An Interview With Patrice Bourgeault composer of Mercenary Kings
By Jacob Chase
Open that dossier and dive headfirst into the thick of it with Mercenary Kings by Patrice Bourgeault! Pressed on Tropical Sunburst vinyl, the long-awaited Yetee Records release to Tribute Games' retro-inspired run 'n' gun shooter is here to rock your set-up with a rhythmic onslaught of overdrive guitars, pulse-pounding percussion, and melodic keyboard magic!
Housed inside a high-quality jacket featuring artwork by Mercenary King's very own artist Stéphane Boutin, this single LP release contains twenty hand-selected tracks from the game's timeless and rocking soundtrack mastered by Marc Junker (aka R23X) for optimal analog playback.
To help commemorate this new catalog release our content writer Jacob has invited Patrice here to the blog to give our Yetee Records & Mercenary Kings fans a little peek into the muse behind the creation of this game's soundtrack and the mind behind it. Welcome to the jungle!
Like a flash, the CRT sparks to life with a faint wine and hiss that fills the room. The familiar click of a cartridge locking into its slot is all you can hear as you flip the switch. A red light stares back at you through the dimly lit room signaling that you've just opened a portal to a world yet to be explored. The technicolor screen gives way to the subsequent rocking theme song ushered in from the sound chip's 1s and 0s that reverberates off your eardrums and bounces around your skull like a ping-pong ball. There's no way that song's ever going anywhere else…
While Mercenary Kings isn't an actual cartridge-based game, I couldn’t help but have that same nostalgic feeling wash over me the first time I booted it up back in 2014… As a bonafide love letter to the retro run 'n' gun shooter classics like Contra, Sunset Riders, Metal Slug, and many more, Mercenary Kings has that same sort of timeless gravitas that defines an era. Designed for the modern age by one of gaming’s most beloved developers and publishers Tribute Games, Mercenary Kings has everything a retro shooter needs, killer action, a jungle story filled with espionage, and a soundtrack that keeps you coming back for more!
As a huge fan of Yetee Records long before I ever joined the team, this release has been one of my most anticipated VGM Vinyl releases in some time, and getting to celebrate it in this way is like a dream come true. Funny story, while conducting a little research for this interview, I stumbled across a bookmark I had with a mix released by Yetee Records back in 2017 on SoundCloud that kicked off the rumors for this release, and to see it finally come to fruition has brought back that same smile I had way back when. Let's dive into this interview, shall we?
Jacob: Hey Patrice, welcome to the blog! What have been some of the biggest influences on you choosing a life in music?
Patrice: Music has always been part of my life. I started playing the piano at a young age, and to this day, it is still my instrument of choice, the one I’m more familiar with. In high school, I started playing bass in a band, which helped me understand the role of each instrument. But it was really through computer recording that I started experimenting with music composition. The first software I used was Macromedia Sound Edit 16… wasn’t exactly made to handle big productions! but still, got a first glimpse at a multi-track software, and definitely saw the possibilities.
It all started as a hobby and if you had told me that I would work on videogame music later on, not sure I would have believed you! When Tribute co-founder Jo Lavigne reached out and asked me for some videogame music, I knew I had to seize the opportunity.
Jacob: Do you have any favorite bands or musicians that you draw inspiration from?
Patrice: Early on, I was really influenced by rock music and definitely liked some more heavy music. Grunge music to start with, stoner rock, Queens of the Stone Age, Death from above 1979, but also other stuff like Beastie Boys, Air, Daft Punk, Beck, Tame Impala… Hard to commit to one style in particular, too many good artists out there.
Jacob: What are some of your favorite games and soundtracks of all time?
Patrice: I grew up with a Sega Genesis console so I still remember some of those game soundtracks, even after many years without listening. Revenge of Shinobi, Streets of Rage, Phantasy Star, Shining Force. Of course, later on, Final Fantasy VII was pretty iconic. Lately, I found Hades’ soundtrack was really solid.
Jacob: How involved were you during the creation and development of Mercenary Kings, did you get to experience a lot of the game during your time composing for the game?
Patrice: Actually, I didn’t get the chance to test the game a lot while writing the music. I got the list of all the levels they needed (Jungle, Temple, Dam, Hunting grounds, etc…) with some sketches of the levels. With that in mind, I started writing music that would suit the level’s ambiance. If needed, there was some back and forth with Tribute folks to adjust everything.
Jacob: With Mercenary Kings being a sort of love letter to classic run ‘n’ gun shooters of old, what did you do to get yourself into the mindset of capturing that retro feel in the modern era?
Patrice: To me, Mercenary Kings really had this metal, bad-ass flavour to it. I’ve always wanted to mix some rock music with chiptune and Mercenary Kings was the perfect project for that. I’ve heard some of Anamanaguchi’s stuff, really liked that kind of raw energy, I knew it could be done. So, I wanted to keep the retro vibe of the game but also, bring some metal vibes to it with heavy drums and guitars.
Jacob: Was there a particular level or character theme that stuck out to you during your time working on the game?
Patrice: The first levels I worked on kind of set the tone for the rest. The Main Theme, Jungle Level, and the Mech Dog were the first tracks I worked on. I also really like the clash between the camp music and the rest of the soundtrack, which is pretty busy. I thought it would be nice to have a laid-back, reggae-type song between the levels, to relax a bit.
Jacob: Is there a certain method or process that you go through that gets you into the mindset of composing?
Patrice: I like to start with really small sketches of music: a few riffs, drum beats, piano melodies, chord progressions… Even if the instruments are not right, it doesn’t matter at this point. Then, I will pick and choose the best stuff in all those little ideas and start building on that, As the project goes forward, some trends will come up and I’ll get a general feel of the soundtrack. The challenge is now to keep this vibe throughout the soundtrack, to have something coherent from beginning to the end.
I always force myself to work on a regular basis, good day or bad day. Waiting for the perfect inspirational moment doesn’t work for me, production wouldn’t go fast enough!
Jacob: Ha ha, I totally get that! So what instruments and programs do you use to write your albums?
Patrice: Keyboard is my main instrument but I also play bass and guitar, which is handy if I need those in a track. I use different plugins and VST to get the sound I want. There’s this plugin made by Plogue called Chipsounds, which I used a lot for Mercenary Kings soundtrack, definitely gets this authentic chipsound tone. Everything ends up in Logic Pro, where all the tracks are mixed together.
Jacob: Do you have a favorite memory from the writing process for Mercenary Kings?
Patrice: Mercenary Kings was one of the first games I’ve worked on. When I finally got to see/hear the whole game together, and realized the music was working well with the game, that was a pretty good moment. Hearing the Mercenary Kings main theme at the E3 Playstation show wasn’t bad either! :)
Jacob: Oh wow, that really is a special moment for sure! So what can people expect next from Patrice, working on anything cool that you can share some details about with our readers?
Patrice: I do have some pretty exciting game-related projects coming ahead but it’s too early to tell! Meanwhile, I’ve had some tracks laying around that I’d like to get done with. Think some warm keys, strings, and distorted guitars. Some kind of crossover between QOTSA and Air, if this makes any sense. Who knows, this might get useful in an upcoming soundtrack!
Now that sounds really rad! As a huge fan of Queens of the Stone Age myself, I can’t wait to hear what that fusion’s gonna sound like. It’s always a great time to really dive into the story behind a composer's inspirations and really get a sense of what it was like during the writing process of any album, especially one as formative as Mercenary Kings! Thank you so much for reading.
I'd also like to give a huge shout-out to Patrice for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of this fan's burning questions ha. It has been such a pleasure getting to know the story behind this album, and to share it with all of you!
The Mercenary Kings vinyl is available right now to purchase now over at the Yetee Records webstore and comes with an immediate download of the game's soundtrack in MP3 format. See you all at the drop zone!