Xopher Reed

WPR Interviews – The Minibosses

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When someone asks me what fills up most of the space on my iPod (hey, it happens…I work with real nosy people), they’re usually shocked to learn that a good 40% of what I listen to is either videogame music or covers of videogame music. One such group that I’m proud to support and listen to is The Minibosses. Lucky for me, I’ve got this here website and access to cool people like the four chaps who comprise one of the most badass NES cover bands to come into existence.

We got a chance to sit down with one of The Minibosses’ founding members and guitar players, Aaron Burke, and had the following conversation:

WatchPlayRead: Aaron, I’ve gotta say, I’m a huge fan. You guys are near the top of the list as favorite bands go especially after the release of your second album a few weeks ago. I gotta ask, how does it feel to finally get Brass 2 out into the world?

Aaron Burke: It feels great. We really didn’t mean for there to be a 6 year gap between albums but, without getting too much into it, there were a lot of obstacles that popped up. So yeah, it feels nice…especially since we’re really proud of it and it was definitely the funnest studio experience we’ve had.

WPR: I noticed on the album that you’ve included one of my all-time favorite game soundtracks from Batman, the old SunSoft version that took *ahem* liberties with the movie’s storyline but was an awesome game. Did you EVER get the hang of the triangle jump?

AB: You know I’d like to say that I did, and maybe I did, but I can’t remember. Yeah that would have made a pretty messed-up movie if the movie had been the game huh. I think the last boss was Firefly? And I remember you don’t even fight the Joker, you just kill him in a cutscene or something. WTF.

WPR: I’m sure you get asked this all of the time, but what was it that made you say “Eff the Jenova Project, I’m going to do NES covers and call the group The Minibosses”?

AB: Well, certain things just happened as they always do in life, some of us moved etc etc, and the four of us couldn’t play together anymore because of location. But the idea to only play nes music had been festering for some time before JP broke up. Believe me I’d love to be doing both, I really had a great time in JP, it was fun and everyone involved in both JP incarnations it is a great friend. Second incarnation will still play here and there…last time we played was at the minibosses’ 10th anniversary show I think?

WPR: As I recall, the first time that I got an earful of your guys’ music was as opening music/return from break song on a podcast called The Video Games Show back in 2004, this was about the time that you guys were putting out your first EP Minibosses and your Live at the Middle East album…both of which have received HEAVY rotation on my playlists. If you would, could you discuss how it was to be one of the first successful videogame cover bands out there? How hard was it to get call up clubs and get booked, have you guys ever run into trouble trying to explain your act to the venues you’ve played?

AB: Hahaha, in the early days maybe a little. Nowadays with Power Rock Anthem and everything else, you can really get away with anything and no club cares what you are doing, just how many people will come see you do it. Not to say that it hasn’t always been like that, because it has, but back then I think clubs and promoters and the like had seen a little less…craziness. Every so often we will still be approached by someone after one of our shows who wants to know how we settled on our particular style of prog-rock or what have you, and then we explain it all and that person is usually left flabbergasted.

WPR: Once geek culture picked up on you guys, it had to be awesome. Now you can be seen at many of the big national cons, especially Penny-Arcade Expo in Seattle (which I sadly missed the last couple of years)…what’s it like to climb up on stage and feel that kind of love from your fellow game geeks?

AB: It’s an amazing feeling…especially at gamer cons like PAX or MAGFest (Music and Gaming Fest). I still get stage-fright from time to time, so it’s very scary sometimes to start a set in front of a lot of folks. It’s nice though…I actually really enjoy getting stage-fright when it happens. It’s terrifying, and it’s rare you get to feel something like that where you can’t do anything but just confront it. Pretty fun.

WPR: You’ll have to forgive me, I haven’t checked the site in depth in a while, but you used to have a FAQ and that I believe had a question along the lines of “What is your inspiration?” and you very simply had a picture of an original NES. Were all of you around during the NES heyday and if so, what would you say were your fondest memories of that system?

AB: Hahaha, I believe that pic is still up but like you I haven’t checked the site in a while so I’m not entirely sure either. Oh yeah, we were around!! We’re all in our low to mid 30s so we were around. My fondest memories from that era were – unwrapping it at xmas (I can still remember the wrapping paper and the feeling of tearing it to shreds), playing The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Kid Icarus, Wizards and Warriors, Super Mario Bros 2 and 3, playing those and many other games for just hours. Oh, and Nintendo Power. The days those early issues would arrive were seriously like crack. I would pore over the maps and read it front to back several times immediately. Ah those were the good ol’ days…

WPR: I recall my NES years were filled with me hooking the audio out from the NES into my tapedeck so I could record various songs to listen to later with my walkman (jeez, my age is showing). I guess what I’m trying to get at is this: How bad of a videogame geek were you as a child?

AB: Hah, that was too much work for me so I just held up a walkman to the speakers of the TV. Pretty funny. I can’t find any of those old tapes though!! I’d pay any amount of money for them now. Pretty sure in some of them you could hear me singing along or my mom telling me to do my homework.

WPR: The music that you guys create isn’t readily available with tabs or sheet music, what is the process that you guys go through to take something from 8-bit to real world audio?

AB: Back in the day we used the emulator Nesticle to isolate all the tracks and we learned them that way. That was a pain in the ass but it worked. These days it’s so much simpler, you just download the nsf file, play it with winamp and an nsf plugin like NotSoFatso, and voila you’re golden.

After everyone’s learned their individual parts we’ll come together and play the piece together until it’s more or less tight, then if we’re fitting it into a medley we’ll move on to the next piece. When all the pieces are ready we’ll throw them together in some sort of medley, taking ideas from everyone and maybe playing through several combos until we’ve got something workable. Then like any other band we’ll just practice the bejesus out of the finished product until it’s presentable. Presentable is very subjective though. Hahaha.

WPR: While we’re on the technical aspect of the music, what gear do you guys all like playing on, inquiring minds wish to know!

AB: Well, we’ve been called the MoochieBosses before, and that’s for good reason. We’ve got a multitude of amps and guitars that we use and we don’t always stick to the same setup, and a lot of times we will even play on borrowed or rented gear. I know that doesn’t help anyone out hahaha but we really do use whatever’s readily available and what will work. I can tell you that on the recording of Brass 2 we played mainly Hagstrom II guitars and mainly through modded JMP heads.

WPR: So what’s next for The Minibosses? A busy tour schedule for 2012? Anything lined up that you want to notify the world about?

AB: We’ll be playing MAGFest X in January, which is always amazing, and then we may take a little bit of time off since 2011 was pretty busy. We’ve got some other shows in the can but can’t really announce them yet.

WPR: We’ve seen that the Minibosses are MORE than able to do stuff that is not on the NES, especially after you did the Halo theme for PAX’s 2007 Omegathon. Is there any chance that we’ll see anything else like that in the future?

AB: Not sure yet…maybe. Hahaha. The NES list is so long though, it doesn’t look good. One-offs like the Halo theme are much more doable.

WPR: Aaron, it’s been a real pleasure, and before I go, can I make one or two requests? Strider and Codename Viper…that is all.

AB: Hah, Strider…I believe that’s on the list somewhere, but I think it’s down a fair ways. I don’t really remember the music to Codename Viper too much, but we’ll give it another listen :)

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