Today marks the final interview about the sountrack to the classic game Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. After Cindy Gomez and Maryem Tollar I interviewed the composer Stuart Chatwood on how he created what has become a huge fan favorite in videogame soundtracks. Enjoy!
Retroplayer- First off, tell us a little about yourself, Stuart.
Stuart Chatwood- I was born in Lancashire, England, but I have lived in Canada most of my life. I began playing guitar and singing in rock bands in my early teens. A few bands later, my most successful band, The Tea Party was formed. We signed with EMI records in the early 90′s and made 8 records for them over 13 years. Towards the end of our tenure there, we played a few shows with orchestras, and I played a hand in arranging the music for these concerts, and I think I really got the composer bug after that.
Stuart Chatwood- Simon Pressey, a good friend of mine that helped produce Alhambra, a world music inspired EP for the Tea Party contacted me out of the blue to see if I was interested in pitching for Prince of Persia Sands of Time. Simon worked at Ubisoft and he knew that I played a slew of exotic instruments and that I had toured to exotic locales like Turkey and Morocco. Ubisoft had about 20 different top composers pitch for the job, and they liked what I pitched and we went forward from there.
Retroplayer- Stuart, to many you’re best known as the bass guitar and keyboard player from the band The Tea Party. How different is composing for a videogame compared to regular music?
Stuart Chatwood- In the music world, you are writing pieces that are meant to stand on their own. In the composing/video game world, you are normally supporting and reinforcing the content and emotion of the visuals. Both are collaborative, but the dynamic within a band is more of a peer to peer situation, whereas when you are working with the game companies, in some ways you are bringing someone’s dream to reality, and that someone is a team of producers from the company, so as a result, you have to perhaps, be a little more understanding and work with your collaborators more. Ultimately the end result is to please the audience in both fields.
Retroplayer- Creatively what were you going for with the soundtrack?
Stuart Chatwood- With the Tea Party, we took great pride in exposing western people to eastern sounds, and I wanted to bring that to these soundtracks. Often people are turned off by eastern melodies due to their unfamiliarity with the scales and the sounds. Knowing what I know about the power and majesty of music from this part of the world, I felt it was my job to bring beautiful, memorable melodies to people that might not normally be exposed to them.
Retroplayer- While composing for the game did the developers work closely with you on how they wanted it to sound or did they give you free reign to do what you wanted?
Stuart Chatwood- It’s a bit of a mix really, however, I would have to say that I had more free reign on this game than any of the subsequent Prince of Persia games. Luckily, the developers and myself saw eye to eye on the Sands of Time. Simon Pressey and Jonathon Pilon at Ubisoft worked with me and provided excellent feedback and direction where needed. This is not always the case. For example, on the second game, “The Warrior Within”, the developers, or should I say, the marketing side of the company chased a hard rock influence, including licensing commercial tracks. I did not feel this fit the aura of the game, but the bottom line is that it is their game, and they’ll get the soundtrack they want. You can voice your opinion, but sometimes, the voice of the composer is not a concern to developers.
Retroplayer- Is there any particular movie or other videogame soundtracks that you used as inspiration while composing this game?
Stuart Chatwood- I looked mainly movies for inspiration. Some of the titles include Lawrence of Arabia, Black Hawk Down and the Last Temptation of Christ. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade was one of the classical pieces that inspired me as well.
Retroplayer- Tell us about the recording process. Was it a memorable experience?
Stuart Chatwood- The highlights were working with vocalists Maryem Tollar, Cindy Gomez and ney player Ernie Tollar. Ernie is an extremely gifted woodwind player that brought many of my cues to life. Jeff Martin from the Tea Party performed oud on a few of the cues and really brought out the human aspect of my melodies.
Retroplayer- Were you previously a fan of Maryem Tollars work and what do you think she brought to the project?
Stuart Chatwood- I was introduced to Maryem by Ritesh Das, the leader of the Toronto Tabla Ensmeble. Ritesh is a great spirit and a talented musician who highly recommended Maryem for her talent and background. Maryem spent quite a few years perfecting her vocal abilities at an academy in Egypt, and that experience really shone on this project. We actually wrote and translated lyrics to Arabic for the music. So often composers cut corners and use samples that they don’t understand, and at times contain lyrics that are completely unrelated.
Retroplayer- The track “Time Only Knows” has become a fan favorite. Did you work directly with Cindy Gomez and what was it like collaborating with her?
Stuart Chatwood- After I wrote the song, I had started working with Maryem first, but due to scheduling, I had to find another singer and a mutual friend hooked me up with Cindy. Cindy has a great multicultural background and beautiful character to her voice. Range is not an issue for her, so the session went really well. Cindy has since gone on to work with Dave Stewart amongst others. I expect big things from her in the years to come.
Stuart Chatwood- I’ve been playing games since I was a kid. I grew up on the Atari 2600 and spent a fair amount of time in arcades, so I come to gaming with a long term grasp of the role of music. I’ve been a big fan of Gran Turismo, GTA, Prince of Persia, and FIFA amongst others in recent years.
Retroplayer- How would you like Prince of Persia- The Sands of Time to be remembered?
Stuart Chatwood- I am quite happy with the way it is remembered right now. People tend to look on it as a giant step forward in video game play and I’m glad my music played a big role in that. People often quote the music as their favorite in the series. I am continually blown away by the fan appreciation on sites like YouTube.
Retroplayer- What’s up next for you?
Stuart Chatwood- I have record called “Uncommon Folk” coming out in the fall. It’s American folk music done in an ambient style with different celebrity vocalists including Jakob Dylan, Glen Campbell, Mavis Staples, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Robin Zander of Cheap Trick and many others. It’s a bit of a departure for me, but the experience in putting together the ambient music in the Prince of Persia games definitely helped.
I want to thank Stuart for taking part in this interview. His work on the game really does stand out to me as one of the best videogame soundtracks to date. It’s not too often that a soundtrack sweeps you off your feet with its orginality but for me, and apparently many many others, The Sands of Time did just that. Here’s to Cindy, Maryem and Stuart. In a perfect world they would have worked on the movie and the new game but we’ll always have The Sands of Time to remind us of their genius.