The action-packed dodgeball extravaganza Knockout City is now available to play on Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, and Xbox One. To commemorate the release, ComingSoon’s Jeff Ames sat down with The Soundlings (Matt Naylor and Sonny Rey), who discussed their extraordinary work on the game’s killer soundtrack.
Jeff Ames: Thanks for reaching out to us to talk about Knockout City. Your music is absolutely wild! I mean, I was listening to the soundtrack while I was cleaning my house and probably completed everything in under an hour – adrenaline-pumping stuff!
Matt Naylor: Thank you!
Sonny Rey: Thank you so much. Yeah, it is a perfect soundtrack for cleaning your house.
Ames: Ok, so what drew you guys to this project to begin with?
Naylor: I had a meeting with David [Nathanielsz] from Velan early on. We met at E3 and he explained the game concept to us and we just fell in love with the whole concept of this crazy, futuristic, 1950s world. All these players are in this world playing dodgeball together, and the only way they can settle their disputes is with a dodgeball match, which is so fun. So, I fell in love with it while he was explaining the concept, and we knew that we had to be a part of this. When it came to the point of delivering demos, we just went all out. We hired players on the first round, they wanted two tracks, we delivered three, just to show them what we can do.
Rey: Also, a big part of it was the style of music that they wanted, which was a mash up of a lot of different genres. I think in the beginning, they came at us with like 30 different genres. It was crazy! But Matt and I, throughout our career, have worked on so many different genres doing TV and film stuff that it just looked like a fun challenge. And we knew we could kill it.
Ames: Where do you even begin on such a massive project like this?
Rey: Day one was just us running back and forth screaming, “Oh my God! How are we gonna do this? What did we just get ourselves into? It was like a freak-out session on day one, and then it was like, “Wait, wait, we got this!” We just sat down and talked about it for a long time, just planning how we were going to pull it off.
Naylor: They had this band concept where they have a DJ coming through the stereo system in the game, and they wanted us to come up with different band concepts. They gave us all the genres that we needed to stay within, but they wanted us to help come up with the bands. So, Sonny and I would sit in the studio for hours just talking about these different band styles, and like, who are these bands? What are they? What do they do? What does the stage look like? Rick and the Humans is one that I like to talk about a lot because Rick is a robot from this other planet, but all of his musicians are human, and they’re just trying to keep up with Rick because Rick is like the most unbelievable player of all time. He’s also the conductor of the band. So, it’s kind of like, whoever gets the job to play with Rick are the best players in the world. Then we would just kind of spitball these ideas. The Hologramtix was another one where we were like, “What if there was this alien band that was receiving these kind old 1950s radio signals from another planet, and they were just taking these things and going, ‘Oh, this is what’s cool right now!’ And they were sampling it, and like putting beats to it in a really interesting way.”
Ames: So, clearly you had a lot of freedom to play around with the material, right?
Rey: We did, but every time we started a new band, we would start with a call with Velan Studios and map out our ideas like, “We think this band should go this direction and have this sound,” and they would give us ideas, and then we would go from there. They would just say, “Hey, you know, just go do your thing,” and then just set us free. Let us do our thing. We would kill it and we would come back at them with like a band bio, you know, their songs, and every time they were just like, “Wow, this is great!” They would give us a couple of notes, which were always super constructive, and they made the music better. So, it wasn’t daunting at all. It was definitely a lot of fun. Like, we had never worked on a project like that. So, it was something new and it kept it really fresh the whole time.
Ames: Were there any ideas that you had that were a bit too outlandish for the studio that you had to scrap?
Rey: I will say, there was one track for this band called the Alley Cats. It’s called “Kitty Litter Chaos,” and we wanted to do something — because the alley cats are rebels, you know? And we wanted to make a track that was super rebellious, and it had a lot of dissonance in it. A lot of crazy sounds. There was a lot going on there. And the studio was like, “Hey, guys, this might drive some of our players a little crazy. If you could just maybe throw in a chorus with a regular chord change in there … you know, just pull it back, like 25% …”
Naylor: Ad that actually did it! It gave the track some release, you know? But yeah, that track is very polarizing.
Ames: What do you want your music to convey to gamers?
Naylor: This world that they created, we really just wanted to sync the players into that world immediately. Like, one thing that you’ll notice throughout the soundtrack, there’s a lot of walking baselines from the 1950s and a really standard kind of Motown flair to all the tracks. And that kind of just syncs you into like, “Okay, I’m in this futuristic 1950s world, but I’ve never heard it like this before. And I’ve never seen it like this before.”
Rey: And we wanted it to match the energy of the game because it’s multiplayer team-based extreme dodgeball. There’s something happening at every moment in the game. And we needed our music to have that same energy and that same amount of fun.
Naylor: Yeah, and like Matt Piro said, “Knockout City” is really fun, but you’re gonna get your ass kicked.
Ames: What was the most challenging part of this entire project for you?
Rey: Not working on it anymore.
Naylor: It was so much fun!
Rey: There were small challenges with every different band. For Rick and the Humans, that band is mainly a Big Band kind of sound. And I think we both gained a whole new respect for Big Band composing. Like, really digging into how the brass and the horns play off of each other and the lines interweave. Yeah. I really had to go back to my Jazz band days studying John Coltrane and Oscar Peterson and all that stuff.
Naylor: I remember you even ordered some books. You were on music theory land!
Rey: We were digging deep. I mean, we were studying how they were mixing stuff. Each band had a little something where we had to go down a rabbit hole for it.
Ames: Do you have a favorite track that you worked on that you’re particularly proud of?
Naylor: Fire Fingers is one of my favorites because it’s just so much fun to play. I hope that when people hear that track, it makes somebody want to pick up an instrument and start trying to play along with it because it’s just craziness and it’s really fun to play on guitar, and really fun to play on keys. Another one is Doo Wop the Bop, which is just a fun track.
Rey: I feel like we keep like bringing up Rick and the Humans and keep leaving the other bands out, but there are so many good tracks. It’s hard choosing one, but I think Effective Dissonance from Rick and the Humans is my favorite. There’s like a really cool, almost like Flight of the Bumblebee kind of chromatic keyboard opening line that happens. And then just the energy of the track, and the conversation between the horns and the brass going back and forth, I think that track is something special.
Ames: At what point do you say, “Okay, this track is good enough, let’s move on to the next,” or is that decision even up to you?
Naylor: Sonny and I have made a lot of music together, and I honestly think that hitting the print button in whatever program you’re using, it comes with time. Sonny and I have written well over 1000 pieces of music at this point. And you know, it’s coming from that experience of knowing when you’re done and also knowing when adding one more thing is too much.
Rey: If you get to that point where you add something and say, “That’s not really doing anything for the track,” you know, it’s not adding anything special to it. Like, I think we’ve reached that point where it’s like, we’re done.
Then, something else that was new for us was feeling like we’re done and then throwing to Da We’re like, we’re done. And we like throw it over to Velan and they’d be like, “Can you give us eight more tracks of sounds?” And we’re like, okay, because, you know, with video games, you might be hearing that same track over and over and over. And they want to have a few things they could like mix in there and, you know, pull in. So yeah, that was a little different for us. But also cool, because we got to challenge ourselves and say, “What more could we do for this track?”
Ames: What did each of you take away from this process that you believe will inform your work moving forward?
Naylor: That’s a good question.
Ames: I saved the best for last.
Rey: That was your home run question right there.
Naylor: Honestly, just working with such an awesome team at Velan. It was such a treat. We got spoiled with that. They were amazing, but I just love making music for video games. It’s just so much fun and hearing how it all works. We got to play the game on beta weekend, which was crazy fun, and just hearing how it interacted with the gameplay was awesome.
Rey: Yeah, I think having that spark inside of us to want to go out and get a game and kill it. I think this whole experience with Velan Studios, EA, Knockout City, I think that just threw gasoline on that spark. And now we’re just like, we need to do another game! We need more. We loved working on it so much. So, I think the passion has grown for us.