Wargroove by Phonetic Hero
“Do you understand what you’ve just done? You’ll start a war!”
Call your banners and head off to battle for the fate of Aurania this week with Wargroove by Phonetic Hero. Pressed on red vinyl by Yetee Records, the soundtrack to Chucklefish’s turn-based tactics game has spun its way onto vinyl. This week I’ve sat down with Pete "Phonetic Hero" Lepley to lift the lid on what makes his soundtrack so special. So strap in and queue up the troops because it’s time for Wargroove!
Phonetic Hero (Pete Lepley) is an arranger and composer based out of Denver, Colorado. Known for his impeccable arranging skills that vary a swathe of the gaming industry's musical spectrum, Pete has become somewhat of a virtuoso in nailing specific genres and styles with a unique flair and ferocity that is utterly contagious. That arrangement spectrum is shown tenfold on this album, with a wide array of topographical settings and diverse characters. It's Pete's unyielding skill that carries this game to an entirely different level and truly sells the wonderful story and setting Chucklefish has created.
Pete's music tells a story, and one that is truly intoxicating to listen to. As you maneuver from level to level, battlefield to battlefield, Pete's music is there to take you deep within the rich and historic lore of this setting. All the risks, the tragedies, and losses along the way surmount to a wonderful vista of notes that carry the story and it's heroes through triumphant and grandiose situations that defy all the odds. Through Pete's own formative years, triumphant and epic narrative driven scores are what brought him to this incredible project.
"I think the biggest push for me was just playing games with immersive narratives and environments, and feeling how the music affected the experience for me as a player. I feel like I could rattle off about a hundred examples of games that impacted me deeply in this way, but Final Fantasy Tactics and the Metroid, Zelda, Castlevania, and Armored Core series are especially significant to me in this regard. I always wanted to be able to give other people the feelings that I had playing these games, and music is an amazingly powerful tool for enhancing a narrative and deepening someone's connection to a game's world and characters. Having the opportunity to help shape the emotional experience of a game is really something special to me."
Shaped by the compositional narratives before him, it was only natural for Pete to strive to create those same tangible and monumental musical moments through his own work. Driven to bring pixelated masterpieces to life, Pete set out very early on to make sure he would have a shot at being a part of the wonderful project Chucklefish was putting together.
"I got involved pretty early, yeah - I think only 3 or 4 of the commanders had been finalized by the time I sent my first email to Chucklefish. I'd seen a couple gifs on Twitter, and being a huge Advance Wars fan (and after some encouragement from a close friend) I decided I had to get in contact. I sent a few of my tracks that I thought would touch on some different possible vibes for the concepts I'd seen, and after getting a bit more info on the game's direction and characters from the Wargroove team, I put together a demo. I don't think I'd actually seen any character art by this point, at least nothing anywhere near where it'd be in the final game. They loved the demo, and it eventually became Mercia's theme (track 6). Once I was brought on officially, I got a look at Valder and Ragna in addition to Mercia and started playing with ideas for both, but I was so early that after a few months I had to work on another project and come back to give them time to finalize more characters!"
This drive and passion Pete had in securing his place in Wargroove's history is something that will live on forever in the music he created and fans he has gained along the way. The passion and determination that he puts into the projects he works on is shown ever more in the music he creates. This drive to create the wonderfully cinematic tone of Wargroove comes from some of Pete’s biggest gaming and musical influences that he told me helped embody his vision for this game.
"Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles (Kumi Tanioka) and Final Fantasy Tactics (Hitoshi Sakimoto, Masahiro Iwata) have two of my favorite soundtracks of all time, and both were huge inspirations for the overall sound of Wargroove's music. I thought a combination of the beautifully intimate, folksy tone of FFCC combined with FFT's grandeur and gravity would work great for Wargroove and also be a blast to write. With each of the 4 factions being so different, additional inspiration came from all over the place - off the top of my head, Secret of Evermore, Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, Castlevania, both Avatar series' soundtracks, Zelda, Tekken, even modern EDM at times."
As I said before, Pete's musical styling is vast, and it appears that with this broad library of inspirational musicians and their soundtracks, he had access to the exact recipe needed to help develop the dynamic and adventurous sound he desired. All of these fantastical and moving pieces of gaming’s history were the building blocks he needed to help bring the world of Aurania to life. These fantastical sounds and melodies didn’t come out of nowhere, however -- Pete shared with me his audio set up and the programs in which he used to generate Wargroove’s swashbuckling and groovy tunes!
“I've been using FL Studio since I started seriously writing music about 8 years ago, though I've been mid-project since FL 20 came out and haven't made the switch quite yet, so I'm still on FL 12. Everything was 100% sequenced, meaning no live instruments were recorded in, so Kontakt got quite the workout in this soundtrack. I used sound libraries primarily from 8dio, Embertone, Spitfire, Impact Soundworks, Ilya Efimov, and Soundiron. The soundtrack was approached to feature folk instruments from all over the world, using combinations to evoke the culture and geography of Aurania's 4 factions.”
With his trusty version of FL studio, a loadout of sound libraries at his side, and a lifetime of memorable musical moments, Pete set out to deliver what we have come to know as Wargroove. Pete shared with me some of his favorite memories that stood out to him during his writing sessions with Wargroove:
“It's hard to pick just one! One that still sticks out was getting to score the opening animation by The Line. We were in contact throughout the process to make sure everything was locking in as it went along. They sent over an animatic first and I roughed out a couple sketches overtop, then we worked to get things syncing up correctly to really maximize the impact of the music coupled with the on-screen events. I love scoring action and I don't get to do it very often, so this was definitely a highlight.
I always love learning new things, so working on Sigrid's theme (track 20) was another. I'd never written anything in that sort of Castlevania/gothic-baroque style before, and fortunately I had the time to really dig in and analyze some of the music theory behind several game tracks I really like with this vibe. The analysis and composition process took about a month total, and I'm really proud of the result.
I also really liked working on all of the non-player tracks, the pressure was lessened significantly since I didn't need to nail a particular character's personality and I just got to have fun with a bunch of ideas I thought sounded cool. The theme for the outlaws (track 4) is possibly the most well-executed track on the whole OST due to the fact that I felt a lot looser during the composition process. I also really love getting to develop motifs across a game's soundtrack to deepen their emotional impact, and weaving bits of the main theme into Aurania, Peaceful Contemplation, and a lot of the cutscene music was extremely gratifying.”
All of these small journeys in Pete's time with Wargroove allowed for him to immerse himself completely in the world he was helping to create. The passion for what he does truly permeates every aspect of this album and bleeds through to the symphonic tones as they barrage up out of the grooves and into the listener's speakers. Pete's music is not only a journey through the world of Aurania, it's a journey through his love of gaming, his love of music, and his love for Wargroove.
Brushing winds and a bright sun emerges upon a windy grove as the needle drops into this heroic landscape of grooves. A triumphant wall of horns cascades across the landscape as a calvary of percussion drives through the front lines. Playful woodwinds glide over the chaos, bringing a slight reprieve of melodic airiness that is honestly quite gorgeous. Each symphonic element here is always battling it out and vying for control of your attention, creating a chaotic, yet uniformed, volley of tones that are totally epic! Around each and every rotation of this stunning red disc there's something new to discover among the battlefield of charts.
One of this albums' greatest achievements is the dynamic range of genres it brings to the listener. Phonetic Hero will completely enthrall you in this folky, swashbuckling, and celtic adventure of notes that will have you reaching for your tone arm to track the needle back for another go. The cinematic nature of most of the tracks on this album gives way for the listener to be transported to another world. The ambient undertones that lay between each epic score gives this album a sense of wonderment and suspense about where it will take off to next. The surprisingly Gothic and synth playground with gregorian vocals on the last half of the B side on this record is just an absolute treat that adds so much flavor to this already potent tracklist.
All the trappings of awesome tactics games are here in all their inspired glory. This album has a way of just breathing so much life into the rooms it's played in that I couldn't help but groove along with it the entire time. What Pete has achieved here is nothing short of breathtaking, and something that is truly a love letter to those games that inspired an entire generation of strategy enthusiasts. This is by far an earmark on the entire genre, and a barometer for epic cinematic adventure scores to come!
Coming as a complete surprise from Yetee Records (barring a minor leak that was quickly plugged 😉), this game and it's soundtrack enamored me almost instantly. It took only a few seconds of sampling Phonetic Hero's music before I was completely sold on the entire Wargroove setting and everything it had to offer. This release is utterly astounding from front to back and within each of its intricate grooves. Drew Wise on design here is just sublime as always, and encapsulates the Wargroove universe spectacularly. The spot gloss finishing on the design really helps Drew's work pop off both the front and back covers in all their celtic glory. There's loving detail all across the back, featuring logos from everyone involved in this record's release, as well as a lovingly stylized tracklist sprawled out like a map to chart your course through Phonetic Hero's wonderful musical journey. Mastering here was carried out by the extremely talented Simon Struthers from Forensic Audio. The crispness of the noise floor present gives all the intricacies of Pete's arrangements the chance to shine, and helps accentuate the verbose dynamics that Wargroove will take you on. The record itself is a stunning pastel red that accents the design work and is truly one of the more stunning red colored records I've seen. The label design on side 1 is eloquent and is just a beautiful continuation of the jackets design. Side 2's label, however, is kind of generic to me and lacks the cohesiveness that the packaging has as a whole. This would be a bigger let down if everything else wasn't so spectacular. Overall, they knocked this release out of the park!
Overall I just adore this album and all the things it offers. Limited to 300 copies, this is just a no-brainer for any fan of grand and epic fantasy music. You will not be disappointed adding this one to your collection!
I want to give a huge thanks to Pete for taking the time to sit and talk with me about his music. It's always a pleasure to hear the complexities that go on behind the music I enjoy. It is an absolute pleasure to be able to share some of his story with all of you, and I hope it helps you understand just how amazing the art of creating music really is. I also want to give a huge shout out to Boss Battle Records for providing me with a few codes to give away to fans of this site and Pete’s work. Keep an eye out on social media for a chance to win one!
Where to Buy?
This album is still available directly from The Yetee -- however, with it being limited to 300 copies, who knows how much longer it will be available? If you are interested in this game or its soundtrack, I highly recommend you grab this awesome release for your collection. You won't be disappointed!