Whether it be touring with Video Game Live, scoring a level theme or lending out her services as a freelance musician, Laura Intravia's passion for both music and video games shines through. I managed to catch Laura about a week before her flight to Brazil to meet up with the rest of VGL for a concert:
First I want to say thank you for taking time out of your schedule to answer these interview questions. It’s a great pleasure to be able to get to ask you a couple of questions. If you can, be as detailed as possible. First I’d like to start off with some warm up/ice breaker questions
My pleasure! It's an honor to be asked to do this interview. Ask away!
What are you currently playing?
Actually, I'm usually so busy that I don't get to play a ton of games! But lately, my friends and I have been having lots of fun playing New Super Mario Bros. Wii. I've always enjoyed multiplayer games, my friends and I like to play Mario Kart Wii and Super Smash Brothers as well. I'm a bit of a Mario fan, if you couldn't tell!
What is your system of preference?
The Nintendo franchise has definitely always been my favorite, but that is mostly because I was mostly only exposed to Nintendo when I was younger LOL I haven't played a whole lot of Playstation, XBOX etc, so I'm a little biased. Honestly though, I think my favorite system of all time would be the SNES, many of my favorite games of all time are on that system.
What is your favorite video game series?
Ooh that's actually a tough question! I do love the Legend of Zelda series, but I always love the Mario franchise games as well, they're so happy and brightly-colored! Besides those two big franchises, my next favorite would definitely be Donkey Kong. I also adore Banjo-Kazooie, Rare's sense of humor is right up my alley ;-) I've recently completely fell in love with Eternal Sonata, what an awesome subject matter for a game!
How long have you been gaming?
I've played games ever since I was six or seven, probably--my older brother had a NES and Sega Genesis, and one of my aunt's had a SNES, so I was playing a variety of games when I was very young.
What is your favorite genre?
Haha, again I'm biased from playing so much Zelda--but action adventure, definitely ;-)
How long have you been composing music, both video game and non-video game?
I've been writing music since I was about ten years old. I loved film scores, I would try to write big orchestral sounding things; I've never written a video game soundtrack, but I was already arranging preexisting video game music when I first started composing as a kid. MP3 downloads and video game soundtracks hadn't become popular yet, but I wanted to listen to video game music without having to play the games all the time LOL So, I would try to write the music out by ear on my computer's notation program. Little did I know I was learning ear-training and music theory at a very young age!
Can you tell us a bit of your musical background?
I had a pretty normal musical upbringing; I started taking private piano lessons when I was 7, and started flute in my public elementary school when I was 9. I started private flute lessons when I was 14, stuck with it for about two years, but had to stop my senior year so I could take voice lessons. I loved singing ever since I was a kid, but I didn't think about seriously pursuing it until I was a senior in high school. I had already decided I would go to college for Composition, but I was starting to discover that I had a natural singing talent as well. My family didn't have a ton of money to support so many private lessons, so I unfortunately had to choose between flute and voice. This will probably sound really crazy, but in high school I kind of gave up on becoming a professional flutist--I just didn't think I'd ever be good enough! So, I went to Ithaca College as a double major in Composition and Vocal Performance. I actually barely touched my flute at all while I was at college, it was only during the summer that I had time to play it--that's when I would perform as Flute Link Otakon ;-)
What kind of instruments do you play other than the flute?
Piano and piccolo. I've recently started learning how to play the organ--talk about a tough instrument, playing with my hands AND feet just blows my mind!
What inspired the Flute Link skit at Otakon 2008? Have you been back to Otakon since then?
My friends and I went to Otakon for the first time in 2006--we had been talking about doing a fun roadtrip to a con for a few months before summer and decided to go for it! We all wanted to make brand new costumes from our favorite games to wear, and I love Legend of Zelda, and I happen to be the size of a 10-year-old boy LOL So Young Link was the perfect costume for me! We attended the Masquerade in 2006 and I was blown away by the talent and scope of all of the skits--and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of musical skits. People would dress up as characters and play that game's/anime's theme on their instrument, I thought that was so neat! I wanted to put together a really cool, flashy arrangement for the flute, something really virtuosic and special. The flute was really perfect for my costume, too, since Link plays the ocarina. In 2007 I performed an a capella flute arrangement that was really well received; after that first sort of trial run, I decided to put together an arrangement with an electronic backing track and a "story" to it; I wanted it to be a true skit with a plot, instead of just standing there playing music from the game. I remember that my first idea for the skit was drinking the Lon Lon Milk halfway through. Then, one day I was talking to my sister about having Navi interrupt me halfway through the song and try to outdo me. I asked her if she thought it would be funny, and she said "Well, why don't you just have her interrupt you right at the start of the skit?" And in that blindingly brilliant moment, the Flute Link skit was born! I unfortunately haven't been back to Otakon since 2008, since I've been performing so much with VGL--hopefully I'll get to go again soon!
How/what where you feeling when you received the invitation from Tommy Tallarico to be a part of Video Games Live?
I was completely ecstatic! He contacted me the same week I was graduating from Ithaca College, so you can imagine my excitement! But I was also a bit panicked--I had barely played my flute at all during senior year of college, so I had a LOT of practicing to do!
How does it feel performing alongside heavy hitters such as Tallarico, Jack Wall and Akira Yamaoka?
It's been super amazing to meet all all of these super talented and famous composers and musicians--but the most awesome part about it is how friendly everyone has been!! The video game music community is like a big family, everyone knows each other and they're all super supportive and nice. I've met quite a few "divas" in the opera and classical music world, but I haven't met a single one in the video game community! It's really such a joy to work with these people, both because of their amazing talent and amazing personalities.
When arranging a composition, such as the Zelda and Mario melodies, how long does it take? And when performing along with the arrangement live, let’s say the Zelda melody, is it difficult to keep track with the cues between you and “Navi”?
Arranging the medley doesn't usually take too long; I've been arranging music ever since I was a child, so I'm familiar with a LOT of video game themes and I have a good sense pretty quickly of which ones will fit well together in a medley, how to create the transitions, etc. It's the actual production of the background track that takes the most time. I didn't get to take many courses in college about sequencing and DAWs and such, so the technology of electronic music is not really my forte. It took me about a month to put together the Flute Link skit, mostly because I was using a sequencer for the first time EVER--I was learning how to use it completely on the fly. The Flute Mario piece was a different story--I was asked to make a Mario arrangement only two weeks before our US tour in 2010, yikes! As for performing the arrangements live, I never lose track of where I am in the music; since I wrote the piece AND performed it so many times, the cues and such are pretty much completely ingrained in me. Especially the Flute Link skit; I recorded myself on piccolo for Navi's parts and put it directly into the background track, so her cues are in the exact same spot every time. I've performed the skits so many times that it's practically impossible for me to forget how they go! LOL
In addition to playing the flute in VGL, you also sing as well. Which song did you enjoy singing? Which one did you have trouble with?
I actually love singing each and every song with VGL! My favorites are the ones where I have a character and story to work with, like "Lament of the Highborne," and mostly recently Tetris, which is actually a popular Russian folk song. The songs I have the most trouble are the ones that are out of my vocal range; I'm a soprano, and quite a few of the VGL pieces call for an alto voice. Assassin's Creed II and Warcraft: Invincible are tough ones for that reason. But the hardest song, by far, has been "Snake Eater" from MGS3. The range is HUGE and it's a jazzy/belty kind of sound, which I basically wasn't allowed to sing while studying opera at college LOL I worked on the song for a few months before performing it with VGL for the first time, to build up that part of my voice. It's been challenging yet really fun exploring such a different style!
Are there any songs not on the VGL lineup that you would like to have a chance to perform?
I'd ABSOLUTELY would love to perform the opera scene from Final Fantasy, that would be totally awesome! I've gotten requests to sing "Radical Dreamers" from Chrono Cross as well. But one song that would be just a dream come true for me would be to sing "Heaven's Mirror" from Eternal Sonata. That song brings tears to my eyes, especially because the game is about the death of one of my favorite composers of all time, Frederic Chopin.
Out of all the locations that you have performed with VGL, which one was your most memorable?
I've had an amazing time performing in all sorts of places around the world, every place has been different and special. But my most memorable would have to be Brazil 2009. That was a lot of "firsts" for me--my first time going on a tour with VGL, my first time traveling outside of the country EVER, and the first time I ever got to sing with VGL...it was an especially exciting time for me!
Are there any vg composers that you would like meet/work with?
Koji. Freaking. Kondo. I NEED to meet him. NEED TO. :-D Actually, in general I've met quite a few American video game composers, I'd love to meet more composers from Japan--Yasunori Mitsuda, Nobou Uematsu, Motoi Sakuraba, etc.--they all write such incredible music!
When not on tour with VGL, how do you spend your time?
I'm always busy with all sorts of things! I make a living entirely as a freelance musician, so I work a lot of different jobs at once to support myself. My main gig is as a singer at several Catholic churches for masses, weddings, funerals etc. I've also started playing piano and organ myself for masses as well. I also work as an arranger/transcriber for musical theater and opera singers; often, they have a song they want to sing for an audition but the sheet music either doesn't exist or is completely outdated/illegible, so I transcribe music by ear and create the sheet music for them. It's a weird job but I have a surprisingly large number of clients! LOL I also work as a music director/accompanist for musical theater from time to time; in September I served as associate music director for the a new musical Peter & I. Lastly, I still compose original concert works for commission--I recently finished flute/voice/piano piece for my former voice teacher Linda Larson, who will be premiering it in North Carolina this October. Basically, I do a little bit of everything LOL I love wearing so many different hats--I may get stressed out, but I never get bored! ;-)
Can you tell us a bit about the track you performed in Otomedius Excellent? How did you get involved with the project?
This was such an awesome opportunity for me! Norihiko Hibino, composer of the Metal Gear Solid series and Bayonetta among many other titles, was also on the VGL Brazil Tour in 2009 and we became good friends over the course of the tour. He contacted me to record the track in August 2010. I couldn't believe it!! I was so excited that he contacted me to perform on the track, which was composed by Castlevania composer Michiru Yamane. It was a really fast, energetic track accompanying a jungle stage of Otomedius Excellent, and Hibino-san asked me to improvise a lot throughout the piece, it was so much fun! I was so honored that he asked me to perform, it's my first official video game soundtrack credit!
What are some of the projects you are currently working on and if possible can you gives us some details about them?
Oh man, I'm in the middle of so many things right now, haha! Well for starters, I just completed my new top secret project for VGL--you'll be seeing videos of it on Youtube in the next week or so, expect it! ;-) I also just finished up an arrangement for a group in Peru called Animatissimo, they're a super talented, totally volunteer video game orchestra. They contacted me to arrange Shadow of the Colossus music for their November concert, I'm very excited to hear them perform it! A project I'm in the process of working on is writing the soundtrack for a new webseries called This is Art--it's about two roommates aspiring to become a Broadway actress and director respectively, so it'll be a chance for me to dig into my Broadway side and write musical theater-type songs. In the next few months, I hope to get my own Youtube channel started up--I've been wanting to create sort of a chamber ensemble of classically trained musicians performing really unique arrangements of video game music that doesn't get covered by the big concerts like PLAY!, Distant Worlds, VGL, etc. I have a lot of favorite VG songs that just aren't as popular as the theme songs for the big franchises like Final Fantasy, Zelda, etc. So my friends and I are eventually going to get together and form our own little Youtube ensemble and have some fun with that! :)
Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians/composers out there?
One of the most important things I have EVER learned, and this is reinforced for me almost every day: Becoming a successful artist, in any medium, is a combination of personal skill and opportunity. Everyone knows you have to practice and work hard at your art, but there is also a certain amount of just plain luck to finding your career path, being in the right place at the right time! But here's the key: you should never just wait for that lucky break to come along. You have to be preparing for that golden opportunity, honing your talent and always working to develop your skills. You never know when that special audition, competition, job interview, etc. will come along, so you have to be ready for it each and every day. And no matter how long or hard the road is, always remember that you've chosen to become an artist because you LOVE IT!!
For more of Laura Intravia, follow her on Twitter @LauraIntravia, her fan page on FaceBook, and her personal website lauraintravia.com. For tour dates or if you want to suggest a city for VGL to come to, head on over to their website at videogameslive.com.
To close out this interview I'd like to share the clip that really made me noticed Ms. Intravia, her rendition of Snake Eater from Metal Gear Solid 3: