Composer Michael A. Levine: From Resident Evil 7 to LEGO DC Super Hero Girls

One of the biggest video games to be released this year has no doubt been Capcom’s Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. Months after the initial release there continues to be articles surfacing on a weekly basis discussing new undiscovered aspects of the game. One not so undiscovered aspect of this installment has been Michael A. Levine’s catchy theme “Go Tell Aunt Rhody.” It greatly resonated with fans and found a way to encompass the game’s eeriness and mystique all in one song. (Spotify link here.) Next up for the composer, a complete opposite project from RE7, the LEGO DC Super Hero Girls feature due out at the end of summer titled Brain Drain. (The LEGO DC Super Hero Girls shorts he scored can currently be seen on Youtube.) Impressively showing his musical range with these very different titles, we decided to speak with Levine about working on the two projects and the influences of each.

Michael A. Levine

Where did you get the initial idea for Resident Evil: Biohazard’s theme “Go Tell Aunt Rhody”?

Michael A. Levine: Capcom was interested in taking an innocent-sounding traditional song that was familiar – worldwide – and transforming it into something dark and menacing. This was a tall order as most of the music known worldwide is pop music. However, I remembered that the traditional American song, “Go Tell Aunt Rhody,” which had the same melody as an earlier traditional European song, had a Japanese cousin, a children’s song called “Musuunde.” Besides, making the arrangement much scarier, I changed the lyrics a bit and wrote new music and lyrics for verses that related to the game.

Were there any modifications on “Go Tell Aunt Rhody” that didn’t make it into the final product? If so, what were they?

Originally it sounded more like a straightforward song, but, as we worked on it, it became more abstract and sound-design-like. In an earlier version, the verses were twice as long, but we all felt they were better shorter as it flowed better musically and was less explicit about the story. Also, the original lead vocal was sung by Mariana Barreto of Samira & The Wind. Mari’s voice is beautiful and ethereal, but we decided we needed something grittier and earthier, so we went with UK-based singer Jordan Reyne, who brought a marvelous spooky quality to it. Mari still sings all the choir parts, as she did on the Lorde cover of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” which I produced with Lucas Cantor.

How much did you get involved with the actual game/story in preparation? Did they give you a plot outline or storyboards so you could have some sense of where the characters were coming from?

I had plot outlines, character backgrounds, and storyboards to work from, all of which were very helpful. I don’t believe I had much impact on the story other than they liked the idea of a character singing the song.

If you were to work on the next Resident Evil game, do you already have ideas about what you would like to do next, musically?

As in all cases, the music is driven by what the story demands. Film composing legend Elmer Bernstein once said to me, “Let me tell you a dirty little secret, kid. We’re not composers, we’re dramatists.” Our job is to help tell the story as best we know how whether that means a lot of notes, few notes, or no notes.

You recently scored the LEGO DC Super Hero Girls short films.  Was there anything that surprised you about the project once you began working on it?

How much fun I’d have. I mean, you think, a superhero parody would just be straightforward superhero music clichés. But we had a marvelous time dipping into all sorts of other genres including twisted versions of tween pop music.

How would you describe your collective score for the shorts?

Energetic! And more than a little tongue-in-cheek.

We heard there is a feature coming soon, can you tell us about that?

There will be a LEGO DC Super Hero Girls feature-length DVD released at the end of the summer called Brain Drain. In it, the three central heroines go to school one day and discover everyone is mad at them for all sorts of terrible things they did the day before – but have no memory of. Pretty much sums up my high school experience.

You can learn more about Michael A. Levine here:

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