By Monica Wang
Talking to Stephen, though I have never met him in person (not to mention almost all of the rest of Materia), is quite refreshing. He is quite straight-forward, but gives off a friendly air with his quick and eager responsiveness in our Facebook chat, littering his replies with a few emoticons, despite the fact that he tells me he is busy and may take a bit to reply.
Though he lives in Germany, Stephen says the time difference does not affect his interaction with any American-based friends/work clients. However, with all of Materia’s deadlines being in based in Western (North American) time zones, it still must be a challenge to keep track of, especially since he is the project leader and main producer for our upcoming MOBIUS album.
Since MOBIUS is being released in honor of the 25th Anniversary of the original Sonic the Hedgehog release, I figured Sonic must hold some sort of special meaning for Stephen. This is revealed as we talk as I find out that the music from the Sonic the Hedgehog series was one of his very first exposures to rock/pop-oriented music. Having grown up in a religious household where secular music was not allowed, video games were one of the few places Stephen had access to music that was not religious because to his parents “it was just bleeps and bloops”. Nevertheless, to the child Stephen was, this music was magical and transformative and influenced him not only as musician, but the path his music would take. It is only fitting, really, that Sonic plays a part in his life, even now.
Musical Background (What sort of musical projects are you/have you been involved in? How did you get started in music?)
I’ve been playing music for 21 years. I grew up on video game soundtracks as some of my main musical influences early on. At 18, I joined the Air Force, and continued playing to the point where I went on tour with one of the military bands.
After that experience, I really started getting seriously into music production, and found my way into composition for film and games. Along with several Materia Collective projects, I’m also composing original music for 2 video games, and I’m looking forward to what’s next!
What was the first video game you played?
I can’t quite remember which one, but they were around the same time: A-10 Tank Killer (1989) by Dynamix, or King’s Quest (1990) by Sierra.
What does video game music mean to you?
Well, it’s my career now. 😉 But seriously, it would not be hyperbole to say that video game music (specifically Sonic) was the reason that I started learning guitar and became a musician. It has that ability to take you into another world, and I hope that my compositions do the same thing for someone.
Why did you participate with the Materia Collective? How did you get involved?
Ha! I think I was like the second or third commenter on Sebastian’s initial “Question of Doom” that started this whole thing. He asked Facebook friends who wanted to cover [Final Fantasy 7], since the re-release got announced in 2015. Of course, FF7 was another milepost in my musical and gaming journey, so I jumped right on board.
It was so much fun that I stayed on board for more.
If you could have any dream job in the music world, what would it be?
Well, I’m kinda already doing it…but I would like to continue composing for game titles that are challenging emotionally, so that I can stretch my creative and technical abilities more.
How do you deal with constructive criticism?
It’s the best way to improve your craft. Every one of us puts our energy into creating music, so it’s understandable that it would be uncomfortable to have someone criticize that. However, if you can let go of the initial impulse to get defensive, you will find that you can actually improve the quality of your output, and make even better art.
In an alternate reality, what would your passion be instead of music/video games? Photography
What inspires you, as a musician?
Creative, intelligent use of craft. Doesn’t matter what genre, even though I have my preferences…I just want to hear that you took time to perfect your craft, and that you have something unique to say, either lyrically or musically. That inspires me.
What’s something about you most people might not know?
I’ve been in the Air Force for 14 years…just about the polar opposite of creative work. I was active duty for 10 years, and now I’m in the Air National Guard, so I only have to do it every so often.
If you are in a room of 50 strangers for an hour, about how many of them would you introduce yourself to and/or try to get to know?
Three. I’d rather have interesting, in depth conversation with a few people.
What age would you want to be/look like forever (physically)?
Twenty nine. It’s young enough to have fun, and not have any health issues, but old enough to be comfortable in your own skin.
If you could make any fictional character real and also be your best friend, who would you pick? Geralt of Rivia.
Favorite Pokemon? Charizard
Favorite color? Cerulean
Favorite video game/soundtrack/song?
Video Game – The Witcher (series)
Soundtrack – Sonic CD (US)
Song – N/A (Impossible)
Favorite Meme? Special Meme Fresh
Who do you main in Super Smash Bros? Sonic
If you had to pick an emoji/emoticon to represent yourself, which one would you pick? 🤔
Most anticipated game? Shenmue 3
Any musical endeavors you haven’t done yet that you want to tackle? Different genres, games, instruments?
Yes, I want to write and conduct a complete symphony, based around a unified concept, and have it performed with a live orchestra.