choir. The end result was not bad for a synth!
“The T-Rex” – Tomb Raider. I guess I’m proud of this piece because it was just right for that moment in the game. When the T-Rex makes a b-line for Lara and this tune kicks in, your heart rate is sure to increase! It is a memorable moment in Tomb Raider.
“Venice” – Tomb Raider II. This was an exercise in stylistic writing. I wanted to create a piece which sounded like it had been written by some famous Baroque composer. I wanted people to think they had heard it before but just couldn’t remember what it was called or who wrote it. So I studied a few contemporary composers of the time, Vivaldi, Bach etc., and set to work. In many places the piece features a small ensemble of strings and it was a big challenge getting them to sound real, particularly the violins and violas. This of course was the piece which I would be using for the Venice level in Tomb Raider II so it had to say ‘Venice’ from start to finish. In the end, I think I got that.
“The Puzzle Element” – Tomb Raider III. This was a bit of an experiment really. I needed a piece of music which I could play whenever Lara had a difficult puzzle to solve. I wanted the music to sound puzzling and confusing, so I thought, let’s pick five notes and write a tune using only those five. And that’s what I did. The tune itself plays patterns of nine notes rotating around the chosen five. Each time the pattern begins it starts on a different note of one of the chosen five until it comes full circle back to the beginning again.
Q: While you scored the first three titles in the Tomb Raider franchise, multiple composers have worked on the subsequent games and films. Did you follow their works and, if so, how did you feel about them? Do you feel the composers did justice to your original score, for example on Tomb Raider: Anniversary or the various incarnations of the Tomb Raider main theme?
A: Yes I’ve listened to every single track of every release of the Tomb Raider series – and not just once either, many times. Some of the music I think is really great and some of it, not so great. And I say that with no disrespect to any of the subsequent composers. I would say the same about my own work. Writing music for games is not as glamorous as you might imagine. Usually time is not on our side and we are required not only to compose, but to orchestrate, mix and produce. The computer games composer needs to be a pretty talented chap for sure. When you’re writing even only ten tracks for a game, you would be hard pressed to make every one of them brilliant. These days, guys are writing between fifty and one hundred tracks per game and sometimes more. It would be wrong to expect every one of them to be a number one hit.
I enjoyed listening to Troels Folmann’s renditions of the Tomb Raider music for Tomb Raider: Anniversary. It was interesting to hear someone else’s take on the themes. I thought he did a good job. He used a slightly bigger orchestration than I would have used, but that’s just my personal preference. And yes of course it’s always nice to hear that oboe melody making its appearance in the various theme tunes over the years. It’s quite a humbling experience.
Q: You’ve told us that you have all the assets for your productions dating back to 1993. Would you consider making some of your soundtracks available through SoundCloud, Bandcamp, or CD? A lot of fans have been crying out for official soundtracks to be released for the Tomb Raider trilogy for years. Would you be interested in making it happen?
A: Yes of course, and it is something which I am working on.
Q: Fans are eager to learn more about your upcoming works. You’ve been teasing an upcoming announcement for months now across social media; are you able to give any hints on what to expect? What other projects are you currently attached to?
A: The only hint I can give right now is that it will be music. In May 2013 I decided to go freelance again. Having been Audio Manager and Director for five years, I was missing what I love most of all which is writing music. So I’ve been working on a few personal projects over the last eighteen months. The first of these I am hoping to announce very soon.
Q: Many thanks for your time today, Nathan McCree. Is there anything else you’d like to say about yourself or your works? In addition, do you have any message for Tomb Raider fans around the world?
A: I would just like to say a big thank you to all the Tomb Raider fans for your continued support. I promise you something big. It’s coming.
Special thanks to VGMO webmaster Chris Greening for conducting this interview. Greening has reviewed over a thousand albums and interviewed hundreds of musicians across the world, including second mainstay Tomb Raider composer Peter Connelly (The Last Revelation, Chronicles, & Angel of Darkness) in 2010. The full interview with Nathan McCree can be read at Video Game Music Online.
Feel free to follow McCree, VGMO & H4RR7H on Twitter!