Interview with Troy Baker on The Last of Us, Batman, Metal Gear, CoD and his new album

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Troy Baker may not be a household name, but the characters he has portrayed have reached millions of people worldwide. The actor/musician has voiced characters like Joel from The Last of Us, the Joker from Batman: Arkham Origins, Booker from BioShock Infinite, Delsin from inFAMOUS: Second Son and Ocelot from the upcoming Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. He’s also a talented musician who has performed in a band with Silent Hill composer Akira Yamaoka.

Baker has a new album available now called Sitting in the Fire, a rock album featuring his musical talents. We had the chance to chat with the man on his new album and his video game habits.

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John “Spartan” Nguyen (Nerd Reactor):  You have a new album out. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Troy Baker: I would love too. Yeah, man. I started off as a musician, because I thought that was the path I was gonna go down. It’s funny because you realize quickly that you don’t necessarily choose your life, but your life chooses you.

And it’s great to be able to come full circle and kind of get back into it. This has been a labor of love for about two years, and we dragged about half a million dollars worth of gear, and all the musicians, and we went up to this cabin up in the mountains of Big Bear, California. We cut a record, and that’s really kind of the whole conceit of it; it was not to make a CD, a collection of singles, but to really have something that feels like it would be on a 33 vinyl record. There’s a Side A and a Side B, but it has this congruent thought throughout everything. We’re super proud of it. It’s called Sitting in a Fire, and my best friend Travis Willingham– when I was going through a pretty dark time in my life, he sat me down and goes, “This is a fire that is burning in your life right now, and if you will just sit in it, it will make you stronger.” So that kind of became the whole impetus for the record.

Nerd Reactor: What’s the style and the genre?

Troy Baker: Yeah, it’s definitely a rock record. That’s kind of my roots, but it moves all over the place. We’ve got stuff that sounds like it would be on a Muse record, or some stuff that sounds like it would be on a Wilco record. So it kind of moves from one thing to the next, and we were fortunate enough to have some incredible players on this. Our bass player plays with Demi Lovato and Christina Perri. We have James Newton Howard the composer; he’s a guitarist. We have the horn section of The Mars Volta, so being in Los Angeles, and having the producer and engineer that we did, we had some access to some pretty incredible musicians.

Nerd Reactor: What’s it like recording in the mountains?

Troy Baker: It was kind of a 50/50 coin flip if it was gonna work or not. We found this place on the “interwebs” and based on the pictures that we saw, we were like, “We think this should work.” We had no idea how it was going to sound, we didn’t know if we had enough power to supply the amount of gear that we were bringing up there. We spent about a day and a half setting up, and the first thing you always check are drums. When we started checking drums, Rob King, our engineer and co-producer said, “Dude, come in here, listen to this.” I was like, “Please tell me everything is OK.” He’s like, “Dude, these are the best drum sounds I’ve ever recorded.” And it was just this huge thing. We had 25-foot ceilings and the cabin, if it wasn’t wood it was stone. It had this really cool ‘live’ feel to it. So yeah, it was pretty amazing the things we were able to pull off in that place. And the people who own the house have zero idea of what happened over the course of those six days.

Nerd Reactor: A lot of your fans know your music through Silent Hill concerts and all that. Can fans can expect any Silent Hill-inspired tracks?

Troy Baker: You know, there’s not. And what I love, just like in games how we get to kind of jump from one role to the next, it’s the same thing musically.

Nerd Reactor: Your filmography is all over the place.

Troy Baker: All over the place, yes. It is. It keeps you on your toes, it keeps you sharp. That is so much fun for me to kind of have an outlet for me to rock out on stage with incredible musician, and then you see this completely other side of you which is like this troubadour-kind of thing. So it’s very synonymous with how schizophrenic I am in games, my musical tastes are as well.

Nerd Reactor: Yeah, ’cause sometimes people pigeonhole you into a certain genre if you start doing one thing or another.

Troy Baker: Well, I look at Chris Cornell. He’s just an incredible musician and a great person — you listen to Badmotorfinger from Soundgarden, and then you listen to Euphoria Morning, there’s no way you’d guess that that would be the same musician. I really respect the album he did with Timbaland. It’s like he just wants to create something that’s new and fresh, and I think that’s kind of the same way that most artists are. We’re creative types, and we get into this to create something, and when someone asks you to just keep rehashing the same thing over and over again, it gets really monotonous, and you start losing sight of why you started doing this in the first place. You kind of have to stretch yourself and get outside your comfort zone and find something that’s really a challenge for you because at the end of the day when you pull it off, you’re like, “Wow, I never thought that I’d be able to do something like that.”

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And for me, in the games, I was doing the Joker. I never thought that I’d be able to pull that off and it wasn’t honestly until we were at New York Comic Con promoting the game, and I did that Killing Joke monologue. I had no idea if people were going to accept it or not because I was such a fan of Mark Hamill, and that has been for the 20 years that he has been the Joker. We’ve had different iterations obviously in movies, and everything else, but when you ask most of the people in nerdom like us, “Who’s your Joker?” they’re gonna say Mark Hamill. When I sat in front of 3,000 or however many people it was and did that thing, it was met with applause. I’m like, this was worth being scared shitless and not sure if I’m gonna be able to pull this off, is to be able to– and to hear Mark Hamill go, “Good job, kid.” That meant the world to me. So it’s the same thing in music, and in games, and in life. You’ve got to get outside of your comfort zone to find out what you’re truly capable of.

Nerd Reactor: Since you said your passion was music, how did the video game stuff become so big for you? Was it a fluke, or was it–?

Troy Baker: Oh, it still is a fluke. Are you kidding me? I’m waiting for people to go, “Wait a minute, this guy really isn’t that talented. Get him out of here!” I started off as a musician, and we were recording our album in this studio that did car commercials. So I just stumbled in there one day, probably drunk, I don’t know. I was like, “Hey, I wanna be in radio!” They’re like, “Hey, good for you! Get out.” And two weeks later, they needed a guy to come in and go, “This Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!” and I was just stupid enough to be willing to make a fool out of myself and that has just parleyed itself to ten years later, where I never thought I’d be standing across from Kevin Spacey in a Call of Duty game. So you never know where your life is gonna take you.

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Nerd Reactor: Speaking of Call of Duty, there’s a lot of motion-capture involved, which I think is really cool. The new gen consoles have been able to do facial capture better. Let’s say Infamous, that one had your face on it.

Troy Baker: Yeah.

Nerd Reactor: You’re playing as Ocelot as well, and it has your face on it.

Troy Baker: You know, it’s funny. When we were doing that, I didn’t know when we were doing that– I’m a huge MGS fan, and so Ocelot is kind of like the Cid in Final Fantasy, he’s almost in every game. There’s always an Ocelot, some version of that, and whenever you create a character that can transcend just one specific person, but it can actually be iterated upon, I think it’s actually a real big accomplishment. And I had no idea until I saw that first reveal trailer. I was like, “Holy crap. He kinda looks like me.” They’re like, “Well, a younger Ocelot naturally kinda looks like you anyway, so it just happened to work out that way.” But in Second Son, they kind of had a model already built, and then it just works better for the animation, for it to match your natural features. So it was my face and it was Travis Willingham’s face who played my brother Reggie, and Laura Bailey who played Fetch.

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And then when you cut to Call of Duty, that tech is incredible. I mean, they were like, “We want to get Kevin Spacey in here, so we want it to look as close to Kevin Spacey as possible. So that’s gonna be the same way for everybody. It’s gonna look like Troy Baker, it’s gonna look like Gideon Emery, it’s gonna look like Russell Richardson. They did such an amazing job, and I’ve never seen that fidelity before in a game. And I love the story. I’ve been with Call of Duty since the very beginning, and I think the story in Advanced Warfare was one of the most tangible, graspable stories we’ve ever done. It’s really cool to see them coming back strongly to the single-player experience, ’cause multiplayer is great, but when you’re not online with your friends, you want to have this one thing that helps to inform that multiplayer world, and I think they did a great job of doing that with the campaign.

Nerd Reactor: I don’t know if you feel weird watching yourself in a video game, like your facial animations, like, “Wow, that’s how I act and it’s kinda weird.”

Troy Baker: Dude, it’s always weird, but the cool thing is when you can– like with The Last of Us, I think that was one of the first times that I was completely removed from it being me, because Joel and Ellie both are just such vivid, real characters and I forgot a lot of times. It’s like, “Oh, that’s right. We did that.” It’s the greatest perk of the job, like I said, to be able to make something that you’re gonna be able to geek out over later and I’m a gamer first. That goes into when we’re making a game, I look at it from a gamer’s perspective, and go, “No, dude. This is the point in the game where I throw the controller down and I rage-quit, so what can we do?” And it’s great to be able to partner up with great people like Naughty Dog or Sucker Punch, or Sledgehammer that really care about, in the middle of the process, stopping and going, “Wait a minute. How can we make this better? Is this where we want to go?” I’ve been very fortunate to be in partnership with people like that who really want to make the best gaming experience they can.

Nerd Reactor: How do you find time to game?

Troy Baker: Dude, it’s really hard. You have to carve out, and you know what this time of the year is like. Christmas comes in November and October for us gamers, and the worst part is, Far Cry 4, LEGO Batman 3, and GTAV: The Remastered Version came out and I’m literally getting on a plane in a few hours to go to Dubai for an IGN convention. Then we come back and it’s Thanksgiving, and my wife and I always go up to this cabin in the mountains. So I’m not even going to be able to touch these games until December 1st, and it’s killing me.

Nerd Reactor: Yeah. There are so many games coming out. There’s also Dragon Age: Inquisition and Assassins Creed: Unity. Do you play those?

Troy Baker: I do. I have this love/hate relationship with Assassin’s Creed because I’ve played every single one of them, but I always get frustrated at one point or another with the games, but I still come back to them and always play them. So when I come back in December, maybe that’s what I’ll do for my holiday break. I’ll just sit there and play through my backlog of games that I have to go through.

Nerd Reactor: I’m not sure if you’ve seen the glitches coming out of Unity, but some of those are pretty funny.

Troy Baker: Yeah, you know, they’ve always been fun but they’re huge worlds, huge projects, so any time you can get 1s and 0s to magically work in the game space is always a miracle, or nothing short of. But, yeah, BioShock had some crazy ones, Red Dead Redemption had some crazy glitches with the floating cows and the floating horses. So you’re always gonna have games – and in some ways, you can chalk that up to ’emergent gameplay.’ Find the glitch! And as most developers will tell you, “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature.”

Nerd Reactor: What’s your favorite DC comic book character to portray?

Troy Baker: It’s so hard to choose a favorite. Growing up as a comic book geek, Batman was the first graphic novel that I ever bought. So to be able to say that I’ve donned the cowl and I’ve also put on the clown shoes, that’s a pretty good win for any comic book nerd.

I grew up as a Marvel kid too. What was so great was that there’s been a lot of DC I’ve been introduced to that, as of late in the last ten years, I’ve really come to love. And I love seeing the differences between the two universes and also the similarities. As far the comic book thing, to be able to say you’ve been Batman in any iteration, that’s a win, but playing the Joker has probably been one of the coolest things of my career just because I used to rush home every day from school to watch Batman: The Animated Series, and Kevin Conroy is my Batman, and Mark Hamill is my Joker. So to do something that points to those two characters, and to work alongside those people, that’s been pretty incredible.

Nerd Reactor: I’m telling you, some day you need to do the live action version.

Troy Baker: Oh God, I hope not. I wouldn’t want to be held to that standard. I’m happy doing what I do.

Spitting in the Fire is available on iTunes and Amazon.

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John 'Spartan' Nguyen
John 'Spartan' Nguyen 10060 posts

Assassin, scoundrel, head honcho.