Though Capcom's action game series has always had a particular sound for its gothic-horror-aesthetic, the current game, Devil May Cry 5, features music that really goes the extra mile to get players to feel something more as they're working their way up to SSS rank. GameSpot recently interviewed DMC5 composers Cody Matthew Johnson and husband-wife team Casey and Ali Edwards about the making of the action game's main tracks for its cast of characters. During this talk, they spoke about their collaboration with Capcom, how the game's energizing and dynamic soundtrack is a game-changer, and what it's like having the internet embrace their new sound.
Editor's Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and readability.
Can you talk about what it was like working with Capcom for this project, and how they first got in contact with you?
Casey Edwards: Funny enough, even though I ended up writing the track Devil Trigger, I got found through one of Ali's older tracks that she did for another video game called Killer Instinct with Mick Gordon [B. Orchid's Theme, in particular]. I actually did some work on that game as well, assisting the composer.
Ali Edwards: Yeah, it's like they wanted both of us without knowing that we even knew each other, or that we were married at all.
Casey: Yeah, Capcom heard that particular track and they really liked the drive that it had. It really just stood out to everyone. When I wrote Devil Trigger, I pitched her as the vocalist and they just immediately fell in love with it. So, it kinda just worked out in a weird, coincidental, ironic way.
And Cody, this is actually your third collaboration with Capcom, the first being for Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite?
Cody M. Johnson: That is true. My career is still in the early stages, which is really exciting as all these things are happening. My collaborator Jeff Rona and I did three games back to back for Capcom. We didn't really stop. We started off with Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite. Right after that came out, word got around to another development team about what we were doing, and they liked what they heard. So they came back to us. Right out of the gate I was working with Jeff, who wrote "Crimson Cloud" [V's Theme], and I ended up writing "Subhuman" [Dante's theme]. We worked on Devil May Cry 5 first, but then shortly after that, another team at Capcom hit us up to do Resident Evil 2 shortly after. So it's been pretty exciting.
Were you fans of the series before you worked on this game?
Cody: I had played Devil May Cry 4 and the previous games a lot. I was still young enough to sneak away and play them with my friends, but it was so hard, I didn't get very far. Even as an experienced gamer now, I've come back to try to play them, when I first picked up Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite–but they're just so hard. They're still one of the hardest games I've ever played to date.
Casey: I actually grew up playing Devil May Cry. So I remembered the whole Devil Trigger aspect of the game pretty vividly, and that was what was sticking out in my head as I was writing the song. I couldn't get it out of my head and yeah, I don't know, I just wrote it and we just went with it. I thought for sure someone from Capcom was gonna send me an email back saying, "Hey, you need to change that."
Ali: But that didn't happen. They all loved it.
The big line of the song, "bang, bang, bang, pull my Devil Trigger," is such an earworm, and it feels so appropriate for the series.
Casey: Right, I remember writing that. I wrote all these lyrics in one sitting, pretty much. For that particular part, I was looking at Ali, and then I verbalized what she was about to sing.
Ali: You were so worried I was gonna hate it!
Casey: To me, that was kind of a fun phrase. I just wasn't sure if it would latch on to the Devil May Cry fans, you know?
Last I checked, Devil Trigger has over 21 million views on YouTube. Having those earlier reservations, are you surprised to see how much it has taken off?
Casey: Well, first of all, it's pretty freakin' crazy. That's a lot of plays. It kinda blows my mind a little bit. I think there might be a few factors involved in that. People have been really excited to see a continuation of [classic] Devil May Cry. I guess in the sense that you say, the song is holding its own water a little bit as well, yeah, I don't know what to say other than it's pretty insane that people have played the song that many times.
Ali: Yeah, it's definitely something we didn't expect. We were more worried that fans would hate the track, and it would become a meme. Instead, it became a meme in the best possible way.
Both of you even got to perform the song live at The Game Awards. They had Rivers Cuomo from Weezer introduce your performance.
Casey: Yeah, that was awesome. We actually got to run into Rivers after that, and it was pretty great getting to take pictures with him and nerd out. I mean gosh, yeah, I was listening to them back in high school, so that was pretty awesome. And yeah, getting to play at The Game Awards was, I mean, a dream come true. And I know it's a relatively new awards show, but they had so many awesome people on stage, and we got to share a stage with Hans Zimmer. That's nuts.
Ali: Yeah, that was pretty crazy, it was a blast. It was such a crazy production if you think about it. It takes a huge team to put on a production of that magnitude. It's crazy seeing it all happen, and being a part of it, continuously.
As far as working on Devil May Cry 5, I can only imagine how much planning went into writing the tracks and getting them just write. Can you talk about what the collaborative process was like with the other composers at Capcom.
Cody: Yeah, from the very beginning, Capcom wanted, I should say, independence. They wanted to make sure each of these key tracks could exist separately from one other, but still work together within the Devil May Cry universe. We worked with Kota Suzuki [DMC5's main composer], who actually wrote the track "Legacy," which was in the final trailer. He was part of the development team that flew out to LA when we did the recording sessions for the bigger tracks, including "Subhuman" and "Crimson Cloud." Other than that, Capcom didn't really restrict us; they really wanted the score in these scenes to give identity to their characters.
Casey: When we were working with Capcom Japan, they had some clear visions for what they wanted for some of these tracks, and it was really nice getting to implement previous work I had done in the game, and getting to bring it to new light towards the end of the gaming experience.
Ali: After they heard me on "Devil Trigger," I guess maybe that's when they reached out for "Legacy" with me. I didn't think was going to happen until the game was released. I wasn't sure that was ever going to see the light of day in trailer form. And so I remember being pleasantly surprised when that came out. It's an exciting track, it's really beautiful, with swelling strings, and it was amazing for the fans to finally hear that. Working with Kota on that was a great experience as well.
That song really comes up at such a great moment in the game. It also highlights how different a lot of the tracks are in the game, yet they work really well when you bring it all together.
Casey: Yeah, for sure. I think that's one thing people can get lost sometimes. They forget, "Devil Trigger," for instance, is some weird hybrid rock pop thing, but I am also a classically trained orchestral composer and Ali does anything from soft, ethereal vocals to just mind-blowing powerful pop vocals, and stuff like that.
Ali: I started out as a jazz singer, so there's that, too. But we got to be totally crazy with it. Working on a session musician, you can be asked to do anything, and I think your willingness to be a chameleon is really where your usability as a session musician really comes into play. The more I can become a chameleon and adhere to different genres of music, I mean, that's why I'm being asked to work on video games. If I couldn't do that, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to work on so many incredible games so far.
Looking back on the history of the series, Devil May Cry has this really deep focus on presenting bombastic and energizing tracks. Another game in the series that had a really eclectic soundtrack was Ninja Theory's DmC: Devil May Cry–featuring Noisia and Combichrist. Did the style of that game have any influence on this one?
Cody: Well from the very start, everything was based on Devil May Cry 4, as in all the references they sent us. But of course, it was something I personally looked into. It's important to understand the trajectory of all these games, where it's been, and how the fans reacted. And you need to make a decision about where you want your art to align with. It was very conscious from the very beginning that this game is Devil May Cry 5. That was a very conscious decision, not to stay away from that version of DmC, but to separate from it, stylistically. But yeah, the combat system that matures and alters the music was something we really liked about that game.
It's really thrilling to hear DMC5's music evolve depending on how well you're playing.
Cody: Yeah, It was just something we were very conscious of from the very beginning. We don't want to leave any players behind, but we didn't want to make it easier for players either. It's all about challenging yourself. But the worst thing that could happen would be if the game's music was boring. I know this as a gamer, I know this as someone who goes listens to the same 32-second track on loop for hours. It's the worst thing in the world: You're stuck on a level for three days, you don't wanna be listening to the same piece of music.
We really tried to craft these songs in a way, that if you don't hit SSS rank, you don't ever hear the chorus or the breakdown. By doing that, those parts of the song will never get boring. The goal from the start was to incentivize the player. There is something more, you should do your absolute best to get to your SSS, and you'll get the payoff. There should be rewards for those players that accomplish that, and I think we achieved something beyond the normal combat music.
Did you enjoy your experience working with Capcom on Devil May Cry 5?
Cody: They've always been happy with what we've done and we're always happy to give it to 'em. They're such an amazing collaborator, and they really care about artistic vision, and they care about what you can bring to the table, and it's truly an amazing experience working with them.
Casey: I was super excited to work on Devil May Cry. I've been playing this game since Devil May Cry 1, which came out in 2001. I remember my mom taking me to Blockbuster to rent it. And then you fast forward to 2017, when I was asked to work on it, I was already so freaking pumped to get started on it. We're classically trained and I play guitar as well in the STEM program, right? I love doing so many different things and different genres. So being asked to genre hop is one of the best things about working in the field. TV and video games and film, all alike, and one day you could be writing a solo piano piece and the next day you're writing "Devil Trigger."
Ali: Yeah, for me, video games have always been a pretty large part of my life. It's always been a love of mine. So, I remember playing games with my cousins when we were all kids and it was this bonding experience for all of us. And I never would've imagined that I'd be working on video games today. It's kind of crazy to think about, but I absolutely love what I do. I love being able to work on various projects across various genres and kind of become a different person for a little while. And it's really, really humbling, seeing how the fans have accepted our work. It's very humbling, it's very exciting, and, all in all, we're very grateful to be a part of the Devil May Cry family.