Interview with Malukah – The Elder Scrolls Online and Beyond
Recently, Zenimax Online Studios announced information regarding the soundtrack for The Elder Scrolls Online. We were ecstatic to see that our good friend Malukah had the opportunity to lend her amazing musical talent to the soundtrack.
After releasing her cover of the popular Skyrim bard song “The Dragonborn Comes,” Malukah became a well-known name to video game fans everywhere. That cover currently has over 11 million views (with over eight million also on IGN’s video reposting as well)! She has since released covers from other games, wrote and released a few original compositions and has even performed live at the Halo 4 Championships at last year’s PAX Prime.
Malukah was gracious enough to sit down and answer a few questions for us about her massive success and quick rise to fame, both on YouTube and The Elder Scrolls Online, and she even mentioned some other projects she currently has in the works.
Joseph Bradford – QGN/ESOTR: First of all, how are you doing right now?
Malukah: I’m doing great, thank you for asking!
Bradford: When you recorded The Dragonborn Comes, did you ever think that you’d end up actually recording music for an Elder Scrolls Game?
Malukah: Not at all. I think my mind is still catching up to what happened. It’s amazing that ZeniMax Online Studios trusted me with this opportunity, and it was an incredible learning experience.
Bradford: What was the process like recording for ESO? Did you write the music, and if so, what was the inspiration behind the songs?
Malukah: Yes, I did compose the music for the songs!
The composing process for the bard songs started with making a selection from several poems and texts written by the ESO Writing Team. For me, this was a different way to compose because I am used to writing lyrics to melody, and not melody to lyrics. I wondered if it would be extra challenging…
After the first read-through, I felt so happy because the poems had such great rhythm, great rhymes, great stories… and I remember I started hearing melodies as I was going through them.
I was so inspired by the music we’ve all come to love from Elder Scrolls games. Specifically, the way I feel when I listen to the beautiful Skyrim bard songs by Jeremy Soule. I tried my best to find melodies and harmonies that reminded me of what his music makes me feel.
Once I had the songs figured out, I had to learn to play them on a lute and record them. The vocals were recorded with a natural approach, rather than the reverb-heavy approach that I use in YouTube videos. I don’t think they have reverb in Tamriel… Hehe! The songs were also recorded by several actors, as well as a professional lute player and flutist who recorded instrumental improvisations of these. I look forward to hearing these other performances in the game!
Bradford: How does your writing process work? How does Malukah take a subtle melodic idea and turn it into the masterpieces you’ve been releasing as of late?
Malukah: You are too kind! I think that when a melody is beautiful, no matter how simple or subtle it is, it can stand its ground… alone, with a guitar, with an orchestra. This is what I love most about melody, how “scalable” it can be. Building a context around a nice melody is the most fun part of arranging music for me. I like searching for counter melodies that complement, support, and enrich the original line. It’s important to build and layer just enough so that the original intent of the melody is not lost.
Bradford: Since The Dragonborn Comes, you have also done music for Mass Effect, Guild Wars 2 and most notably your song “Frozen Sleep” that Microsoft asked you to perform at the Halo 4 Championships last year. What was that experience like?
Malukah: Performing at PAX is something I’ll never forget. I suffer from stage fright, so this for me was a big challenge. It was live and broadcast on Xbox Live. I was so afraid when Microsoft called. My insecure side wanted to run, but people online have inspired me to face this fear. To not let it stop me. The folks from Microsoft and 343 that ran this event were awesome. I have so many good memories!
Bradford: You’ve not only done music for the upcoming Elder Scrolls Online, but recently you lent your voice to Austin Wintory’s amazing soundtrack for The Banner Saga, developed by Stoic Studio. How was that experience?
Malukah: The Banner Saga is a beautiful game, and the score is so moving. Recording vocals for it was an equally beautiful and moving experience. I felt very honored when Austin asked if I wanted to help co-write the lyrics for the end credits song “Onward.” They were written in English and then translated into Icelandic.
I’m a big fan of Austin’s music and he is such a wonderful, encouraging person. The soundtrack also features gorgeous violin solos performed by Taylor Davis (http://www.youtube.com/violintay) and powerful vocals by Peter Hollens (http://www.youtube.com/peterhollens). Taylor invited me to film a video for some of the music in the game. It was super fun to get to step out of the basement where I usually record. Haha! Filmmaker Landon Donoho actually flew to my home city of Monterrey so we could film my part in the video here.
Bradford: It has also been announced that you will be lending your talents, along with Peter Hollens, to Jeremy Soule’s classical work “The Northerner.” How did he approach you about being involved, and how has that been going?
Malukah: I’ll have to figure out a way to be able to sing in front of Jeremy Soule without having a panic attack. Wish me luck. Haha! It’s amazing of him to invite Peter and me to be a part of his first symphony! I can’t wait to record.
Bradford: On a personal level, you do one of the best renditions of Pippin’s Song from The Return of the King I have ever heard. What made you decide to move from just video game covers to doing songs from movie and television series?
Malukah: Thank you for saying that. 🙂 I think that from the beginning, my intention has been to cover music that I love; music that moves me, regardless of where it’s from. Much of this music comes from games since that’s where I spend most of my free time, but without a doubt soundtracks and songs for film/TV are also a great source of inspiration. Anything fantasy, medieval-ly, bard-y… I like. Hehe!
Bradford: If you could sum up all the well-deserved success you’ve had in one word, what would it be and why?
Malukah: Teamwork. Hmm… this sounds like a bullet point in a business presentation. Haha! Maybe, Community? None of this would have happened without the support all of you guys have shown for the music and arrangements I’ve shared. Without exception, the folks who have reached out to hire me have always complimented you… saying you are kind and so supportive. I am grateful for this. You make me feel fortunate every day.
Bradford: Anything in the works now you’d like to plug?
Malukah: Later this year, I’ll be doing some vocal work for composer Jimmy Hinson (Big Giant Circles) for a game called There Came An Echo, by Iridium Studios, starring Wil Wheaton. I’m looking forward to that! There are also plans for several more cover videos, of course.
Bradford: Thanks Malukah! I really appreciate you taking the time to answer these questions!
Malukah: Much love to you guys. You have been so supportive from the start. Thank you!