My Favourite Game
The founding member of 65daysofstatic talks MIDI noodling and soundtracking No Man’s Sky
65 days of static’s Paul Wolinski on Amigas and No Man’s Sky
Keyboardist, guitarist and electronics experimenter Paul Wolinski formed 65daysofstatic along with guitarist Joe Shrewsbury in 2001. After a period of upheaval, the four-piece’s lineup solidified with Simon Wright on bass and Rob Jones on drums. 65days has released five studio albums to date, and Wolinski has also issued two solo records: Labyrinths in 2011 and 2014’s Full Bleed.
Given the cover art for Labyrinths, which has a distinctly Psygnosis-era Roger Dean feel to it, and the textadventure-style video for Stitches, were you a Commodore kid growing up? I did have an Amiga, but I had a ZX Spectrum before that, when I was dead little, with Jet Set Willy and Manic Miner. There was a really big gap between the Spectrum and Amiga, and I never had a Mega Drive or anything.
Was that down to your parents? I think it might have been something like that… Consoles were always toys, rather than ‘serious’ computers. But I remember getting the Cartoon Classics Amiga bundle for Christmas one year, which had Lemmings with it…
Which was published by Psygnosis, and returns us to your cover art – there’s a videogame influence at play, right? The guy who did the Labyrinth cover, Caspar Newbolt, has done 65days stuff for years. I played him some demos, including material that didn’t make it on the record, which were shamelessly ’80s. I never intended to play it to anyone, but I did to Caspar. It’s the only album I’ve done where the artwork’s been finished before all of the songs were written, so the art did end up influencing the music.
There was plenty of Amiga music software – is that how you began to play around with your own sounds? It’s how I first got into MIDI stuff. I had something called OctaMED, which I saved my pocket money for. I ordered this weird box that meant I could plug a MIDI keyboard into the Amiga, so that I could learn how to sequence. I’d just make [New Order’s] Blue Monday over and over. But there was a demo disc around at the time that I loved, with music by Utah Saints. It had these early-’90s rave visuals. The graphics were amazing. All of the Sensible Software stuff seemed to have great soundtracks, too.
Nowadays, do the 65days members share a mutual appreciation of videogames? Not really. Si and I were into them as teens, but Joe never had anything to do with games. But we were in so many shared houses during the early years of 65 that every now and then there’d be an Xbox or something. None of us had money to go out, so we’d sit around playing that, and that was Joe’s real first experience with games.
Has that changed at all with the band doing the soundtrack to No Man’s Sky? Well, when we were out in Las Vegas for The Game Awards, in a giant room full of hundreds of PS4s, it did seem like something that we’d really like to get into.
When the NMS opportunity came up, did you leap at it? Or was the prospect of making music for a procedurally generated game daunting? It’s so exciting. It’s a big challenge, but we jumped at it. As soon as we saw the first screenshots, we knew we had to get involved. We have to write full songs as well – as standalone things – which will make up a soundtrack record eventually. But all the components of these songs need to be able to be pulled apart for the sound designer to work his magic afterwards.
Is it correct that Sean Murray at Hello Games is a big fan of 65days? Yes! I turned up to my first meeting with him in full sales-pitch mode, but it turned out that he was doing the same – he was pitching the game at the band. The more time we’ve spent with the people at Hello Games, the more similarities we find.
And what about your favourite game? Beneath A Steel Sky was incredible, and The Secret Of Monkey Island. Frontier: Elite II is probably the game I spent the most time on – I’d share controls with a friend, because there’s so much you can do when fighting off pirates. Do I really have to choose just one? Beneath A Steel Sky is probably the closest to my interests these days – that cyberpunk side of sci-fi, which was so beautifully realised.
“I turned up to my first meeting with Sean in full salespitch mode, but it turned out he was doing the same”