Aubrey Ashburn is a lady millons of gamers will have heard but not always have been aware of the fact. Aubrey is a prolific theme song vocalist and co-writer of many games such as Dragons Age, Lost Planet and Devil May Cry 4 to name but a few. We were able to chat to Aubrey about how she got involved with game music and also about her own solo projects too…
Aubrey, congratulations on all of your recent projects and successes with your music lately. Let’s start with the obvious one first How did you get into songwriting/performing for game music themes and what attracted you to the genre as a whole?
Thank you. I was first introduced to the modern game world when Soundelux, an audio post-production company in Hollywood, hired me in 2005. I was brought into the game division to represent the creative team, including their in-house composers. Even though I was positioned as a representative, I quickly made it known that I was actually a singer/songwriter simply posing as a corporate left-brain. Working so closely with sound designers, composers and voice over talent opened my eyes to the real craftsmanship behind modern gaming content and I managed to coerce composer Jamie Christopherson, to hire me on EA’s soundtrack for The Lord of the Rings: Battle For Middle Earth II, my first official appearance in games. It was later nominated for Best Original Choral Vocal at the 2007 G.A.N.G Awards.
You’re classically trained as a vocalist which gives you such a massive range of musical soundscapes you can add to. Do you have any particular favourite pieces or types of music you like to perform?
Yes, I thoroughly enjoy having a broad palette to work with and it certainly keeps things interesting. In games, I’m able to experiment with sounds, especially because so much of what I do is not in any particular language. Recently I had the opportunity to record some unusual material for a game, emulating Bulgarian voices. I get the most out of these moments, when afterwards I say to myself…”I didn’t know I could make that sound.”
In response to your second question, I love show tunes! My personality is well matched with this style of singing – brassy and comedic.
With Dragon Age: Origins, you co-wrote and performed several songs. How did that project come about and how was the experience?
Well, I’ve known Inon Zur since my days at Soundelux. He has a reputation of being one of the busiest composers in games and once I left the company, I met with him to share my material and ask him to hire me. It was a while before he called and when he did, he told me to write some Gaelic or Elvin lyrics for a theme he was pitching. The recording itself was a wonderful experience, although I’d never worked with him before and I was quite intimidated; I was able to perform the opening theme in one emotionally rich take. Phew! At the time, I didn’t truly know what was at stake and I’m glad I didn’t. Simon Pressey was the audio director for Dragon Age at the time, a wildly successful and versed music industry producer/engineer (no pressure) and Dragon Age had been in the works for over four years by the time I recorded the demo. Fortunately, it helped Inon win the contract and made a splash all the way to ship day! Our subsequent collaborations on the soundtrack evolved from there and by the time BioWare was looking for an end title track, I begged Inon to see if we could give it a shot. Otherwise, they had wanted a big name artist to write something to help hype the game. We delivered a pop ballad version of “I Am The One,” which I originally wrote in English, hence the English title, but Simon and his team decided they wanted to maintain Elvin as the primary language throughout. So I re-wrote the lyrics and put a Celtic spin on the melody while Inon re-orchestrated the track, and voila! It stuck.
Dragon Age: Origins’ soundtrack, and in particular the ethereal beauty “I Am The One” has been nominated and won several awards. How do you feel about that, and the recognition your work is now being given?
It’s fantastic and uplifting. The success of Dragon Age has given me the industry visibility I’ve been hoping for, for a very long time. It’s quite validating. I’m especially honored to have had the opportunity to collaborate with Inon, seeing as how he’s somewhat of an untouchable megastar in the world of games. He gave me this chance and I’m proud I could deliver.
In many of the songs you’ve performed, you’re not recording in English and sometimes it seems in Idioglossia. How does that effect your vocal delivery. Does it give you more freedom to express yourself and give your own emotional delivery and impact?
You’re right. Although the songs in Dragon Age are technically written in Elvin, there are moments where singability was an issue so I/we modified the necessary phrase or word. The opening theme however, is a culmination of Gaelic, Latin and Elvin. Believe it or not, there is a serious Elvin speaking public out there that’s always paying attention and I’ve since learned that this language created by J.R.R. Tolkien, is also taught at Oxford University. On other games however, I’ve sung my fair share of vowel-based melodies and I’ve come to prefer singing outside the sphere of recognizable language. I’ve come up with my own explanation as to why I can emotionally connect more easily within an idiosyncratic text: I’m extremely word driven and it’s hard for the analytical part of my mind to disengage, to allow the right-brain to lead in the feeling of the performance, but with non-verbal phrases my creative emotional self can appear.
You got to perform in Sydney with the Eminence Orchestra. That must have been incredible to perform live with an orchestra!
Yes, a live orchestra is the best support group out there for singers J It was a thrilling experience and it goes to show you that as energetic beings, we can create such power when aligned along a common point of focus. Rehearsals were frantic and not so assuring at times, but by the time the lights went up, everything fell into place nicely. Hiroaki Yura pulled off a fantastic concert as the manager and lead violinist of the Eminence Orchestra. I was honored to play a part.
You’ve also been busy with Alice in Wonderland which is only just being released. Tell us about that project.
Alice In Wonderland was a great project to be associated with because I’ve always loved the classic tale and Disney really went all out to re-create it. I can barely get the words out of my mouth when telling people that I sang on Alice In Wonderland.. “the game,” before they say “THE MOVIE?”. Richard Jacques was the composer on the project and Inon had introduced me to him in fact, at last year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Richard was really impressed with the work I did on Dragon Age and although he is based in London and I’m in LA, he simply hired a local engineer (John Rodd) to record me. Richard wanted a spooky smooth sound that would bring the Danny Elfman-esque theme to life. We communicated via Skype for feedback and direction. Once I recorded the main melody, we sent it over to Richard via digital delivery so that he could listen back and sign off, and we could move on. It went really well and I think that was officially my first time working in that manner.
You also don’t just perform for soundtracks, but also have your own solo work too. “Sleeping Virtue” is completely different to most of your game music compositions as its contemporary pop/rock hybrid. How did your first solo album come about and hows your second album coming along?
A: Sleeping Virtue was written over a four-year period and that’s why its such an eclectic mix of songs, that, and my influences are widespread. They include Sarah McLachlan, Sade, Sting, Alanis Moressette and Michael Franks to name a few. Each song that made it to print came about in a unique way, whether at the piano, or the guitar or from a lyric. It was mainly a developmental record intended to be a calling card for record labels, however, it was dwarfed by the impact of 9/11 and the down turn of the music industry. My producer and co-writer, Jerry Merrill, and I had no choice but to release it independently under his start-up label Gaston Records in 2003. That was about the time when more and more indie artists were using online tools to self-promote and sell their music and the idea of needing a label to get their material to fans, was a fading reality. Songs from the record have been selling steadily for the last couple years, since my recent success in games.
With regard to album #2, I have a handful of songs written and recorded and I hope to claim more time for writing as soon as I am able. I’m also on the hunt for a producer/co-writer at the moment.
What’s next in the line for Aubrey Ashburn that you can tell us about?
Well, I’m happy to announce I’m officially represented by The Max Steiner Agency as of March of this year! Other than the work I did for the DLC iterations for Dragon Age which have recently released, I’m currently working on several major projects to be announced. I feel certain that fans will be happy to hear what’s in store for the next 1-2 years.
We wish Aubrey massive success with her fantastic voice and songwriting ability.