Behind-the-scenes with Songhammer, the epic band that rocked BlizzCon's music contest
You might not have noticed, but there was another band (on top of the Foo Fighters and Blizzard's own Level 90 Elite Tauren Chieftain) worthy of your praise at BlizzCon last month: the almighty Songhammer. We sat down with the two gamers that formed the army of epic rock, wicked guitars, and WoW-centric lyrics that won third place in the Original Song Contest at this year's BlizzCon. Between bursts of guitar riffs and giant dragons breathing fire, they told us their tale and talked about some their top songs, like "We are the Horde" and "Armies of the Light."
Read on to learn more about this rocktastic duo and grab free MP3s of their premier songs at the end of the interview.
PCG: So let's start at the beginning. How did you guys meet, and why did you decide to form a band that wrote songs about video games?
Ben Stewart, AKA Shredhammer, guitarist and lead vocals: Well, we both played in various bands throughout southern California--not in the same band, but in different groups--for well over a decade. So we'd met each other at different points and had become friends as a result. When Dustin first realized that winning BlizzCon's song contest was a possibility, I had just finished another album at home called The Red Fist Revolution: the Fall of Goliath. It's a rock opera. It turned out really well and a small independent label picked it up. Dustin heard the recording and said to me, "Hey, why couldn't we do some of this stuff for BlizzCon at your house?"
So we started talking and we both love fantasy; we both love games; we both love all these concepts and ideas. So as soon as he told me about his idea to write a song that'd win the BlizzCon contest, I started working on it and built the skeleton of a metal anthem that ended up being "We are the Horde." I wrote the bridge and the vocals, but I didn't have the verses or anything else yet. At the same time, Dustin started working on a separate piece called "Armies of the Light."
Initially, we each wrote separate songs. We worked on them together, and we submitted them as separate pieces. But as the competition and BlizzCon drew closer, we decided that we needed to become a Voltron of super-powered rock with face-melting strength. So we became Songhammer.
PCG: So, from the start, Songhammer was about winning the BlizzCon song contest?
Dustin Miller, AKA Croonhammer, guitarist: I've been a WoW player for over 5 years, and I came to BlizzCon last year. As I was watching the ceremonies and the song contest, I noticed that all the finalists were all very good songs. Two out of the three were orchestral compositions, but the song that won first was an orchestral-composed pop piece--more of a simple format song. After listening to it live, I thought, "Hey we could do that!" and I even turned to the guy next to me and said, "We are gonna win that next year." So I told Ben I thought we could win, and so we founded this project to win BlizzCon.
PCG: You both play guitar in the band, but what are your specialties?
BS: Dustin is really good at the finger-picking and acoustic pieces, so the really intricate finger picking in the "Armies of the Light" is Dustin, and I'm the one doing the guitar solos and the heavy, grindy stuff.
DM: The nice thing about having the two different styles is that they're so complementary. Like in "We Are the Alliance," we have this heavy-but-metallic piece with the Flash Gorden Queen vocals beneath it. It's just beyond cool.
PCG: Something else that reminded me a bit of Queen was the huge horde of voices chanting in "We Are the Horde." Is that all you guys?
BS: Yeah, that's all us. That's 30 voices. In fact, we did drums, bass, guitar--all of it. It's the musical version of what gamers consider grinding.
PCG: You guys are working on a full album, right? Are all the songs about World of Warcraft?
DM: Presently, we have post-production done on the two songs for this BlizzCon, because it was our launch. We're in pre-production on 11 more and all of those are in the World of Warcraft universe. We want to do an album in each of Blizzard's game universes.
BS: Maybe a Diablo album, then maybe a Starcraft album. The music would reflect those albums. If it was Starcraft, we would go digital and have that theme, and if it was Diablo, it would be very dark and deep. But the idea of [writing songs about] other gaming universes is pretty great. Branching out would be good.
So you're fans of all of Blizzard's games, but which is your favorite?
DM: Warcraft. I've been a Warcraft player for 5 years now. I'm a main tank and officer for my guild. Expecially now, with the economy, people don't have that much money--WoW is cheap recreation. I can say truthfully that the relationships I've built with the people that I play with are friendships. The first time I met the other guy who main-tanks with me, it never occurred to me that we'd never been face-to-face together before. We'd been friends for 5 years and never physically been in the same room.
BS: I've been particularly impressed with the art of Diablo. I was really taken by it. We were looking at some of the computer stations yesterday, before the ceremonies were going and we were watching the games going on there, and its just beautiful art. When you're into games and music, there's this component where you just want to see the art, and you want to see something that transforms the environment--you want to see something that takes you there.
PCG: Is that what you want your music to do?
BS: Yeah, we want to create that environment and that feeling that you're there, and that you can come along. A lot of our music has group participation: we want them to sing along and add some immersion to that game world.
PCG: So this is the type of music you can listen to in your car on your way to work and show up super pumped.
BS: Exactly! You're ready to hew some heads and storm the castle, and show up wherever you're going feeling good. Because the music is just fun!
PCG: You have some sweet looking weapons in your promo shots. Are you going to be wielding exotic swords in concert as well?
BS: No, we want to have hammers. We are talking to [replica weapon-makers] Epic Weapons, and in my wildest fantasy I would love to see a forged weapon that had the Songhammer logo on it. In fact, we talked to them about shipping out some weapons for our next photo shoot. In the Riverside, CA area where I live there's this castle up on a hill that we're going to literally be jumping off of with giant hammers or swords.
DM: It's just so much fun! The administrative side is so much work, but everything we're doing is so much fun. Its not like going to a castle and sword fighting is work.
BS: Both Dustin and I have played in various bands and clubs all along the sunset strip--Whisky A Go Go, House of Blues, and things like that--but those projects were all very serious. With this, we're nuts. There are swords. There are hammers. We are focused on gaming and the whole industry. It's been a blast.
We talked about the games that inspire your songs. What are your musical inspirations?
BS: It's interesting because for this project I'm really inspired by things like lore. Where Dustin is more inspired by the game, I love the lore. I like to read the books--I love the fantasy and science fiction. Musically, I love Muse and epic stuff like Queen,Trent Resner, 9 Inch Nails, Rob Zombie. You can definitely hear them in "We are the Horde." You can hear this kind of Queen feel and Muse feel, but then you get into this zombie-esque angry big stuff.
DM: The foundation for my stuff is you can hear this tight harmony. I was a music student at Chapman so I have a classical background. The way that I hear music is very different from how Ben hears it. He has all this stuff with teeth and then we put my style vocals on it, and it come out to be this very beautiful powerful rock.
PCG: Where can people go to find out more?