Interview With brentalfloss AKA Brent Black

Have you ever listened to an old 8-bit video game theme and thought to yourself, “this is good, but it could really use some lyrics sung by a really awesome guy?” Well if you have, then today is your lucky day. I got to spend some time talking to Brent Black, known online as brentalfloss. He chats about his upcoming CD, the differences between old and new video game tracks and the different styles of music he has worked on. He also gave us a fantasic tip for artists that you’re not going to want to miss.

Laura: Firstly, for those who don’t know about you, could you introduce yourself?

Brent: My name is Brent Black, better known on the internet as “brentalfloss.” I have a YouTube channel with a variety of videos, but my main brand is the “With Lyrics” series, where I add satirical lyrics to the instrumental themes from classic video games. It’s sort of “Weird Al Yankovic meets Super Mario.” I also co-write a webcomic based on the “brentalfloss” character. (Laura: His co-author Tom Preston will be attending the London MCM Expo in May, fans can check back soon for an interview with him).

Laura: What sort of background do you have in music, and how did you get from there to writing lyrics for video game tunes?

Brent: Well, without getting into a long story, I’ll say that my most important background in music started when I sort of randomly began to pick out tunes on the piano at age seven. For most of my childhood, my two most frequently used toys were my Nintendo and my keyboard. Fast-forward twenty years, and after a few degrees in theatre and songwriting, I made a silly little music video where I added lyrics to a tune from Mega Man 3. They say “write what you know,” and I guess in 2008, I finally figured out what they meant.

Laura: What do you think makes the old video game themes so catchy, compared to the music in newer games?

Brent: It’s all about the limitations of the hardware. If I remember correctly, the NES could only play four sounds at once, which means the entire soundscape of a game had to occur within a four-note polyphony. Also, storage on a cartridge was scarce, so most tunes had to be short. With these limitations in place, composers had to write simple music that could be repeated on a loop every 45 to 60 seconds, and the music had to be tolerable for hours on end. So no wonder there’s this huge library of simple, catchy tunes that are still stuck in so many people’s heads to this day. Modern games take advantage of more ambient sounds, so lyrical melodies tend to surface mostly in children’s games and RPGs.

Laura: What sort of reaction do you tend to get from fans at conventions? Also, what’s the weirdest experience you have had meeting a fan?

Brent: My fans run the gamut from tragically weird to ridiculously hip and everything in between. I’m always surprised at the wide spectrum of people who appreciate a “niche” video series. I’ve had a lot of weird experiences, but the most pleasant surprise was actually at my recent show in the UK: There was a man in the audience who was dressed like a college professor, and I assumed he wasn’t actually there to see my concert. After the show, he introduced himself and told me that he’s a doctoral candidate in science and that my CD is his favourite background music while he’s writing his dissertation. It was a real ego boost to think that I’m affecting the lives of so many different kinds of people.

Laura: Your first UK show was in London last December. What was it like for you? How did the UK shows and fans differ from those in the US?

Brent: It was a fun show, and the UK fans were great! I was surprised to see people from all over Europe who had travelled to London to see the show. The main way in which my UK fans differ from my US fans is that they’re slightly lankier on average, and they defend Sonic The Hedgehog much more rabidly. Other than that, very little difference.

Laura: Some people will have seen the songs “My Favorite Thing” and “The Roommate song” from your musical Shades of Grey. How would you compare creating the songs you did for that musical to the video games with lyrics songs you do now? What do you like about each of those styles of song writing?

Brent: Attaching lyrics to a pre-existing tune is very different from writing an original song. It’s basically the difference between remodelling a home and building a house from scratch. As for how I’d compare writing Shades of Gray to writing brentalfloss lyrics, the main difference is where I am in my life. In college, no one took me seriously as an artist and I wanted so badly for someone to notice me and realize I had talent. Writing brentalfloss lyrics is equal parts fun and work, because brentalfloss is my job. I always try to keep it fun and make sure that I’m making myself laugh with a parody lyric, but where Shades of Gray grew out of a need to prove myself, the brentalfloss lyrics grow out of a need to feed myself.

Laura: And having mentioned “My Favorite Thing” I have to ask, what’s your favourite thing?

Brent: My favorite thing is probably the feeling I get when I have a great idea. It’s like stumbling into some hidden room that no one else knows about.

Laura: You have uploaded a few tracks like the Final Fantasy 4 Wedding Lyrics video that are less focused on humour and more on traditional song writing, which happens to gently reference games. Does your process change when writing that type of song? Do you have a preference as to which of those types is more enjoyable to write/ perform?

Brent: For me, writing humorous work uses an entirely different set of muscles than dramatic work. I tend to see the world in a humorous light, so when I write a dramatic piece, I have to access the feelings that I want the audience to feel. If the audience should feel warm and fuzzy, as in the case of Final Fantasy 4 Wedding Lyrics, I have to access the warm and fuzzy parts of me and try to write from there, rather than writing from “Isn’t it funny when _________?”

As for my preference, I no more prefer one style of writing than I prefer one type of food. If I do the same thing too many times in a row, I get bored, so I like to mix it up.

Laura: You have a new CD which will be available in the coming months, what can you tell us about it?

Brent: Well, the main thing about my second CD is I’m trying to make a better, more perfect album this time around. The first album was an experiment, but now, having seen the successes and failures of the first, I set out with my sound engineer to make an album with no filler and no tracks that get skipped. There’s a great mix of classic tracks with a few new surprises and original material. We’re planning to open it up for pre-orders in mid-April.

Laura: What can you tell us about your future plans?

Brent: My future will hopefully be a good balance between nurturing and expanding the brentalfloss brand while also seeking out new horizons. I’m thinking about a second internet channel with different kinds of content, and I’m also working on a new musical. Hopefully in the next ten years, I can continue to establish myself as a multi-talented artist and hopefully work on a really big project, sort of the way Bret McKenzie did starting with Flight of the Conchords and ending up writing an Oscar-winning tune for the Muppets movie.

Laura: Do you have any last words?

Brent: Last words?

I’m glad you asked. I recently came up with a little metaphor for artists out there, and as long as I can answer this question however I want to, I’ll share it with you:

This one goes out to the aspiring artists out there.

All artists are like an incomplete kitchen. A person only has so many ingredients, cookware, and serving dishes. Sometimes, you see someone with only savoury ingredients trying to imitate someone else’s dessert and it’s awful because they just don’t have the kitchen for it. Figure out a dish that could ONLY be made in YOUR kitchen. It should be something that only you could make, which often turns out to be the best thing you can make, whether you’re ready to accept it or not. The proof is in the pudding.

-Bb

Keep checking back with us at MCM Buzz regarding Brent’s new CD. For more info check out his website and YouTube channel.

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