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“When the email came through, asking us to be in Life is Strange, I remember watching the scene [in Chloe’s bedroom] and reading about the game and thinking, ‘this is really cool’,” says singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Julia Stone, one half of Australian sibling duo, Angus & Julia Stone.
One of the most iconic scenes in the first Life is Strange game – a scene loaded with nostalgia, uncertainty, and the languishing prospect of an early romance – was accompanied by Angus & Julia Stone’s Santa Monica Dream. The song is a perfect fit for the scene; at once reminiscent and resigned to a future yet to come. The perfect fit for a reflective story with time travel in its blood, then.
“When we agreed to license our song to the game, it felt right. But it just felt like saying yes to another project. It wasn’t until about a year after the game had come out that we started having people coming up to us at our shows and saying ‘we found out about you from Life is Strange’. And Angus and I agree, they are always such lovely people.”
Life is Strange as a series has attracted a very loyal and wholesome community. Whether it’s because of the way the developers that work on the game consciously go out of their way to do right by the LGBTQ+ community or because the stories the games tell resonate with so many people battling to keep their heads above water in today’s world, one thing remains the same about the series’ fans: they’re a devastatingly wholesome bunch.
“In a year’s time, once the game is out and we’re touring again, I hope I get to play shows so I get to get to engage with Life is Strange fans again,” says Stone. “When people were singing the words to a song with you, that’s when you could tell people understood it. When I saw people in the audience with a tear rolling down their cheek, or people who would wait to tell you a story about something that had happened for them, and how the music had been a part of that – that their experience of playing the game had been part of that – you can tell a song has connected.”
It’s that innate empathy – empathy she believes exists in all humans – that Stone has leveraged to help create the music for Life is Strange: True Colors. And why not? After all, the core conceit of the game is that new protagonist Alex Chen has empathy at a superhuman level. Though sometimes a gift, it’s often a curse; when you let someone’s emotional turmoil spill over into your life, it can very easily threaten to overwhelm you, smash your personal boundaries and leave you in crisis yourself.
“We both resonated with Alex’s struggle with herself, and accepting herself, and accepting her differences,” Stone says to us. “The way we worked on this was that we would get sent pieces of her story, and watch moments of Alex’s journey as it was coming together, and we’d create the soundtrack as Deck Nine was building the game. And we started to see, in these little moments of her, that she struggled so much with this empathic side of herself, and how she’d have to manage and regulate her emotions, and how she feels like she has no home.
“I think it’s a real human experience to just not accept yourself, and to not be able to love who you are,” Stone explains. “I think we all show up in our own unique ways because we all are very different and really unique, and our biggest challenge is just loving ourselves, the way that we are.”
Angus & Julia were drawn into her character and into the journey Alex was going through in Haven Springs quite quickly. Though sometimes deadlines could be tight (a creative challenge the siblings enjoyed solving), the duo managed to reflect on the internal struggles Alex faces throughout the events of the whole game to compose a selection of complex and emotional tracks that are designed to move in step with Alex, and add depth to the emotions she’s feeling at any given time.
“I honestly felt that we were scoring for a film,” Stone recalls, “because we weren’t playing the game and then making music for it, we were being given these zen moments. Whether it’s Alex’s brother’s funeral or the moment when she’s sitting on the dock making big decisions, we were making music for these pivotal moments of choice and reflection – these were the moments we were given, and they were so filmic!”
To date, the Life is Strange series has been lauded for its soundtrack by just about everyone that’s played it. Finding a harmonious balance of original ambient music and well-timed licensed tracks, the developers at both Dontnod and Deck Nine have routinely inspired the game-playing audience to discover new (usually alternative or indie) talent. Whether it’s Angus & Julia Stone, Daughter, Sufjan Stevens, Mogwai, alt-J or any of the other acts that can trace at least a portion of their fan bases back to Life is Strange, the series has proved that licensing music for games is just as important – and emotionally viable – as in cinema.
“I took a trip to Colorado for a few days to understand a bit better how the game was being created,” says Stone when talking about the process of scoring a cinematic (yet interactive) experience like Life is Strange: Two Colors. “When I got to the studio, I met the developers and actors for the game – who were just the loveliest people – and we had dinner and we talked about the game a lot.
“Erika Mori, the actress who plays Alex, she was just so beautiful in the way she was articulating why she was so drawn to the project and why she thought it was an incredible thing to be putting into the world. There are so many games out there that are fast-paced, winning-focused, violent, and competitive, and here was this group of people trying to make something that’s going to make the world a better place, and hearing this team be so grounded and focused with their ambition to be something nice… it was a privilege to meet them.”
From what could have been a forgettable moment in a videogame that came and went without a second thought to a whole dedicated album and full game soundtrack, it’s safe to say being involved with Life is Strange and Life is Strange: True Colors has been transformative – to some degree – for Angus & Julia Stone. Whether it’s been in learning more about games and their relationship with music, or attracting an earnest new set of fans, ever since a new audience first heard the siblings’ talent in Chloe’s bedroom, Angus & Julia have been spiritually intertwined with Dontnod and Deck Nine.
“It feels like it’s come full circle for us,” Stone says. “From the original Santa Monica Dream moment to this new incarnation of the game, this really feels thematically right for us. The game and the series just resonate with those who have the sweetest and most wonderful temperaments. And I feel it’s such a privilege to be asked to be involved in this, and I hope our music furthers the game.”