An Americana Hymnal For The Doomsday Cult Of 'Far Cry 5'

Mar 27, 2018
Originally published on March 28, 2018 12:11 pm

Award-winning composer Dan Romer is best known for scoring TV shows and films like Beasts Of The Southern Wild and Beasts Of No Nation. Recently, his career took a turn from movies to video games. He's written the music for the latest installment in the popular series Far Cry.

Far Cry 5 is a first-person shooter game, set in rural Montana. You're a sheriff's deputy, out to get the leader of a murderous doomsday cult. As you move through the game, the cult's hymns play through loudspeakers and car radios.

In total, Romer wrote almost five hours of music for this game.

"It's all kind of centered around Americana music," he says, "... like, banjos, mandolins, fiddles, accordions, those kind of American folk instruments, but then supported by super-aggressive electronic and organic percussion."


Interview Highlights

On writing full songs for a video game

So the game revolves around a fictional cult, and they gave me a copy of the cult's bible. They wrote a bible for the cult — yeah. And they gave it to me, and they're like, "Absorb this. We want 10 songs that they would sing as their hymns." So these are songs that are used for two things by the cult. They're for brainwashing purposes and recruitment purposes. And so I was trying to write songs that would make you want to join this cult, not saying they would be like, "This cult is so evil, we're so bad." These are meant to be real-world, like, "Hey, check out how great it is over here. We all love each other. The rest of the world is so horrible," you know?

One of the most harrowing and poetic things in their bible was the idea of "The Great Collapse." And I have a song that I wrote about that. It's called "We Will Rise Again."

On making beautiful music about a murderous, apocalyptic cult

I mean, I wanted to make songs that make you want to join this cult and make you want to have this family. I wanted to make these songs relatable, and I wanted to make this cult feel realistic. If all the songs were like, "We're a cult and we do terrible things to people," then I'm not joining this cult. That's crazy. But if they're like, you know, if they're singing about love and family, I mean you're like, "This sounds great. The world has gotten so strange."

On if it's challenging writing music for video games because of all of the ways they could unfold

Not really, because it's loop-based, so you know, the decisions are kind of like, "Well, if this happens, this loop happens. If this loop happens, this loop happens." The difficulties are different difficulties than scoring a film. I mean, you're sort of freed when you're scoring a video game by the fact that you don't have to adhere to exact moments. And it's nice to be able to have that freedom of when you're making a big combat loop, you're like, "There can be anything that happens as long as it just stays super aggressive."

On if video games have become a space for composers to create music that's taken seriously

I mean, there's tons of film composers going into video game composing at this point for sure. Video games are getting more and more like movies. TV shows are getting more and more like movies, you know? I mean, we're demanding as we go, a higher caliber of storytelling and a higher caliber of production. And so, who knows how long we go before there's no real difference between those three things.

Kat Lonsdorf and Jessica Deahl produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Sydnee Monday and Patrick Jarenwattananon adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAN ROMER'S "NOW THAT THIS OLD WORLD IS ENDING")

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The award-winning composer Dan Romer is best known for scoring TV shows and films like "Beasts Of The Southern Wild." Recently his career took a turn from movies to video games. He's written the music for the latest installment in the popular game series "Far Cry."

(SOUNDBITE OF DAN ROMER'S "NOW THAT THIS OLD WORLD IS ENDING")

SHAPIRO: "Far Cry 5" is a first-person shooter game set in rural Montana. You are a sheriff's deputy hunting the leader of a murderous doomsday cult. As you move through the game, the cult's hymns play through loudspeakers and car radios. In total, Dan Romer told me he wrote about five hours of music for this game.

DAN ROMER: It's all kind of centered around Americana music. It's all kind of centered around, like, banjos, mandolins, fiddles, accordions, those kind of, like, you know, American folk instruments but then kind of supported by super aggressive electronic and organic percussion.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SHAPIRO: And apart from all of the background music that plays when you're on a menu or when you're working your way through the game, you wrote a bunch of songs with a beginning, middle and end, verse, chorus. That seems unusual for a video game.

ROMER: Sure. So the game revolves around a fictional cult. And they gave me a copy of the cult's Bible.

SHAPIRO: They actually wrote a bible for this cult.

ROMER: They wrote a bible for the cult, yeah. And they gave it to me. And they're like, absorb this. We want 10 songs that they would sing as their hymns.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH JOHN")

CHARLIE MTN.: (Singing) Come brothers, and come sisters. Come weary, and come strong. Come meet the man who reaps the land on which we walk upon. The time has come...

ROMER: So these are songs that are used for two things by the cult. They're for brainwashing purposes and recruitment purposes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OH JOHN")

CHARLIE MTN.: (Singing) Oh, John...

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #1: Oh, John.

CHARLIE MTN.: (Singing) ...Bold and brave. He's finding us a family. He's teaching us to fend. Oh, John...

ROMER: These are meant to be real-world, like, hey, check out how great it is over here. We all love each other. The rest of the world is so horrible, you know?

SHAPIRO: Can you tell us a phrase that came from that fictional cult bible that you incorporated into one of these songs?

ROMER: One of the most harrowing and poetic things in their Bible was the idea of the great collapse. And I have a song that I wrote about that. It's called "We Will Rise Again."

SHAPIRO: Ok. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE WILL RISE AGAIN")

MEREDITH GODREAU: (Singing) Oh, Lord, the great collapse won't be our end. When the world falls into the flames, we will rise again. We will rise...

SHAPIRO: I mean, the thing about so many of these songs is even though they come from a murderous apocalyptic cult, they're just really pretty.

ROMER: Oh, thank you so much. That's very kind of you.

SHAPIRO: But it's weird to hear these lyrics about apocalypse that just sound like they're coming from some beautiful folk singer.

ROMER: Yeah. That's Meredith Godreau. She's amazing. I love her voice so, so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE WILL RISE AGAIN")

GODREAU: (Singing) Let the chaos come. Let our houses freeze.

ROMER: I wanted to make songs that make you want to join this cult and make you want to have this family. I wanted to make these songs relatable. And I wanted to make this cult feel realistic. If all the songs were like, (singing) we're a cult, and we do terrible things to people...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

ROMER: ...You'd be like, I'm not joining this cult. That's crazy. But if they're like - you know, if they're singing about love and family, I mean, you're like, this sounds great. My - the world has gotten so strange.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HELP ME FAITH (CHOIR VERSION)")

THE HOPE COUNTY CHOIR: (Singing) Help me, faith. Help me, faith. Shield me from sorrow, from fear of tomorrow. Help me, faith.

SHAPIRO: How many musicians did you work with on this? There are so many different singers, choirs, instrumentalists.

ROMER: The singers - I think I had eight lead singers. I had one do two songs and then I did one song.

SHAPIRO: Which song did you do?

ROMER: I sang the song "Let The Water Wash Away Your Sins."

(SOUNDBITE OF DAN ROMER SONG, "LET THE WATER WASH AWAY YOUR SINS")

SHAPIRO: How'd you pick that one for yourself?

ROMER: You know, it was the one where I felt like I wouldn't get anybody to sing it exactly the way I wanted it to be sung. It's very dramatic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET THE WATER WASH AWAY YOUR SINS")

ROMER: (Singing) If your soul has grown weary and your heart feels tired...

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: (Singing) Let the water wash away your sins.

ROMER: (Singing) And if the snow begins to fall and you can't find the fire...

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS #2: (Singing) Let the water wash away your sins.

ROMER: I don't know. I felt like it was the kind of thing where I just - I kind of had it in the back of my head I wanted to sing one song.

SHAPIRO: This is your moment to be a cult leader in your own mind.

ROMER: (Laughter) Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET THE WATER WASH AWAY YOUR SINS")

ROMER: (Singing) All right, let the water wash away your sins. Let the water wash away your sins. Now that this old world is ending, a new one begins. Let the water wash away your sins.

SHAPIRO: You just recently plugged into composing for video games. Is this something that a lot of people who score films and TV shows are doing now? Has this become a space for legitimate composers to create music that people take seriously?

ROMER: For sure. I mean, there's tons of film composers going into video game composing at this point for sure. Video games are getting more and more like movies. TV shows are getting more and more like movies. You know, I mean, we're demanding as we go a higher caliber of storytelling and a higher caliber of production. And so who knows how long we go before there's no real difference between those three things?

SHAPIRO: Well, Dan Romer, thanks so much for talking with us today.

ROMER: Thanks so much for having me, Ari.

SHAPIRO: He is the composer for "Far Cry 5."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing) Build it higher than the... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.