I asked Brandon Strader some questions about his recent release Always Remember, an original album developed in a two-year period and covering a diverse selection of styles. It is the follow-up to his 2008 album Life and features guest artists from the fan arrangement community. He described his experience working on Always Remember as an "emotional rollercoaster", though he was quick to cross out or miniaturize this phrase in promotional materials.
Brandon joined OverClocked ReMix at around the age of 15, in 2001. “It was Final Fantasy VII that got me interested in game music back in 1998, and I submitted and failed a Kingdom Hearts remix in 2001, so... OCR can be directly linked to me using and learning Fruity Loops to say the least! But without that knowledge, I wouldn't be where I am today.” He made a number of connections through the community and culled talent for his Teen Agent arrangement album The Root of All Evil, released in 2010.
The download package for Always Remember includes photos of various collaborators on the album. Brandon explained, “I just tossed 'em in so people could see if they wanted. The pictures are also on the trailer on YouTube.” All the guests featured on the album are members of OverClocked ReMix: Michelle Kwan goes by the handle rhapsodos; Beth Carter releases works under the name Wildfire; and Deia Vengen is DragonAvenger, an OCR judge.
Daniel Lippert, better known in the arrangement community as Usabell, was responsible for the drumming on Always Remember. Brandon had contacted him in the initial stages of development. “I had some ideas and sent him full MIDIs of the songs once they were written so he could play drums... Most of the songs weren't even written at the time. It's been a couple years but I remember asking him pretty early on, if not the first thing then pretty close.” Brandon was also very accepting of Daniel’s feedback. “I'd take it from Usa. He's already helped me a ton with learning some production tricks.”
Brandon’s interest in the community extended to composition competitions. One of his first One Hour Compo entries made quite an impression in 2009. In “My Kitty” he sang about a kitten being his favorite thing, and he meowed on microphone using AutoTune. He went on to pitch-control an actual cat with the Antares software in another entry, continuing an apparent feline theme. For compo he later wrote “Out of Control” that also deals with animals, depicting chaos in the forest and all the wildlife eating each other. Comical munching and growling can be heard under the layered guitar work.
He eventually reworked "Out of Control" as a song for Always Remember. Brandon reached out to Ben “bjkmenu” Kimble to redo the vocal, and he happily obliged. “He really wanted to do it ‘cause he loved that song. [The tracks] ‘I See’ and ‘Thankful’ also have bits from OHC. I wrote stuff that I thought was fun or nice, and they became full songs.”
As the name implies, the song “For My Parents” was created with Brandon's mother and father in mind. “I made it for my parents with my 7-string guitar. I think it's the first solo I ever recorded with it, nice whammy bar usage in it. It's almost like a Dragon Ball Z stand-off song. […] I may make more songs in that style on future albums (For My Parents Part 2?) and have them all link together stylistically.”
The album is dedicated to the memory of Brandon’s great grandmother Maxine Strader, as well as Gregory Burr. He was “a cousin who shared my birthday, but was older, a father of a good friend who had a newborn baby at the time he passed.” Brandon noted that the album itself carries a somber tone in some of its tracks. Always Remember is his first mass-produced album, and is limited to 100 physical copies. It is free to download from Bandcamp, and both the CD and digital version contain tracks exclusive to each other.