You can try to survive the chaos of Black Friday from your own couch now that Dead Rising 4 is available for the Xbox One and Windows 10 from Capcom, but the crowds Frank West faces are more interested in his flesh than the great deals at the Willamette mall. Injecting holiday cheer and palpable fear into the new Dead Rising game's soundtrack is Oleksa Lozowchuk, and we caught up with the composer and soundtrack producer for our latest Q&A feature.
Thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for us, Oleksa. You’ve created music for the Dead Rising franchise in the realms of video games and film. How do you balance bringing something new to the table while building upon the music that you’ve already created for the franchise?
Oleksa Lozowchuk: That’s a great question. A lot of it comes down to instinct. You try to guide the music in a direction that best enhances each subsequent project. The one thing common to both worlds is humanity—in both the living and the dead. In the video game world of DR, the user truly experiences visceral encounters with zombies (sometimes hilarious, sometimes frightening), so my focus tends to be on contouring these moments, providing ear candy to keep the user interested as they sandbox through the world; and then throwing them a curveball, from time to time, to reset their expectations. Whereas in film, the DR music sets the emotional trajectory of the film’s characters, tone, and the film’s overall pacing of action/survival during a zombie outbreak. Therefore, the primary focus of music in the film is to telegraph an emotion, an undercurrent or subtext for the main characters’ journeys or encounters shown on-screen.
In terms of building upon the musical foundation, I try to incorporate thematic elements from previous games. Sometimes I reimagine a main theme, other times, I’ll use a segment, a pattern, or even just a couple of notes from a previous theme, just to have continuity with the next point of departure. I also focus on what is archetypal about certain types of music in previous iterations. For example, on DR1, the main loading screen music defined the tone of the game—its unique eerie drone gave the DR experience a true emotional bookend.
So on each subsequent title, I continued this model, customizing each of the games’ loading screen cues. On DR4, I still used a dissonant creepy drone, like DR1–3, but this time, the notes of the clusters came from our new main theme, and were juxtaposed with a childlike Christmas/sparkly feel to make it even creepier. On DR2–DR4, I also expanded the role of music to set the stage and the tone by creating unique songs for the game intro/ending credit sequences. Some examples include "Kill The Sound – DR2"; "Please Remember My Name – DR3" and "Coldest Time of Year – DR4."
Dead Rising 4 brings Frank West back to the zombified front lines. Did you take special care to give the iconic character his own musical flair this time around?
Oleksa Lozowchuk: Yes, Frank is integral to the Dead Rising franchise. Fans love him, so I made sure I paid homage to that history. In fact, I pay special attention to all iconic characters of the franchise. For example, on DR2: Off the Record, I brought back Lifeseeker, a fan favorite artist from DR1’s Convicts battle, to work with me on an ending credit song "His Name’s Frank." On DR4, I used Frank’s main theme from Dead Rising 1, but created a variation of it, and instead of using the rhythmic/orchestral early ’90s Miami Vice sound from DR1, I replaced it with a modern string orchestra and piano on DR4, but Frank’s main motif is still there. This time, I just expanded it, and gave it a part B to incorporate more of the investigative/mystery involved in Frank’s latest journey in Willamette.
I also made sure DR4's pause menu music had a lot of swagger. Frank was back in Willamette, he’d covered wars, and was all the wiser and more experienced, so it felt right to create jazzy Christmas music that mirrored Frank’s bravado. We arranged and recorded new renditions of classic holiday tunes, but with killer jazz quartets and big bands.
I also made sure that when Frank put on his exo-suit, the music would conjure feelings of limitless power. I used blasting single notes of brass, swelling orchestral percussion, and an almost battle cry-like sound to mark these moments. And, as the kill counter goes up while you’re in the exo-suit, we bring in more of Frank’s action theme to reinforce his sheer destructive power, whereas when he’s sandboxing with no exo-suit, the musical focus reverts to the threat around him: any enemy zombie.
This game takes place during the holidays at a shopping center, which can be a chaotic scene even without a zombie apocalypse. Did you incorporate a lot of holiday themes and sounds into your soundtrack?
Oleksa Lozowchuk: Yes, we wrote, arranged and made all new recordings of select classic Christmas songs that were in the public domain. I also penned many new songs for the game, including crooner tunes like "Oh Willamette," "Looking for Santa Claus," and "Jumping Joe The Jackal." We also recorded Muzak versions of the Christmas songs, specifically to play on playlists in the corridors of the Willamette Memorial Megaplex Mall. Many of the holiday tunes were used on the world radio stations in the game: LUB1060 AM (the Classic Christmas radio station) and WLD530AM (the Classic Country radio station).
We also recorded hours and hours of material with DJs broadcasting holiday music, PSAs, and call-ins from people in line for Black Friday at the mall. The broadcasts capture the time between the evening of Thanksgiving to the early morning of Black Friday, when the zombie outbreak occurs. We let the users toggle the two radio stations on/off when they drive certain vehicles in the world. This way, the holiday vibe literally fills the air and the streets of Willamette as you play Dead Rising 4. Hopefully, after the holidays are over, whenever you want a nostalgic pick-me-up halfway through the year, you can start up DR4 and conjure those festive emotions thanks, in part, to the soundtrack.
What types of instruments and sounds did you utilize to create the Dead Rising 4 soundtrack?
Oleksa Lozowchuk: For the zombie threat music, we created custom palettes of horror/eerie material from various recording sessions involving different orchestral setups. These included violin and prepared piano stabs, clusters of screeching atonal chords, hypnotic pulses played by basses, cellos, and violas, and low-end percussion. We also focused a lot on hearing the wood from the instruments, the rosin from bows, and the air that the musicians would push when playing in unison together, and from time to time, we’d also pitch certain recordings down 1–3 octaves, and use the orchestral instruments as musical sound design devices when appropriate.
For the holiday music we used a variety of instrument combos: a big band/pit orchestra, a jazz trio, two jazz quartets, a string quartet, a string orchestra, soloists (clarinet, accordion, trumpet, trombone, etc.) and tons of unique singers and crooners that had nostalgic charm to their voices.
For the Americana, we used guitars, banjos, mandolins, ukuleles, accordions, harmonicas, stand-up basses, fiddles, pedal steel guitars, Dobros, keyboards, but more importantly, we used old-sounding voices, unique country duos, and folk harmony singing to bring minstrel songs like "Old Dan Tucker" or "Oh Susanna" to life. Driving around in DR4 with a pickup truck in Willamette, listening to these types of songs playing on the radio just felt right.
How much creative collaboration did you have with Capcom and Microsoft on the soundtrack? Were you given a lot of freedom to really explore and create the music that you had in mind for the game?
Oleksa Lozowchuk: Yes, very much indeed. Capcom Vancouver gives me a lot of freedom to come up with the musical vision for the DR soundtracks. I’m very grateful, as it allows me to focus on creating unique and memorable music while keeping the quality bar very high. On DR4, I felt very strongly that we had to incorporate and feature the Christmas elements in the soundtrack right from the very start, to immerse the player in the setting. So I set off and wrote "Oh Willamette" as a golden-era Christmas crooner tune tailored to our setting, and to the swagger of our iconic hero, Frank. It helped set the tone for the rest of the Christmas music to come.
There was also lots of great creative collaboration. Later on in production, Bryce Cochrane, the executive producer, came to me looking for a track to use for our opening credit sequence. I pitched him the idea of doing a haunting version of "O Christmas Tree" with a string orchestra and a Bjork-like female vocalist. I knew we needed to create an emotional hook and connection between the user, Christmas, and Willamette from the start of the game. So, once I had the final picture cut, I scored it and came up with "The Coldest Time of Year," and then brought in Melissa Kaplan to bring the vocals to life. Microsoft loved the track and the animated intro sequence, and ended up using it as one of the main trailers leading up to the launch of the game.
Were you a big fan of zombies or holiday films growing up? Do you have any favorite zombie or holiday movies that influenced or inspired you while composing the music for Dead Rising 4?
Oleksa Lozowchuk: Who can forget the leg lamp in the ’80s A Christmas Story? Die Hard isn’t a zombie movie per say, but the panache and swagger of Bruce Willis definitely reminded me of Frank West in DR4. Michael Jackson’s "Thriller" video is still a classic. I would say, in terms of embodying horror, Matthew Barney’s "Cremaster Cycle" has always struck a visceral chord in me, but oddly enough, zombies themselves have actually taught me a lot about my own humanity. On DR3, I reflected on this with my game intro/requiem piece "Please Remember My Name." Whereas on DR4, the inspiration came mostly from thinking about the sheer panic and psychological intensity that would come from encounters with faster and fiercer zombies, so I drew from works by composers like Penderecki, Shostakovich, Hermann, and others that inspired a whole generation of horror/thriller scores.
Do you have a favorite musical moment that you’re excited for fans to experience in Dead Rising 4?
Oleksa Lozowchuk: The Evo Zombie music. The simplest image for me is: imagine dying cats falling through a blood red sky. Their music should make you panic and freak out. Also, I think driving certain vehicles with the two radio stations on should be a lot of fun—the contrast and paradox of driving through Willamette during an apocalyptic zombie outbreak while listening to Louis Armstrong, Patsy Cline, or Johnny Cash-sounding tracks usually puts a smile on people’s faces.
With the Dead Rising 4 Original Soundtrack now available digitally from Sumthing Else Music Works, what projects do you have on deck that you can tease, and where can our readers find you online?
Oleksa Lozowchuk: I just finished scoring another Café Royal commercial featuring Robbie Williams. It should be out in the New Year. I also have a couple more game and film projects on the go, but you’ll have to wait and see☺ Feel free to check out for updates at my website: www.tendershoot.com
To learn more about the Dead Rising 4 Original Soundtrack, visit: