Back in October, US blog editor Mikel discussed the broad strokes of Far Cry 5‘s music with the game’s audio director Tony Gronick. Now that gamers are hearing Hope County’s soundtrack for themselves, I thought it was time to revisit the subject with award-winning composer Dan Romer.
– Dan Romer at Orphanage Studios
He began the task by immersing himself in the back-story of the game’s Cult (The Project At Edens Gate) and writing ten folk hymns to tell their story. These intricately written songs provide the backbone for the game’s music.
Interpretations of the hymns – more on that later – fill out Far Cry 5’s in-game radio stations (along with an array of licensed tracks from artists such as Creedence Clearwater Revival and Heart.) They also set the tone for game’s instrumental score, with the majority of the game’s stealth and combat music drawing on the hymn’s melodies and harmonies according to Romer.
I wondered if it was difficult to write such pretty, upbeat songs about such dark subject matter. Keep Your Rifle By Your Side, for example, is a deceptively cheery song about arming up to defend your home and children from violent non-believers – while many of the other tracks happily predict a fiery end for those outside the cult when their predicted “Great Collapse” arrives.
“My goal was to try to have the songs all come from a place of positivity and salvation,” explains Romer, “I tried to put myself in the shoes of these cult members and think about the inspirational messages that they would convey to make you want to join their cult. Ultimately, I wanted to develop these songs to feel realistic and like songs that a cult would actually write to change your mind and indoctrinate you into their belief system.”
Interpreting the songs of the collapse
I mentioned interpretations earlier, and this is where Far Cry 5’s use of music becomes particularly innovative; resulting in a diverse soundtrack of altering tones and perspectives.
It works like this: cult leader Joseph Seed – The Father – has a family of three lieutenants working under him, each with their own specialities, and each controlling a region of the game’s world. Listening to the radio in cars and trucks throughout the game, you’ll discover that each region broadcasts its own versions of Romer’s folk hymns – reworked from the ground up to fit the traits of the area’s leader. These interpretations have now been released as their own albums, sitting alongside the game’s score to assemble a more complete soundtrack.
John Seed, the Inquisitor, concerns himself with showing potential cult members the sinful error of their ways, recruiting through forced baptisms, charm and intimidation. His dogmatic methods are soundtracked by When The World Falls, a series of beautiful choral interpretations credited to the fictional Hope County Choir (though actually arranged and recorded by a renowned producer and his chorists).
Former Army marksman Jacob Seed focuses on the Cult’s security, training up new soldiers and putting down anyone who threatens The Father’s plans. His more brutal tactics are accompanied by Into The Flames, a series of folk-rock versions of the hymns produced by Romer and a group of talented collaborators.
Faith Seed, the Siren, uses manipulation and a powerful hallucinogen named Bliss to keep the Cult’s followers in line. Her disorienting approach is underscored by We Will Rise Again, a dreamy interpretation of Romer’s work by Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson of the Nashville ambient band Hammock.
While Romer knew the songs would be reworked down the line, he initially wrote with the folk-rock Into The Flames takes as his focus. “Those were the versions I had in mind the whole time,” he explains, “but my favourite version of each song varies across the three albums.”
As an example of how widely the interpretations differ, here’s a comparison switching between the three versions of the aforementioned “Keep Your Rifle By Your Side”.
The Armageddon-ready Von Trapps
For Into The Flames, Romer wanted to follow the game’s Cult theme by producing an album that sounded as though it had been recorded by a family of singers.
“Instead of picking and choosing specific singers from around the country, I thought it would sound more realistic if the singers all knew each other already.”
“The featured artists on Into The Flames are all dear friends of mine,” he explains. “Many of them went to SUNY Purchase [The State University of New York at Purchase] with me where we studied pop composition together. Some of them are people that I met in New York after school. They’re all super talented and it was amazing to involve them in the project.”
The tracks on Into The Flames run the gamut of folk-rock styles from the deep bass-baritone country of Peter Harper to the contemplative acoustic whispers of Meredith Godreau. “Every featured artist on Into The Flames is singing in their own style – it’s a melting pot of different influences.”
The World is Gonna End Tonight – featuring Peter Harper
“I heard Peter Harper from the band Motor Sales play in an acoustic backyard concert, singing in an incredibly low style that was exceptionally beautiful. I kept that in the back of my mind and when I started scoring Far Cry a year later, he was one of the first people I thought of for the featured artist interpretations of the hymns.”
“I knew that Ubisoft wanted a rock and roll song that would describe the end of the world. I first wrote a rock version of this song in a Led Zeppelin style and then derived the folk version from that. The rock version that ultimately got made was completely reinterpreted melodically and harmonically with a different band. It’s interesting to me that the very original seedling of the idea never made it to the public.”
Build a Castle – featuring Osei Essed
“For the track Build a Castle, I had written it with my friend Osei Essed in mind – who features as the artist on the song. It’s very reminiscent of Osei’s band The Woes, which I played accordion in for many years. That song is about building the fortress that the cult will survive the end of the world in. I thought that was a very striking song topic and became the first song I wrote for the Into the Flames soundtrack.”
We Will Rise Again – featuring Meredith Godreau
“We Will Rise Again is another track where I already had the singer in mind, Meredith Godreau, from the band Gregory and the Hawk. I actually called her while writing the song to get the right key from her. I thought it would be interesting to write a song about making it till the end of the world that wasn’t aggressive or rock, but sad and sweet.”
At the end of the day, Romer says he really enjoyed working on his first video game soundtrack – despite finding composing non-linear music for a video game rather different to the linear music he usually works on for film and TV. “When scoring a movie, I can score every single moment exactly the way I want it to land with the scene. However, when scoring a video game, there is a certain randomness to the way that the music interacts with the action. Because of this, there’s more musical freedom in many ways. For instance, let’s say you want a fiddle to come in at a certain point in a score – in the movie it might not match exactly what’s happening on the screen, whereas in a video game, it’s more of a general vibe than a moment so you’re a lot freer with your musical decisions.”
To finish out this post, here’s a video of Romer himself performing one of Far Cry 5’s folk hymns, “Oh John.”
Far Cry 5 is available now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC – and the soundtrack albums are available to stream or buy on all good digital music services (the Original Game Soundtrack by Dan Romer, When the World Falls by the Hope County Choir, Into the Flames by Dan Romer and friends, We Will Rise Again by Hammock). For more on the game, check out our previous Far Cry 5 coverage.