Supanova Interview: Troy Baker talks The Last of Us Part II, his own brand of “nerd” and Critical Role

Even if you don’t know the name, you’re no doubt familiar with the voice talents of Troy Baker, delivering a masterpiece of storytelling with Bioshock: Infinite and the dark and gritty PlayStation exclusive The Last of Us (among many others).

Musically, Troy also has a voice you have to listen to, releasing three albums to date with Random Thoughts on a Paper NapkinSitting in the Fire and now Moving Around Bias as the newly formed outfit Window to the Abbey.

Mr Baker visits us once again this week for the Supanova Comic Con & Gaming expo in Sydney and Perth. So, as an absolute fanboy, I calmed my nerves, took a breath and had a fantastic banter with another of my gaming idols.

I want to say how much I really appreciate your time, as I said with Nolan North on a previous interview, it’s something else entirely when a journo finally gets to speak with someone they respect so much, and you are one of my idols. Yourself and Nolan, you’ve got me through some pretty dark times in my life and playing and listening to some of your characters’ voices has perked me right up, made me laugh, smile and cry when I needed it the most. So, thank you.

I’m right there along with you and honestly that’s the reason why we do this. It’s interesting to me how the conversations kind of changed, really in 2009, 2010 and again in 2012 and 2013, when The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite came out, there seemed to be this kind of shift, we as gamers always love to lose ourselves in those kind of experiences, but I don’t know, man, something interesting happened. It just elevated a little bit more than just playing a game, trying to get a trophy, or getting on a leader board somewhere on a multiplayer thing. It just became more of an existential thing and I’ve been honoured to be a part of that and I love that, I love it when I hear that, because it just means that I’m not alone and that you’re not alone. That there’s a community of people that share in this experience together for the very same reason.

The video game world is huge for you, you have been in so much now. I think, it was as Matt Baker in Brothers in Arms that you first gained my attention and you only continued to impress as you grew. Red Faction: Guerrilla, the Transformers series of games, the Batman Arkham series as Robin and the freaking Joker! Your meteoric rise with Bioshock: Infinite as Booker DeWitt, Delsin Rowe in Infamous: Second Son and of course that little indie title we know as The Last of Us, as Joel. Was there ever a point in your career thus far that you’ve looked at your work or started your work and said, “This is it. This is the big one!”?

I think it’s a fantastic question and thank you for making me feel incredibly cool. There was a moment when we ‘and I’ve talked about this before’, when Ashley (Ashley Johnson, who plays Ellie in The Last of Us) and I walked onto set at Culver Studios (movie studio in Washington, United States) and when Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley (Creative Director’s on The Last of Us) walked us through the exact same pitch that they had taken Sony through and we got to hear, they laid out the entire plan of what The Last of Us was going to be and it’s not so much that moment of like, “Oh, this is going to be the greatest thing I’ve ever done.” It was simply, we knew at that moment that what we were signing up for was something that was going to be truly great. We knew that it wasn’t just going to be another gig. I knew, of course, the pedigree that Naughty Dog (game studio) had, but even beyond that, I could tell by the tone and by the substance of even just that pitch that we were going to get into some dangerous territory. It had nothing to do with the game. It had everything to do with the conversations within it.

When you’re sitting at the BAFTAs in London, you’re going, “Okay, I did something.” But then, here’s the lesson that I learned, If you make it about the accolades, if you make it about the external affirmation and confirmation, I feel that you lose. As opposed to what you just said at the beginning of the call, “You got me through some tough times.” It’s honestly been the personal interaction, the anecdotal stories that I hear from people of the impact that this thing has had on them. But it is another game. The craziest thing is when it’s not the one you think it’ll be, it’s not The Last of Us, it’s not Bioshock: Infinite, It’s this crazy random thing that was a Tuesday (music) gig that you didn’t think was going to really have that much impact and it really, really registered with someone. For some reason, that song, that game, that character, that conversation that they had, was what resonated the most with them and so it’s taught me to appreciate every job you show up for and that it deserves everything that you have. So, it really kind of just taught me to be more humble about it. If I had to point to a moment where going in, I knew this thing was gonna be great, it’s definitely that day. The first day on set with The Last of Us.

Did you ever imagine there could even be The Last of Us Part 2?

When we went in, no and honestly, the first time that I got an inkling that there could possibly be a second one was the night after The Last of Us swept the BAFTAs. Neil says, “So I have an idea, if we were to do a sequel, what it would be?” Two and half years on (from that) was when we finally announced it. People always think it’s a marketing ploy, but at least to my knowledge, there wasn’t any intent when we shipped that first game, we shipped that game as a complete thing and that’s all that it did and that’s all that it was. I think people felt that honesty, they didn’t feel this setting up for a new franchise. Which I’m not bagging on anybody else. God bless Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty, but that’s not what The Last of Us was. This could be the very last game that Naughty Dog made, and that’s the game that they wanted to ship.

Before I get onto your awesome music, I’m going to touch on something. On one of your beautiful live feeds I witnessed on Instagram, when you were going through your new music, you talk about how no matter who you are, or where you are, or where you are from and how dark things seem, there’s always someone out there that loves you and you are worth something. It was such a strong and impactful message for a lot of us to hear. It’s probably touched and changed many lives. Is there something that’s happened in your life that brings so much truth to those words you spoke?

Oh, man, yeah! To have been on the side of that conversation that I needed to hear that from somebody and I think, no, I know that all of us in some manner, in some way, are walking around broken. We just hide our cracks in different ways and for me, the strength has come from owning and admitting that, as opposed to trying to show how well I’ve got my shit together. It’s to a select few of people that I can trust with it, to lay everything out and go, “Here’s what I’m wrestling with.” Adversity exposes our weaknesses, that’s the point of it. Pain is our friend; the darkness helps us to appreciate the light. But it’s hard to wrap our head around that notion when we’re in the midst of the darkness and all we need is just a promise that there is a light.

Again, I do a lot of conventions and the reason why I do is because I truly love the interaction with people and the stories, because people can tell me, “Hey, just to let you know, that thing really meant a lot to me.” And that helps me get through a really hard day, or a really hard scene, or get through traffic on the 405 when I don’t want to go to work, or we’re getting four hours of sleep because the babies just decided to stay up that night. It’s all of those things. People can give you money, but they can’t give you hope, they can’t give you love and inspiration, that comes from a completely different place and not from a cheque book.

But the reason why I love going to cons is the connection. I’m a nerd at heart. And when I feel a certain way, and someone else goes, “Hey, I feel the same way.” Now we have community. And conventions specifically are a really good place for that and I think that’s why they’re so popular and why they’re growing by the tens of thousands, is because everybody, especially right now, needs to feel that their brand of nerd is okay. Because we all have our own brand of nerd. Mine is different than yours, but when we come together it’s like, “Oh, okay. Now I get it. Now we can be weird together.” Monday through Friday, I may get my ass kicked, but Saturday and Sunday, under these four walls, I’m the cool kid and I love witnessing that firsthand.

For anyone that has been hiding under a pile of retro arcade machines, you’ve had a wonderful album, Sitting in the Fire, which I was lucky enough to see you perform some of last time you were down at Supanova Sydney. My absolute favourite tracks are “Halo Eyes”, which is very short and sweet, “Sad Song” and “My Religion”. But you’ve got something new and fresh with the sound of Window to the Abbey now. Can you tell me what changed you to start creating more soul-touching music with a group rather than staying solo?

Through the course of recording that album, I met Wayne Miller, who became our music director by proxy. That’s who he is and what he does so very well, he also played bass on the record and we had lunch a year and a half ago and he says, “I want to produce the next record.” I’m like, “I wasn’t planning on doing a record.” He’s like, “Do you have more songs? Because you should absolutely do another record.” So, we sat and we did one song together and we did a completely different version of My Religion and it’s absolutely the direction that I wanted to move in. It was more grounded, it was more earthy, it was more tangible. It was less spit and polish and more dirt and grit.

We brought in Jon Titterington, who’s an amazing keyboardist who plays for Father John Misty. And the three of us really kind of hashed these songs out. We spent two weeks kind of workshopping the tunes and before long we felt they were in a good place. We submitted it to the band, most of which played on the first record. James Bowen on guitar, we brought in a new drummer, AJ Novak. Christopher Wray was on pedal steel, and Buchla and other guitars, he’s our mad scientist, he’s crazy and he creates the coolest sounds.

We all went up to the Bay Area in San Francisco, and on top of Mount Tamalpais overlooking the ocean, we found this little house that was an amazing studio and for ten days we made a record. There’s something cool when you sequester yourself and you shut off the rest of the world, and you say, “Nothing else matters right now but this.” I’m so glad that we were able to do it before I had my son, because I don’t think I could’ve done it now. I would’ve written more songs, but I don’t think I would’ve recorded them. But in the process of it, there was a song that we did on Sitting in the Fire called Window to the Abbey and the beauty of that song is that it started off with me just sitting down at the keyboard and playing those three notes and one by one, each band member jumped in, and it’s completely improvised, unrehearsed, live, one take.

That spirit of collaboration and ultimately it’s one of the best songs on the record, I feel, was what I wanted this thing to be. So, Jon Titterington was like, “Well, why don’t we just call it Window to the Abbey? That’s what I thought we were going to call it.” And that’s where the name came from. We have this new album out, Moving Around Bias, and I’m actually in the process as we speak of trying to move things around so I can hopefully play some of the songs down there when I’m in Sydney and Perth.

That would be exciting. And finally, how long are you going to make poor Travis Willingham wait before you go on an episode of Critical Role? (popular D&D online program)

Yo, all they have to do is ask. I remember when they first said, “Hey, we’re gonna start playing D&D in our kitchen.” I was like, “That sounds like fun.” Never did I imagine that five years on, they would look like this. It is truly remarkable and a meteoric rise for all of them and I love the community. That’s the best thing that they’ve got, is the community that they’ve created, and the diehard Critters that just absolutely love it. So, if they roll out the red carpet for me, I will bring my dice and I will make an absolute fool of myself.

Awesome. Well, I’ve got to say, your Retro Replay YouTube show with Nolan North is awesome. I just finished watching the Ninja Gaiden episode. I hope that keeps going. That is a fantastic show.

So do we, man. I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

Troy Baker Voice & Motion Capture Actor, Musician and just a flat-out Legend!

Troy Baker will be making appearances at Supanova Comic Con and Gaming Sydney and Perth.
Sydney – 15th – 17th June – Sydney Showground Olympic Park
Perth – 22nd – 24th June – Perth Convention & Exhibition Centre
For more information go to the official Supanova website or visit their social media channels.