The Tripod guys have been doing interviews all morning when I get to Trades Hall, so after a little discussion, we’re off to Totos Pizza House. They’re Melbourne locals, so it’s not surprising they know their way around the menu, or that they’re friendly with the waitresses. One Mexican pizza and a few Cokes later, we get stuck into the nitty gritty of their musical journey, what they’re watching and playing, and of course, their brand new show, This Gaming Life.
They’ve been around for a while now – Scod, Yon and Gatesy won $500 doing a scathing Oasis mash-up on Hey, Hey It’s Saturday in 1998, which they’ve clearly thought and talked about a lot. The “four chords” style mash-up song is almost a rite of passage for musical comedy groups, and the most famous one in recent years was Axis of Awesome’s ‘Four Chords’ song. “I used to hate that last line (“that’s all it takes to be a star”),” Gatesy says, “because writing a hit song is really hard! If it was that easy, everyone would be doing it. But in the context of that song, that did make them a star, so it works again, they’re geniuses!”
“It’s actually really hard to write a song, whether it’s got four chords or more,” Yon adds, and Scod concurs: “Number of chords maketh not a good song.”
So they actually do respect popular musicians, something which harks to their serious(ish) musical beginnings: “Chronologically, we were musicians first. We were opening for bands and doing half hour sets before we ever stepped onto a comedy stage,” Scod explains. The comedy came later, when they offered to fill a theatre slot. “The material didn’t change as fast as the context did, so we had to play some catch up and put more and more jokes in, because we were starting to be perceived as comedians.”
Recently they’ve been doing more music, as opposed to comedy music. That includes singing covers in Perfect Tripod with Eddie Perfect, and of course, working on This Gaming Life with Austin Wintory and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
“This Gaming Life is us at the peak of our songwriting career,” Gatesy says. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of musical skill involved what Tripod do, but because they’re a comedy band, sometimes even their families don’t think of them as real musicians. “Sometimes a Tripod gig is really tough, because there’s a lot of singing and musically, we really push ourselves.”
However, Tripod are now in a somewhat enviable position: not only are they able to make a living playing music (“A lot of really good musos in their 30s and 40s are still working in hospitality,” notes Scod), but they’re accepted and welcomed in both the comedy and the music communities.
Their work on This Gaming Life is only likely to solidify this standing: they’re working with the MSO as well as with legendary composer Austin Wintory, who rocketed to pop culture fame with his score for 2012 game Journey.
The Tripod gang speak glowingly (and geekily) about Journey, calling it a “watershed game”. Anyone who has played Journey is in no doubt that video games are an artform, Gatesy says.
Working with Wintory over Skype and in Los Angeles has been rewarding: Scod, Yon and Gatesy write the songs with a piano and guitar, “but with the fact in mind we’re writing for an orchestra. We’re pushing ourselves harmonically and with structure, really writing something that fells right, that feels like it’s come home with an orchestra.” They send the simple versions to Austin, who emails back with an orchestra arrangement back. And then? “And we just fall on the floor giggling.”
This Gaming Life is kind of the show they were born to write. In the past twenty years, the members of Tripod have made songs out of almost every geeky activity possible, but gaming is something that Scod, Yon and Gatesy have loved since Space Invaders first came into arcades.
The other members of This Gaming Life‘s creative team are equally as passionate. “It’s so cool that as well as having written music for games, he actually is a gamer. He’s probably plays more games than we have,” Yon says about Wintory. The MSO’s Andrew Pogson is also a gamer: “We used to think that maybe working with someone who sits outside might be a good thing, and sometimes it is.”
But in this case, having a team of gamers is a plus. “People can smell that kind of authenticity,” Scod says. “Even if they don’t know what it is you’re talking about, if you’re talking about something you love and there’s detail to what you’re saying, they know it’s true.”
Their taste in games and consoles are varied, and the obvious question is: what games are they into right now?
“I’m not that great at games,” Gatesy admits. “I wouldn’t call myself a very dextrous videogamer.” But he’s just finished playing Alien Isolation, a horror survival game based in the Alien universe. While he was a fan, he says he can’t recommend it: “I’m basically handing over anxiety – it wasn’t an enjoyable experience.”
While it’s a little old, Yon is still hooked on The Last of Us – a game he cites as an example of gaming as an artform. “It’s as good as the best films,” he says, indignantly adding that he still has friends that “poopoo” video games.
Scod goes for FTL on iPad: “It’s a kind of storytelling no other artform can do,” he says, that film, television and books can’t do. “It’s giving you a world, and you tell your own story with the tools they give you.”
It’s fun (and easy) talking to Tripod about games over pizza – you get the feeling that the friends and bandmates do it a lot. We talk about Rock Band and Singstar (“fun, but nothing like real music”), Dragon Age (“I want to be someone I’m not in real life, but I always gravitate to doing what I would do”, and we have a lively debate on whether they offer players the illusion of choice), and move on to board games and musical theatre (“the ultimate in nerdy pursuits”).
“You could apply this show to almost any pursuit, anything you’re passionate about, cos that’s what it’s really about, it’s having a shared passion and how that affects your relationships and friendships through your shared hobbies. This show is really about whatever you’re passionate about,” Gatesy says. “Anyone geeking out about something is good.”
This Gaming Life is playing at Arts Centre Melbourne on the 17th and 18th April. Tickets start from $60 and can be purchased online, through Ticketmaster or at the door.