Please note that this post contains spoilers for all 5 episodes of Life is Strange.

I don’t remember when I first saw the trailer for Life is Strange, but I do remember that my reaction was to immediately begin shipping Pricefield. All 5 episodes were already out, so I snagged the game during a Steam sale and played it with my wife over the course of a few days. The story has stayed with me in ways I couldn’t have predicted.

This post serves as a brief look at what led to the creation of this album. I’ve listed the songs in chronological order (when I wrote them,) as opposed to album order, just to keep the text cohesive if you decide to read from top to bottom.

I Still Do

I was in love and I meant it for eternity.
And I still do.

On my first play-through I chose the Sacrifice Chloe ending, confident that I was doing the right thing, and then felt emotionally wrecked for like, a week. When I feel overwhelmed by emotions, making art is the only thing that helps. As I grappled with the aftermath of Life is Strange, I remembered a song I’d written a few years prior called I Still Do. (The song was originally about a girl who’d broken my heart that I still loved anyway, despite trying not to.) It reminded me of the game, and how I felt about letting Chloe die. I changed some of the lyrics to fit the new meaning and recorded it. Then I posted it on YouTube along with a video.

I probably would have left it at that, had I not discovered Koethe’s music. I was blown away by how great it sounded, and especially that he’d done it all by himself. I’d never believed that I could achieve that kind of quality, but suddenly I felt inspired to give it a real try. I decided to write more songs inspired by Life is Strange; there’s so much there to work with! I also felt that people might enjoy them, which is a huge motivator.

All That Matters

You’re all that matters to me.

I knew that I wanted to write a song about choosing the Sacrifice Arcadia Bay ending. I remember that the chorus came to me in the shower, and it’s unusual for me to write something so repetitive, but I think it works thematically in this case. I imagine Max up on that hill in the middle of a storm–a lighthouse serves as a beacon for ships that might otherwise be lost at sea, and a beacon’s power lies in its singularity. If there were even 2 lights, the ship wouldn’t know where to go–I believe that Max needed a beacon at that moment, and that it’s completely understandable for her to choose Chloe.

I had no idea what I was doing when it came to the production. I was like, “okay, so I need drums. I want it to build. I want there to be a lot going on.” I felt happy with how it turned out. Even though the chorus repeats a single phrase, the production as a whole has a lot of change in it. It’s my experience that whenever I commit to something, that commitment gets tested. Some subconscious part of me decides to bring up everything that might go wrong; tries to scare the shit out of me or discourage me. I need a beacon, and the challenge is to hold onto that beacon through the storm. That’s the only way I’ll make it to the other side. That’s what I wanted to represent in this song.

Fragile Reality

She makes me feel like someday we’ll wake up and be happy,
But with you, I forgot that I’m not.
This could be a fragile reality.

I wrote Fragile Reality because I wanted to do a song from Chloe’s point of view. This song went through so many revisions. I had a few false starts for the chorus before I got something that I liked, and it took me a while to finish all the lyrics in the verses. The lyrics in the chorus of this song are some of my favorites from the EP. And I liked the title so much that I named the album after it!

This song went through 2 rounds of production. I liked the first attempt when I finished it, but over time it felt stale to me. The song went on for too long, and didn’t change enough. When I decided to make this EP, I knew I wanted to redo the production on Fragile Reality. I kept the vocal, but otherwise started from scratch. I tweaked the chords, added a totally new bridge and a new ending, as well as adding a lot of other parts to the arrangement. I added some sounds that reminded me of Life is Strange. I wanted this song to remind people of the game when they heard it, since it’s the first song on the album.

It was hard for me to cut the outro from the original song because it was my favorite part, but it made the song drag on, and so I had to kill it. (Sad face.) I think that the new ending does a good job to set the stage for the EP. The whole song is rather delicately worded, like Chloe’s being careful not to get her hopes up. In the ending, however, Chloe is too tired to rephrase her wishes into something reasonable, and she’s just asking to please have something good in her life.

Oh, and the video for this song ended up being a real production as well. I had this idea to do a “Chloe’s bedroom cosplay,” and just went with it. That was fun. 🙂

Warpaint

I’m drenched in warpaint; alive with flame.
My words are scathing, but my breath’s become your name.

This is the one song on the EP that has nothing to do with Life is Strange. It’s meant as kind of a bonus track. It’s actually my personal favorite, and it still has to do with a femslash ship: Clexa. I was reading a lot of Clexa fan fiction for a while, and I read this fic called this heart, fossilized and silent (once was tender and once was violent.) I really love that fic; it has some incredible scenes. One of those scenes went a long way in inspiring this song.

I’m a huge fan of Ben Howard, and his album I Forget Where We Were has a bunch of guitars with loud delays on them. I’d been messing around and trying to get a similar guitar sound when I wrote this song, and I think it turned out really cool.

Because I Tried

Am I to blame because I tried?

I wrote this song for a contest hosted by Life is Strange Fans. The challenge was to write and record an original song inspired by Life is Strange, and to do it in 2 weeks. My personal challenge also involved the fact that I was getting ready to move across the country, and had to pack up all my gear as soon as possible. Yikes! But hey I held it together and I’m really happy with how the song turned out.

I had expected that we’d be given a prompt to write from, to discourage anyone from starting early. That didn’t end up happening, so I made up my own prompt. “Write a song about the moment of the game that you felt was the most powerful.” I chose the scene where Max and Chloe dig up Rachel’s body. That scene… it made me feel sick to my stomach. I felt like it was actually happening. Sure, this game made me cry a ton, (spoiler alert: it’s not hard,) but that particular scene hit me in a place that games rarely do: my actual gut.

Chloe tried very hard to find Rachel, but she was already dead. Max tried very hard to save Chloe, but it just wasn’t meant to be. (Alternatively, Max tried very hard to let Chloe go, but couldn’t do it. I explore both possibilities in the video for the song.) I also think it’s a great theme for all of us. Win or lose, there’s a peace in simply trying. Case in point: I didn’t win the contest, but I still feel good about having tried.

Overexposed

Give me something else to focus on…
Bodies on the coast of Oregon…

This song is directly inspired by a Life is Strange fan fiction called All Wounds. I got in touch with the author because they’re working on a visual novel version of the fic, and I wanted to offer my music in case they’d like to use it. We talked more about it, and what kind of song they might like to have written specifically for the VN. That’s how Overexposed came about. This song took a long time to write and record because it has so many different parts. It doesn’t follow a typical song structure with verses and choruses, but rather takes a linear path which essentially goes from trauma to healing. The song is also a duet, which made it even more complicated to write. I’m fortunate that Dakota Crespo agreed to sing Max’s part because she did a hella great job. 🙂

Since I’d spent so much time on the song, I thought it fitting to create a cool video to go with it. I bought RPG Maker and a few extra tile sets and went to town creating maps and sprites and planning out the video. It’s meant to help demonstrate what’s going on in the song, and also to parallel what happens in All Wounds. I also found it extremely cute to walk around with little Max and Chloe sprites, so there’s that too. 😀

Why an EP?

You cannot let go of that which you do not hold.

All of these songs have been released, so why did I decide to put them on an EP? There are a few reasons.

  1. I just wanted to. I’ve been making music for about 10 years, and I’ve always dreamed of having a real album out there. Now I do!
  2. Getting my feet wet. Something else I’ve often thought about is having a career in music. There’s so, so much to learn in this space, and I figured that going through the whole process with an EP would be an excellent learning experience. I feel like I’ll be able to do a much better job on my next album.
  3. Professional help. I haven’t been mixing for very long, and I wanted to know how much better my songs could sound when a professional mixed them. I worked remotely with Jesse Rhodes from The Abstract LA studio to have my songs professionally mixed and mastered. I learned a lot during this process, and you can hear the end result for yourself.

Closing Thoughts

My favorite song is the cover art.

Thanks for being here with me. I hope you’ll keep in touch, and let me know how you like the album!

Sincerely, as always,

Riley Hawke