With an impressive array of tracks showcasing a variety of styles and catchy tunes, Leila Wilson‘s soundcloud page completely blew me away. I reached out to the incredible composer, admittedly resigning myself to the fact that she may be too cool to respond. To my delight, however, she got back to me, excited to be interviewed! I had a wonderful conversation with Leila, where she shared her thoughts on gaining a fresh perspective and inspiration from new places, tough experiences with trial and error, the importance of having mentors, and writing the story and music for Elancia Chronicles, her magnificent passion project.
Thanks for doing this interview! Let’s get right into it. So how did your life in music begin? Any formal training, or do you play any instruments?
Leila: When I was really little, our neighbors across the street had this reed organ, and I would go over there just to play it. Like I would pretend that I was visiting them, but I was there to play it. Eventually, they sold it to my mom. I’m like 3, and I would just be playing it all day and all night. Any time I saw a piano or there was a keyboard in a store, I’d go over and start playing it. And that was pretty much my life until I was about 13 or 14, when I discovered midi, and then I could record things. I tried to take piano lessons when I was younger, but as a kid I did not have the patience—I was just running around in circles all the time.
So I actually can’t even read music theory that I’ve picked up is from sources like your blog, and speaking to other people who do music. I kinda play things by ear. I started by taking songs from video games I really liked, and learning how to play them on the piano. And I saw you mentioned that too, so I thought okay, that’s the way a lot of us got started, so that’s pretty cool!
Yeah! So which games or musicians do you draw inspiration from?
Leila: I’d say #1 would be Yasunori Mitsuda, because Chrono Trigger made this huge impression on me when I was little. And that kinda stuck with me. Then there was Xenogears, and Chrono Cross… So many other games that he worked on! The vassive—bleh! Vast. Massive. Vassive—it’s one word now! (laughs)
Leila: He plays jazz, he plays classical. I mean he’s played so many different things, so that’s where I took a lot of my inspiration, from his work. Let’s see, who else… Noriyuki Iwadare. He did the Ace Attorney series, and Grandia—which was a huge deal for me growing up. Motoi Sakuraba, who did all of the “Tales Of” games, Star Ocean… What a virtuoso! I am constantly floored by how much music these individuals are able to produce, and how long they do it! Oh my gosh, right!?
Yeah, definitely. So is there a story behind your name… Is it Woofle? (laughs)
Leila: Yes, it is! (laughs) It’s actually because I’m into cars, and auto racing and stuff like that. When I was a little 14-year-old, I was poking around online, and I found out that the British referred to the sound of an idling car, in a lot of their magazines, as a woofle: “Oh, it has a nice woofle to it.” And I’m like oh my god, that is so cute! And you know, I’m like 14. And the name has stuck! I can’t get rid of it… One of my early employers was like “Hey would you mind putting your real name as well as Woofle?” And I’m like “Oh, thank you!” (laughs)
(laughs) That’s funny!
Leila: Yeah, the decisions you make as a teenager on the internet will always stick with you! (laughs)
Yeah, pretty much! (laughs) So what do you generally get inspired by outside of music or musical sources?
Leila: One of the biggest things that really gets those juices flowing for me is just getting out of the house and going somewhere. It doesn’t necessarily matter where, but it helps if it’s somewhere I haven’t been before. A lot of the time I like to drive up to the desert, because I’m in Southern California. I’ll go up there, and I will just kinda exist for a little while. And when I come back home, I’m always charged up, and I’ve got ideas. I guess movement, nature, things like that.
So what programs or equipment do you use to make your music?
Leila: So I use Acoustica Mixcraft. And it’s really funny because I’ve barely met anybody else who uses it.
Yeah, I’ve never heard of that! (laughs)
Leila: (laughs) Yeah, it’s like Garage Band, from what I hear, but for PC. It’s really simple to use, and I’m not very technically oriented. I had Fruity Loops early on, and I’m just like I don’t understand this! I don’t know what all these buttons do. I come from playing piano—not very well, but I do play it. And so I just wanted to have a keyboard, press the keys, and have the program do what I tell it to do. So Mixcraft actually ended up being really easy because of how it’s laid out. I could see where the blocks of notes I had done were, and where the tracks were, and there weren’t a lot of bells and whistles in the early version, so I stuck with that.
Right now, I have an M-Audio Keystation 88. So it’s 88 keys, they’re weighted, and I just lay it down on top of my desk. It records through midi, so a lot of the stuff I do—in fact pretty much all of it—is midi, other than occasional percussion loops, or voice loops for songs that require chanting or things like that. But most of it is midi—I didn’t think midi could do the kind of things that it’s able to do these days.
So what was the first composition you ever wrote, and what made you want to start composing?
Leila: Oh gosh… I was… I want to say 6, maybe 7. And I just did a major C chord, and then I’m like if I move my fingers just a little bit to the right… C-F-A, and C-G-B afterwards, then back down… It was like “Imagine” by John Lennon, which I hadn’t heard at the time, cause I was like 6, or maybe I had? I don’t know. But I was like this is my composition! And it’s about flying! (laughs) I guess what made me want to do it is because I always felt drawn to music, to pianos and keyboards especially. So I was like, this is my calling! This is what I was put here to do.
But it was always in the back of my mind as a kid—my big brother played a lot of video games. He had the Super Nintendo, and my dad had a Genesis. I would watch them play, because I was really bad, so I didn’t play too much. (laughs) The music in the games—I thought wow, I wonder who makes that!? And in the back of my mind I’m like I want to do that someday, but I never thought I actually would! You know, childhood dreams and all that. But I guess that was a big part of it.
Okay, so how about your first composition that started your career, or one that you would consider “official”, that you would still maybe show now?
Leila: Probably stuff around high school… There were a couple songs in middle school that I had in my brain. Back then I was recording on cassette tapes, because I didn’t know there was any other way to record. A couple of those were pretty catchy, and I’ve incorporated them into newer stuff. I have probably about 30 or 40 songs that I’ve redone from back then. That’s kinda my thing—I’ll update all my old work and incorporate it into new projects. I think in particular, a few of them… Crafty Smile, which is on one of my albums, and Dream Sea is also on that one—those were both high school. And those ones were pretty darn solid, to the point where I’m like yeah, I’m proud of those, especially now that they sound better, because I’m older!
But there are definitely quite a few of those, and a lot of times, when I’m commissioned to work on a game project, I’ll go back through my old recordings, and find stuff like that, and end up using it in games. One of those is in Freedom Planet!
Cool! So what’s your compositional process like? How do you go about writing a new piece of music, if there is a formula?
Leila: It’s kind of throwing a lot of things at the wall, and seeing what sticks. Sometimes I’ll sit down and I’ll go okay I’m gonna play this as a piano track, and it’ll be done in like 15 minutes. Other times, I’ll sit down and I’ll go, well I like this bass sound. I know, I’ll record this awesome, funky bass line, and I’ll record it. Then I’ll sit there, playing it back for the next 3 hours, trying to figure out what to do next… Usually it’s that! (laughs) At the very end, I’ll come back and go, oh geez, I need a melody! Then I just kinda roll my face on the keyboard until something comes out.
It’s not always that awkward, but a lot of the times the melody will come last. The bass will come first, or the rhythm. I guess that’s because when I was little, those were the things I picked out first. Genesis soundtracks—chip tunes were always super bassy, so I guess that got me always working around bass lines.
“Sometimes I’ll sit down and I’ll … be done in like 15 minutes. Other times, I’ll sit down and … record [something]. Then I’ll sit there, playing it back for the next 3 hours, trying to figure out what to do next…”
Okay, so what was the first video game soundtrack you wrote for? How did you get the position, and what was the experience like?
Leila: Well, to answer the last part of the question: it was terrifying! (laughs) So being a fan of the Sonic games and stuff, I was hanging around that community a lot, and I had a lot of friends there who were composers, and they were making games. And one of them was making a game, and he went, “Hey, I’m really burned out, I don’t know if I can make music for this. Can you do it?” And I said “Yeah, sure! I’ll give it a try.” So I gave it a try, and he didn’t really like it very much. There was lots of back and forth, with like “Oh, well I don’t think this sounds right” from him, and me going “Okay, I’ll try something else. How’s this?” and him going “Well, I meant more like this…” Eventually, I said “Well, maybe you can find someone else who fits the style you’re going for better.” And I didn’t hear from him for a while.
Next time I hear from him, he’s like “I need your help!” And I’m like “Hi?” And he’s like “Okay so I’m doing the score for this Japanese import series. There’s three games in the series, and I’ve already got the first two pretty much done, but I can’t do the third one. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure?” And my heart is jumping out of my chest, and I’m like “Oh my god, I’m gonna fail at this so badly.” He put me in contact with the company—a small company that imported a lot of Japanese games. They were like “Hey, we need these tracks from the original games arranged, because the quality is low. They’re very short. We need you to arrange them and then compose and extend the soundtrack.” And I thought, “Maybe I CAN do this!”
And I did! It was really scary, and the deadline was really short. And I didn’t really get paid… But my name was in the credits. And that meant more to me than any amount of money they could’ve given me, and the stress of the short deadline and all that… That all went away. I had somebody beat the game for me, because I was really bad at it—it’s a bullet hell. (laughs) I’m not good at those. But when I saw my name in the credits, I was just like “Oh my god, there it is!” And I thought “Well, this will never happen again!” (laughs) And they contacted me again for another game the next year. It was the same thing, short deadline…
But I got that done, and through that I met the creator of Freedom Planet, because he was speedrunning that game at the time. He went, “Gee, this music is pretty good!” And he had heard some of the music I did in the Sonic fan community. And he asked me “Hey, would you be interested in doing the music for this game I’m making, it’s called Freedom Planet! It’s got these animal people, and they run around and they beat up robots!” And I’m just like “I don’t want to do this, it’s gonna be like a Sonic game.” But I told him sure, and four or five years later, here we are!
Cool, so talk about some of the other soundtracks you’ve done since then. I saw “Agoli 5 Oasis”?
Leila: Oh yeah, that’s one of my albums. Because when I don’t have game work, I put out a lot of albums.
There’s Freedom Planet, Freedom Planet 2, which is coming out next year. The first game I did, that first import, was Hitogata Happa, there’s Bunny Must Die, there’s a visual novel I was going to score which didn’t come out but the album did, called Archives of Wyndia. I’m working on Miasma Cave, which should be out next year. I did a couple of mobile games, one was called Dragon Snack.
Are there any projects that really stood out to you? And if so, why or how?
Leila: I would say the ones that stood out the most would be Freedom Planet. There’s a whole interesting story behind that. Bunny Must Die, the second import game I did—that was the one where people started noticing that I had done work.
But the one that stands out the most, honestly, was that visual novel that was never released. It was because it was a passion project for the fellow working on it. I can really relate to that. He does video game artwork, and he was the guy who sat me down partway through that project. And he said, okay you’re not charging enough. You need to charge more, because people are gonna take advantage of that. He said you need to work on getting contracts, do this and this… You need to have a terms of service. And he really actually set me up as a professional musician. Before that, I was just like “Hey, want music? Yeah I’ll do the music!” No contracts or anything, usually. I would just do stuff. I had no idea what I was doing until I met him. And he really shaped me into more of a professional musician, who can actually take work.
“He really actually set me up as a professional musician. … I had no idea what I was doing until I met him.”
Oh yeah, Leilani’s Island—that’s another one I worked on! That one should be out next year too, so a lot of big stuff next year! I am rambling! (laughs)
(laughs) No, it’s good, it’s good! How about Elancia Chronicles? Yeah, that looked like a HUGE thing! Can you talk about that??
Leila: Oh my gosh, yes! I never get to… That is my passion project. I originally wanted to make a game. I was… 21? And I’m like “I can totally make a video game!” Long story short, that didn’t work. (laughs) But through that I found that I had a passion for writing, which I really enjoyed, almost as much as making music. Not quite as much, but pretty close.
I had started writing out the plot of the game like a book, and I kept making the music as if it were a game. I was making background music for each area the characters went to, all the characters have themes, I had different themes for different emotions that were going on during certain scenes. And I went, well I should use this for my portfolio, so I should throw some jazz in there, some 80’s music, lots of, of course, RPG music, funk… All the things I like to play. And I’ve been working on it for almost 10 years now.
And I’m trying to get the book published. It’s gonna be separated into four books. But each book has a number of tracks that are attributed to it. The first album for the first book, when I first released it, had 92 tracks. It’s probably gonna have 110 when I finish the final published version of the book.
Leila: So that one… That’s like my magnum opus. If I die, I want that to be popular! (laughs) I have poured my soul into that. It’s nearly killed me several times. It’s interesting though, using writing and music to feed off of each other. Sometimes if I don’t know where the story’s gonna go, I’ll compose a song and then fit the story to that. And that is, I think, what keeps me coming back to it. Even when it gets stressful, when I think “Gee, I don’t know if a publisher is gonna pick this up…” especially with the weird gimmick of it having music that plays along with it. It’s definitely something interesting! It’s kept me focused, and it’s kept me working, kept me from getting rusty and stagnating.
“[I use] writing and music to feed off of each other. Sometimes if I don’t know where the story’s gonna go, I’ll compose a song and then fit the story to that. And that is, I think, what keeps me coming back to it.”
Yeah, cool! So did you do all the art too?
Leila: Oh gosh, I wish! If I could draw, this thing would be a graphic novel with a soundtrack, and it would be on shelves somewhere. But fortunately I have a lot of really awesome friends. And in some cases, I’ll be like “Hey, I’ll do however much music you need if you’ll do a few illustrations for this story.” And that’s one really fortunate thing, is that most of those people really like my music. And so I’m able to do that, and score any games they have. I’ve been commissioned to score a lot of web comics, oddly… Which I didn’t expect! But that’s happening a lot. So that’s part of where a lot of this artwork ended up coming from. And that, in turn, has helped me compose the music, when I can see it visually, which has helped me write, which is just…
Okay, so let’s go back to Agoli 5 Oasis.
Leila: Oh, yes! That’s my 80’s album. I want to do more… There are a lot of fun things that you can do. A lot of people just go to synth wave, and synth wave is fun, but I really like sophisti-pop. Stuff like Swing Out Sister, Alexander O’Neal… I want to do music like THAT! But you know, maybe give it a little bit of a video game edge. So I basically created that one… There was an album before, but it wasn’t as 80’s. I created those as if they were video game soundtracks, and just composed music for areas in a little space I made up for each of the albums. It follows a little character on her journey through the galaxy. And that one, I kinda did on a whim. Just because I went “Well, maybe someone might like this!” It’s fun to make, so I’ll put it out.
And it was pretty interesting because… Through the first one, that was how I landed another one of my game soundtrack jobs. And yeah, so I just did it kinda randomly, and it worked out! (laughs)
Okay, awesome. So is or are there any piece or pieces that you would consider autobiographical?
Leila: Ooh, I like that question… Oh geez. I would say probably the closest that one would get to that… A lot of the stuff on Elancia Chronicles, I would do depending on how I was feeling at the time. If I was depressed, a lot of the music would actually come out really happy for some reason? (laughs)
Leila: That one, since I started it 10 years ago, and I’ve been working on it this entire time… As my life has changed, and as I’ve grown, and met new people, or lost people I knew… That music has changed with me. I don’t like to point a mirror at myself a lot of times with music, because I don’t know what would come out of it. I don’t know how people would feel about what I created. But one time I did hold a mirror up, and that was the album called Road Trips.
There’s a whole story behind that… It’s a very long story! Suffice to say that everything I felt, and everything that I did during that trip went into that album.
As my life has changed, and as I’ve grown, and met new people, or lost people I knew… That music has changed with me.
So I guess those two would be probably the only times that I really felt like I could hold a mirror up to myself, and look at what was there and explore that through music, instead of just sitting there and going “Gee, I don’t know how I feel!” You know, music is therapeutic like that.
Yeah, definitely. So which piece of yours is the most different from any other composition, and what did you learn from writing that piece?
Leila: I would say a lot of my work on Freedom Planet was definitely outside of my comfort zone, as strange as that sounds, cause a lot of people first heard my music through that. I was on a very strict and stringent… The producer of the game had a very particular sound he wanted for it. There were about three chords that were in every song. (laughs) He wanted it to sound like Mega Man, but since it was a collaboration between him and me, I took a lot of the music he did, and it was the same thing of arranging that part, adding to it, extend… But I had to adhere to this particular sound. That was very difficult, I won’t lie.
That’s probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do as a composer, to work inside of a constrained space like that. But it did teach me how to do that, and it made me a lot easier-going. Cause it’s hard when you first come in, especially if you’re like me, with no formal training or classes. I come in, and I pour myself into a song, and I send it off to an employer, and they go “Well this is good, but…” It used to just break my heart. But after Freedom Planet, that really helped me have perspective, and go “Okay, this isn’t the end of the world if this one song isn’t something they like. Just make another!” It’s hard to feel that way about your babies! (laughs) But you know, I just keep those old ones, and use them on albums later! (laughs)
That’s probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do as a composer, to work inside of a constrained space like that. But it did teach me how to do that, and it made me a lot easier-going.
Leila: So, it gave me perspective. But that was tough. That was so tough… Because I’m like “I want to do funk, and jazz…” And he’s like “No it has to be this.” So that’s tough. But it taught me so much. So I would say on the whole, that soundtrack. But especially the song for Sky Battalion, which a lot of people like. I cannot STAND that song. I don’t even go back and listen to it…
That’s so funny! (laughs)
Leila: That song represents months and months of back and forth, me going “How ‘bout this song?” and him going “Okay!” Three weeks later, “Actually this doesn’t work.” And me going “Crap. Okay. Let’s try this.” And it went back and forth. And he finally sent me a song he composed, and went “Can we go with this?” And I’m sitting there going “Oh my gosh… This is ponderous. I don’t like this song. But I need to work on it. I’ve gotta make it work. I’ve gotta make it go for this game. I’ve gotta make this the best game it can be.” Because it’s a good game, and I gotta swallow my pride. And that song right there is so far out of my comfort zone, and way somewhere else… Probably it taught me more than anything else on that soundtrack. Because after that, it was all downhill from there. It was just easier after that.
What about it was difficult? The instrumentation? The time signature? Different rhythms? Can you pinpoint it?
Leila: It was mostly his part of the composition. When you’re working with another composer, and you have to work around that, it can be really rewarding, but it can also be really stifling. And in the case of this one, it was a little of both. He had a solid composition—unfortunately it was really, really similar to a song from Mega Man X4. So I had to do a lot of work on it to try to differentiate the two songs, which was very difficult. Fortunately, with time signatures… Boy, there’s a lot of story with those, but for the most part he kept it to the 4 for all of Freedom Planet. So I never had much difficulty with that. But in this particular song, I think what the other difficulty was, I was working around his composition, and once I got to the end of his part, I was into my part. This is where I compose and add to it. I just went “Oh my gosh, what do I DO with this?” It was so different from anything I’d ever worked on.
I had the instruments there that I had applied to his section as I arranged it, and I had the rhythm and beat that I had done for his. And I had some really crunchy guitars. And I went well, let’s just throw a lot of power chords at it, some drum break downs… I pretty much just sat there for about a week. I’d go in each night, and just try something. And eventually I got something that sounded kind of like a song? And I sent it to him and he went “Oh, this is great!” And I’m like “It is? Yay! It is! Okay good! We’ll never talk of this again!” (laughs)
Leila: Yeah. That was like pulling teeth. That song in particular has allowed me a lot more agency in the second game. I went, “You know, we struggled a lot in the first game—can I try some different things in the second one?” And he was really easy going about it, he’s like “Sure, go for it.” So now there will be funk, and jazz, and some more RPG-style music—the things I like to put in, the things I’m good at!
Cool, so my question here is what is the most recent musical challenge you’ve faced? Was that the most recent one? Or was there anything that’s happened since then that’s been really difficult?
Leila: I would say nothing has ever been as difficult as that.
(laughs) Yeah, that sounds like quite a monster!
Leila: Yeah, that was like the big monster in the closet. And then eventually, you shine light on it, and it’s actually just a cute little fluffy thing. And you go “Aww!” And as the years go by, I’m like “Oh it wasn’t THAT bad.” But at the time, it was life and death!
Since then, challenges, challenges… Mostly pleasing employers. I have found it difficult to work on Elancia Chronicles a lot of the time too, because I try to vary the music up. I want it to feel like every song could almost be part of a different soundtrack. But I also want them all to fit what’s going on in the story. And that has really killed me a couple times, where I go “Oh my god, this song doesn’t fit this scene.” And I go through the catalog, there’s like 300 songs total. And I’m going through this catalog, and I’m like “None of these 300 songs fits, even though one of them probably should.” And then I make something else. So that’s definitely a challenge.
But mostly, pleasing employers. Because a lot of them, when you send them a song… They’ll go “Hey, this is really great. But you know that thing that goes ‘ring-a-ding-ding’?” And I’m like “Yes, I know that thing. The thing that does that sound.” And they go “Can you change that so it goes ‘dong-a-dong-dong’?” And I’m like “Yes, I can do that. I can do anything. I’m a musician.” (laughs) That’s the big one.
(laughs) Oh my gosh.
Leila: (laughs) That part’s rough. There was one employer who had commissioned me for a single song, and was like “Hey, I don’t know if I like the sound of the cymbals in this.” And I’m like “There’s no cymbals in the song, what is he talking about!?” And I’m digging through there, I’m like “What does he mean!?” And eventually I get to a guitar track, and I solo that one track, and I send it to him. And I’m like “Is this what you mean?” And he’s like “Yeah that! The cymbal!” And I’m like “Oh god… Kill me!”
Oh wow… Where they don’t really know anything musical. I mean, they don’t NEED to, but it makes it kinda hard.
Leila: Mhm. And I mean I can’t say much, considering I have zero formal education, and everything I’ve picked up I’ve learned online or from friends. But… I know a little! My hands and my brain know what they want to do, but I don’t know what any of what I’m doing is called.
Yeah, the terminology.
Leila: Yeah. So that all falls on me. I’m a person who didn’t realize there were time signatures until she was 25. And I’ve been playing like… I didn’t know waltz time was 3. I’m just like “Oh, it’s just a really slow song!” And I had been playing it, then I realized oh. This is a thing.
Oh! The other challenge! 5 time! 5 time about killed me. I really like Take 5, by Dave Brubeck. So I listened to that a whole bunch, and I’m like “Okay, I’m gonna play 5 now.” And I sat down, and I’m just staring at the keyboard like “Wow. My life decisions have taken me in a very odd direction.” So there was a song in Bunny Must Die. The title screen was in 5. And I could not play it. My brain couldn’t get there. So I ended up doing it in waltz time, and it sounds REALLY weird. And so after that, I’m like “Okay, I am going to conquer this. I am going to play in 5 time.”
And since then, I try to slip that in anywhere I can, now that I’ve learned to play it. But it’s kind of like watching a child play something for the first time. I can do very specific rhythms in 5. So that was a big challenge. And realizing triplet notes are not 6 time, was another one for me. This must sound really silly! (laughs)
(laughs) No, no! So do you do music full time? Or do you have any other side jobs?
Leila: Right now, it’s full time. I used to actually race cars. That does not pay the bills; that takes money away from the bills. That was my other life’s dream. I had to retire because I ran out of money. I was having a really good season actually—I won a race that year. That was like the highlight of my life. There was that, and doing video game music… Right as I’m like “Oh my god, I’m not gonna be able to do this next year.” And I was heartbroken, that was when my friend came to me and said “Hey, I can’t do the third game in this series. Can you please do this for me?” And at the time I was depressed, and I was like “Yeah, sure…”
Racing is expensive. I didn’t have a sponsor. It was me, my dad, and my husband… And that was it. I was racing locally, at the very bottom rung of the Nascar ladder. That is a very tall ladder. Not many people can move vertically unless they know someone who has a lot of money, or related to someone who has a lot of money, or… Have a lot of money. There’s an old adage about that, that says “How do you make a small fortune in racing?” And the answer is “You start with a big one.” So… I’m hoping that if enough of these game soundtracks really take off, and I start making more money… Right now it’s a little rocky. I’m doing it full time, but I’m not upwardly mobile at the moment. I’m hoping I can get back into racing, because I would love to be my own sponsor, and be the master of my own fate there!
So I guess you touched on this with the racing, but are there any other activities or hobbies that you like to do outside of games and music?
Leila: Mostly that! I do a lot of racing online. In fact, I have one… Couple minutes today! I do a lot of that… Geez, I’m a pretty boring person! (laughs)
Leila: Other than that, I like to occasionally travel around. I like to watch a lot of races. I like to go to new places. I just like to drive around—driving is fun! Oh gosh… Writing! There’s that. That factors into the whole Elancia Chronicles thing. That really has saved me from boredom and tedium. And I like to play old RPGs. And new ones! I’ve been playing the Legend of Heroes series recently. The music in that is fantastic, holy crap! If you are looking for some really good RPG music, and a lot of jazz! All the battle themes—they’re all jazz!
Leila: That’s definitely one I can recommend. Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky is the first series. And I’m on the second series, which is Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel. Each of the games has its own feel to it. But there’s an overarching jazz motif in the Trails in the Sky series, which I highly recommend. Not only for the music, which is of interest to us, but the storytelling is pretty good. And! The first few games have a female protagonist, which is also awesome.
Leila: So if you’re looking for an RPG to get into, it’s on Steam, so you can just pick it up. The music: top notch. And it only gets better as the series goes on. You can actually hear the composers maturing and trying new things as the games go on, which is so cool.
Yeah, interesting! So now I have a list of rapid-fire questions. Give short answers as quickly as possible! Are you ready?
Leila: Ooh! I’m ready! Lightning round!
Okay, favorite video game protagonist!
Leila: Oh, my god… You hit me with the hard one first! Favorite video game protagonist… Terra from Final Fantasy VI.
Okay, favorite video game series!
Leila: Oh my gosh, coming out with all the hits today… I was about to say Grandia, but then I remembered Grandia III happened. Gosh. I’m actually gonna go with Legend of Heroes, because the music, the writing, all of that.
All right, how about favorite theme song?
Leila: Favorite theme song… Now can this be for anything?
Yeah, sure! Why not?
Leila: This’ll sound really weird, but the theme song to Law and Order. (laughs) I kid you not. I love that song. I grew up watching that show with my father. So that song is just ingrained in my brain. Close second would be the theme to Grandia.
Okay, how about favorite arcade game?
Leila: Daytona USA, hands down!
Okay, how about favorite battle cry or critical hit quote?
Leila: Ooh! Oh gosh, these are my favorite questions in the whole thing! Probably just like unadulterated screaming and flailing? (laughs) Just like “Aaahhh!!” The protagonist in Breath of the Fire III did that. At the beginning of the game, he doesn’t know how to use a sword, so he just screams and covers his eyes and flails the sword at the enemy.
(laughs) That sounds amazing.
Leila: So that’s my favorite!
Okay. How about favorite character theme?
Leila: Ooh… Oh no! I’d probably say Schala, from Chrono Trigger, if I’m forced to pick THAT fast. Because there are a lot to choose from!
Okay, favorite ending theme!
Leila: Gosh, there’s a lot of those… I’m gonna have to go back to Chrono Trigger again, because it was so fond. It’s such a fond song.
Oh, I need to finish that one! I started playing but I got stuck in the prehistoric land.
Leila: Oh god, I hated that part!
Okay, I’m not the only one!
Leila: That part’s rough. It’s worth it, once you get past there, because you are about to go to one of the coolest parts of the entire freaking game.
Okay, I really gotta play it then. It’s one of my brother’s favorites.
Leila: It’s relatively short. It’s not something like Legend of Heroes where you’re going to be playing it for like, weeks. Chrono Trigger, you can probably knock out in one week, once you get past that one part which, again, SUCKS.
(laughs) All right, if you could live in any video game world for a week, which world would you choose to live in?
Leila: Sonic the Hedgehog, just because the artwork in the backgrounds… Can you imagine walking around these places? How cool would that be!? I want to do that!
Okay, if you could befriend any video game antagonist, who would it be?
Leila: Oh gosh, there are some actually really interesting, sympathetic ones. I’d have to say Colonel Richard, from Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky. He’s been my favorite antagonist recently. I would totally have a beer with the guy, he’s great!
If you were a playable character in a video game, what would your job class be?
Leila: The easy answer would be bard, so I don’t want to do that. Of course I’d say that. (laughs) I’d be a monk! I want to punch stuff. I don’t need weapons!!
Okay, so if you had to make a weapon out of any instrument, which instrument would you choose to fight with?
Leila: Probably my keyboard. Cause it’s 88 keys but it’s portable. But it’s really heavy! So I could have it over my shoulder—it’d be like a buster sword. Carry it around, just thwack people with it.
(laughs) Excellent. Okay, end of rapid-fire questions. What are some of your future plans? What are you working on now?
Leila: My main thing at the moment is Elancia Chronicles. I want to get the book published, and I have been working my butt off on that. I’ve been redoing some of the music, too. If this works out, maybe I could bundle the album with the book. I mean that’s thinking really lofty, because that’s assuming any publisher would want to touch this thing with a 40-foot pole. But that’s my big plan this year.
Yeah, that’d be awesome!
Leila: Try to get this done, get it out to publishers. It’s a very weird story. It’s an exceedingly weird story, because it was written by the music. But that’s my biggest goal right now. Beyond that, there’s a lot of things I’d like to do. But that is my number one. I need to do this! So that’s my goal for my life right now!
So what advice do you have for composers who are just starting out?
Leila: My advice would be, whatever jobs people throw at you… If you have a friend who’s making a questionable fan game about a copyrighted property, just do the music for it. Just do it. Use an alias, if it’s that questionable. But seriously, any work that’s thrown at you, just take it. It’s gonna teach you how to deal with employers, it’s gonna teach you how to work in constraints, it’s going to teach you how to be inspired when you feel like there’s no inspiration. And it’s gonna light a fire under you, and it’s gonna light a fire in your belly.
Even if making video game music doesn’t turn out to be what you want to do, this is a really good way to test your mettle as a composer, and build your confidence, which is a big thing. Try to do anything you can when you’re starting out. Do everything, in fact! That’s the best advice I can give. And don’t quit! Do not quit!!
Yeah. All right, well those are all the questions I have! Do you have any final thoughts?
Leila: Music is wonderful! It is the glue that holds us together as a society, I feel.
Yeah, I agree. Thank you so much!
Check out Leila Wilson’s groundbreaking music on soundcloud here: