The Minibosses On Video Game Rock & Roll

We sit down with the band that turns Nintendo songs into face-melting rock anthems.

By: Ryan Winslett

Filed Under: Interview Music

Minibosses 7

There was no introduction or unnecessary ceremony when Robin Vining (bass), Aaron Burke (guitar), Matt Wood (drums) and Jeff Owens (guitar) began their show on the back patio of Robbie Fox’s, a swank little restaurant and pub in downtown Phoenix. Instead, The Minibosses put down their beers, picked up their instruments and played a few random notes before tearing straight into “Monster Dance,” the night theme from Castlevania II.

When you go to a Minibosses show, no one in the audience screams out a request for “Free Bird” between songs. Instead, you’re far more likely to hear a cry for “Dr. Mario,” “Kid Icarus” or “Double Dragon.” You won’t spot a t-shirt in the crowd sporting a Metallica logo, either. These folks tend to wear something that shows off the Triforce or their love of a certain mustachioed plumber.

The Robbie Fox’s show took place mid-February of 2012 and the Minibosses were playing a private party for an IT security group. As the show began with the six unmistakable notes from “Monster Dance” repeating twice, the sudden smiles popping up across the audience showed that more than a few people in attendance remembered the tough-as-nails difficulty of Simon’s Quest all too well.

For 12 years, The Minibosses have played their unique blend of classic Nintendo songs mixed with rock and roll at large venues and events both in the U.S. and overseas, but they’ve also entertained their fellow gamers in dive bars, the occasional bookstore or even at a house party during a Kingdom of Loathing convention.

Burke and Owens gave some insight into what got them into video games in the first place and how that passion evolved into a musical career. Like most folks who grew up with a controller in hand, both Burke and Owens remember their introduction to gaming.

“Playing Pitfall on Atari 2600, just a couple of years before getting the NES,” Owens said.

“My earliest game memory is definitely playing old Mac text-based games, and then all the Sierra PC games,” Burke added. “Great, great memories. The best specific memory I have was going out to buy Angel Dust by Faith No More on the day it came out, then coming home and throwing it on the CD player and playing Space Quest V while listening to it all week. I still have some Space Quest V flashbacks when I listen to that album.”

While their first games experiences may differ, both Owens and Burke can agree on which game had the greatest influence on their lives. It was none other than The Legend of Zelda.

“At that time I wasn’t familiar with any roleplaying style video games,” Burke said. “The combination of the items, maps, bosses and music was a big rush for me. I probably played through Zelda about 50 times…At least.”

“I remember spending hours and hours trying to figure everything out because I couldn’t look at a walkthrough online,” Owens added. “I sort of miss the days of digging through Nintendo Power for tips. Sort of.”

Similar to his first gaming memories, Burke said he can recall when he first fell in love with music, too.

“Led Zeppelin’s ‘Friends’ off of Led Zeppelin III was the song that first destroyed me,” he said. “I was blown away by how dark it was, and still is. After I heard that, I picked up the whole Zeppelin catalogue and fell in love with Jimmy Page’s guitar playing and Paul Jones’ bass playing. After that, I couldn’t stay away from music.”

Owens was drawn to music a bit earlier, playing around on an organ at Grandma Owens’ house from  the age of six.

“Then at eight I took piano lessons from Dr. Kalowitz…I hope I got his name right,” Owens said. “At 14 I discovered Nirvana and the electric guitar, and I haven’t stopped playing it since.”

When he wasn’t playing Zeppelin, Burke said he spent some of his time trying to figure out Nintendo songs on the guitar. He’d sit in front of the TV for hours or tape the songs on his Walkman. Later on, he found someone with similar interests.

“Matt [Wood] and I were in a band called The Jenova Project before Minibosses started and we used to play some Nintendo stuff as bridges in our songs and sets,” Burke said. “When Jenova Project broke up, we started The Minibosses with the intent of only doing Nintendo stuff.”

As far as using rock and roll as the vehicle, Burke said the music naturally lends itself well to the blending.

“In most Nintendo pieces there’s a melody, harmony, bass part, and then sometimes percussion,” he added. “It’s easy to translate to your standard four piece rock outfit.”

And the rest, as they say, is history. A couple of members have shifted around over the years but, for the most part, the Minibosses and their desire to play video game music in front of a cheering audience has remained intact. And as far as their classic NES set list goes, Burke said he doesn’t expect to see it changing anytime soon.

“I still love modern stuff, it just doesn’t fit what we’re trying to do,” Burke said. “I’ve played a ton of Final Fantasy, Chrono Cross, etc. in side projects and on my own, but Minibosses is all about Ninendo. Except when we played a live version of the Halo theme at PAX. But that was a one shot thing. Actually, we used to play a song from Symphony of the Night when we first started…Maybe we’ll dig that up again one day. That’d be cool.”

When it comes to modern games, Owens has stuck with Nintendo, investing in a Wii this generation.

“I really enjoyed Skyward Sword and Fluidity,” he said. “I’m also always buying old NES games to download onto my Wii. I like to play a game when I’m learning the song, which is what I did with Kid Icarus [one of the more recent entries in their musical arsenal] and have been doing with Castlevania III. But that game is way too hard.”

Burke, on the other hand, has branched out a bit. He’s rocking the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and said some recent favorites include Skyrim, the Dead Space games, Bioshock and Castle Crashers.

“Video games are gonna be pretty amazing 10 years from now,” Burke said. “I’m looking forward to different genres being fleshed out; things like Catherine and some other games that came out this past year were a welcome change from the same old, ho-hum first-person shooters.”

As for the Minibosses, the band has been going strong for more than a decade. Burke said he can’t see it going past 20 years, but that might all depend on the fans and their continued love for music that made Nintendo’s first crop of classics so memorable.

“I think the music resonates so strongly with our fans mostly because of nostalgia, but also because the music is just composed extremely well,” Burke said. “Composers back then were writing one minute long pieces that were going to repeat over and over, so they took extra care to make them catchy and not annoying. Some succeeded and others failed. There’s also a classical/metal component to them that a lot of folks seem to like.”

Filed Under: Interview Music

About the Author:
Ryan Winslett is an Arizona-based journalist and freelance writer. He is a contributing writer for Gaming Blend and his work has also appeared on Joystiq, Gamasutra and Joystick Division. His only crime is loving too much.

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