What do Endless Dungeon and True Detective have in common? On paper, very little. While the latter is a gritty HBO crime drama, Endless Dungeon is a sci-fi roguelike game about helping a group of heroes escape a monster-ridden space station. Yet both are united by the music of Nashville singer-songwriter Lera Lynn, whose folksy Americana uplifts any scene it’s in – whether that’s a frantic shootout with aliens, or Colin Farrell brooding over a cigarette.
Speaking to NME, Lynn acknowledges that her sound and Endless Dungeon‘s futuristic setting “don’t seem to go together” on paper. Yet dig beneath the surface, and her “cinematic” folk rock and Americana-tinged pop are a good match for the game’s “cosmic cowboy vibes”.
Additionally, developers at Endless Dungeon creator Amplitude were already fans of Lynn’s work – perhaps through True Detective, she suggests. When they approached her to make music for Endless Dungeon, keen to keep her “style and tonality intact,” she jumped in.
“I didn’t know a lot about the game [at first],” says Lynn. “We started on the music almost three years ago, while everything was still under development. But they gave me a general rundown of some folklore, and some of the different tones and moods they wanted to create with the songs – then cut me loose to do what I do.”
Four tracks have sprung from this collaboration, though only two of them have been released so far. The first, ‘Free Again’, is a beautiful yet haunting track about feeling trapped in a cycle. “Been walking this same dead ends / Dying this same death again and again,” sings Lynn – relatable to anyone going through a rough patch in life, while also describing Endless Dungeon‘s cycle of life and death to a tee.
Her second song ‘Garden’ is more upbeat and optimistic, but just as literal. “I used Endless Dungeon folklore as a scaffold to build the lyrics,” explains Lynn. “From there, I wanted to make sure that the listener would be able to relate to the songs, whether they were playing the game, or had no knowledge of the game whatsoever. So the lyrics are pretty literal in the context of the game, and while you’re playing you’ll understand everything, but it’s vague enough for a non-gamer to apply to regular life.”
It’s not just the lyrics that are accessible. Though this is Lynn’s first time creating music for a game, she approached it with the same philosophy she applies to making songs in film and TV.
“I’m an artist first,” she says. “I want to make sure that everything I’m involved in has a consistent thread as I don’t want to lose any fans. I’m always appealing to the people who have been standing by my heart for years and years.”
Working in games brought another unique challenge. In Endless Dungeon, players are sent back to the Saloon every time they die – a safe zone where they can upgrade heroes and weapons, chat with the space station’s residents, and listen to an in-game b and play Lynn’s music. As you play more of the game, more band members and instruments are unlocked for the Saloon, which means Lynn’s songs change as the game goes on. This made Endless Dungeon “such a complex assignment,” says Lynn, as Amplitude needed to be able to single out each musical element of her songs.
Though the character who sings these songs now resembles the musician, that nearly wasn’t the case. Lynn was originally pitched as a “mouthless octopus”, but it was “moved from lead singer to keyboard player” due to one small issue: it didn’t have a mouth to sing. “So we’ve settled on a character that looks similar to me, and we designed her apparel together,” she says.
Back in the real world, Lynn recently played some of Endless Dungeon’s music during a show at The Slaughtered Lamb in London – and with the game just weeks away from launching, Lynn is excited for players to hear the songs she’s spent years working on.
“You grow to hate anything when you’ve been working on it for a long time. You get tired of it, disgusted, embarrassed, ashamed, all of these things,” she says, laughing. “You lose sight of the initial inspiration. But [with] time, and space, and revisiting the songs recently to learn them for the show, I’m proud of them. I can’t wait for people to hear them.”