Violinist and composer Taylor Davis is a best known for her albums of videogame and film music. She released her first collection, Gaming Fantasy, in 2012 and her YouTube channel now has over 370,000 subscribers. Her most recent release is Melodies of Hyrule, which features music from The Legend of Zelda series.
We spoke to Davis to learn more about her background and the process of working with videogame music.
Thumbsticks: How old were you when you took up the violin and why was the instrument so appealing to you?
Taylor Davis: I started playing the violin when I was a little over 8 years of age. I saw a girl performing Silent Night at a Christmas assembly at my elementary school and was mesmerized by her performance. I immediately went home and asked my parents if I could play violin after I saw it. Thankfully they said yes and I started lessons later that year.
Does being an independent artist give you freedom to explore the genres of music that interest you?
Yes, being an independent artist definitely has advantages in having complete creative freedom over the type of music that I want to play. I think it would have been hard to have been signed by a label knowing that I wanted to perform mostly music from video games and film. I’m very fortunate that there are tools and resources out there available to independent musicians to help us follow our own path and perform the type of music that we’re most passionate about!
Your most recent album covers the musical legacy of the Legend of Zelda series. What makes those themes so timeless and was it a daunting project to take on?
This is probably my favorite album that I’ve done so far and probably my favorite of my own albums to listen to. I think for most gamers Zelda is just such a familiar game and the music is such an integral part of the gaming experience that it really stays with you.
The last time I played these games was probably when I was in middle school, but the music still has stayed with me and I get nostalgic just listening to any of these themes, so it really turned out to be an incredibly fun project. The most daunting part of putting together an album is usually just choosing the list of songs because you always have to make cuts and there are so many wonderful Zelda songs out there. You want to find a good balance between your own favorites as well as those the audience would most like to listen to.
I’m so blessed that I have an amazing partner to work with on albums now in Adam Gubman. He creates amazing backtrack orchestrations and arrangements for me. He did that for this entire album and I couldn’t be happier with how that all turned out. It definitely takes a lot of the pressure off of me now because I used to have to do everything for my albums myself, so I really love the process now.
Do you have a favourite piece of music from the Melodies of Hyrule album?
I really love Bolero of Fire. It was always my favorite song in the game and I actually always wanted to play the lyre after that, because that was Sheik’s instrument of choice, but sadly I could never find one back then. I think that particular arrangement on the album is so energetic and fun and really expands on the original in a neat way. Adam really outdid himself on that one!
How do you select compositions that suit both the violin and your style of performance?
I really feel that the violin is incredibly versatile and can be adapted to almost any style of music. Of course the violin is designed for classical music and sounds beautiful in that genre. Videogame and film music are very similar to classical music in many ways and I’ve always really loved how the violin could adapt to other genres. The only criteria that is really necessary for me personally to cover a piece is that there needs to be a strong melodic line, because songs that are heavily reliant on chords or percussive elements are tough to translate on the violin.
What can you say about the process of adapting a videogame piece into a workable track for an album?
It depends on whether or not I’m working alone or with Adam. If alone, then I generally just listen through the piece many times and then begin to write an arrangement for the surrounding instruments by ear before I create my violin part. I usually have a good idea of what I want the violin solo to be doing melodically, but I don’t ever write sheet music for that and I experiment once my backtrack is all made. Sometimes I’ll stay close to the original arrangement and sometimes I’ll change it quite a bit depending on what I really want to get out of it.
When I work with Adam, he and I will talk about what we want the overall album to sound like, and I’ll tell him song by song what I want the feel to be for each one (epic, laid back, serene, etc). I have to say that I rarely have Adam make drastic changes to his arrangements because I love what he comes up with and he and I have very similar taste.
Does the feedback you get from music and game enthusiasts affect the way you work or your musical direction?
Yes, everything I do on YouTube is public and free to watch so it’s always subject to comments/feedback so it would be really silly to dismiss all of it. Really the whole reason that I’m able to have a career in music is because of my fans and all the people watching my videos, purchasing my albums and supporting me on sites like Patreon. I definitely always want to take them into consideration when I do anything.
Even though I have a really great audience on YouTube, I like to ask questions or get feedback on sites like Patreon, Facebook, and Twitter where people are more actively supporting or staying up to date with me beyond just my videos. It’s easier to engage with people there and because time is so limited I like to focus my attention on people who are being the most positive and encouraging. I am very blessed because I have an absolutely wonderful and supportive audience!
What composers do you most admire?
Honestly, I have such admiration for anyone who follows their passion in life so that pretty much includes most composers and a lot of people in other occupations. But some of my absolute favorites who’ve had great influence on me are Nobuo Uematsu, John Williams, Yoko Shimomura, Koji Kondo, and my good friend Austin Wintory.
What can you tell us about your next project?
My next project is going to be another cover album of video game and anime music. I’m working on this album with Adam Gubman again so I’m very excited. I should be releasing this one some time in late May or early June of this year. After that I’m hoping to get a Kickstarter for an original album funded and if it goes through I’ll be working on getting that out later this year, some time in November. And I just want to say thank you so much to all of my fans and supporters who have helped me turn my passion into my career. I’m so grateful for the support and can’t wait to keep coming out with new music for you all!