Cody Matthew Johnson is a multi-media composer, music producer, sound designer, and multi-instrumentalist. He is known for fusing traditional musical styles and electronics with hard-hitting modern production, and has worked alongside critically acclaimed composer Jeff Rona in a variety of TV, film, and video game projects.
His most recent contribution was the soundtrack for Capcom’s highly anticipated sequel Devil May Cry 5, as well as the secret ending theme for Resident Evil 2, “Saudade”. Johnson first caught Capcom’s attention with his remixes of classic Capcom and Marvel character theme songs for Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.
We at Stuff Asia were given the opportunity to have an interview with Cody to find out more of his passion, and his journey from a fan to a music composer for two of Capcom’s big hits.
How did you get involved in composing video game music for Capcom?
I think finding my way into video games really came from the source at a young age -- playing them (a lot!) I’ve always been deeply steeped in video games; as a culture, entertainment, the therapeutic effects they can have, and socially. I’ve made a ton of friends online in guilds and parties over the years, some of which I still talk with. It felt like a natural progression since as I’ve always had an interest in video games and video game music. Through school I worked on a couple of small video game projects, just whetting my eager blade to work in video game music. Then I found myself working under, and then in partnership with, composer Jeff Rona, who composed V’s theme “Crimson Cloud” for “Devil May Cry 5.” It was at Rona’s studio when I first worked on a AAA game title, “Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite.” After reviewing some of my material, Capcom had me work on the themes and remixes for a handful of their characters that they wanted to be metal and industrial influenced. They were happy with my work and from then on the rest has become history. My remixes and tracks from “Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite” garnered an opportunity to demo for “Devil May Cry 5,” which led to getting immediately hired on “Resident Evil 2” right after!
For Subhuman, Dante's theme song, in what way did the character inspire you to compose this?
For any well-versed gamer, Dante is a household name and one of the most iconic game characters of the last two decades. He has always been portrayed by the developers as embodying badassery. He’s a hired gun who is cocky, chill as a cucumber, and even in dire situations never quite takes himself too seriously, regardless of how many times he has saved humanity from demon invasions. In “Devil May Cry 5,” the core of who Dante is hasn’t changed, but he is visibly older. It’s safe to say Capcom wanted to reflect his personality and current predicament in “Devil May Cry 5” with his battle music, “Subhuman.” A lot of what gave Dante attitude has been incorporating a hybrid of metal and electronics, but the final touch of bringing on Michael Barr for vocals really wrapped up Dante’s current persona and situation. Michael Barr captivates everyone in the room and effortlessly embodies the personality of Dante.
What is it about Capcom games that makes you feel right at home when making their music?
Working with Capcom was such an amazing and humbling opportunity, they are incredibly supportive and collaborative. I was taken aback at the level of creative freedom and encouragement they gave while I was writing both “Subhuman” and “Saudade” for “Resident Evil 2.” They cared about my artistic vision and truly collaborated with me to create the highest quality of music for the games. I realized how special our relationship was when the development team, including lead composer Kota Suzuki and executive producer Mitcheru Okabe, from “Devil May Cry 5” visited Los Angeles for our recording sessions for “Subhuman,” “Crimson Cloud,” and to record the music Kota had written for the score. The entire development team encouraged experimentation, collaboration, and creativity while in the studio. At one point we all stood around the microphone and sang the lyrical hook, “You cannot kill me!” in the chorus of “Subhuman.” (That’s SSS for you stylish “DMC” players out there.)
You've worked with artists such as Shim, Coast Check Girl and Morgan Wells for your songs. Are there any other artists you're keen to work with as well?
Working with artists has kind of happened by accident! I was typically a one-man show when it came to composing, producing, etc. but with the last few Capcom projects I’ve started to reach out to artists and collaborate. From Shim on “Saudade” for “Resident Evil 2,” Mark Heylmun and Michael Barr on “Subhuman” for “Devil May Cry 5,” to the artist I’ve been working with for my EP and upcoming full-length album, I’ve started to realize there’s a whole new eshelon of creative space that you can only access with another person in the room. There are TONS of artists I’d love to work with, from pop to heavy metal and back again. A few that come to mind: Grimes, Lights, Varien, Bring Me The Horizon, Nine Inch Nails, Celldweller, Suzanne Sundfor, ZHU... the list goes on!
Are you a big fan of the Devil May Cry and Resident Evil series? If yes, which game in either series was one of the factors that fueled you to pursue a career in video game music making?
Of course! Yes, yes, yes. Out of all the “Resident Evil” and “Devil May Cry” games, I definitely put the most time into “Devil May Cry 4.” From the sheer hours of playing, I had the song “Blackened Angels” bouncing around my skull for months on end. “Devil May Cry 4” was one of the games, in a long series of games, I spent many sleepless nights playing and internalizing. The music has always been a large factor, if not the largest factor, as to what draws me to games. You can definitely say “Devil May Cry 4” was one of the trailblazers of hybrid rock, metal, and electronic music in video games that has resonated with me.
Other than music, are there other aspects of video game development you would want to be in?
Above all else, I love to tell stories. It just so happens that the easiest and most effective way for me to do that is by writing music. Video games are a fascinating marvel that tell stories through collaborative efforts of dozens of different skill sets and industries; from narration, programming, visual effects, design, sound design, music, and more - neither more important than the other. I’ve tried my hand at design and artwork, but I just don’t have the eye for it, it doesn’t come naturally. Before I began writing music professionally, I wrote and conceptualized stories and narratives and that’s something I definitely would consider doing. After countless days/months/potentially years of “played” gameplay, I think I’ve learned a few things and started to scratch the surface about how to write games. I’m definitely interested and would like to pursue writing/developing on a game in the future! And it’s not a foreign concept that other artforms and influences can benefit your work, so if it simultaneously makes my music better, then absolutely.
What advice do you have for aspiring video game composers out there?
We’re in an era of YouTube, tutorials, and an endless flow of knowledge, but finding a balance and knowing how to sift through all of it to find quality can be tough. As the industry is adapting, audio professionals are called upon to take on more tasks and implementing audio through midware like Wwise and FMOD is not uncommon. Do your best to find a comprehensive source to master technicalities, find a mentor to help refine your skills, and join a community to foster and encourage your artistic development. With an endless onslaught of information, everyone has access to the ability to create great music and great sounding music, but what will help you keep a steady and rewarding career in video game music is a unique characteristic to your musical voice.
Serious question. Favourite Devil May Cry 5 character: Dante, Nero, or V? Feel free to list out non-player characters as well, if any!
I feel like I’m biased by choosing Dante (crowd favourite for sure), but as of writing this I’m about 50% through the game (Mission 11 or so) and though I just started to play Dante and it might be too early to tell, V is my favourite by far. His play style is so contrasted to Nero and Dante, and maybe it’s the button-masher in me, but I am slamming out “SSS” with V, and it feels so satisfying! I haven’t quite mastered using Nero’s Exceed in my rotation, so my style rank has been worse because of it. Also, “Crimson Cloud” really slams when I hit “S” rank. But then again, Dante has big swords, and I love big swords... So, there’s a real possibility in about two hours from writing this, Dante will be a favourite!
Cody has also recently released his debut album, “Raid Ready” featuring hard-hitting instruments and explosive anthemic songs. A perfect boost for your gaming or general listening pleasure. You can check out “Raid Ready”, as well as the soundtrack for Devil May Cry 5 on Spotify. Stuff Malaysia would also like extend our warmest gratitude to Defiant PR and Cody Matthew Johnson for this interview.