After David Hayter, Lionel Lovisa and Stefanie Joosten, we have once again relaunched Project CO*P**A*I*N with our friends over at MetalGearSolid.be. Indeed, we’ve had the great honor to have an interview with Donna Burke, the voice of the iDroid and singer of « Sins of the Father » for Metal Gear Solid V : The Phantom Pain. During our interview, Donna Burke even gave us a brief insight about Hideo Kojima’s future. « V has come to ! « .
Interview in French.
Hello Donna, first of all thank you for granting us this interview. Could you please introduce yourself to our readers ?
Donna : Hi everyone! I’m an Aussie living in Tokyo since 1996. I was a high school teacher in Perth which I loved and also sang at weddings and private functions including funerals as a part time job. But I always dreamed of being a famous singer and actress but never had the courage to pursue it full time until I came to Japan.
So you’re a native of Perth, Australia and you lived in London. Formerly a teacher, your dream was to become a singer and an actress. And so, your dream came true when you landed in Japan. Could you go into more detail about your career ?
Donna : It is so freeing to come and live in a foriegn country – where all they see is you – they don’t know what country you even come from and don’t care what school, what suburb you grew up in… it’s all in the NOW – can you do this job or not ? Are you nice ? Are you reliable ? So the box I had grown up in exploded away and I was free to live in the present and create the reality of « I’m a singer and actress »
We know you are very close to the video game industry. How did you start working in this field ?
Donna : I honestly don’t remember… agents call with jobs that will come out years later. I have to check Wikipedia and then Youtube to remember most of my work ! But the most memorable moment when I realized “wow I just got my first REAL acting gig” was doing the audition at Konami for Silent Hill 3… I don’t remember anything much about Silent Hill 2 except making myself sick laughing doing the zombie noises but in Silent Hill 3 I had to eat a recently aborted messiah and then go crazy… I remember the grey carpet, the row of Japanese seated watching me and holding a warm, bloody mess in my hands thinking “Yes I am crazy enough to eat this” and I did.
Donna Burke At the Tokyo Game show 2015
Do you see yourself as a gamer ?
Donna : Not at the moment- never say never ! But I can’t even watch exciting suspenseful TV shows like Game of Thrones because my stomach and shoulders get so tense, my face is all screwed up..then I think… ”Why am I terrifying myself like this ? Stop it !… to give you a clue… I spent most of Pulp Fiction with my hands in front of my eyes…screaming… I remember the first time I saw Alien… I was shitting myself… at the very beginning… just the music… But I adore movies like Star Wars, Bond movies, Mission Impossible… action is fine…
In 2004, you launched Dagmusic, your very own agency. Could you tell us how your project came to life ?
Donna : In 2003 I was singing in a lot of TV commericals and one of the music production companies was complaining to me that the agencies he used for foreign singers just sent the same old people for every job. I though… I could help you! I think my days as a high school teacher gave me a thrill for helping people and discovering talent which Dagmusic does every day. We find talent in Tokyo and get them work- our clients love that we never relax, we always try and discover new people and thus they don’t have to fly to LA or London to record. Now it’s expanded into voice acting recordings, composing music for games and matching composers with game projects… all out of a desire to help.
How did you get into video game voiceovers ?
Donna : Just through living in Tokyo and being registered with lots of agents and having a voice demo and loving acting and doing silly accents. I used to annoy people when I was growing up “Why don’t you talk in a normal voice?”… but that’s no fun is it ? I had teachers from the UK, America, Singapore, France and Ireland so I used to have my classmates in stitches imitating them. I love imitating and mimicking – I can’t get into an elevator without trying to exactly copy the voices. In Japan they have way more talking machines than Australia so it keeps me happy !
How was your first meeting with Hideo Kojima ? How did you become one of the series’ main interpreters? Did you know the series before Metal Gear Solid : Peace Walker ?
Donna : Sorry, not being a gamer I’d never heard of Metal Gear and had no idea I was singing such an important song for such a famous game franchise… they probably wondered why I was completely relaxed and calm and cheerful ! They could not have imagined it was coming from a place of complete ignorance instead of professional competence !
Donna Burke on stage (2015)
You sang Heavens Divide for Peace Walker. How did this song come to fruition ?
Donna : I was booked to sing it at Sunrise studio near my office. I learned it over a few days, walked to the studio, met Akihiro Honda who was super nice and fun to work with , sang the song and left… then about 18 months later he asked me to sing it for the game release – THAT’s when I saw the world’s media gathered at Akasaka Blitz and thought “Hmmm this is actually a big deal !”
In April of 2010, for Peace Walker’s release, Hideo Kojima declared : « During the conference, I watched Donna sing from across the stage. I had teary eyes. During the intermission, I was literally sobbing. I also almost cried during repetitions. Her live performance was divine. At the end, I shook her hand to show her my deepest gratitude… » Did you know about this trivia? How does it make you feel to see your work bringing such strong emotions to the public ?
Donna : OMG I have never seen this comment but it’s true! You’ve made my day! Wow! As soon as I came off stage I was jumping up and down with excitement and emotion and he was there – I think that was the first time I’d ever met him – to be honest someone whispered – here is the game director but even then I’d never heard of him and didn’t realize what a big deal it was – also he is normal, friendly, smiling and humble so you don’t get a big CELEBRITY ALERT!!! WARNING!! when you see him. “Celebrity Marker Placed”never pops up !
How did the creation process for « Sins of the Father » go with LudvigForsell ? Quite a particular process, was it not ?
Donna : Yes, Akihiro Honda asked me to make humming demos to two songs – I said I wanted to make quick lyrics to help me sing better and he was clear – but we won’t ever use your lyrics… I was ok no worries … then we recorded the demos at Dagmusic and he showed them to Hideo and then Hideo said – I like this from that one and this from this one. Akihiro’s brief was to make a better song than Heaven’s Divide – to excel the fans expectations. I met Ludvig when they finally let me see the actual lyrics and he explained the meaning of them and how he wanted me to sound – especially at the beginning of the song. Ludvig was also on Skype when we went to LA for the recording… I think it was the middle of the night poor thing but he wanted to be there to help me.
When you’re interpreting a very emotional song such as « Sins of the Father », what mindset are you in ?
Donna : If I haven’t sung it for a few months then the first few times makes me cry… I think of all the people that this song is actually true for… people who are being tortured, who’ve given everything and then been betrayed, who feel abandoned and forgotten about, rotting in a cell somewhere, who feel whitehot rage and yet are still vulnerable and not immune to love, honor and life. Then I start to realize, Shit ! This song’s so amazing! And I get in my head more and finally… OMG I need to practice more, go to the gym and do scales every day to do this song justice… which I then do. Thanks to Sins of the Father I’m in the best shape vocally and physically I have ever been in my life so that I can do the song justice without thinking about myself.
They say that « Heavens Divide » is quite successful in Japanese karaokes. Do you think « Sins of the Father » will ever be that popular ? We really like that song over here.
Donna : To tell the truth I am still in shock Sins of the Father hasn’t become a massive hit worldwide… not because of my performance, or the game – but the actual song… it’s so fantastic, such depth yet so accessible, not boring. Has such heart, melody, emotion… I really believe that soon it’ll go viral… I mean how can it not ? Everyone who I play it too who doesn’t know anything about MGSV is awed.
Heaven’s Divide reached 18 on the Japanese Oricon charts and I thought Sins of the Father would be something that went to Number One. The huge hole of expectations that I had for the success of the song… still unfulfilled… is being filled by making a reality show with Stefanie- this is creating a buzz and sense of purpose. I thought I would be flying around the world, singing it on TV, being invited to lots of Game related events. But there has been nothing.
Part of me thinks it will still happen… the song is on a slow burn and will suddenly go nuts and viral… and part of me thinks « Maybe it’s not meant to be so don’t worry about it ».
I would love to have the Late Show with Stephen Colbert invite me on to sing Sins of the Father- he recently had the Theme from Zelda played by a 75 piece orchestra… so why not me right ?!
I’ve really pushed for the Game Awards in LA Dec 3 to have me on to sing it – and if they don’t after all the begging myself and fans have done then… it won’t be because I was too proud to ask and it will confirm… maybe it’s just not meant to be and that’s OK.
Sometimes it’s only when alot of time has gone past before you realize how a door closing was the best thing ever so maybe in years to come I will look back and be grateful it wasn’t a massive hit straight away… if it was I wouldn’t be working so hard with Stefanie now.
Among all the things you’ve worked on for video games, which one do you hold closest to your heart ?
Donna : For acting (motion capture and voice acting) it’s Silent Hill 3 playing Claudia, for singing it’s Metal Gear Solid V : Phantom Pain Sins of the Father- but I also LOVE the humming version of Quiet’s Theme that I recorded for the E3 trailer – I get tears every time I hear this or sing it and something reacts in my cells, all the hair on my arms goes up … it’s so full of beauty and pain.
You were a voiceover in the previous Shenmue game, is there a chance we might hear your voice in the next Shenmue ?
Donna : I didn’t know they were making one – that was in the Guiness Book of Records for quite a while as the most expensive game ever made ! I only did about 5 sentences for that one… ”Old lady in noodle shop” and “young girl on the street”.
It depends where they do the voice acting and whether the agent knows me or not.
You did a cover version of « Snake Eater », an idolized song for Metal Gear fans. Was that a challenge for you ? Would you have liked to cover another MGS theme song that isn’t present on the « Metal Gear Solid Vocal Tracks & Cover » album ?
Donna : One of the many things I’ve learned from working with Hideo is to listen to the fans… so I started hearing them say “It’d be cool if Donna did Snake Eater” so I approached Konami to get permission to release it, along with Calling to the Night, another song I’d love to remake.
Unbeknownst to me, at the same time, Hideo was planning to make a covers album, and at a recording for the Idroid voice I told him I was planning to remake Snake Eater… I’ll never forget his reaction… confusion… as HE was planning to do it but hadn’t discussed it and was wondering how I knew about it..and I was confused because I thought he didn’t understand it was MY project… I even joked “Are you secretly reading my emails??!!” Don’t worry he wasn’t !
I’ve just started reading a book by Elizabeth Gilbert called “Big Magic”that puts forward the idea that inspiration and ideas really do float around attaching themselves to people hoping the person will say yes. In the case of Snake Eater- both us were saying Yes.
There were 5 songs they wanted me to cover and they didn’t include Calling to the Night – I’d love to do a rock anthem with a driving dance beat, slightly faster… maybe I’ll get to do it live in concert !
We recognized your voice in « Glassy Sky », the title track for the Tokyo Ghoul anime, which is a very successful manga in France. Are you a fan of this series ?
Donna : I bought the first series on Itunes but only got to the first 2 episodes because… I’m a wimp ! It’s so sad that even though I want to watch it, at the end of the working day I like to have a laugh so I always put off watching it. BUT I’m a hugely grateful I was given the best song of the soundtrack (IMO) and am thrilled it’s become such a massive hit on Youtube… and deservedly so… such a beautiful song.
Stefanie Joosten, one of your friends, is playing Quiet in MGSV. She also sings a beautiful song in the game. How did you help her out, considering the fact that she’s not a singer ?
Donna : To be honest I only got involved because Kojima Productions really… begged me to. I’m not a singing teacher and I think Singing Teaching is such a special profession. A bad singing teacher can do terrible damage not just to a voice but more importantly to someone’s confidence and artistic soul. But after I met Stefanie I realized “I can work with this girl !”
I remember Nicole Kidman being terrified of singing but if she played a character singing she was fine. So the same approach with Stefanie worked really well.
I love Improvised Theatre so I did lots of acting and movement exercises before the recording to loosen up her body and get her ready to vocalise as Quiet. It worked because Stefanie is smart and self aware and could tell when she was getting too tense- she knew she was getting in her head and observing her performance thinking “You’re not a singer”. When she dropped that and went back to acting as Quiet she was perfect.
Donna Burke and Stefanie Joosten, during the recording of their reality show over at Dagmusic
We recently interviewed Stefanie Joosten. We know she’s a close friend of yours. Do you have a message for her ?
Donna : Yeah… what lip gloss do you recommend ? Your lips always look so luscious !
Oh you mean..like..a Message Message ?
(clears the throat)
Stefanie, you only have one life. Enjoy it. Keep choosing to be a creator not just a reactor -say yes to your inner voice.
You also play the voice of the iDroid in MGSV. You inform players in real time, just like you do for travelers in the Shinkansen. How did the recording sessions go ? Was Hideo Kojima there with you in the studio ?
Donna : Yes he directed me for the Idroid… I did the Shinkansen voice. Each recording was pretty easy, around 1 hour.
How do you feel about Kojima Productions being disbanded ? Fans are feeling a bit left out.
Donna : I’m very interested, curious and excited to see what Hideo Kojima is going to be creating next. I’ve heard he will still be based in Tokyo. But all will soon be revealed !
Hideo Kojima, Donna Burke and Akio Otsuka over at Dagmusic, during MGSV’s release party, on September 2nd, 2015
Are you still in touch with Hideo Kojima and his team after MGSV’s release ? Do you think you’ll ever be able to work with them again in the future ? How about along with Guillermo del Toro and Norman Reedus, who also really want to work with Hideo Kojima despite the cancellation of Silent Hills ?
Donna : Yes I’m still in touch with Hideo and also with some of his team many of whom are still working at Konami. He surrounds himself with really great talents who were lovely to work with Not just talented but NICE ! My office is in Roppongi near Konami. I really don’t know anything about the Silent Hills project- except that I would love to do a cameo in the project if it ever gets made !
I’m sure I’ll work with them in the future if there is something I can contribute in Kojima’s new ventures and at future projects at Konami. My company Dagmusic has been going 10 years and has had a studio for 6 years. We have a lot of game and anime clients who have gotten to know us and like our voice talent, composers, singers and cheap and cheerful studio which is close to the station, close to lots of yummy restaurants etc. I play a long game- be nice to everyone and they’ll remember that years later and still want to work with you again. Arseholes get work but only if they’re the last resort.
Have you played P.T., the Playable Teaser for Silent Hills ? What do you think of this little horror game made by Kojima Productions ?
Donna : It’s super scary so that would be a big NO ! Unless all the lights were on … no I’d still be too scared!
What are your future projects ? Will we ever have the chance to see you sing on stage in Europe ?
Donna : I’d love to sing in Europe and am hoping the Anime and Game conventions will invite me to sing – hint hint !.
I’m busy producing a comedy show with Stefanie which we hope will bring some laughs to our fans. A lot of fans gave us the idea to do a duet. (And remember how I learned to listen and be inspired by fans?!) That goofing around with Quiet’s Theme led me to think of a reality show with Stefanie which happily she is now starring in !
As I mentioned before, a lot of people have been asking us “What is next” and to be honest there has been no big new projects, offers to sing, red carpet events…! So instead of feeling bereft, now that MGSV is out, we are busy producing content for our fans instead of waiting for the phone to ring.
What a great feeling – and yes I’m totally hanging off Stefanie who has way more fans than me ! It’s enormously satisfying to be creating something out of nothing with someone I really like and is nice to work with and hang out with as a friend.
Are you still jealous of Ludvig’s long eyelashes, blond hair, thin silouhetteand composing talents ? (laughs)
Donna : Who’s Ludvig Forsell?
Never heard of him !
We have reached the end of the interview, Donna thank you again for everything.
Donna : Thanks so much for the chance to connect with France!!! I always love going there and make sure I drink wine and cheese from France every week!
Our teaser was specifically created for this interview,
in collaboration with Donna Burke.