On The Delicious Last Course, Cuphead composer Kristofer Maddigan continues his big band excellence
Since its initial release in 2017, few games have garnered the kind of love and attention that Cuphead saw.
Developed and published by Studio MDHR, CupheadThe combination of retro animation, unforgettable characters, and tight (and challenging) gameplay has won fans both in and out of the gaming world. Toys, fan art, tabletop gameplay, and more ultimately led to the launch of Netflix The Cuphead Showpopularizing the characters even for those who had never heard of or played the original game.
But now, nearly five years after its launch, the long-awaited release of Cuphead‘s DLCs, The delicious last dish, is finally upon us. On June 30, the expansion will be released for all platforms and PC, bringing an all-new island, new bosses, new visuals, and new music to the title.
SPIN spoke with Kristofer Maddigan, the composer and lyricist of Cupheadof the award-winning score, about his musical contributions to the new DLC.
SPIN: With how much this DLC is expected by fans, what can people expect from a musical point of view?
Kristofer Maddigan: After the release of the original game, I really thought we had “sinked the kitchen” this soundtrack. We didn’t feel like we could have added much else. But looking for ideas for The delicious last dishI realized how many other musical worlds from that era we could explore.
A big development for this game was the decision to have a full orchestra to achieve that lush sound of early Hollywood and early Disney era. Although it seemed like a better idea before COVID restrictions made recording very difficult, our sound engineer par excellence, Jeremy Darby, discovered not only how to record safely, but also how to do it while getting a wonderful sound, full and coherent.
Some of this process can be seen and heard in our behind-the-scenes video “Recording the Overture” released last December. Other than that, I can’t say too much about the new music from The delicious last dish because we don’t want to spoil any surprises — although with almost 120 musicians involved, I think there will be something for everyone.
Given Cupheadthe unique aesthetic of, how did you go about creating a score that matches the visuals of the world?
Chad and Jared Moldenhauer, the founders of Studio MDHR, knew early on that they wanted an era-specific big band for the soundtrack. As the original game grew, so did the sound palate – which included things like classic Joplin ragtime, a barbershop quartet, and even tap dancing. A lot of what went into crafting the score was just spending time really immersing yourself in the music of the time.
This time around, I had the chance to watch a bunch of classic movies and soak up their scores, so it hardly felt like research. My state of mind for the first game as well as for The delicious last dish was to think about things less like a 2010s composer writing 30s music for an 80s-style arcade action video game, and more about trying to ask myself, “What if the age of golden age of big band, the golden age of Hollywood and the golden age of video games existed at the same time? How would composers like Ellington and Joplin, Steiner and Korngold write for video games?
What have you been most excited about creating the new DLC tracks?
Having the support of a company like Studio MDHR has always felt like a huge blessing and an opportunity that many songwriters wouldn’t have until much longer in their careers. Any ideas I had – no matter how grand – were usually greeted with “Sounds awesome, go for it!” They believe that I will try to do what’s best for the game, but also that I want to create something that will stand on its own outside of the game. I think having that kind of approach can only help the final product.
Too many cultural producers only look at the bottom line. “How much does it cost?” Studio MDHR recognizes the value of supporting and investing in such things as music for the sake of music alone. To long answer a short question, there are indeed many very cool sounds and ideas that are new to the island that players will explore in The delicious last dish. There are a few more “traditional” Cuphead tunes that were leftover ideas from the first game that were never fully fleshed out, but for the most part this is an entirely new sonic world. Just having the freedom to explore more styles and techniques, combined with the confidence boost the first game gave me, made the whole process very exciting. I wanted to create a proper send off to the world created in the first game.
How does it feel to see the reaction to Cuphead and his music?
I don’t want to speak on behalf of the studio, but I think it’s safe to say that we’re all still really blown away by the continued response. Cuphead struck a chord with people, and I think a lot of that is down to the obvious passion that comes from every aspect of it. Personally, I knew after the E3 2015 show – where the game really started to make a lot of noise – that this game had the potential to reach a very large audience and that the music had to be done carefully and properly.
Not only out of respect for the art form and the artists who originally created these styles of music, but also because Cuphead had the unique opportunity to introduce these genres to a younger generation who may not have already known them. We’ve released some of the original artwork from the game, as well as arrangements of some tunes specially tailored for high school jazz and concert bands. We’ve listed them at deliberately accessible prices meant to get them into people’s hands, and the response to that has been truly wonderful. I still get emails from young musicians or parents of young players telling me how Cuphead steered them towards a big band or inspired them to choose an instrument. It’s the most rewarding answer a songwriter could ask for.
How does your experience as a drummer shape the way you compose and write orchestral and symphonic music?
It’s a good question. I think there is a shorter answer that CupheadThe music is very rhythmic. But I think the broader answer is that – having trained primarily as a percussionist and drummer – I’ve had the opportunity to spend much of my life playing in bands surrounded by great music and great musicians.
I spent much of my formative years playing in rock bands, jazz bands and big bands, and my main profession now is as an orchestral percussionist, so I think the simple fact being surrounded by many different and ever-changing types of music is what has shaped my composition process the most.
Is there anything else you would like to add about your experience working on Cuphead and its DLC?
It was quite a journey. I would estimate that I spent almost as much time composing the soundtrack of The delicious last dish as I spent for the original game – although, in terms of duration, there is less music. The music, much like this next game as a whole, is often a case of depth over breadth. Everyone on the team, myself included, strove not to create an arbitrarily greater amount of content, but to ensure that we were creating our most ambitious and polished work to date.
While COVID really threw a wrench into many aspects of the production, the music certainly benefited, as I was able to spend a lot more time refining the sound – especially since I had lost all of my gigs. live. While the main priority is still trying to ensure the music is suitable for the game, much of the original Cuphead the experiment was simply trying to write as much music as possible, then placing it where it fit best. This time around, the music is much more tailored to specific areas or patterns. It’s been a long journey, but I’m very happy to finally be able to share this music, and for people to get a taste of The delicious last dish.
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