And he oughta; the prolific composer has penned music for more than 250 titles — and arranged dozens more for his high-tech symphonic-rock extravaganza Video Games Live.
“My two greatest passions growing up were always video games and music,” recalls the 43-year-old musician from his home in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. “This allows me to put them together with a symphonic performance. I like to say Video Games Live has all the power and emotion of a symphony, combined with the energy and excitement of a concert, mixed with the technology, interactivity and fun of video games. Plus I get to go onstage, play guitar and rock out.”
Rocking out actually runs in Tallarico’s family; his first cousin is singer Steven Tallarico. You might know him as Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and American Idol. But neither of them can match the bombastic spectacle of VGL, which features a full orchestra, giant video screens, costumed characters and lasers.
With Tallarico and co. powering up for another Canadian tour this month, he filled me in on his nerdy roots, cousin Steven and why Beethoven might be writing for World of Warcraft.
Did you always want to be a video game composer?
Well, there was no such thing as a video game composer when I was growing up in the ’70s. But when I was 10 years old, I used to get my dad’s big old cassette player and take it down to the arcade and record all my favourite video game music. And I would record the sound of the games on my home systems — my Commodore 64, my Apple II, my Intellivision and my Atari. I would splice it all together and invite my friends over and charge them a nickel to watch me jump up in front of the TV with my favourite video games behind me and play along with the tape.
So you found a way to make video games even nerdier.
I know (laughs). It’s hard to believe.
Is your career just revenge on your parents for telling you to stop wasting time playing games?
No, they were really supportive. They really encouraged it. I would play Intellivision for hours with my mom, and my dad always took me to the arcade. They were just as addicted as I was. But my mom still says to me to this day: ‘When are you going to get a real job?’
Are there different challenges and rewards to scoring a video game versus a film?
Absolutely. The differences are massive. Films and television are about telling a story through words. When you score a film, you’re scoring underneath people talking. You’ll get one or two action scenes and the big main title theme — any composer will tell you that’s their favourite part, because the music is out front — but for the most part, film music is background music. But with video games, you get to write an action scene for every level. I call what we do foreground music. If you go see a movie and then watch it again on DVD, you’ve heard the music twice, and 80% of it was being talked over. But with a video game, people are playing 20 or 30 hours a week and the music is constantly being blasted. That’s why I think that if Beethoven were alive today, he’d be a video game composer. He wouldn’t be a film composer. He wouldn’t want people talking over his music.
What was it like growing up with Steven Tyler as a cousin?
Well, he was always on the road. But I would see him every couple of years. We would go backstage at Aerosmith shows or I’d sit at the side of the stage. For me it was always an inspiration. Even as a kid, I never doubted music was something I could do. If cousin Steven is doing it, I can do it. Most people think it’s unattainable. To me it was just a really cool job.
Was he also an example of what not to do at times?
Absolutely. I’ve never drunk alcohol or taken drugs. I’ve never even smoked. I don’t know if that’s due to him, but I can remember times in the late ’70s when I was backstage and he was quite frankly zonked out on stuff. And it scared me. I’ve never touched that stuff. And I’m proud to say that.
How do you think he’s doing on American Idol?
I never watched it before this year, so I have nothing to compare it to. And maybe I’m completely biased, but I think Steven’s stealing the show. But that’s just Steven. He’s not putting on an act. Steven Tyler — or Steven Tallarico, as I call him — is a guy who loves being famous. He loves the fans. He appreciates it every single day.