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Interview: Shaimus

Kevin Kelly

Shaimus is a band born out of Harmonix, featuring former employees Phil Beaudreau and Johannes "Rash" Raasina, and has been lucky enough to have songs in both Guitar Hero ("All Of This") and Rock Band 2 ("Like a Fool'). They recently launched a new album, and we caught up with them at one of their Los Angeles shows to see what it's like being a rock band in a video game about ... rock bands.

Read the interview after the break, and check out one of their free tunes right here.

Gallery: Shaimus | 43 Photos

How did the band form?

Phil got a bunch of guys from college together to start playing some rock songs he had written. It was really fun, and after making Paper Sun we all realized this was a very good idea ... and it still is, so we're still playing.

When did you first find out about Guitar Hero and what it was, and that you'd have a song in it?

Phil and Johannes were working at Harmonix in Cambridge, Massachusetts doing video game testing for the Karaoke Revolution game in 2005 when Guitar Hero was being developed. Harmonix was a tiny company with a very small budget for the game, and they were looking for local Boston artists and bands with Harmonix employees in them to fill out their bonus track selection for the game. We had just recorded a not-quite-finished version of "All Of This," which we gave them figuring it might be fun to play because it had a guitar solo in it. They liked it and decided to include it.

Was the feedback from having the song in the game immediate?

It was pretty immediate in that it created some demand for our first CD months before it even came out. It took a little time for Guitar Hero to blow up into the phenomenon it did, but hints that it was going to become very popular were there right from the beginning. It was fun reading message boards with people who loved "All Of This," and it made us realize we had to get the album finished and pressed as soon as we could to capitalize on the exposure.

Two of the guys in the band worked at Harmonix, would the song have gotten in the game otherwise?

Probably not. So many of the bonus bands had Harmonix employee members, and our band was so new when the game was being developed, we wouldn't have had much pull to say "Hey, put us in your game. No one's ever heard of us, but we're totally awesome."

How did having a song in the game impact the band? Do people still recognize you from Guitar Hero?

It impacted us in the sense that it gave us instant international exposure. The Internet allows every band to be heard worldwide these days, but getting people to listen to you in the first place is the real challenge, particularly considering most people are pretty skeptical of unknown bands. Being in a game, specifically a game where people are "playing" our song, had tons of people listening to our music about as intently as they could.

By the time Guitar Hero and Rock Band exploded, you guys found out you'd have a song in Rock Band 2, how did that come about?

We've always continued our relationship with Harmonix, even after we moved to the West coast. Anytime they would work on a new game, we'd ask them if we could be in it again. But with the games' exploding popularity, and without Phil and Johannes working for the company, it was harder to get a song in. Not to mention, we hadn't come out with any new CDs since Paper Sun. Luckily by the time Rock Band 2 came along, we were working on our new CD and they were cool enough to include "Like a Fool" as one of the free downloads.

Is it weird playing your own songs in the games?

The first time we ever played "All Of This" in Guitar Hero, I think it blew our minds a little, but now it's more cool than weird. It's really fun to know that we are a part of the music game phenomenon, even if it was only a small "bonus" part.

Have the music games started changing the face of music? Are people exposed to more music through games than through iTunes?

Video games were already exposing a lot of people to new music, but music games took it to a whole other level. They've probably also gotten people to like bands and genres of music that they may never have even liked if they never got the chance to play along with them. Playing along to a song gives people a much stronger connection to the music. It's hard to say what exposes fans to music the most, but people are certainly going straight from the music games to iTunes and buying the songs that they like.

How did you have to prepare the songs for the games?

For Guitar Hero it was pretty simple -- Harmonix asked for each guitar track separated, and one stereo track of the rest of the instruments and vocals. For Rock Band it was a bit more complicated -- since players can perform vocals, drums, bass and guitars, we needed to split up all these instruments and send a special file containing the separate parts. Having made the record on our own definitely made this process easy. We just opened up the song and made the necessary changes.

Has having a song in the games made you change anything about your music?

We haven't consciously written or arranged songs to fit into a video game, but we definitely joked that "Like A Fool" was Guitar Hero ready when we finished it!

What do you think the next step is for music + video games?

Guitar Hero
and Rock Band come with pre-packaged material. The Internet allows for downloading hundreds of additional tracks that wouldn't fit on the original disc so this was certainly a good start ... but the song still has to exist somewhere. The next step might be something where you can connect the game directly to your music library, and download whichever song strikes you at the moment directly into the game. If the game had the ability to determine different parts intelligently, and convert it into a playable format, this would be very cool. Although we can't imagine how the technology would be that smart!

What game systems do you guys play on and what do you like playing?

We all agree that Mario Kart 64 is one of the greatest games ever created. Other than that we play a variety of games on PS2 and 360 - racing games, GTA, first-person shooters. Not too many sports games though. Cam and Johannes prefer playing each others instruments on Rock Band. Evan would probably stumble through his guitar solo on "All Of This" on medium.

What's next for the band?

Promoting our new album and music in all ways we can think of! For example, blogs (like Joystiq) help further the Shaimus online buzz. Touring exposes more people to the [hopefully] memorable connection that happens between an audience and a band at a live show. Licensing our music to movies and TV spread our sound to a wide audience and adds to the important subconscious feeling of "Oh, I think I've heard this song somewhere".

Of course, the reason we play music is to have fun, so we'll be sure to make plenty of entertaining and silly videos for our YouTube channel as well. Tune in some time!

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