"I'm a pretty big video game junkie," says James O'Toole, bassist for Nintendo soundtrack resurrectors Nerd Army. "I encouraged the guys to get into it and they liked how it was kind of challenging and bizarre. We started playing a few gigs and it snowballed from there."
That snowball picked up a self-titled 2008 record, including 17 songs from classic games like Final Fantasy VII and Double Dragon II—the impetus for this whole thing, via a post on Halifax Locals. The quartet is back with a concept atop a concept, a reconcepting, if you will—the Mario EP, featuring six songs from seminal NES cartridge Super Mario Bros.
"The Super Mario stuff, we almost didn't want to do it because it's so overdone by bands already," says O'Toole, who's a fan of peers like The Advantage and The Minibosses. But the band—including Craig Hamlin and Shawn Hunt on guitars and Brad MacDougall on drums—has turned the theme into an anthem that starts out jaunty and crescendos in a moody wail, giving their fretboards a workout.
"Some of it is very difficult," admits O'Toole of the music, originally composed and programmed into machines in Japan in the ’80s. "We kinda cheat—some of the songs, everyone would have to figure out their part by ear which is really tedious and took a lot of time and a lot of effort. But there's this website, vgmusic.com, where everything is in midi and then we take the midi file and load it into Guitar Pro and it will tab out all the songs. That's a real godsend cause it made it a lot easier to learn the songs with tabs and notation."
The audience is a mix of hardcore gamers, lovers of irony, indie rockers and, "oddly enough, a lot of metal kids seem to dig us. We're not the most metal-sounding band," says O'Toole. "Craig and Shawn play pretty fast and complicated so maybe it's intriguing in that sense."