“I wrote a ton of music that was not right for the project and was thrown away. You have to fail a little bit to know what’s truly right for a project” – says Sam Marshall, composer and author of the Concrete Genie soundtrack in an interview with gamemusic.

You have to fail a little bit to know what’s truly right for a project – says Sam Marshall

gamemusic.net: Can I be honest for a moment? I have looked at your career so far and it seems, that you have been active in the industry for almost 10 years, but I admit that I heard about you for the first time on the occasion of premiere of Concrete Genie. Don’t you like publicity around you?

Sam Marshall: Haha!  I don’t mind a little publicity.  It’s wonderful to see your work in the hands of gamers and always nice to talk about it.

gamemusic.net: On your Linkedin profile you wrote that you like to combine passion for music and technology. And so at the age of 10 you created a small boom box yourself to use them to play your own music made with Mario Paint. Did you already know then that you would want to use your skills in your future career?

Sam Marshall: When I was young I knew I wanted to do something creative in the entertainment industry.  At one point I wanted to be a cartoonist.  Later I wanted to be an actor.  I even went to college with film directing as a possible major. Music always came the most naturally to me but I wasn’t sure how to make it into a real career.  It wasn’t until I was in my late 20s that I realized that maybe I could find a home writing music for games.

gamemusic.net: You obtained education at Berklee College of Music. With a diploma from this university, you could get almost any job, but you stayed with video games. Why?

Sam Marshall: I love games!  I’ve enjoyed so many over the years.  I’m also a little nerdy and techy.  I love the challenge of making music work seamlessly inside of a game engine. Also the games industry is bigger than film and music industries combined!  There’s plenty of work out there and a thirst for original content that I want to be a part of.

Music always came the most naturally to me but I wasn’t sure how to make it into a real career. – Sam Marshal

Sam Marshall

gamemusic.net: Pixelpous is a relatively young company, they have released two games so far: Entwined and Concrete Genie. You’ve created your own compositions for both titles as an composer. Was it huge challenge for you?

Sam Marshall: The folks at Pixelopus are the sweetest, most talented and passionate people I’ve ever worked with.  The artwork they create is so fantastic which makes it so easy to draw inspiration from.  Of course every project has it’s challenges but I feel very lucky to be able to work with them.

gamemusic.net: Did you know from the beginning what you wanted to achieve in Concrete Gen? Did you already have a concept for a soundtrack, or was it not until you and your team finally worked out what the game would be like?

Sam Marshall: Not at all.  We went through many concepts for the soundtrack.  I wrote a ton of music that was not right for the project and was thrown away.  This was a good thing though!  You have to fail a little bit to know what’s truly right for a project.  Only after a very collaborative review process with the team did we land on Concrete Genie’s blend of flute, cello and synths.

gamemusic.net: Three instruments stand out strongly on the soundtrack: flute, cello and analog synthesizer. I always assume that each instrument that stands out from the others has some meaning. Is the same in Concrete Genie?

Sam Marshall: Yes they do!  The flute represents childhood and creativity.  The flute is just very playful and pure in it’s sound.  But it’s also very delicate and emotional.  The cello represents adulthood and struggle.  Being a very mature instrument, the cello grounds the narrative and often supports the bigger emotional moments, especially when Ash has to make some very adult decisions. 

And the synths represent the magic in the world!  I didn’t want to do wizardy stuff like harp and celeste because that’s been done too much already.  I decided to go the other direction and use analog synths instead.  It’s a nice contrast to the worldly, human sounds and themes of the flute and cello.  Each of these three instruments have there own unique role and space in the soundtrack.

gamemusic.net: In Concrete Gen we can see a very clear theme of childhood, the world of imagination, as well as in some references to the movies from 80s. Even the Pixelpous themselves admit it. Correct me if I’m wrong, but was your childhood inspired to create the soundtrack?

Sam Marshall: Yes absolutely.  When I was a kid a bunch of mean kids stole my backpack on the bus.  They ripped up a journal I had been working on for a school assignment and threw the pages out of the window of the bus.  Coincidentally, a very similar situation plays out in the beginning of Concrete Genie. When I saw the first version of the scene I choked up quite a bit and had to fight back my tears.  There’s nothing like a real emotional connection to drive inspiration for a soundtrack (or any piece of art).

When I saw the first version of the scene I choked up quite a bit and had to fight back my tears. – Sam Marshall

gamemusic.net: Speaking of inspiration, I must admit that the first thought that came to my mind listening to “Ash” is the theme of Austin Wintory’s Journey. Maybe there are some composers that are inspiring you?

Sam Marshall: Yes Journey is one of the great video game soundtracks of all time!  I’m also very influenced by old school video game music from Nobuo Uematsu and Koji Kondo.  Their thematic and melodic writing was so ahead of its time, especially considering the instrumental limitations they had.  Like many composers I have a deep love for John Williams.  I’m sure his influence has snuck in there.  My love for classical orchestral music is why I use traditional instruments like flute and cello.  Disasterpiece is a big influence as well.  He taught me that synths don’t always have to be edgy and biting, that they can be elegant, mysterious and beautiful.

gamemusic.net: What are your further plans as a video game composer?

Sam Marshall: Hopefully Pixelopus will have me again if they make another game!  In the meantime, looking forward to new projects and creative challenges on the horizon.

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Deputy editor-in-chief

Paweł Dembowski

He’s been playing video games since he recall, and writing about them for quite some time, too. An addiction, hands down. Yet he can’t say that he regret any of these. Also a journalist with passion and calling.