On Creating a Katathian Battle Anthem for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy was released a year ago, and what a wild ride it’s been since!

Our team poured their heart and soul in the game, and we’ve been so grateful for all the love and support you’ve shown.

They also had a lot of fun making it and went as far as hiding Easter Eggs in the game, recording an album of space metal for an imaginary band and… creating a Katathian Battle Anthem for Drax. And having the whole cast sing it!

If you’ve played the game, and chosen to sing along, this scene is pretty hard to forget: in Chapter 13 – Against all Odds, our Guardians just (crash) landed on Maklu IV and are about to go after Fin Fang Foom. Things aren’t looking great, but as everyone is bursting into laughter, in a “Well this is so us, right?” moment, they’ve finally come together as a team. A team that sings together!

How do you come up with this? Well, it’s the result of a beautiful collaboration between our Narrative and Audio teams. We sat down with Stef Jolin, Writer, Steve Szczepkowski, Senior Audio Director, and Richard Jacques, Composer, and asked them a couple of questions.

  • How did your team come up with the idea of a Katathian Anthem?

SJ – I think this idea of Drax wanting to sing in Katathian, sharing his culture with the group, and getting turn down because they aren’t yet comfortable enough with each other to do something that embarrassing, it’s something we had in mind for quite some time – Drax singing is mentioned in Chapter 5 and Chapter 12.

It’s only after a poor landing on Maklu IV in Chapter 13, right before heading into battle, that the Guardians accept to sing with him, as a team. They finally got to that place of comfort, of understanding each other. They’ve finally become the Guardians of the Galaxy. I came up with the idea that Drax would lead them into a battle anthem and pitched it to Steve completely off the cuff to see if he could come up with a melody.

SS – Stef approached me quite late in production with a great idea. It’s hard to say no to a great idea even if it means we didn’t plan for it and will have to find the time. A great idea needs to be explored. Stef explained what she was looking for and I figured I would ask Richard if he thought he could pull it off. I had a rough idea of the direction, and we had the lyrics Stef had written but I must admit even I was smiling and surprised with how well it all came together.

RJ – Steve came to me with Stef’s idea, and I thought it was a fantastic suggestion so we agreed that we would certainly try it out. As my Katathian is a little rusty these days, I discussed with Steve that if the narrative team could come up with the lyrics in Katathian, then I would set them to music. A few days later the narrative team sent me the lyrics and I was eager to get started!

  • What were the inspirations behind the language and the melody?

SF – We didn’t really have time to come up with a full conlang for Katathian during production, but there were already a few vocabulary words scattered through the script like “Sarduth”, “Morgath”, and “Ultath” that I tried to incorporate into the lyrics. The lyrics of the anthem were mostly wrapped around the meter and are completely made up.

RJ – Regarding the melody and the musical setting, Steve and I discussed our ideas once we had seen the lyrics. We knew that the melody needed to be a rousing Anthem, as if Drax was leading the Guardians into battle, so I thought that the melody and the musical setting should reflect this, and I was imagining that it could be sung by a single warrior or an entire army heading into battle. I also thought that it needed to sound very patriotic, uniting an army and its people. Therefore, the melody needed to be simple enough that anyone could sing it, and these types of anthems also use the techniques of repetition and ‘call and response’. In discussion with both Steve and the narrative and gameplay teams, I knew that Drax would sing the phrase first, then the rest of the Guardians would sing it back. I therefore went about creating the music in my studio, in demo form only at this point, with myself singing the guide vocal part. The song is constructed in three main verses, ending with a rousing coda section which finishes the song.  Steve and I discussed the demo version after it was played to the team, and although it was 99% there, we felt it just wasn’t quite there. To get it to the level we both wanted, we simply increased the tempo of the song, to make it feel like more of a march. This worked a treat, and we were both happy with the result.

SS – For the melody, I gave Richard one direction which was that I always loved the old Soviet Union national anthem and I felt anything from Katath would have that same feeling of strength, history and pride. It’s sad but strong at the same time. Richard got was I was referencing right away, and I believe it was 2 days later he had recorded a rough version that I immediately loved. We gave that melody of Richard singing it to the actors to learn for their session and they delivered in a big way on that scene.

  • How did the cast react when they saw the song in the script?

SS – I think the wording that probably was the most intimidating but having the phonetics there and Richard’s demo made it a lot easier for them to pull off. They loved it and had so much fun with it. I love when I hear Rocket go into his big voice during the song – you can tell they’re all having fun. Of course, huge props to Groot (Robert Montcalm) as well who could only hum in key and time…

  • How long did it take them to master the lyrics and Katathian singing?

RJ – After the final demo version was approved, I went on to prepare the backing track for the actors to sing to, plus a guide vocal track that I had sung, along with a copy of the lyrics and sheet music for the actors who read music.

SS – I would have to ask the actors how hard they had to work on that scene. I’m sure it wasn’t easy! I seem to remember we recorded it in segments – each actor individually. The hardest part honestly was getting all the takes to all play together in game, at first when I heard it play it was quite messy and one character would be finished while another was still going…lol… but our audio team did a great job of tweaking it so it actually sounds like they’re all singing together.

  • Just between us – who was the best singer?

SS – I like Rocket’s “Belt it out to the Back Row” approach 😊

RJ – Once I heard the anthem in-game I was blown away with how well the actors had brought it to life. It really gave Drax’s story a lot of additional weight, and it was a joy to see Drax teaching the anthem to the other Guardians, plus it’s another very funny moment in the game! One thing I didn’t know was that after the Guardians leave the Milano, and head out to explore Maklu IV, Drax and Groot sing sections of the anthem at sporadic points whilst exploring. This is a fantastic touch which I didn’t know anything about until playing the final game through, so kudos to whoever thought of this idea!

SF – That question’s a bit unfair, since our actors were singing according to their character’s singing ability. Robert (Groot) wasn’t even allowed to use words! I was truly amazed the first time I heard the lines after recording because all of them did such a great job singing the way their character would sing. The combined result is so perfect as well. The five Guardians singing together evokes the kind of chaos you get when all your friends sing the same song at Karaoke, or when your entire family sings happy birthday together. Everybody gives it their 100% no matter their singing ability; it sounds like a loud, chaotic, beautiful mess. And isn’t that what the Guardians are all about?

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