Jared Emerson-Johnson Interview

December 12th, 2009 by | 3 comments


Many of our dearly beloved fans requested an interview with Jared, the multi-talented person that voiced DeSinge and composed music for games such as Bone, Sam & Max, Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People, and Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures. In 2003 he worked as a member of LucasArts’ musical department on a variety of games, including Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb and Star Wars: Republic Commando. Jared has also worked as a sound editor for other companies’ projects, such as James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Psychonauts (This guy is so awesome, there’s an entire article about him on wikipedia!).

Read the interview and be amazed! 🙂

SilverWolfPet: Hi Jared! The fans are waiting, let’s get started! Have you played the Monkey Island games before you got the role of DeSinge? How much did you know about the series? Articles, forums?

Jared Emerson-Johnson: Unlike a lot of folks in my generation, I never played actually played them as a kid; however, I was introduced to the series early on in college by my good friend (and current ToMI designer) Jake Rodkin.  I loved them immediately, and they rank highly on my all time list of favorite games—up there with Grim Fandango and some of the classic nes and snes titles. As a matter of fact, the first three Monkey games and Grim Fandango were pretty much the singular reason I decided to pursue a career in game audio.
I do have to confess, and Stemmle is going to punch me if he ends up reading this, that I’ve never actually played Escape from Monkey Island all the way through.
I’ve never been much of a forum user, but I’ve been friends and acquaintances with a lot of the first generation Mixnmojo/Idle Thumbs guys over the years; and from knowing them I’ve had a chance to meet and get to know a nice subset of the MI fanbase.
SWP: Awesome, how Monkey Island (and Grim Fandango) can change one’s path in life. Do you like DeSinge? Would you drink tea with such a character?
JEJ: Hmm. I think it’s safe to say that tea with DeSinge would be an extraordinarily bad idea.
I absolutely adore the character, though, and as soon as I read the description I knew I had to submit an audition to the team. That said, I take great comfort in knowing that DeSinge is not a real guy, because…well…yikes.
SWP: Oh, by the way, do you have any idea what nationality is DeSinge if he states that he’s not french?

JEJ: I don’t, but I love that aspect of the character.  It was great to be able to go wild with the voice without fussing too much over a purely authentic French accent. The idea of that guy, alone on an island, building a lab, torturing monkeys, and becoming more and more French sounding as the years go by…it really cracks me up. 

SWP:  I really can’t imagine how you guys came up with that idea! Even more, you made him a villain! Tell us a little about how you got the part, I know that’s a good story 🙂

JEJ: Heh, well…I think either Mark or Grossman may have already told the story in an interview at some point, but here’s my version, and I’m sticking to it:
After reading through the casting documents for the season, I was instantly drawn to the character, and I really wanted to toss my hat into the ring of auditions. Since I often work with all of the designers on a daily basis, I didn’t want to sway their casting decisions, to take advantage of my position, or to put any awkward pressure on them, so I submitted the auditions under a pseudonym along with the rest of the auditions from the agencies we work with.
When they decided to cast me, there was a decidedly funny/awkward moment where I had to reveal that the voice was, in fact, me. I think it was a bit surprising to everyone involved, especially since the voice is so insane.
SWP: Heeheehee, you should’ve taken pictures of that exact moment. Your character died in episode 4. How did that make you feel when you read the script? Was it difficult to act that scene?
JEJ: I actually knew he was going down in ep 4 from the get-go, so it wasn’t a surprise.  On the contrary, the death stuff was some of my favorite material in the entirety of his character arc. It was delightful to fully unleash his madness, one last time.  Of course, I was a bit sad to see him go, but there’ll always be other great characters down the line, and I think he had a rather fitting end, n’est-ce pas?
SWP: Bien sûr! Is it different, playing a villain instead of a hero? Is it more fun? More interesting?
JEJ: Evil and crazy are two of my favorite things to play, so DeSinge was a special treat for me.  It was the unrestrained combination of those parts of his character that convinced me to slip my audition into the mix in the first place; to  me it’s so, so much more fun than playing a hero.
SWP: In school, were you good at chemistry? DeSinge looks like he knows what he’s doing… :-p
JEJ: I was rotten at chemistry…just awful.  It is probably the only science that I just can’t stand at all.  As for DeSinge, I’m not so sure.  I wouldn’t trust him with glass of salt water—even if there was an eye wash station within running distance.
SWP: Hm, yeah, I guess I agree with that. What video game music do you like?
JEJ: Not too surprisingly, the music that I listen to most often are adventure game scores.  I am a sucker for thematic stuff that has a chance to develop a bit over the course of a game, so that’s what I’m most strongly drawn to. I actually don’t generally listen to game music out of the context of the games themselves, but have been known to occasionally put on the Grim Fandango soundtrack.
SWP: What are your musical influences… if you have any.  Did you have any impact on the soundtrack for Tales of MI?
JEJ: The ToMI score was all Mike Land, as it should have been.  If he’d needed some help I’d have been happy to lend a hand, but the sound of the MI universe is all about Mike’s vision, so he was left alone to “do his thing” as only he can.  My role in the music pipeline for the ToMI games was primarily technical and administrative.
As for my own music influences, I have so many, it’d be hard to really call out any that I turn to more often than others.  For me, being a composer means needing to listen to as much music as possible, and to be really familiar with the traditions and techniques in a wide variety of genres.
Below is yet another list of artists I’ve been enjoying a lot lately:
Among my favorite classical composers: Lutoslawski, Shostakovitch, Stravinsky, Berg, Sibelius, Dvorák, Brahms, Mahler, Schubert, Mozart, Haydn, Bach, Purcell, Rameau, Attaingnant, Claude le Jeune.
My favorite opera and musical theater writers (with some overlap with those listed above) are: Sondheim, Kander, Leonard Bernstein, John Adams, Gershwin, Weill, Menotti, Offenbach, Wagner, Rossini, Donizetti.
My favorite film composers: John Williams, Danny Elfman, Alan Menken, Angelo Badalamenti, The Sherman bros, Elmer Bernstein, Bernard Herrmann, Henry Mancini, Yoko Kanno.
Favorite rock bands: Nirvana, They Might Be Giants, Oingo Boingo, The Beatles, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, The Cure, Grateful Dead, The Pixies, The Pogues, Queen, Talking Heads, 
Favorite jazz: Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Stephane Wrembel, David Murray, Herbie Hancock, Grappelli & Reinhardt, 
Other stuff that is great: Frank Zappa, Ozomatli, Jurassic 5, Parliment, Steve Reich, Tom Waits, Dick Hyman, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Bob Marley, John Zorn, Andrew Bird, Raymond Scott, Boards of Canada, Astor Piazzolla, Holy Modal Rounders, Héctor Lavoe, The Bothy Band, David Lindley, Typsy Gypsy
SWP: …you..you said Danny Elfman in all that, right? I…I also like Danny Elfman, heh. Ahem… Also, one of your fans would be interested to know how it was for you to work with a legend like Michael Land?
JEJ: Well, I’ve known Mike for awhile, and it’s always great to work with him. We first collaborated on some tunes for InXile’s “The Bard’s Tale” back in 2004, and we’ve been acquaintances since that first collaboration. I don’t know if it would be possible to do the MI universe justice without Mike at the helm of the music production.
SWP: Original theme music, original character, the fans loved the freshness that DeSinge brought to the series. Do you have any message for the fans?
JEJ: Well, I can’t take credit for the excellent theme Mike wrote for DeSinge, but I do love it.  I also can’t really take credit for the great character—that goes to the phenomenally gifted writing & design staff (Mark Darin, Mike Stemmle, Sean Vanaman, Joe Pinney, Jake Rodkin, Dave Grossman, Chuck Jordan, Brendan Ferguson, Will Armstrong, & others).  I think it’s safe to say that I may have taken the character a bit further off the deep end with the voice than some of the designers may have initially expected; but they really laid the framework with their excellent scripts.
I’m thrilled that DeSinge has been received so well by the fans.  Knowing how deeply the quality of these games matters to the fanbase, and especially after such a long stretch with no new games, I was delighted that DeSinge was, for the most part, enjoyed by the folks who matter most: the players!
SWP: One of the fans would also like to know how you managed to grow that marvelous beard?
JEJ: Haha, actually the beard comes and goes with surprising regularity.
The photograph of me that circulates a lot was actually taken maybe 2-3 years ago, when I had that gigantic beard for a show I was doing.   I’ve actually been largely clean-shaven for much of the last year or so and only recently grew back a much tamer version of my “winter coat.” Right now I look more or less like this:
They key to growing a huge beard is pretty simple: don’t shave…at all…for a long time.
For people who are curious to know what I look like cleanly shorn:
I’m not sure I’ll try to grow anything as ambitious as that one beard for awhile.
SWP: When playing the game or reading the script, do you get any ideas in your head regarding the soundtrack you’re going to compose for it?
JEJ: Well, in the case of ToMI, since Mike was writing the score, I wasn’t as focused on that part of the production as I would have been had I been the composer; but in general, when I am scoring a game—yes, I definitely get ideas and little bursts of inspiration when playing the game, or reading the script.  Actually, one of the particularly unique things about the work I do for Telltale is that, because I’m also a voice director for the games, I get a chance to work extensively for several days with the script, the writers, and the actors.  That process provides me with more information than I could ever glean from meetings, playtests, and concept art for the games; I get all sorts of musical ideas from that process.
EDIT (this part of the interview has also been posted on the Telltale Games Forums)
SWP: If you saw Majus’ Flashmovie Series, “I wonder what happens in Tales of Monkey Island”, in episode four I actually try to play DeSinge, your character (don’t kill me). Should I add that to my demo reel or totally forget being a voice actor for Telltale?
JEJ: I did see it, actually. The whole team was passing it around for a good week after you first posted it. Bravo! I think it’s absolutely fantastic. You should get a vo agent!
SWP: If you saw my tributes to you and your team, would you say that I am as interesting-for-science-study as Guybrush (or Guybrush’s poxed hand)?

JEJ: 🙂 I did see them—very well done! You are a goofball. In all seriousness, these movies are a great example of why I love the MI fanbase so much. It really seems like these games appeal to people in a way that spurs huge amounts of excellent creative energy.
That said, I would never wish DeSinge’s “scientific” study upon anyone, least of all on someone who loves these games as much as you obviously do!
(Oh, I especially love the little bleeps bit from Sam & Max at the start of the third tribute). That tune has an amusing history that always makes me smile.

SWP: Awesome! Thank you, Jared! Great interview for the fans.  
JEJ: Thanks Andrei, great questions. 
~Jared E-J


Posted in Interviews, LucasArts, Telltale Games

3 Responses to “Jared Emerson-Johnson Interview”

  1. Nothing really to say beyond ‘excellent interview’! 🙂

  2. haydenwce27 says:

    De Singe was one of the most unusual, crazy, wacky and unique Monkey Island characters ever and he was also one of my favourites, but the character would’ve been nothing without this guys voice! Great job Jared!

  3. My father has been waiting for this info.

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