Talking Nerdy With Crying
If you don't know by now, Crying are all about that 8-bit life. Despite their chosen moniker's emo connotations, the New York trio is actually an emissary of peppy prog-rock, armed with a secret weapon that's probably sitting in the back of your closet, covered in dust: the Game Boy. The device undergoes a remarkable transformation in guitarist Ryan Galloway's hands, shifting from an obsolete toy to a powerful melodic vehicle. Together with vocalist Elaiza Santos and drummer Nick Corbo (who also sings and plays bass for jangle-pop quartet LVL UP), Galloway bridges sounds both arcane and organic, transcending the modest connotations of the "chiptune" niche into which his band is frequently categorized.
Consider Crying's upcoming debut a jab at the reset button, then. The band has swapped the 8-bit bleeps and bloops for bombastic synth leads and dizzying solos, crafting songs like "Wool in the Wash" and "Patriot" as chapters in a collectively written, undeniably catchy dissertation on the Book of Genesis. They might be making stadium-sized anthems, but the band will always have a soft spot for the arcade. Appropriately, CLRVYNT met up with Galloway and Santos at Barcade, a throwback gamers' paradise that just so happens to have a liquor license, to talk nerdy — and get the scoop on the new record. (Corbo couldn't make it due to obligations with LVL UP, whose Sub Pop debut, Return to Love, just came out.)
What was your first video game experience?
Ryan Galloway: It was my family playing Super Mario Bros. 3. They played it a lot before I played any video games. This is a very specific thing — you would have had to have played the first 10 minutes to know — there's this room that you go in where there are a bunch of different things you can pick.
The spinny tiles, right?
RG: Yeah. It's almost like a casino type of thing. My mom actually played the game so much that she wrote out sheets of paper — there were only a few combinations because it wasn't random; there were four or five different [ones] — and she wrote out all of them and circled certain ones. Like, there was one block that you need to hit to know was the first thing was. That was the hardest I've ever known my mom as a gamer, and after that, she just played Tetris for the rest of her life. That's less of my experience and more, "I saw the first glimpse of a gamer." Inspirational.
Elaiza Santos: I don't know what the name is right now, but it's the racing unicycles game with the joystick controller [Uniracers]. My brother and I played when we were younger. Other than that, some computer games on PC and, like, early Game Boy games.
Video game music needs to be catchy — you're basically listening to a loop. Does that into figure into your musical approach at all?
RG: I mean, it makes a lot of sense why it's a loop and it needs to be catchy, or it needs to be something that you could listen to the same 30 seconds for hours, but I don't think that has factored in as much as on our first two EPs; because we used the palette of the Game Boy, it ended up being very ADHD. When you start making music like that, it's like, "Oh, okay, I want a million sounds at once," because that's what the sounds are really good for.
How do you go about reconciling the inorganic, digital sound of the Game Boy with guitars and live drums?
EZ: I think it's a matter of me actually not being digitally-based. A lot of my songwriting comes from just me and guitar, me and keyboard; I'm not famliar with [Game Boy] at all, so it becomes a new experience every time I write with Ryan. It's so cool: I have to understand each piece like a new universe, and then I end up writing in a way that maybe Ryan wouldn't.
RG: I have been writing guitar and synth music forever. Through middle and high school, I wrote guitar and MIDI or really bad-sounding keyboard sounds with GarageBand. No one ever wanted to be in a band with me, and at some point I was like, "Oh! You can pay less than 100 dollars and get a Game Boy."
It's super uncool to just press play [on a backing track]. If you're a band and you press play on something and the bass and keyboard is playing, but you can't see them, that's really lame and no one trusts you. The scene where it's not lame is the chiptune scene, because every artist / band presses play. Even when you're holding [the Game Boy], there's not much you can do; it's like DJ work. You can still do stuff, but it's not being a live performer in the same way as playing guitar or drums or singing.
So, I was like, "Okay, nobody would ever want to play with my GarageBand loops, but Game Boy, it makes sense if it's in the background." So, we started doing that, and then recently we stopped using the Game Boy. I've always wanted to make music like this, but the Game Boy was the first time it was allowed to just throw something on in the background and have it be fun, and have people take you somewhat seriously — or maybe not so seriously. It's less about reconciling the Game Boy with live instruments, and more about [getting] the sound that we wanted, and the Game Boy was the way to achieve it at that point in time.
Your new album, Beyond the Fleeting Gales, doesn't have any Game Boys on it. How come?
RG: I really love a bunch of chiptune bands, but I wanted to have a different sound. I started listening to a bunch of '80s sounds — I've always loved the '80s and '70s and all of the prog bands: Yes, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer, and Genesis, and Gentle Giant. And then I listened to a bunch of ’80s pop and melodic rock.
I was trying to write this song on Game Boy two years ago, and I literally remember it being like, "Oh, I don't like what the bass sounds like and I can't get the sound in my head. I should use something else." It's less [angrily] "Oh, F the Game Boy," and more, "What makes sense to do this type of thing?
What video games do you think have the best soundtracks?
EZ: So, of the games that I have finished, Silent Hill 3. I was going to say Silent Hill 2, but 3 is really good. There's a lot of trip-hop in there, some dark cherry red-colored piano going on.
RG: [to Santos] I'm not too familiar. Didn't that composer typically use the environment to make beats? Like, you'd be walking into a factory, and the sounds of the factory would be making the beat ...
EZ: Which is why it gets really intense and scary to watch or play it alone, or in the dark. It gets really industrial a lot of the time. But that's my pick. It reminds me a lot of Portishead and Garbage.
RG: I was thinking of my list, and I would say [glances around the room at the various machines] it probably isn't here, but just a lot of fighting games: Street Fighter III — that's very hip-hop-y and dancey. And the Guilty Gear series; you can see that there's a lot of butt-rock, and the whole series has a lot of references to all these rock bands. The main character has "ROCK YOU" on his headplate; one character's moves are, like, "Ride the Lightning."
Do you guys like any of the music in the Final Fantasy series?
EZ: There's Final Fantasy Legend on Game Boy, which I never finished, but the music in that — especially the prologue — is really, really good. That was the only one I'd ever encountered on Game Boy.
RG: A track that was cut from our album because the drummer deemed it too boring was actually written when I was playing Final Fantasy IX, one of my favorite games of all time.
I don't like doing anything twice; I don't like watching a movie twice, let alone once. Playing a video game twice — especially a 30-to-40-hour one — that seems ridiculous. I have free time, but I don't want to spend it doing a 40-hour thing that I've done before. BUT that's the one game I'd sign on to play again, and the song that we cut from this album was very much based on the opening theme. When I think about it, it kind of makes me cry a little bit — well, it doesn't make me cry a bit, or else I'd be crying all the time, because I'm constantly thinking about it.
Everyone always hates on that game for pandering to nostalgia, but it's so awesome.
RG: I'm 25. I didn't grow up with the old games, so [Final Fantasy IX] was one of the games that I played.
It's so weird when you play a game when you're young versus when you're older. I remember playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time or Donkey Kong 64, and I had to get my brother to help me.
RG: Donkey Kong 64 is my second-favorite game of all time.
Do you play video games when you're on tour?
EZ: I tried bringing Ocarina and I couldn't do it. It was a good thing for me to be doing when I was static, and I think being on the road was too much.
[to Galloway, sheepishly] I feel really embarrassed 'cause you said you never want to really play a game twice, but I admit that I played and finished Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets on Game Boy over 10 times.
Did you ever play the ones on the PC?
EZ: I never finished. The last I left it, my health was in the red, and I was battling the fucking poltergeist, Peeves. That's also the last point I saved, so whenever I died, I'd be back in the red. The other computer game I was going to bring up before was I Spy: Spooky Mansion. It has amazing sounds.
What have you been playing lately, Ryan?
RG: I've been playing a lot of Overwatch. It's the best-designed game I've ever played. Donkey Kong 64 used to be my favorite game of all time, but Overwatch recently overtook it. It's amazing.
So, we have that on the record: an Overwatch endorsement. Would you guys ever be interested in composing music for a video game? It's never been easier, what with the rise of crowd-funded games.
RG: I think the thing about that is, I would love to compose for video games. I don't think I would ever do major composition, only because I think there's a certain standard for video game composers, and I think there are a lot of composers who know how to use the whole system really well to do the whole thing, whereas when I program on Game Boy, I'm really good at basic keyboards, but not the whole [package]. So, I'd really love to compose — just not non-chiptune video games. But I would never want to compose a video game soundtrack with Elaiza ...
EZ: I was going to say the same thing!
RG: Because I constantly have this thing where sometimes I try to start a group with someone else. And then I'm playing with them, like, "Oh, this is a good melody, but I don't want to use it for this! I want to use it for the band that I'm mainly in." It would be one of those things where I don't think Crying would want to do a composition. But solo? Yes.
EZ: I agree! Ryan's instrumental stuff is absurd in the best way. I have a project in mind to collab on a game with someone else, but the kind of music would be ... "quiet" isn't the best term, but it's a song I can sing aloud, as a standalone song.
Last question: Do either of you play Pokémon Go?
RG: I'm sorry.
EZ: I put it on my phone and deleted it immediately after I played the game. I actually hate being on my phone.
RG: I think the real question is: In September 2016, does anyone play Pokémon Go? (Author's note: I do. Team Valor represent.)
Crying's new album, Beyond the Fleeting Gales, is out October 14 on Run for Cover.