Community Spotlight:

Grant Henry

of Metroid Metal
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We are very happy to be interviewing Grant Henry (a.k.a Stemage) from Metroid Metal. Grant is a songwriter, arranger and the creator of Metroid Metal. He has also created some original compositions, as well as working on the upcoming Xbox Live arcade game, Alpha Squad. We interviewed him regarding his work on Metroid Metal, his musical influence and his other projects.

SS: So first of all Grant, please tell us a little bit more about the man behind Metroid Metal and how all this began for you.

Well, I’ve been band-hopping and multi-tracking since I was fifteen. I think my first recording was a cover of Nirvana’s Polly on my 4-track. I’ll have to find that. I’d been writing music and playing all the instruments for years, but the Metroid Metal stuff was my first attempt at covering video game music. I was so in love with The Minibosses, I figured I’d try something a little more experimental.

It started in 2003 with recordings on my cassette 8-track, and I later started recording on my PC when the collaboration with Dan Taylor started. His bass-playing really added a new layer to the compositions. I obviously play bass like a guitar player, and that is not a good thing!

Things have changed a lot since then. The songs are more complicated, there is the live group that performs the arrangements live, and I’ve actually started tracking my own music for some indy games. A lot has happened in 7 years.

SS: You’ve arranged many different Metroid themes since the formation of Metroid Metal; which theme or themes were the most challenging for you to create?

I went a little crazy putting together the Super Metroid Ending music. The composition of that song is unreasonable just like the original track. I’d say that was the most difficult. I didn’t think I was going to make it. I also had a pretty hard time with the original Item Room. Back then, I was programming a drum machine, and trying to get those polyrhythms right with a string of patterns was a nightmare!

SS: You’re clearly a very passionate Metroid fan. How did you first become interested in Metroid?

I played the original Metroid as a kid when the game came out. I beat it with a friend of mine after many sleepless nights of taking turns. I think Metroid was the first game that literally scared us sleepless. I know the music had to do with a lot of that. I clearly remember opening Kraid’s boss room for the first time and immediately leaving after getting a glimpse of him! That game was a big chore for not having any assistance, but we finished it.

SS: Of course, you’re not the only person involved in Metroid Metal, your band members Dan Behrens, Micheal Molnar, Dan Taylor and Kevin Lawrence have all contributed. Tell us how you all came together to create the band you are today.

I was convinced that a live band would never happen because the guitar players I knew weren’t gamers. I had been playing music with Dan Taylor and Kevin for many years. Dan and I met Dan Behrens (danimal) and Micheal (Kirby) through the Minibosses and Metroid Metal forums, and we all met in person for the first time at MAGfest 6.

I’m pretty sure Dan and I discussed the idea of Metroid Metal Live all the way home from that MAGfest. After some planning, I asked danimal and Kirby if they were interested, and they were in.

We spent many months preparing with Youtube videos and phone conversations, and we all took the stage for the first time at MAGfest 7. And here we are.

SS: You’ve had some reasonable success with Metroid Metal and it has been well received. What have been the band’s high points so far?

The reason a lot of people discovered the project for the first time was the name drop by Penny Arcade many years ago. That was definitely a high point and ironically led to us playing PAX years later – another high point. I’d say the Nintendo Power spread and the first MAGfest were big stuff as well. To be honest, seeing that people enjoy a new track is probably the most satisfying thing. Each song is different, and they aren’t all for everyone. But having someone appreciate your creations is the biggest reward you could ask for.

SS: You’ve not just created music for Metroid, you’ve had various projects under the Stemage name including the Xbox Live arcade game Alpha Squad. Aside from Metroid, is there any other video game-themed music you’d like to work on in the future?

I need to stop talking about it and actually do some. I was lucky enough to be on a project that celebrated Hiroyuki Iwatsuki’s music where I covered the themesong for Ninja Warriors for SNES, that was cool. I’ve been in a few other collaborations as well, but I have yet to do any other big covers.

I always talk about the Marble Madness EP which I will do eventually. I also love Sonic music and I think an overly enthusiastic 3D Worldrunner cover would be tasty. There are a list of games I’d like to do. I just have to find time to get to them all. Things have been busy in and out of music.

SS: What aspect of the music in the Metroid series inspired you to create your own versions?

Obviously, the biggest part of the draw is nostalgia. You can visualize the world when you hear the first few notes from any Metroid track. That’s also true with other games though. I feel like the music is dark, creative, and atonal, but also very catchy. There aren’t a lot of other games that have those same qualities. And the more uplifting themes obviously work well with guitar rock.

SS: What are your future ideas for Metroid Metal and can we expect more from the band?

I still have a list of songs that I know I’ll be doing next. At a certain point I will be more interested in what people want to hear. Obviously, if a track doesn’t inspire me I won’t bother with trying to cover it. The project has to stay inspired – otherwise I just won’t be happy with it. A good percentage of the soundtracks have already been done. But if there are good songs that people would like to hear, I will definitely consider them.

As far as the band goes, we will keep playing shows! It’s hard when we are so spread out, but we hope to do more shows that are outside of just the festival circuit as well.

SS: The latest game in the franchise, Metroid: Other M was released recently. What are your thoughts on this latest addition to the Metroid franchise?

I loved about a third of it, hated another third, and I am pretty indifferent about the rest. I think the game was quite fun, but they completely ruined Samus as a heroine, and things like the recharge and not being able to collect powerups from enemies made backtracking less satisfying. I don’t hold a grudge against the game because I understand what they were trying to do. I just found the writing, acting, and themes laughably poor. The music was also nonexistent. As a game though, I thought it played well.

SS: Thanks for taking the time to speak to us Grant! Do you have any closing comments you would like to make?

I’ve met many people recently that have only played a limited number of the Metroid games, but love those very much. Definitely make an effort to play one you haven’t tried before! And thanks for the opportunity man! Keep up the great work with the site!

Shinesparkers would like to thank Grant for taking the time to talk to us and request that you buy his music which can be found at Metroid Metal.

© 2010 Darren Kerwin and Grant Henry
Interviewed on 26th October 2010