Interviews with Rob Hubbard

Thanks to Waz and Kenz from Commodore Zone for making this new interview with Rob:

The very mention of the name "Rob Hubbard" brings joy to a C64 user anywhere. To hear such classic soundtracks such as those from "Knucklebusters", "I-Ball", "Nemesis The Warlock", "Warhawk", and of course the loading theme from "Sanxion" shows you just how lucky us C64 owners were. Ten years after original release, they're still as fresh as ever, and it also proved the C64 was more real sounding than anything at the time. Commodore Zone tracked him down at Electronic Arts, and we're very pleased that Rob has agreed to answer our questions for us. So without further ado here are the questions that Kenz and Waz asked..

Waz: Please describe yourself to the masses.
Rob: Hard working, eager to learn new things, always interested in music…….

Waz: How did you start producing music on the C64?
Rob: I worked as a pro musician, and l started learning basic followed by machine code. I wrote some educational software for the C64 which as a mixture of basic and machine code. I couldn't sell them so I got into games. I wrote a game for a company which went broke. The people who saw it said "graphics are good, game is bad, music is great", so I decided to just do music and audio. After a few months I did Thing On A Spring and that got me started.

Kenz: How did you go about composing your C64 tunes? Did you have a music editor that you used, as there were often rumours you used one you made yourself?
Rob: No, I just used to an assembler and edit the source code - most people in those days did the same. There really wasn't time to sit and write an editor, as there was so much work to do.

Kenz: Who were your main musical influences when it came to composing C64 tunes?
Rob: I had many influences back then. Some are really obvious like Jarre, Synergy and other synth bands. My main thought was really to try to get a strong bass line and a strong melodic line.

Waz: One of the first C64 tunes that you produced was for Mastertronic's "One Man and His Droid" game which they then later used on their "Invade-a-load" loading game. Did you ever receive any royalties for the music appearing on "Invade-a-load"?
Rob: This is the first time I've heard of Invade - a- load, so the answer would have to be no.

Waz: The music for the "Commando" arcade conversion was an inspired "funky" version of the arcade theme. Was this requested by Chris Butler (the programmer) or anyone at Elite or was it your own interpretation?
Rob: There is an interesting story behind Commando. I went down to their office and started working on it late at night, and worked on it through the night. I took one listen to the original arcade version and started working on the c64 version. I think they wanted some resemblance to the arcade version, but I just did what I wanted to do. By the time everyone arrived at 8.00am in the morning, I had loaded the main tune on every C64 in the building! I got my cheque and was on a train home by 10.00 am…….

Kenz: Out of all the C64 music you produced, which ones were you most and least happy with?
Rob: Looking back I think there were 3 distinct phases that I went through. The early stuff was very safe, give them what they want kinda tunes. The middle period was more adventurous and was generally better stuff. The later tunes were OK, but sometimes tried to push the SID too much, and sometimes didn't really work very well. My favourites were Sanxion, Kentilla, Crazy Comets and WAR. I'm not going to tell you which ones I don't like !!

Kenz: Are there any unusual stories behind any of your C64 tunes - like "I thought of this one when I was on the bog" or "I fell down the stairs, hit me head and this melody just popped in"?
Rob: Well, apart from the Commando story… Thing On A Spring was actually something I wrote to test my first driver. Chimera was something I wrote around 1980, as was WAR. All the tunes for Dragons Lair 2 were written in 1 afternoon - not the whole lot but the basis for them. I sat at the keyboard and just recorded myself playing for 3 hours !!.

Kenz: Who were your fave C64 musicians and what particular tunes by them did you like?
Rob: Well, Martin (Galway) and David Whittaker, both are good friends of mine. The Rambo tune by Martin and his Chariots of Fire (from Hypersports) spring to mind.

Waz: The loading theme from Thalamus' "Sanxion" ("Thalamusik") has been described by many a C64 user as the best C64 tune ever - what was the inspiration behind the tune?
Rob: As I recall, it may have been about the time I bought ZooLook. There was only 2 tracks that I liked on that album. I think the synth solo in Sanxion is actually pretty melodic, even after all these years ! I did do a much slower version on the Amiga once, but have no idea what ever happened to it.

Waz: Carrying on from the previous question, what was the story behind producing the audio remix of "Thalamusik" on the first Zzap! Sampler tape? Jeroen Tel tells me he still has his copy of this awesome tape (And so do I! - Ed.)
Rob: My friend just bought a Yamaha computer sequencer and an Akai sampler, and so we got together and sequenced the tune. In all honesty it is not very good, but we didn't spend a lot of time on it.

Kenz: This question is directed at most CZone interview victims - who is your fave babe at the moment?
Rob: I don't mind as long as they have big……… (Classic Hubbard-esque answer! Ed.)

Kenz: How did you feel when an excellent soundtrack was used in an awful C64 game? - E.G. Knucklebusters. (I paid a tenner for that game just for the music y'know!)
Rob: I never got paid royalties, and so most of time I was trying to look after myself, and just try to do a good job. You can never tell how good or bad a game is going to be until it is released to the public.

Waz: The music to "Master Of Magic" and "Zoids" were both inspired by a band called Synergy. Which tracks were they inspired from?
Rob: I can't remember the exact tracks, but I was a huge fan of the Synergy and had 4 albums by them. The tunes which inspired MOM and Zoids were really good tracks that influenced the way I wrote other tunes like Spellbound, Kentilla and also one of the slow tunes from Dragons Lair 2.

Kenz: What have you got in your pockets at the moment?
Rob: Usual Junk….

Kenz: The Spice Girls - Thumbs up or thumbs down?
Rob: I dunno, probably both !

Waz: What TV programmes do you regularly watch over there?
Rob: Most of the TV here is crap. I watch some old British Comedy stuff like Only Fools and Horses, Fawlty Towers, etc. I do watch American Football during the football season and also some of the computer shows.

Kenz: What 'real' (not computer / console) music do you like at the moment?
Rob: I listen to film music, and a lot of 20th Century Classical music.

Waz: The music from "I-Ball" was inspired by Cabaret Voltaire, namely "Whip Blow" and "I Want You" from their album "The Covenant, The Sword And The Arm Of The Lord". Are you a fan of their music, and if so, which was your favourite track by them?
Rob: The people doing I-Ball specifically asked for Cabaret Voltaire, so I bought the album and tried to give them something that they would like. Looking back I don't think the tune really worked very well, and some of what I was trying to do was pushing the driver too much. Also, I have to admit that I didn't like the album very much.

Kenz: Do you have any plans to release a CD of updated versions of your classic C64 tunes - like 'Thalamusik' for example? There's defintely an audience for such a project and you could shift loads of copies - especially with the help of the Internet (and Commodore Zone) for advertising.
Rob: It could happen…..

Kenz: There's still people out there who still love your C64 music and regularly play it either on the actual C64 - or the PC / Amiga with a SID player. Knowing you own Sidplay yourself, how do you feel about that, and what music do you listen to with Sidplay?
Rob: Well, SidPlay has really made it possible for me to have an archive of those old tunes, as I lost all my original source code disks when EA UK moved offices (someone threw them out).

Kenz: How often do you return to the UK? How does living in the States compare to the UK?
Rob: I visit the UK every 3 years or so. Living in the States is a wonderful experience especially here in Silicon Valley. They have a much higher standard of living here than the UK.

Waz: Have you heard any C64 artists covering one of your own tunes? If so, any particular ones that you like?
Rob: I used to get all kinds of disks with demos etc back in the mid 1980s when I lived in the UK. In fact I got huge amounts of disks sent to me and never had the time to check all of them out.

Kenz: What did you have for lunch today? Was it nice?
Rob: I had Italian for lunch today. It was OK but not great.

Waz: One of the first digi tunes you did was for "BMX Kidz". Who was the person that you sampled for the "Go!" sample?
Rob: Well, that was my voice of course - didn't you know?

Kenz: Why were all those music jingles hidden in "Delta"? Was the idea to play a jingle when you originally collected a power-up?
Rob: These are all small clips from Sanxion and Romeo/Juliet music. They were all supposed to be for short stingers such as end of level, extra life etc....

Kenz: What other computers / consoles have you done the music for in the past? And in your opinion, what has been the best (non C64) music that you have produced since you left the C64 scene?
Rob: I have worked on just about all of the popular computers and consoles. I did a ton of music for a PC game called Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes. I also worked on nearly all of the EA Sports titles on the Genesis (Sega Mega Drive) during the early 1990s including Madden, NHL Hockey and PGA Golf.

Waz: How did the title music to "Auf Wiedersehen Monty" come to be a co-production between yourself and Ben Daglish?
Rob: I always get asked this…. I just think that Gremlin thought that the original Monty On The Run was very popular and they just didn't want to totally move away from what I did on the original, so they asked me to spend 2 days working with Ben at their office and that's what happened.

Waz: How gutted were you when reviews of "Thrust" downmarked your music because the review copies had a corrupted loader?
Rob: I didn't know about this…. It is news to me.

Kenz: Did you ever produce any C64 tunes which were never released?
Rob: Well, yes there is actually one piece that was rejected that I completely re did (for Firebird I think). The original C64 version is completely lost, but I have a MIDI version that I did. There are also some tunes that were parts of early demos that were never released in a game, but the demo tunes are out there.

Kenz: Have you heard any Amiga / PC renditions of your tunes done in Protracker 'module' form? If so then what did you think of them, and are there any particular ones you were impressed with?
Rob: I have heard some of them like Ace2 and Sanxion that were very good.

Kenz: Are you still in contact with any heroes from the C64 era? If so, who?
Rob: Martin, David, Jeroen Tel, Charles Deenen, and Barry Leitch. (I wouldn’t describe Bazza Leitch as a ‘hero’ from the C64 era! His terrible ‘Chicken Song’ rendition made quite an impact though. Hehe! - Ed.)

Waz: What was your fondest memories of Zzap! 64 magazine?
Rob: I don't know about fondest memories!! I do recall visiting their office - it was a real mess. I don't know how they ever managed to get anything done or make their deadlines. Zzap was very good for me during those early days and definitely helped my career get started.

Waz: What exactly is your role working at Electronic Arts?
Rob: My job is audio technical director. I recently worked on some interactive music for a PSX title and also work a lot on PC titles, although not on the music side. I'm also very involved with the IASIG - I'm a member of the Steering Committee (see for more details). In short I'm heavily involved with the leading edge of technology and help drive what EA should be doing with all aspects of audio.

Kenz: If you are allowed to tell us, what is the main music project you are working on at the moment?
Rob: I write very little music for games these days. My most recent title is Nuclear Strike PSX and PC.

Kenz: What was the very last ever tune you produced on the C64? Did you know at the time this was your final C64 composition and if so, how did you feel about it?
Rob: It was either PowerPlay Hockey or Kings Of The Beach (1988-1989 EA). Both had samples in them. I knew that they would probably be the last of the C64, as sales were declining rapidly. At time I was really tired of doing C64 stuff and welcomed the change to do something different.

Waz: Do you still have a C64 or C128?
Rob: Well, I sold the Spectrum, Amstrad, Ataris and gave away the Amiga, but I just never did bring myself to part with C64. Its in my office, here, tucked away in a box…..

Kenz: Do you have any plans to ever do any more C64 music? With it being so easy to upload C64 music onto the Internet plenty of people would get to hear it and I bet new Hubbard music on the C64 would cause quite a stir!
Rob: Who knows? I may get a Web Site and upload some other music that people might have not heard from old PC games, and some new stuff……

Waz: Finally, any messages for the masses of Hubbard fans out there?
Rob: Just to say Thanks to all the folks who liked some of the tunes. That's what made it worthwhile…..

Big thanks again to Rob for taking the time out to answer the barrage of questions, within 24 hours of these questions being sent. It’s very much appreciated..


Old interview from Happy Computer issue 7/86:

The best and most spectacular musics on the C64 are made by Rob Hubbard. He gave us an exclusive interview for the readers of Happy Computer .

Rob Hubbard is one of the most famous programmers, although he has never written a successful game. Infact he doesn't write any games. He has specialized on computer music. Some of his famous tunes are "Commando" and "Thing on a Spring". Critics say that sometimes, his musics are better than the whole game. There's a real fan community which buy the games just because of his music. An english journalist once wrote: "It's unbelievable, how he make the C64 sound like ten voices with only three."

Happy: When did you start doing musics for computer games ?
Rob: Two years ago, I programmed a music, educational software and a game. The latter ones were crap, so I decided to specialize on music. After half a year of begging at software companies I got my first three jobs. I had to do the musics for the games "Action Biker" by Mastertronic, Gremlin Grephic's "Thing on a Spring" and "Confuzion" by Incentive.

Happy: Did you work for other companies too ?
Rob: Yeah, a whole bunch of them, including Mastertronic, Firebird, Elite, System 3, Gremlin Graphics, Martech and Alligata.

Happy: Which tune is your best one ?
Rob: That's hard to tell. I'm proud of all my musics, but my favourites are "Master of Magic", "Comets", "Gerry the Germ", "Spellbound" und "Kentilla". My *absolute* favourites are "Monty on the Run" and "Zoids".

Happy: You are a real C64 specialist. Why do you work with the C64 and not with the Schneider or Spectrum ?
Rob: When I decided to buy a computer, I heard that the C64 has the best sound quality.

Happy: How long does it take you to create a song ?
Rob: That's specific. Normally it takes about two weeks to compose and arrange. In some special cases where I had to do it faster, I managed to do one in two days. That's how "Commando", "Zoids" and "One Man and his Droid" were created. I prefer ta king my time, but I can work very fast if I have to.

Happy: Do you like playing games ?
Rob: No, because I can't find time nowadays. But when I receive a preview of a game I have to write the music for, I look at it very closely.

Happy: How old are you ?
Rob: I'm 30. I think I'm a bit old for this job :-)

Happy: Are you interested in the opinions of computer magazines ?
Rob: I'll better not say anything about magazines. I read "Commodore Horizons" regularly because of the Amiga section. I also read "Commodore Computing International" and some mags about Schneider, Sinclair, and Atari.

Happy: What is wrong with the mags you don't read ? What disturbs you most in the computer scene ?
Rob: The way some magazines review the games and are written for complete idiots. They often write complete bullshit, without having the slightest knowledge about writing games. I also hate comments like "I like this game, because it's really great " or "I don't like this game, because it sucks". I also hate software piracy. There is a lot more that can be done against it.

Happy: Do you want to start an own software company ?
Rob: No, never ! That's to expensive, difficult and risky.

Happy: Do you use programs like "Music Studio" ?
Rob: No. I do my music in pure machine code using an assembler. I tested those programs, but their possibilities are limited. "Electrosound" is the only one that I like.

Happy: Which other music-programmer do you like ?
Rob: That's easy. It's definitely Martin Galway of Ocean, thinking of his musics from "Rambo" and "Comic Bakery".

Happy: Which normal music do you listen to ?
Rob: I love many different kinds of music: Chuck Corea, Brecker Bros, Mozart, Ravel, Tippet, New Order, Tears for Fears, U2, Bowie, and the good ol' rockers like The Who, the Stones and so on.

Happy: Let's talk about the future. Which games with music by you are about to hit the market ?
Rob: I worked on "International Karate", "Kentilla", "Spellbound", "Thrust" and "Proteus" lately.

Happy: What are your future plans ?
Rob: I will take a little break from the C64 and concentrate on the Schneider-CPC and the Spectrum 128. I hope that the Amiga market will grow, so that I have a chance to work with this machine.

Happy: Many thanks for the interview. We and our readers are looking forward to your next creations.