Last month, Square Enix and PlatinumGames released a sequel to NieR and what I feel is without a doubt one of the best video game experiences of 2017. NieR: Automata successfully blends rich and challenging gameplay mechanics with a beautifully engaging musical score, instantly making it some of Yoko Taro’s best work to date.
Shortly after the game’s launch, I was able to sit down with NieR: Automata Vocalist Emi Evans and get her insight on what it was like to be a part of one of the most successful gaming projects so far the year. Below is my in-depth interview along with a musical sample of one of her tracks from the game.
Can you describe how you got your first big break as a vocalist and lyricist in this industry?
Emi Evans: My very first ever step into the world of video game music was when a friend of a friend introduced me to Norihiko Hibino san, who invited me to sing for an Etrian Odyssey arrange album. I went by the name of Rebecca Evans back then as I was so shy at the thought of being listened to by so many game fans!
However, my first real big break into this industry was unquestionably singing for NieR and I am so grateful for the numerous opportunities which singing for NieR has led me to. I met Keiichi Okabe san totally by chance. He’d happened to be looking for a native English singer for one of his projects and through a long chain of friends of friends, I got a call out of the blue from Okabe san’s then-secretary and we were introduced.
As it turned out, after listening to my demo CD, Okabe san decided that I wouldn’t be suitable for the project which he was working on (Dance Dance Revolution), but he said that he’d keep me in mind if a more suitable project came up. And that, of course, happened to be NieR.
When approached to work on NieR, what were some of your sources of inspiration for creating the right type of composition for this title?
Emi Evans: Actually, for both NieR projects I had very little material to be inspired by. I wasn’t shown any visuals at all for NieR Automata, so all of my inspiration came from the demo tracks which I was sent, my imagination, and knowing already about the world of the original NieR.
I would listen to the demo tracks many times until I found the futuristic language which I felt would match each melody the best. When I was in the studio Okabe san described to me the landscape where the song would be used and the mood which he thought fitting. Then it was just a matter of singing in my made up languages and letting the feeling of these unfamiliar sounds coming out of my mouth spark off additional inspiration to give the songs extra emotion and character.
After creating great music for the original NieR, what did you do differently for NieR: Automata? Could you describe how your creation process changed if at all?
Emi Evans: For NieR Automata, I don’t think I did anything that differently, just more confidently. With NieR Replicant, it was my first time being asked to sing in made up languages and a lot of the time I felt like I was fumbling around, not really sure if what I was singing would be acceptable or how my lyrics would go down. But this time, I already knew the world of NieR and had faith in my system of lyric writing and ever since I found out that I would be taking part in NieR Automata, I had set about researching and collecting new languages (including some endangered ones) which I wanted to try out.
Also, thanks to all the positive feedback which my made up languages had been given with the previous NieR, I felt a lot more connected with the players and so I really wanted to live up to their expectations and give them something extra special with the new songs. Also, I must admit that over the years I have grown extremely fond of all the original NieR songs and so the recording for Automata felt much more personal to me. As well as being more confident about what I was doing this time, a lot of love was poured into this project!
Of all the games that you’ve created music for, which one would you say that you’ve enjoyed the most?
Emi Evans: Absolutely NieR Automata! Ever since singing for NieR Replicant I had dreamed of working on a sequel one day, so you can imagine my excitement when I realized that I would be involved with NieR Automata! But as well as the thrill of working on a dream project, it was just so much fun to be back in the studio with Okabe san and the Monaca team again, who by now know my voice extremely well and always compose such comfortable melodies for me to sing.
We have done quite a few other projects together since the first NieR and over the years, not only has my admiration of Okabe san and Hoashi sans beautiful compositions grown but they and the Monaca team have also become like my musical family. It was such a happy and relaxed feeling in the studio, while at the same time feeling the creative buzz of excitement as the recordings progressed and the lyrics in each song began to come to life. Definitely the most enjoyable project so far!
Are you a gamer and if so which genre of games do you enjoy playing most? Also, which platform or platforms do you own?
Emi Evans: Although the world of video games fascinates me, I’m afraid I am not a gamer at all myself. I am so terrible with anything technical and don’t think I would get very far! But of course, I do enjoy watching snippets of NieR Automata gameplay videos on YouTube to get to know the characters and to find out how my vocals are being used, as well as just to appreciate the beautiful landscapes.
Part of me would love to play through NieR Automata and experience first hand the emotional ride which I hear so much about in the reviews, but the other part of me fears that if I did, I wouldn’t ever be able to perform the songs live without breaking down on stage into a sobbing mess! So being a non-gamer is probably for the best.
Are there any existing dream projects or franchises that you would love to create the music for one day?
Emi Evans: Rather than working on any new projects, my dream right now is to perform the music of NieR Automata to as many fans as possible. The soundtrack has become so dear to me and singing such beloved songs live to the fans is such a rewarding and joyful experience!
It is already a dream come true to be able to sing the five NieR concerts in Osaka and Tokyo but I would so love to do a Japan tour and even one day a world tour! I really pray that the fan’s love and support for the soundtrack will continue and grow so that I will always have the next NieR concert to look forward to!
What advice would you give to any aspiring vocalists or lyricists who are trying to catch their big break in the film or video game industry?
Emi Evans: Unfortunately I don’t feel in a position to give any advice to lyricists as I myself can only write confidently in made up languages and I still feel like I’m an aspiring vocalist, but I think that what has brought me where I am so far, is mainly just my love of singing for others and being persistent at what I do. The rest was just being lucky enough to meet the right people.
Of course networking like crazy at first, gratefully taking every chance you are offered and always giving the very best you can to every project regardless of how big or small it may be, are all important too especially as word of mouth can carry you a long way in this industry and one project can often lead to another.
But I think that basically, if you really love singing and always have the desire to emotionally communicate and touch, then others will sense and appreciate this passion too. I think that people remember you not so much for how technically well you sing, but for the way that they are touched when listening to your voice.
NieR: Automata is out now on PlayStation 4 and PC.
This concludes my interview with Emi Evans for his work on NieR: Automata. Emi currently works with Scarlet Moon Productions and you can follow her on Twitter for updates on her latest projects. Did any of you enjoy the soundtrack for NieR: Automata as much as I did? Please feel free to let me know your thoughts on this and the game as a whole in the comments section below.