Way more NES-core than you: Ryan Postlethwait reinvents the music from his favorite old Nintendo games as Mega Beardo
The picture says it all: Ryan Postlethwait (above) combines his love of Nintendo games and metal as Mega Beardo.
Everybody knows that WVRockscene covers the most killer bands and acts in West Virginia. How well they cover bands is another thing, but we pride ourselves here on covering stuff that rocks, better late than never.
Such is the case with Mega Beardo. To our everlasting shame, for one reason or another, we are only recently finding out about how amazing singer-guitarist Ryan Postlethwait's solo project is, and has been since at least 2010.
Postlethwait, who also plays guitar in the Morgantown-area metal band Descension Rate, has taken the music from old Nintendo games Mega Man 2 and Castlevania, covered the scores in their entirety in brutal metal fashion as Mega Beardo. And this fall, Postlethwait will release his take on The Legend of Zelda, “The Ledjent of Zelda.”
This excites us greatly. To learn more on our part, and to help raise awareness about how awesome Postlethwait's combination of video games and metal is, we decided to get off our ass here and cover one of the most exciting musicians in the state. 'Bout time.
WVRockscene: You just released the video tease for your upcoming Zelda-themed Mega Beardo album. What is “djent” and how special is The Legend of Zelda to you, like Castlevania and Mega Man, as a game, to want to basically rock out the score of the game?
Ryan Postlethwait: “Djent” is a bit hard to explain, but it’s essentially just a new breed of progressive metal that has been emerging in the past couple of years with bands like Periphery, Animals as Leaders, and Tesseract. With “djent,” you can typically expect weird time signatures, a lot of tight palm-muted 7-or 8-string guitars over polyrhythm drums, crazy lead guitar stuff, and some melodic clean sections. But the term “djent” gets traced back to Meshuggah and is just a silly way to describe how their guitars sounded back in the 90s, more specifically their extremely tight palm-muting technique. It’s an onomatopoeia, if you will. Listen to Meshuggah’s song “Soul Burn” and you’ll see what I mean. Think back to when Beavis and Butthead would sing the “Iron Man” riff like: “duhhh duhhh duh duh duh....nananananana duh duh duh duh.” If you asked them to sing Meshuggah’s “Soul Burn,” they would sing “djent djent......djent djent......djent djent.....djent djent djent djent djent djent.”
Both Castlevania and Mega Man are quite special to me. They bring back a lot of great childhood memories, I still nerd out about them with my friends, and they completely hold up today. Legend of Zelda fits in that realm. I remember getting my Nintendo back in 1988 and talking about it with a new friend I made at school. All I could talk about was Super Mario Bros, Duck Hunt, and World Class Track Meet because that was all I had starting out. Then my friend said, “You’ve never played Zelda?!” He came over to my house not too long after that and brought a copy of Zelda. Seeing that gold cartridge for the first time blew my mind, and the gameplay was very addictive. We played for hours, just roaming the overworld. At the time, I had played a ton of Atari, and I remember thinking “This is like Swordquest or Raiders of the Lost Ark...but waaay better.” haha. A couple months later, I got myself a copy of Zelda II, along with the first issue of Nintendo Power magazine. My obsession with Nintendo pretty much blossomed from that point.
Zelda’s music is simply epic. The title theme has that top-notch John Williams quality to it. I didn’t really learn to appreciate how great it was until I got older. The idea to do this album came to me while I was driving on I-79 from Pittsburgh. I was literally going through the Nintendo soundtracks I have on my iPod trying to think of the next Mega Beardo album. I got to the original Zelda soundtrack and hit play. Once the dungeon theme came on, I thought to myself “Man, you could really djent this up if you wanted to....wait...djent...Legend of Ze....LEDJENT OF ZELDA.”
Once that title came out, I knew I had to start working on it. The soundtrack is really short. After spending so many months putting together Belmont, which is 70 minutes long, I felt like doing a short 20-25 minute EP. I’m just interested to see how a complex and aggressive style like djent can be used in the world of Zelda, and I knew I had to do it pretty quick. Ask any “djent” band, and more often than not, they’d probably say they didn’t like the term. Most metal bands hate being labeled anyway, but “djent” is mainly a fad in internet forums and such, so it will most likely fade in a couple of years. I’m fully aware of that.
rockscene: How old were you when you were first exposed to the 8-bit NES? What were -- aside from the ones you’ve covered as Mega Beardo -- some of your favorite games early on?
Postlethwait: I grew up on the Atari 2600. Some of my very early memories are of playing Q*Bert with my dad, along with Berzerk, Kaboom!, River Raid, and Crystal Castles. My sister and I would have Pitfall competitions to see who could get the most loot. I was also the master at Jr. Pac-Man, a game I play now and think “How the hell was I so good at this game before I was even old enough to go to school?”
Then, when I was six years old, I got the NES for Christmas. It was the Power Set bundle with the power pad and the zapper. So the very first exposure I got to my Nintendo after hooking it up was with Duck Hunt. My dad and I would play that game and laugh ourselves silly about that dog.
Aside from Mega Man 2 and Castlevania, which are all-time favorites of mine, I poured a ton of time into Double Dragon, Duck Tales, Super Mario Bros 1, 2 and 3, Excitebike, Contra, Dragon Warrior, Guerilla War, Marble Madness.....even crappy games like Friday the 13th and Skate or Die. Super Mario Bros 3 may be the game that I first became obsessed over. I’m sure that had something to do with the major hype surrounding it during the release of “The Wizard,” but my friends and I talked about that game endlessly at school.
Another game we nerded out about at school was Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. The codes, the patterns, how to dodge Super Macho Man...everything about that game was fun to talk about. That game was extremely popular and very hard to find back then. People probably don’t realize this now, but Mike Tyson was a huge deal back then. I watched all of his fights at a very young age and was just in awe at what he could do. He was unstoppable, until Buster Douglas happened, of course. In that context, defeating Mike Tyson in that game was such a major accomplishment. I got more satisfaction from that than almost any other game growing up.
rockscene: You played out as Mega Beardo about a month ago, at an all-ages show at 123 Pleasant Street, how did that go?
Postlethwait: Very well! It was part of the Rainbowdragoneyes/Ronnit tour that came through town. We were hoping for a better turn out, but the people that were there were really into it. Of course, I got a lot of questions about my Nintendo guitar. Even when I was warming up before the show, people would come up and say, “Does that actually work?!”
I think the biggest reaction was from my Mega Man 2 tracks. A lot of old school gamers consider that to be the greatest video soundtrack of all time, so they love it when that title track hits with that Iron Maiden gallop.
rockscene: When you’ve played Mega Beardo out live, what’s been the general response been like?
Postlethwait: So far, so good. The first time I played as Mega Beardo was back in October of 2010. I was asked last minute to play a little bit and, at that time, not many people knew what it was. The Mega Man 2 Guitar Tribute had only been out a few months. So I decided to play the “Dr. Wily” portion of that album, which is pretty much one 13-minute long track.
And I’ll say this: playing on stage by yourself, especially technical music like this, is way more nerve-racking than playing in a band. When I hit the stage with Descension Rate or any other band I’ve been in, I always have those pre-show jitters, but it’s all just anxious energy. If I make a mistake, there are other guys on stage there to cover it up and divert the attention. When I’m up there by myself, I get a bit nervous because I know a mistake will stick out that much more. I also phase out because I concentrate so hard on playing everything perfectly. I remember at my last show, I had completely phased out by the time I started playing “Flash Man” from Mega Man 2. By the time I was at the end of that track, I had no recollection of playing it haha. I made myself snap out of it at that point.
rockscene: A Mega Man 2 Guitar Tribute was released seemingly way back in 2010, Belmont just came out last November, when did you first set out to do Mega Beardo, and was Mega Man your first attempt at covering a video game’s soundtrack?
Postlethwait: Oddly enough, I never meant to call myself Mega Beardo. Just about everyone I know in Morgantown has been calling me Beardo for 10 years. When I released the Mega Man 2 album, the full title was “Mega Beardo: A Mega Man 2 Guitar Tribute.” I was still going by my real name. After I released that album, everyone kept asking, “So when’s the next Mega Beardo album coming out?” I had given myself a new name without even realizing it. So it stuck at that point.
The very first video game cover I ever did was back in 2002. Just to get the hang of recording with Sony Acid Pro, which I knew nothing about at the time, I decided to record a straight cover of the Level 1-3 theme for Super Mario Land for Gameboy. I still have that somewhere, but I’m sure it sounds like crap haha.
I had the idea for the Mega Man 2 Guitar Tribute back in early 2008. I had even recorded a demo of the “Crash Man” theme and put it up on Myspace, back when that was still a thing. I didn’t get rolling with the idea until the summer of 2009 when I had enough money to put towards new and better equipment. I also had a broken finger that needed to heal. I spent from July 2009 to February of 2010 recording everything in sequential order. My main reason for doing it was to pay tribute to one of my favorite things of the last 20 years. I have a lot of awesome memories of that game, and the music has stuck with me for so long. Dissecting it like that made me appreciate the music even more, and it made me a better player at the same time.
The idea for Belmont had been around since 2008 as well. I’m a huge horror film nerd, and I especially loved the Universal monsters growing up. That made Castlevania even more awesome to me as a kid. I even have a tape of a song I recorded with an old air organ called “The Search at Castlevania” when I was 8 years old; I included that as a secret track on Belmont. So I’ve been obsessed with the first Castlevania game for a long time. It’s one of those games that I still nerd out about with my friends. I wrote the opening track “Simon” back in 2008 on a lap dulcimer. A couple of riffs were even from 2006 or so. But I started writing a bulk of Belmont before working on Mega Man 2, even with a broken finger. The opening riff to “Medusa’s Scream” on Belmont is so simple because I could only play with my index and middle finger at the time. So when I was doodling around on guitar one day, that riff came out, and I based the first half of that song on it. To bring it full circle, I broke another finger at the end of the Belmont recording sessions, luckily after I had recorded all the guitar tracks. Actually in the video I did for “The Mysterious Works of Dr. Frankenstein,” my left pinky finger is still broken. I just kept the splint off because it would’ve been distracting otherwise.
rockscene: We’ve talked about the games you may have liked growing up, what about metal influences or just what bands made you wanna pick up a guitar?
Postlethwait: The first band I obsessed over was Soundgarden. I still hear their influence in my writing today, and I can’t say that about any other band. I was pretty much a Seattle grunge kid stuck in Jane Lew, West Virginia, so I listened to a lot of Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains. I can tell you the exact moment I told myself I wanted to play guitar: when I watched Metallica playing “The Thing That Should Not Be” from their Live Shit box set. I saw that at the age of 14 and thought playing guitar just looked like so much fun. At that point, I was a metal kid.
Things kind of changed when I saw Buckethead live back in 1999. Primus was playing at the Metropol in Pittsburgh with Incubus of all bands, and Buckethead was scheduled to open up. This is back when nobody, including myself, knew who the hell he was. My friends and I got there real early, so we were standing front and center when this ominous music starts playing and the place fills with smoke. Then a 6-foot-6 dude with wearing a chicken bucket and a mask walks up on stage, puts on a guitar, hits play on a drum machine and absolutely destroys the place single-handedly. To this day, I’ve never seen anything like it. I still consider it to be the most influential show that I have ever seen. He would take interludes and hand out random crap he bought from Rite-Aid. I still have some dollhouse furniture and a weird severed hand that grows in water that he gave me at that show.
I’d say the artist that I’m most inspired by today is Devin Townsend. I could talk endlessly about how much of a genius that guy is, so I’ll need to cut myself short. He is a guitar virtuoso that practices restraint more than any other. He keeps the wankery to a minimum, something a lot of guitar players need to learn. His solos are always tasteful and perfectly placed. And not only is he the greatest vocalist in metal today, he is also probably the most entertaining performer. Plus, he writes and produces everything in his own home studio and has full control over every aspect of his creation. His production abilities are mind-boggling. Listening to his album “Deconstruction” is a great example of that. So there’s just too much genius in that guy to not be inspired by him in some way.
rockscene: The guitar you made out of an NES, what possessed you to do that?
Postlethwait: I didn’t actually make it. It was custom-made from a site called getlofi.com, but they did a fantastic job! I basically just told them what type of neck and pick-ups I wanted. It ended up having this unique sound and tone that makes it perfect for playing leads. In fact, most of the leads on “Belmont” were played on the NES guitar. But there was something about taking a broken console that gave someone hundreds of hours of entertainment and giving it a new purpose that really appealed to me.
I have an extra Atari 2600 console laying around that doesn’t seem to want to work anymore. One of these days, I think I may try to make a custom Atari 2600 guitar myself and just start a little collection of console guitars.
rockscene: There was a recent piece in Game Informer magazine about all the old, (by the writer considered) great, 8-bit music in a few old video games, I think one of them may have been Zelda. Considering your own involvement in bands like Descension Rate, what makes covering your favorite NES games so fun, and special? If nothing else aside from it rocking it’s got to be a small niche, do you know a lot of musicians doing what you do?
Postlethwait: There are tons of people doing what I do, but just to different extents and within different genres. There is even a site called Overclocked Remix (ocremix.org) that is a dedicated video game remixing community. But bands like The Minibosses and The Advantage have been known for quite a while now.
It’s more rare to find artists who release full concept albums based around video games. You have Metroid Metal that does metal versions of Metroid themes from all consoles. There are tons of bands around like that, and that is closer to what I did with A Mega Man 2 Guitar Tribute. It’s even more rare for an artist or band to write a concept album based on a game but with totally original compositions, which is what I did with Belmont. The only band like that I can think of off the top of my head is The Protomen, who have released two fantastic concept albums based on Mega Man.
To me, covering a video game theme song from a game I love gives me a deeper connection to that game and a better understanding of its composition in general. When I do my remixes, most times I take bits and pieces of certain melodies and try to expand on them more. Like “Skull Castle” from Mega Man 2. I took that 8 or 9 second song and stretched it out to a couple minutes by expanding on the bass line. With the “Boss Select” theme, I took a song that loops after 8 seconds or so and expanded it to over 3 minutes. So I like picking apart a melody or a bass line, putting my own spin on it, and seeing where it goes. Dissecting it like that helps me appreciate it that much more. “Crash Man” might be my favorite overall theme from Mega Man 2. It’s just so damn catchy! When I started learning all of the lead melodies to that song, I couldn’t believe just how well that melody was constructed.
rockscene: Not only do you go by Mega Beardo, you write about movie beards. How important or not are beards in movies? Are you one of those people who obsess over their beard?
Postlethwait: I actually started MovieBeards.com as sort of a joke to myself. I was googling stuff about John Carpenter’s “The Thing” because it’s something that one of my good friends and I obsess about endlessly over a couple of beers on a regular basis. I stumbled upon some “Top 20 Beards in Movies” list on some random site, and Kurt Russell appeared as R.J. MacReady somewhere on that list. I thought to myself, “Awesome. I wonder if there is a website out there dedicated to celebrating awesome beards in film.” To my surprise, there wasn’t. There are a bunch of “Top Beards in Movies” lists, but they all have a lot of the same entries (George Clooney from “Syriana,” Zach Galifianakis in everything) and boring write-ups. So I told myself, “Well if nobody will make a website dedicated to movie beards, then I will.” A couple of weeks later, I got bored and started MovieBeards.com.
The write-ups for Movie Beards are more comical than anything. I also try to find ways in which a specific beard serves a purpose for the character or drives the story in some way. Like Rocky’s Montage Beard indirectly represents the duration of time in “Rocky IV,” or the growth and subsequent shaving of Ron Burgundy’s Depression Beard is an important physical characteristic throughout his arc. Other times, I just make up other “powers of the beard.” It’s interesting to break all these beards down into subcategories, like the Villain Beard, Business Beard, Scientist Beard, etc. Not all beards are important, though. Fisher Stevens has a beard in “Short Circuit,” but I can’t think of a single interesting thing to say about it. But I try to mix it up between famous beards, like Gandalf, and obscure beards, like the gravedigger from “Friday the 13th: Part VI.”
As far as my own beard goes, I obsess over its symmetry more than anything, but I try to maintain symmetry in all aspects of my life. A symmetrical, trimmed, and conditioned beard is a happy beard.
rockscene: You’re releasing some acoustic stuff, when’s that gonna be on the Mega Beardo bandcamp page, and how different is it for you to be doing acoustic songs versus MB and Descension Rate? Will you do acoustic shows?
Postlethwait: I actually just finished recording the final tracks for the acoustic album, so it will be up on bandcamp sometime in the first half of May. Doing acoustic stuff is way different than what I do with Mega Beardo or anything else. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m gonna call the album “Unmega.” There will be 7 tracks at about 30 minutes. I guess it’s more of the singer/song-writer type, but the songs are quite melancholy and haunting in a way.
I’ve been telling people, if you like the tracks “Simon” and “Such is the Curse” from Belmont, then you’ll dig this stuff. I drew inspiration from a lot of places: childhood memories, horror movies...there’s even a song I wrote based on the famous West Virginia story “The Telltale Lilac Bush.” The production isn’t stellar, nor is it meant to be. Usually, I’d just grab my guitar and hit record without any time-consuming pre-production microphone placement stuff. These are just songs I’d write when the inspiration hit, and I couldn’t find any place for them. I’ve been recording it off and on for two years now. I figured I’d just write and record until I felt like I had enough for a short album.
No plans for acoustic shows yet, but it has definitely been on my mind. If I do, I’ll probably work my way through some open mic nights just to get the hang of playing the stuff live.
rockscene: When you play as Mega Beardo, especially for people who played these games for hours, there really does seem to be something nostalgic, even having mostly forgot the music that was on those games. Obviously you are very proficient on guitar and it really is a fun yet punishing version of metal you have, but do you think that there’s that subconscious appeal and pull for those gamers who listen to Mega Beardo records? Does that make sense? It’s almost like a two-for-one deal, you may have never played the games but like the music. But for those who have it’s more…?
Postlethwait: I see what you’re saying. Obviously, when gamers see I’ve recorded a Mega Man 2 album, they are naturally drawn to it if they have established a prior connection to that game and music. Then once they listen to it, I hope that my own rearrangements and additional original compositions bring it to a different level. Because there are hundreds of people that have covered “Dr. Wily’s Castle” on YouTube. But to make it something different, something a little more special is a bit more difficult. I had hoped that the way that I had rearranged the music helped it stick out from the pile a bit. I’ve even had fans tell me they have taken the Mega Man 2 iOS game on their phone and replaced the original music with my music. That’s pretty cool in my book.
And as far as people not being familiar with the music, my own mom said she couldn’t stop listening to my Mega Man 2 Guitar Tribute for weeks! haha. So I guess it has a broader appeal than I thought.
rockscene: Do you see yourself ever doing something outside of Mega Beardo and Descension Rate and acoustic stuff, like a solo metal/electronic act not based on video games?
Postlethwait: I definitely do. I’ve been recording stuff on my own since I got an old Fostex 4-track recorder back in 1998. And I have recorded a whole bunch of albums with bands and other projects over the years. I just never took the “solo artist” thing seriously until Mega Beardo. But I’ve been putting together some original compositions that are in no way related to video games. I have two or three pretty strong foundations of songs ready to go. I’m not sure what I’ll do with them yet, but I’ll just keep adding to the pile until I have enough to record a full album.
rockscene: Speaking of video games, this should have been asked earlier, but we should obviously assume you to be something of a gamer, what are your favorite games to play now on any system, and are there any other games that you’d like to cover as Mega Beardo?
Postlethwait: I own a PS3 and a Wii from the newest generation of consoles. I don’t play newer games much because they are just way too time-consuming. Like, I’ve been playing the new Zelda game “Skyward Sword” off and on for three weeks, and I’m probably not even halfway through it yet. So I do get a little behind on modern gaming, and I’m not much of a first-person shooter guy, either. I’m a sucker for a good platformer, like Little Big Planet. But I also really, really loved Fallout 3, Bioshock, and Arkham Asylum. I even thought the new Castlevania game “Lords of Shadow” was awesome. Of course, the Super Mario Galaxy games on the Wii are highly addictive and super fun. Those games have tons of replay value, while I feel the games that take 75 hours to beat really don’t have that unless you want to spend 200 hours just walking around and doing side missions. Why do that when I can blast through Contra from beginning to end in a half an hour? haha
I have a couple of ideas for new Mega Beardo stuff. The next game I plan to tackle is a little-known gem called “Journey to Silius.” The music is stellar, and it lends itself to my style pretty well. I figure it is time to give some attention to a game that hasn’t been covered to death. I rarely see anyone mention it, actually. It’s an interesting game in that it was originally developed as a “Terminator” game, but the publisher lost the rights to the franchise. So they had to tweak a few things before they could release it under a different title. There are still some “Terminator” remnants, though. One of the bosses resembles a T-800 endoskeleton, for instance.
I’m also toying with the idea of recording a medley of the first Ninja Gaiden. I always wanted to do a full album of that entire soundtrack, but there is just so much damn music on that game. So I’ll just take three or four of my favorite tracks and mash them up a bit.
rockscene: Remembering having the NES growing up, there are so many memories of smashed controllers, stuff being thrown and epic freak outs when me playing the game didn’t turn out like I wanted it to. Have you ever lost your mind in anger and gone totally crazy over a video game? Or are you more calm?
Postlethwait: I’m much more calm now, but I definitely threw my NES controller a lot as a kid. Those things were sturdy and will most likely work fine after the apocalypse. It wasn’t until the SNES days that I finally demolished a controller. I had some birthday money, so I spent it on this brand new turbo controller for the SNES. Every button had a turbo setting. It was awesome. So I’m using it to play Super Mario World, a game I had beaten time and time again at that point. But for some reason, I could not get passed the Valley of Bowser 3 Level right before Bowser’s Castle. It’s the one that has all of the floating platforms that fall when their individual timer runs out. I was just having one hell of a time. Death after death after death, and I finally grabbed my brand new turbo controller and chucked it at the wall. The thing exploded into shrapnel. I was picking up pieces from every corner of my room. Not too long after, my sister and I were playing Super Mario World. She wasn’t very good at it, but I was just flying through it. She kept dying during a Special World level, and I made the mistake of laughing at her. She punched me in the face with the controller. It still has a crack in it from that incident.
In high school, my friend and I played tons of Mario Kart 64. So our skill levels were identical. Then one day, he was just beating me in every single race. I got absolutely furious, because I naturally hate to lose, and I just went to town on my N64 controller until it broke in half. After that, my friend and I duct taped it back together, and if we ever felt the need to take our gaming aggression out, we would drop our good controllers and start beating the shit out of the duct taped one.
I can gladly say I haven’t broken a controller in this century!
rockscene: Are you going to be playing any MB shows anytime soon?
Postlethwait: Nothing is lined up at the moment, as I’ve been too busy with other non-music related stuff. But once that dies down, I’m hoping to do some more shows in the future! Also, I think my main goal is to play a release show for “Ledjent of Zelda” and play the whole EP in its entirety, along with some of my other tracks. I think that would be a great way to celebrate. Maybe have a NES console and a TV set up at the show so people can stop by, hang out, and play some games. We’ll see!
rockscene: Brian Pickens (who kindly did the header art for us here) did the art for the Mega Man Tribute and Belmont, you think you may reach out to him for the Zelda cover?
Postlethwait: Of course! To me, a Mega Beardo album cannot be complete without Brian’s epic artwork. He really outdid himself on “Belmont.” He always gives me an idea of what he is going for before he starts working on it. So I have a pre-determined idea of what I think he’s going to do. Then when he sends me the finished product, I’m blown away every time. He does incredible work.
rockscene: Do you expect or plan on having guest appearances/musicians on the record, or do anything different?
Postlethwait: It depends on what the song calls for. I had a couple of my friends do guest vocals as Medusa and Dracula on “Belmont” simply because I heard their voices when I wrote those parts. I felt like it added an extra depth to the songs and gave it a bit more character. I have a couple of friends who are into djent more than me, so I may need to have them come on board for a bit and add some flavor.
rockscene: When do you expect Ledjent of Zelda to be done and out?
Postlethwait: The plan is to get everything written and recorded by the end of summer, so it will definitely be out by the end of 2012.
rockscene: Do you plan on not shaving your beard until it’s out, something cool like that? Talk about a mega beard…
Postlethwait: Haha. Probably nothing beard-related. The one cool thing I did while recording “Belmont” was make a progress chart, on which I would mark off each track of each song with a cut-out sprite to represent that track. I can see me doing something like that for “Ledjent of Zelda.”
Or maybe I’ll just shave the Triforce into my beard?
Posted by WVRockscene!