On June 20, the Kapow-i GoGo marathon will be back again at the Peoples Improv Theater. Tickets are on sale now for $30 and available for purchase at the door or online here. I had the chance to sit down with some of the cast and creative team to discuss this unique show and how it came together. Leading up to the marathon, I will be sharing those interviews here.
Up until now, the interviews have been with the cast of Kapow-i GoGo and one of the show’s producers. Today’s interview, however, comes from a completely different perspective, that of the show’s musical composer, Brian Hoes. In our conversation, he talks about the evolution of the Kapow-i GoGo theme song, recreating the sound of an 8-bit synthesizer, and some of the show’s musical inspirations, from Cowboy Bebop to Power Rangers.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got interested in music composition.
Oh wow, okay. I’ve always known that I was going to be a composer, simple as that. Ever since I saw Jurassic Park as a kid. I was six years old, and of course, the dinosaurs scared the bejesus out of me, but it was the music that was just like, I want to do that. It basically changed the way I watch movies. I feel like I can walk out of any movie, knowing what the music was like and how it colored the way I liked the movie. Ever since then, I’ve been doing whatever I can to be a film composer, and living in New York, there is theater everywhere, and that is just the avenue that I’ve been going down as well.
But I studied composition in college, at a couple of places. Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas, where I’m from, and University of Texas at Austin, so I’m book learned in music.
Are there any particular film composers or theater composers that have inspired you?
There is one composer that comes to mind that is both, and that is Leonard Bernstein. His score for On the Waterfront is incredible, and of course West Side Story, you can’t beat it. Some modern stuff I really enjoy is Hans Zimmer. Hans Zimmer is fantastic, also really, really enjoy the score for the new Mad Max film.
Actually, I loved everything about that movie. Just about everything. The way that they used sampled car sounds and actually found a way to use them into the score musically, that movie is just the complete package.
And of course, the Doof Warrior.
You can’t beat the Doof Warrior! I’m trying to convince my girlfriend to buy me a Doof Warrior t-shirt. There’s a t-shirt that has, you know, like a metal shirt, they all kind of have the same font. They all look like chicken scratch. Anyways, this one says “The Doof Warrior,” and it looks like the cover of a Slayer album, but it’s a cartoon version of the Doof Warrior. So yes, I’m a big fan of the Doof Warrior.
I want that shirt now!
Obviously, you enjoy soundtracks. Are there any specific musical genres that you prefer?
I like to listen to everything. I used to work at a record shop, right out of college, so I feel like I pride myself on being able to talk to just about anyone about a certain style of music. That being said, I’m always discovering new stuff. For example, for the past few months, I really like Nigerian funk, so I’m always listening to new kinds of music.
How did you first get involved with Kapow-i GoGo?
Matt and I go way back, and if you want to really see how far back this weird sense of humor that Matt has – and if anyone is really interested – they can go to YouTube and search for a band called Moms!. The song is called “Brookies.”
That was a band Matt and I were in right after high school with a friend of mine named Billy Naylor. It was us three. We did comedy songs. Think Flight of the Conchords but from Texas. So Matt and I go way back. One of the reasons why I moved to New York was that I knew Matt here, and he told me that if I moved here, I could do some music for him. So I did one of the Flea Theater Serials, King of Crowns.
The Game of Thrones one.
Yeah, exactly, and I wrote parody Game of Thrones music. I did not do the Kapow-i GoGo serial, but when it came to the PIT, Matt called me, and he goes, “Hey, you’re going to do some video game music,” and I was like, “Yes, yes, please.” Because I don’t think anyone in the cast would say they were not fans of this kind of stuff before saying yes, I’m going to do Kapow-i GoGo. I mean, it’s so unique. Especially other projects I’ve worked on, you’ll find that there’s a certain kind of “theater music” that people expect to hear when they see a play, but this one is so not “theater music.” It’s really Saturday morning cartoons, it is video game music, so it was something really different.
I was just going to ask about some of the unique challenges of composing for Kapow-i GoGo, compared to other compositions that you’ve done.
Yeah, yeah. Well, with this one, I got to use certain sounds that would draw too much attention to themselves if I were doing something else. For example, there is this certain sound that’s called an orchestra hit. That may not sound like anything to you if I just call it that, but if I were to bring out an old Casio keyboard and hit that note, you’d realize that’s in every single theme song from the 90s, if it’s a kid’s show. If anyone has a Casio keyboard, they probably know orchestra hit because it sounds so impactful, but it draws so much attention to itself. I got to use those kinds of sounds.
Not to mention, I had to figure out how to make a convincing 8-bit synthesizer sound without tearing apart an NES, and I got to basically just have fun and do whatever I wanted to do. There is a lot of freedom in that regard, too. Matt would give me a very loose outline of what the scene should be like, and I had to kind of think about what kind of reference that was and try to emulate that sound the best I could. It was a lot of fun.
The Kapow-i GoGo theme song changes from the beginning of the show to the end, as far as the opening credits.
Can you talk about how you distinguished each iteration of the theme song?
Absolutely. So obviously, that’s a very conscious decision, and one of the things that Matt talked about from the beginning was that we need to grow up with Kapow-i from the beginning and all the way to the end, so the music reflects that as well. It starts off very much like innocent, adventurous kind of music, so what you have is a mixture of the Pokemon theme song and the over-the-top Power Rangers theme song.
Definitely Power Rangers, yeah.
Yeah, in fact, that was pretty shameful. Especially that last bit, it’s like, “Kapow-i GoGo!” (guitar riff) “Go, Go, Power Rangers!” It is the same kind of build, shamelessly. That’s a running thing of the show. It’s a shameless style parody, but it’s also a love letter, and I wanted my music to reflect that as well.
Then the second part, when it kind of takes a more teenage tone, it gets a little darker. It was very much taking that theme, that “Kapow-i GoGo!” and making it become the basis of what is almost a complete rip-off of the theme song for Cowboy Bebop. In fact, the name of the track when I sent it to Matt was “Kapow-i GoBop,” and I hope someday that I’ll be able to put this in a way so that everyone can listen to all of it, even if I just put it up on Sound Cloud or some sort of Band Camp page, if only so people can see my pun work. It goes through the same breakbeat with a kind of blues on top of it.
In the last one, I got to take that theme to its extreme.
Like X, X-Treme.
Yeah, yeah, to its X-Treme, yes, exactly. In the 90s marketing sense, to the X, and there are sampled machine noises, there’s a lot of synthesizers. I was just told it was going to be, make it like Akira, but I don’t think there’s any way to make that theme like Akira musically without it being just, I mean, there’s no way to make that work. The music for that movie is so not thematic. It’s mostly just drums and really scary synth notes, so basically I just got to take it to its crazy, dark, synthesized extreme. You get all the different flavors.
Can you talk a little bit about the big love song between Kapow-i GoGo and Princess Cloudberry?
I’d be glad to. Matt was telling me while I was working on episodes 1, 2, and 3, he goes, “So I have this idea that there’s going to be a big love song, and it’s going to be the climax of episode 4. It’s going to be different from all the other episodes because most of the other episodes conclude with some kind of big fight, but this one, it’s going to have a love song.” And I was like, “Oh, okay. Well, I’m down for that.”
What was really cool was, I found out it wasn’t just a love song. It’s actually the set-up for a joke, which is something that musically really intrigued me, because it’s not so often that music can do that. I mean, sometimes it can punch a joke, but it doesn’t necessarily set up a joke. I was given the scenario with the script, it has to be a really syrupy love song that no one could possibly misunderstand when Kapow-i says, “I love you.” And so I got to write the most syrupy love song I could possibly think of, but while I was writing that syrupy love song, I realized that instead of making it a syrupy love song, instead make every line about how she actually really loves you, you can’t misconstrue that, there’s no way that you could possibly not see that, she said those words, she means them, that kind of thing. So then when she completely misses the mark, that’s the punchline.
So you could listen to that song and not know it’s setting up a joke. In fact, there’s some times that for me, when I watch Kapow-i, for me, I’m not really sure how the audience is going to react because there’s a weird mix. There are people who say, “Awww,” and I did not expect that, and there’s like one guy who just loses his shit. That’s how it’s been, and it’s interesting. You have conflicting emotions when that happens, which I wouldn’t say that it was all me that elicits that, but it’s interesting to see my music get that kind of reaction.
I was talking to some of the cast members, and they talked about when they first ran through the show with the music cues and how it really pulled the scenes together and gave real emotional weight to some of those moments. Is there a particular scene or moment in the show that you are really proud of?
There is one scene that for me, musically, it is my favorite scene, and it is the episode with the world fighting tournament. It’s so subtle, and someone I think could watch the play and not know that the composer is really proud of it. They might think of something that is really flourishy music or something that really draws attention to itself, like oh, I bet the composer is really proud of that. There is a scene where the fighting starts, and the music kicks off. What I did was set up separate music tracks that were all triggered by certain events, and they were all written so that no matter what part that they were on when they need to be triggered, it would blend seamlessly into one another.
That’s cool. That is very cool.
Yeah. So it starts off with them all starting to fight, and it’s a breakbeat, which is the style. I’d say the music for Kapow-i GoGo is breakbeats and synthesizers, so it starts off with a breakbeat, and I’m playing bass guitar over it, and it is way distorted, and it is a simple repetitive riff. When Kapow-i and – I don’t know if he’s Assassin X at that point, but he’s something like that, they start smack-talking each other. I play the last note, and then it goes to track 2, where I play one sustained note on the drums and in the bass, and strings come in.
So as soon as that starts, whoever is running the sound presses the next button, and you really get pulled into the drama of the moment when they start to smack-talk each other. That is a long, sustained note until they start to fight, when you press for track 3, which is the same music as from before but only more intense now. It’s a little bit faster, so you feel that kind of rising tension until the point where Kapow-i uppercuts him and the necklace flies off. That is the same beat as before, sampled and slowed down four times so that it sells the slow-motion effect of it flying through the air. And I think if you’re watching it, you get caught up in it, but I know what it took to achieve that effect, so that is the most proud scene for me.
And that’s really cool, too, because again, it’s the whole thing that someone will watch that and feel that, but it’s not drawing attention to itself.
No, and it’s adding to the scene, which is really what a composer should be doing in any kind of art form. It’s adding to the scene and really drawing you into the world.
Kapow-i GoGo is heavily based on anime, video games, and Saturday morning cartoons. What were some of your favorite video games or TV shows growing up, and did you have a Saturday morning cartoon routine?
Oh, my gosh. My dad was an early adopter of the NES, so before I was born – I was born in ’87 – he already had an NES, so I grew up playing that thing. My favorite games when I was growing up were Super Mario Bros 3, The Legend of Zelda, Battletoads – I have an NES now, and I’m still trying to find Battletoads. It’s the most rare game. I’ve been to NES shops, and there are signs that say, “No, we do not have Battletoads,” because they are sick of people asking. Those other games I’ve been able to track down.
My favorite cartoons growing up were the X-Men Animated Series, it was so great, the Batman Animated Series.
Yes, my husband owns that one on DVD!
I don’t blame him because it is so great. Freakazoid was great, and there’s always Power Rangers. They had that every day after school and Saturday morning. They played the hell out of it, and you know what? They should have. But my Saturday morning ritual was always a bowl of cereal with my shirt pulled over my knees, you know what I mean? You pull your shirt over your knees and eat cereal, watching Power Rangers. It was great, and I really wish I hadn’t gone back and re-watched it, because it made me realize just how bad a show it was. But you know what? It was great for the times.
Tell me why people should come see the Kapow-i GoGo marathon at the Peoples Improv Theater on June 20!
They should go see it because it is a theatrical event. Can you think of any other show that, first of all, lasts so long but flies by so fast? It’s great. It’s entertaining. You will laugh in every scene, maybe even twice, and it’s just sheer fun. It will reawaken your inner child, and it actually has a pretty cool character plot and development that goes on all the way until the very end. It’s fun.
Where can people find out more about you and your upcoming projects?
My website is BrianHoes.com, and I composed music for God’s Last Day, which is premiering at the Unchained Theater Festival.
You’re fighting in the World’s Greatest Fighter tournament, and it’s a tag-team round! Who do you want as your partner, Mr. Smiles or Mr. Snuggles?
It’s got to be Mr. Smiles because I think I could use his psychotic energy as, essentially, a shield. Not to mention, he has his knife, and he’s not afraid to use it! Mr. Snuggles, you know, he might wimp out. He probably will. His heart is too golden for this martial arts tournament.
Skittles or M&Ms?
M&Ms. Skittles are disgusting.
Fruit Loops or Lucky Charms?
Which would you rather have for a pet, Whiskers the Fighting Cat or a small flock of Moo-bats?
It has to be Whiskers because he is an extraordinary cat.
“F—, Marry, Kill”: Princess Cloudberry, Treeleaf, and General President Thunderbolt
Kill Treeleaf, f— Princess Cloudberry, and marry General President Thunderbolt to join the people of power. This is, I think, the only logical choice.