THWOMP Interview: On Songwriting

Nintendo cover band THWOMP of Calgary. Photo courtesy of THWOMP. Nintendo® cover band THWOMP has been rocking conventions, parties and bars since the early 2000’s. This is an exciting year for the Calgary-based group, with gigs at the Calgary Comic Convention, Otafest and Animethon 17. This fall, THWOMP will host a CD release party for their debut CD.

Band members Brad Stanton and Dave Marshall took time out from THWOMP’s rehearsal schedule to chat with Suite 101. In this segment, Brad and Dave explain the band’s songwriting process.

THWOMP and Music Transcription

THWOMP's band charts are faithful transcriptions made either by Brad Stanton (lead guitar) or Kirk McVean (keyboards). It's a painstaking process that challenges the musician's melodic and rhythmic dictation skills. The result is a product of their own creative talents.

"I always do it by hand," explained Brad. "One part for every player." Video game themes loop in two-minute segments, which helped in the transcription process. When transcribing the music to "F-Zero" (a racing game), Brad turned on his Nintendo® game console and paused the game just before the engines fired up. "I’ll get a bar, and then I’ll have to wait two minutes for it to come back around," Brad said. "It was an absolutely grueling process. Think of doing that for a drum track, a bass track, two guitar tracks and then eventually doing it for Dave too. It took forever, but it was it was an absolute labor of love."

There are software programs that pull the audio out of the game. "I did not know about that for the first two-and-a-half years," admitted Brad. "You can mute certain ones, you can slow it down. Oh my God, that saved my life a couple of times."

Two programs the group uses include a plug-in for WinAmp and Audio Overload. For some songs, the ability to slow down a track is essential. "Some of those arpeggiated keyboard lines are tough to figure out when they’re going 16th notes at 180 beats per minute," said Dave.

Having the Perfect Skill Set for Musical Transcription

All six members of the band work together at Sak's Music in Calgary, Alberta. Brad manages the McKenzie Towne location, while the other group members work as music teachers.

"We’re so perfectly situated to do this kind of thing," said Brad. "My job for 11 years was sitting in a room with a little kid and transcribing tunes for them so they could learn some tune that they like off the radio. I spent so much time doing that, that I got so fast at it, eventually."

The addition of Kirk McVean to the group gave Brad a chance to take a two year break from transcribing. "I was getting burnt out doing it. He’s taken over doing it and it’s such a blessing." This arrangement isn't without challenges, however. "I can’t believe how slow I’ve become at it," Brad admitted. "Stupid Kirk, being a keyboard player, he writes everything in standard. Now, the two guitar players, us idiots have to read actual notes. It makes us feel pretty stupid."

Why THWOMP Doesn't Play a Lot of Modern Game Music

"We don’t really do more modern stuff," said Dave. "It’s a different kind of music and it doesn’t suit our format quite as well."

Music from newer Nintendo® games are orchestral in nature. "They use a 64-piece orchestra when they record it, explained Dave. "They use straight digital audio. It’s almost MIDI the way it works (the old stuff)."

THWOMP is a Nintendo® band comprised of Calgarians Brad Stanton (lead guitar), Colin Mitchel (lead guitar), Scott Munro (bass), Scott Moffat (drums), David Marshall (keyboards/percussion) and Kirk McVean (keyboards). For more information about THWOMP, the band or to listen to audio clips, visit their website and Myspace page.

Originally published on Suite101.com on July 27, 2010. Updated on April 16, 2013. All rights reserved by Rhona-Mae Arca.

Full interview series: Part 1 – THWOMP’s Origins | Part 2 – Band Names & Niches | Part 3 – Songwriting | Part 4 - Hey! Listen! CD Release | Part 5 - On Gigs | Part 6 - Convention Gigs | Part 7 - Video Games | Part 8 - Fun & Food