Jonathan Eng about the music in Sayonara Wild Hearts

The initial influences for the Sayonara Wild Hearts music were Ethiopian music, surf rock, and stoner rock. The demos I made in the spring of 2015 were all based around the electric guitar. I gave the demos aggressive or moody titles like Clawmarks, Road Ripper, Mojave Slowfox and Black Strobe. Mojave Slowfox was like a garage rock version of Jonathan Richman’s Egyptian Reggae and Clawmarks had a little White Stripes about it, with primitive messy drums and a steady and simple guitar riff. On the Road Ripper demo I added police siren effects. I envisioned how you were being chased, and that the game would resemble motorcycle sequence in Final Fantasy VII.

Clawmarks demo
Night Road demo
Mojave Slowfox demo
Road Ripper demo
Black Strobe demo

Suddenly Simogo pointed out a new direction for the games aesthetic. I left all the guitar-based demos behind, and in October 2015 I started writing the first more pop-oriented song. Working closely with Simon I tried to approach heartbreak from different angles, and the guiding concept was “cry-disco”. Musically, the songs were familiar territory for me—indie pop tunes in the style of one of my all-time favorites, Andreas Mattsson. It was thrilling to hear my acoustic guitar songs transformed to glittery electropop with a female voice with the help of Daniel and Linnea.

All the songs were written specifically for the game, except A Place I Don’t Know. I wrote it in the fall of 2017, after an episode in which I had got a piece of rare steak stuck in my throat, then had failed surgery and had to stay sedated in the hospital for days. I remember sitting on my couch after coming home, giving myself blood thinner injections and writing that song as an attempt to quell anxiety about the future. I had a demo of it laying around for a couple of years, until we decided in 2019 to use it for Sayonara. The text was rewritten a bit for the game, and in the end became a little less of a country music pastiche, which made it better.

In August 2020 I was invited to do a Sayonara Wild Hearts live set for Summer Game Fest. It was a lot of fun, because I got to revisit the acoustic originals, while also having to tweak the songs slightly to sound more like the final ones in the game. It was also nerve-racking to get a clean take of the five minutes of Begin Again with no mistakes.