Hey Poor Player goes strumming through the pixels with Banjo Guy Ollie
It’s very seldom that, while clicking around YouTube, a “recommended” video manages to capture my attention. But that’s exactly what happened back in 2014 when I noticed a bearded man playing a banjo on a thumbnail titled “Castlevania Cover – Vampire Killer – Banjo Guy Ollie”. What in the world could this be? Being an uber Castlevania fan, and also a very big fan of Primus and Les Claypool’s amazing banjo skills, I was very intrigued and decided to give this video a click. I just stared at my computer screen with my mouth agape while watching Banjo Guy Ollie pull off Vampire Killer using 5 different video feeds of himself playing separate parts of the song. I subscribed in an instant! In the past few years I’ve watched Banjo Guy Ollie get more and more creative with several instruments to create numerous sounds and tunes that I’ve never thought possible without synthesizers and other studio magic. I was overly excited when I reached out to Ollie and he agreed to let me throw a few questions at him. So without further ado, let’s head on over to Ireland, grab a pint, and find out some pretty cool facts about The Banjo Guy himself.
HPP: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you were introduced to the banjo and music in general?
BGO: So I’m Ollie, and I do music covers on Youtube under the name Banjo Guy Ollie. As the name suggests, it involves using a banjo for these in some way. I was first introduced to making music on my old MSX. My father worked for Philips in France and they manufactured MSX computers, so we had a few in the house. I must have been 9 or 10 when I programmed my first tune using basic. A few years later I got an Amiga and started making music on that too, using Protracker and Octamed. Then I got a guitar. I was 14, and I remember being so frustrated with it. I mean, I could produce entire pieces on a computer, but getting two notes together on the guitar was suddenly impossible .
But I kept at it. There was no internet or tutorials or even teachers available to me, so I had to learn all of it on my own. Then I became interested in traditional Celtic and European folk music and picked up a few instruments, including the banjo and started playing them in various bands. In 1998 I moved to Ireland and have been living there since.
HPP: What was the first gaming console you owned, and what’s your favorite overall console?
BGO: It was the Videopac. Before Philips started making MSX computers, they also made the Videopac in Europe (the Magnavox Odyssey in the US). I remember my Dad bringing home a prototype. It was just the motherboard without the casing or even joysticks. And he had a shoe box of prototype carts – again just the bare boards on their own. I’m surprised we didn’t get shocked or at least fry the whole machine!
Since there were no joysticks to control anything, we had to put the direction wires between our fingers and connect the ground by hand . I think we then got the joysticks a week or two after. It’s crazy to think we threw the whole thing in the bin when we got the MSX … I want to cry when I think of it.
The MSX has to be my favorite though. Not because of what it can(‘t) do but because it was really my first introduction to proper gaming, with games like Vampire Killer (Castlevania) , Metal Gear, The Treasure of USAS, the NEMESIS series. It was just jaw dropping at the time. The Amiga was great, don’t get me wrong, but the initial impact of discovery was gone by the time I got one. I could do more and better with the Amiga but it essentially was an upgrade to the MSX, if you know what I mean. I also learned the basis of programming in z80 assembly code, and music and making graphics. What a great time this was.
HPP: Could you walk us through the process of making one of your music videos? What’s the average time it takes to produce one song?
BGO: Oh, man. It’s really hard to describe what my process is because I don’t really have a routine way of making these still. In general when I decide to learn a piece I identify the part the piece “rests” upon. It could be the bass line, a little arpeggio, some accompaniment or even the melody. Whatever it is, this is the part I learn first and I base the feel of the cover on that. I then make a first draft without any effect and I refine things after that until I’m happy with each take. Once I’m happy with everything I record, I can spend the rest of the time on editing. This is when I work on the EQ, reverb, balance and panning. I don’t save presets and settings either, I like to redo all my settings and sounds (like the drums) every time. It prevents me from having covers that sound all similar to each other and makes things more interesting. I like to re-invent the wheel every time I produce something new.
I release a video every two weeks. Honestly, if I worked on it all day long I could probably have a cover done in just one weekend, but life doesn’t really work like that (laughs).
I have a 9 to 5 job as a developer that I like and that keeps me busy too, teaching judo, surfing, karate. I do all the building and DIY in the house, not to mention my second channel, and painting. So I only get to work on the covers sporadically throughout the week, and since I like to re-invent the wheel every time, two weeks is barely enough to release a cover to be honest. It’s not unusual that I am able to release them with minutes to spare on the day (laughs).
… Oh, and spending time with my wife, of course!
HPP: Are you the player in the gameplay section that you include in your music videos? If so, I must say, you’ve got some skills!
BGO: Sometimes it is, sometimes I grab these from Youtube or friends. If I have the time I’ll play the game to get the footage, but it’s not always possible.
HPP: Which song do fans request that you cover of the most?
BGO: Banjo Kazooie… Banjo fuckin’ Kazooie!!!
HPP: This is probably the toughest question of the interview, but could you give us your top 3 video game soundtracks of all time?
BGO: Easy, Turrican 2 on the Amiga, Dune on PC (or Amiga), Castlevania on NES (the MSX version is good too, but I think the NES was fuller)
HPP: Do you have a favorite video game music composer?
BGO: Chris Huelsbeck is my god. When I first heard Turrican 1 and 2 on the Amiga I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Pure genius. Of course, there’s been many composers since, but the impact this guy had on me is huge. I also like the work Jake Kaufman did on Shovel Knight. I mean the sound track for this is just unreal. I’d like to do a full album or that at some point … and Turrican tunes… and Megaman , and Castlevania(s) ..oh man! So many tunes.
HPP: Speaking of your paintings, many may not realize that you are also an amazing artist as well. We need a nice Castlevania painting here at the office at Hey Poor Player! Do you take requests?
BGO: (Laughs) I did one Castlevania piece but nobody wanted it so I ended up painting over it. Think I did a Shovel Knight painting over it. That feels appropriate somehow. To answer your question, I don’t really take requests. I was an “artist” for years and commissions took the good out of it. I had so many obligations to galleries to paint what people wanted that it took the good out of it. I ended up giving it up overnight and giving galleries the finger because I just crashed and had enough. I stopped painting altogether for a few years and it took videogame art to re-kindle the love of painting. I’m happy with the way I’m working now, I have the freedom to do whatever I want and people seem to understand and appreciate that. I never thought I’d sell these paintings to be honest. I started doing them as studies but they fly out the door now. They’re pretty much gone the hour I put them up on Facebook.
I started recording the process and making time-lapse video of these a while back too. Very few people watch these though, but they’re still cool to do. As a painter they’re the kind of videos I am looking for on YouTube. Although I’m not entirely pleased with them and I am thinking about changing them more into instructionals/tutorial type of videos.
HPP: I’ve noticed that a lot of your cover music revolves around retro games, but you sprinkle some modern video game music in as well. Do you own any of the current modern consoles or are you primarily a retro gamer?
BGO: Not really. I owned an Xbox 360 but I still haven’t made the transition to the current gen consoles. I play a lot on PC, mostly Fallout 4 at the moment, and a few other indie games on Steam. I’m very excited about the new Wonderboy game coming out too, Monsterboy. I have a 3DS and I enjoy it, but there’s too few good titles for it.
I don’t think consoles have much of a commercial future in their current form – as in PCs in branded shells. There’s been a technological convergence happening since the PS2/Xbox era and we’re at the point where all consoles essentially share the same hardware architecture. It’s heaven for developers, as it makes programming and porting titles easier, but the result is that they’re making each other redundant. I’m curious about the Nintendo NX , it seems shrouded in mystery but ultimately I think portable / mobile is the future. I know it’s not a popular idea but looking at kids around me, they all play so much on their mobile phones now and there’s so much content available for portable OS devices. It’s an ideal platform for developers.
HPP: Final question. What made you decide to make your first video and upload it to YouTube? How did it feel when you started seeing your subscriber numbers increase?
BGO: It took seeing Smooth McGroove’s videos for me to decide to make my own. I wasn’t doing much anymore musically at the time, and was waiting for inspiration to come back. Then I saw his videos and instantly thought, “Hey, I can totally try to do something like that!”. So, I was at home one weekend and my wife was away so i thought it was the perfect time to work on something. I made the first cover, the Vampire Killer tune from Castlevania. It was perfect because I was able to work on it all weekend long, mess up and make as much noise as i wanted and really learned the ropes.
Earing it back now, it sounds rough as hell, but I obviously thought it was good enough to upload on Youtube at the time. It got picked up then by the Castlevania Facebook page after a week and the next morning there was around a 1000k subscribers to the channel. I couldn’t believe it, all these messages of people saying they’d liked the cover it was fantastic. Just to make sure it wasn’t a fluke I thought I’d make a couple more just to see if I could, but I wasn’t planning on making more than 2 or 3…
I guess I was wrong!
Thanks so much for your time, Ollie. We here at Hey Poor Player anxiously await your next video, but until then I think we’ll just listen (for the 1,000th time) to your newest video, the cover of Shoot or Die from the Turrican soundtrack!
If you would like to support Banjo Guy Ollie, please do so by visiting his Patreon page and make a contribution.
Also, make sure to follow him on Facebook and snatch up one of his paintings. You gotta be really quick though, as they sell in minutes!