Troy Baker has something of a recognisable voice to gamers. He's voiced characters in countless video games, taking the roles of some of the central characters in quite a few RPGs including the subject of our Voice Actor interview analysis, Tales of Vesperia.
For the fourth in our series on the voice acting of Vesperia we sat down with Troy and ended up chatting about a lot more than the voice acting work of this very talented man - and it was so big we had to split it into two parts!
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RPGSite: Hi Troy and thanks for agreeing to talk with us.
Troy Baker: It’s always fun to talk.
RPGSite: How are you today?
Troy: I’m doing very, very well. It’s kind of an interesting day, just trying to wrap up all the shenanigans of the week. How are you?
RPGSite: Yeah, I’m doing well myself; I’ve just been preparing some questions to grill you with.
Troy: That’s always scary [laughs]. Fire way, do your worst.
RPGSite: We’ll take it easy for now. Where do we find you at the moment?
Troy: Enjoying a brief respite from a pretty heavy week working on different shows and enjoying a nice cup of coffee on my balcony here in Los Angeles.
RPGSite: Sounds great. I must admit that it is slightly surreal for me to be talking to the man that voices the lead in the game I am currently playing. Do you ever find it surreal being interviewed?
Troy: Um, no, I just always want to make sure I don’t say anything stupid. To me it’s interesting that people find what I do interesting and so I always like the opportunity to talk about what we do because I’m a geek and a nerd and I love my job and I love the projects that I’ve been in so it’s always fun to talk about them.
RPGSite: We are here to talk about your career as a voice actor primarily, but my research suggests that you had a previous life as a musician, is that right?
Troy: I did and it’s so funny because, I’ll always be a musician, but I tell people I got tired of not making any money as a musician so I decided to become an actor, so I guess the joke was on me [laughs]. You’re a starving artist either way.
But yeah, I was in a band called Tripp Fontaine, we had a small record deal, we popped a single on the radio, we’re still the best of friends to this day and I love the music that we made. It’s sad because I wish we could have done a second album because the stuff that we were writing when we decided to break up was actually a lot better.
I still write music, I still sing, I still play, so that part of me will never die.
RPGSite: So is music something you have always been passionate about?
Troy: Yeah, I mean, I have zero athletic ability but I have a lot of energy so I had to find a way to focus that. I just kind of hedged my bets and went towards things that didn’t require me to have a lot of agility – well, I say agility, but I guess I could be goofy on stage or in front of a microphone, and it worked a lot better than me on a field somewhere trying to play a sport.
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RPGSite: What instruments did you or do you play?
Troy: I was kind of a jack of all trades. I started off on drums and then, being a hopeless romantic, I wanted to be able to serenade a girl so I moved to bass. That gave me a foundation and then out of boredom I played guitar and piano is probably my love. But the people I was fortunate enough to surround myself with were such amazing musicians that I just kind of ended up in front of a mic singing. I don’t think that I’m a virtuoso; I don’t think I’m that great of a singer, but it just seemed to be a good fit. I like performing and I’m typically outspoken so it’s kind of one of the best places for me to be.
RPGSite: Who are some of your musical inspirations?
Troy: You know, it’s interesting, I think the strongest influences I have are of a more European flavour - I’m a huge David Bowie fan, a huge U2 fan. It’s funny because growing up I was kind of sheltered, I lived in a very conservative home, so I didn’t really get into the Beatles, the [Rolling] Stones or [Led] Zeppelin until I was in my teens and twenties and it was like having ice cream for the first time; I was like “this is what I’ve been missing out on”.
There was probably a three year period were I didn’t listen to anything but ‘Sergeant Pepper’s [Lonely Heart Club Band]’, ‘Abbey Road’, ‘White Album’ or ‘Revolver’ and I realised how amazing the Beatles were. The thing that amazes me about the Beatles is that they were together for such a short amount of time but the influence that they had is probably the greatest of any band ever.
So, I’m a Paul McCartney fan, I love John Lennon, but Paul is my favourite Beatle. And then Mick Jagger, definitely from a performance stand point, as a front man has been one of my greatest inspirations.
So yeah I would say David Bowie, U2, the Beatles – and Radiohead, of course, I would say they’re one of the last greatest bands of all time.
RPGSite: As a massive David Bowie fan myself I am curious to know whether you have a favourite album by him.
Troy: I think that, oddly enough, ‘Ziggy Stardust [and the Spiders from Mars]’ is probably one of the best because it was just such an obscure album and it was one of the bravest things. I mean, you had glam rock, and he was one of the pioneers of that and you had Iggy Pop and some other people, but ‘Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ set a whole new genre that paved the way for so many new bands.
But I think one of my favourite David Bowie songs is [‘Under Pressure’] with Queen, I’m a geek, but I still get chills whenever I hear that. There’s ‘Changes’ and ‘Golden Years’ which to me is right up there with ‘Superstition’ by Stevie Wonder, you know, it’s just got the coolest groove.
RPGSite: Definitely. My own favourite album is actually the relatively recent ‘Heathen’, though I’m rather partial to ‘Five Years’ from the ‘Ziggy Stardust’ album, which I think is a classic song.
Troy: Oh yeah, man.
RPGSite: A song about the end of the world; Bowie sure doesn’t mess around with the small stuff.
Troy: No, not so much [laughs]. And what I also love is that Trent Reznor did a cover of ‘I’m Afraid of Americans’ with David Bowie.
To me, David Bowie is a true icon because there are very few people who can cross mediums like he did and those movies that nobody has ever heard of that he did that I think are fantastic. Of course, you have ‘Labyrinth’ which is fantastic, but then you also have ‘The Linguini Incident’ which nobody has ever heard of and he plays the coolest thief ever. Then of course in ‘The Prestige’ playing Nikola Tesla [he] was just incredible.
But the thing that I like about David Bowie is that you have this really cool, haunting voice packaged in this androgynous body and the personality that carried that. He has such a subdued confidence and cool about him and I think maybe I project because I secretly want to be David Bowie.
RPGSite: Well, who doesn’t? Just before we wrap up the David Bowie portion of the interview, I have to say that I think ‘Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence’ is a brilliant movie, one of his best.
Troy: It is indeed; actually, wow, that’s an obscure reference as well.
RPGSite: There is no beating me on Bowie trivia, I'm afraid.
Troy: Apparently not.
RPGSite: Dragging us back to the band, what was your role within Tripp Fontaine as a creative quartet?
Troy: I was the lead singer but it really was a group effort. I mean, we had four songwriters and the guitarist Joey McClellan is a song writing machine and I really envied him the ability because I could write a first verse and a chorus but past that, to finish a song, that was Joey’s thing. His brother Aaron, who played bass, the two of them together were just a formidable song writing force.
So, typically what would happen is we would just be riffing and Joey would start playing something, Aaron would start playing, I’d just kind of start singing on top of it. A lot of things, really we nailed within a couple of hours with very little changes.
One song that we wrote that we [changed]– it’s really interesting the magic that can happen when you get in the studio – because we had a song together that we’d been playing this way for months, we had it down, and the producer that we worked with has us rehearsing it and we were doing it acoustic. It was a song called ‘Soul’ and he said “why haven’t you recorded it this way, why have you been playing it as this hard rock tune when it’s actually a really cool, chilled out acoustic tune”. And that’s the way it ended up on the album, it was more of a laid back, more vibey – I wouldn’t say Beatle-ish because that would have been George Martin with strings and everything else, a cacophony going on – but as opposed to being a straight forward rock tune, it was this more laid back tune and I think it became one of our more popular songs.
But we all kind of shared roles, I mean there were times where I would write the complete song, there were times when Joey would write the complete song and it was my honour to sing what he wrote.
RPGSite: What genre was the band?
Troy: We were a rock band. I think that if someone said “who do you sound like?” – I think you should always be able to say that – we were Beatles meets STP meets Radiohead. We were definitely a live band. I think our album was good but the main thing that sold us was our rock show, there was a lot of energy, we liked to have fun and it definitely showed. We were a good little rock band.
RPGSite: And how about the band name, where did that come from?
Troy: When we started off – and this is the worst thing to do – we tried not to have a name for the band, so we played our first show completely without a name. And we handed out ballots at the bar, so we handed our band name over to a bunch of just drunken reprobates. Some of the names that we got back were less than flattering, to say the least.
Our bass player, Aaron, was actually the one that came up with the name for the band. We were huge fans of the movie ‘The Virgin Suicides’ and the character that Josh Hartnett played in that was a character called Trip Fontaine - he’s the guy that bangs Kirsten Dunst on the football field on prom night and leaves her there in the morning. It’s funny because I actually ran into Kirsten Dunst at a movie theatre once and I told her that story. She laughed, and I said “I don’t know if that’s a compliment to you but that’s how much the movie had an influence on us.”
But actually there was an artist and I’m not sure if his name was Trip Fontaine or whatever but we talked to him when we first started. We said “hey, we want to name our band Trip Fontaine and we wanted to know if that would be cool” and he was kind of less than accommodating, so what we did was we added a P [laughs].
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RPGSite: So, why did you guys split? You joked earlier that you were tired of being a starving artist but was it the same for everyone?
Troy: No, I think it just ran its course. We were together for about 4 years and it’s like a marriage – but the beautiful thing is that you don’t have to go through a divorce. We had become more than friends, we were brothers, and I don’t know whether you have any siblings but there are times when you love them so much but you can’t stand to be around them.
It wasn’t really that case with us, it wasn’t, but Joey and Aaron wanted to do some different stuff, I was just starting to get into the acting and that was taking a root, and Brandon our drummer had a family, so we just got to that Event Horizon where we realised that maybe we needed to do different things before things got bad.
We had fun, we accomplished some stuff, but I think in some ways Joey and Aaron couldn’t do the things they wanted to with us, which was totally fine, and we loved them enough to let them go off and do it, and they’re doing it. They’re on tour in Europe; they’re playing in several bands one of which is The Fieros.
RPGSite: Still, your Tripp Fontaine fans clearly miss you; to quote a comment from a recording of the band on YouTube – “He’s amazing. I love Troy Baker.”
Troy: That’s cool. That’s so funny. It’s really funny, at a convention I had an anime fan actually bring up one of my CDs and ask me to sign it. I was like, “where did you find this? In what rubbish bin or discount CD store did you find this in?” [Laughs]
But that’s kind of a cool thing, and we’ve talked, the band members, we’ve talked about doing some stuff and people ask me all the time if I’m gonna be able to put out a solo record out or something, and I’m working on it, but it’s something that will happen when its time has come, I’m not going to force it.
RPGSite: So, the band went its separate ways and you became a voice actor. Now, the basic tools are the same – a microphone and your voice – but they are very different professions, so what made you go down that road?
Troy: Not to be glib, but in some ways it kind of chose me, because while we were recording our album the studio that we were at also did a lot of commercial work, and I popped my head in there one day and said “hey, I’ve been wanting to get into this, is there any chance?” And they kicked me out and said “get out of here kid.”
Then two weeks later I got a call saying “if you’re still interested, be down here in 15 minutes.” So I got down to the studio, walked in, and he said “take a few pieces of copy and let’s see what you can do.” They were car commercials, so I just did what I’d always heard on the radio, and did the whole screaming “this Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!” and got the job.
I said “if you don’t mind me asking, two weeks ago you didn’t want to know my name and now I’m your guy, what happened?” And they said, “Oh, the guy who’s been doing our car commercials for the last 25 years had a heart attack and died” and it’s like “Oh! Well, bad for him, good for me, I guess.”
RPGSite: How did you get from car commercials to what you are doing today?
Troy: This business really is about who you know, and people ask me all the time “how do you do this?” and they want a formula. It’s not like you go to college and you get a degree and the degree opens up jobs and you do this. I’ve stumbled and tripped my way into every job I’ve ever done, and tripped backwards a lot of times.
I did car commercials, met a guy called Chris Sabat, who is a huge voice actor, and if it wasn’t for Sabat I wouldn’t be working in this business. He cast me in my first role in anime, which was a show called Case Closed, and he tricked me, Sabat did. He said, “you’re the villain, you set the entire story up, you’re gonna be the main bad guy” – I walked in, I had three lines, and you never see the guy again.
But, it also opened the door for me to start working with FUNimation, and anime opened the door for me to do videogames, videogames opened the door for me to do commercials, commercials then TV shows, TV shows then movies, so one thing has just parlayed itself into the next.
RPGSite: The most obvious similarity between your acting and your music is that they are both forms of entertainment. Is that your love, entertaining people?
Troy: Absolutely. That’s what I’ve always been wired to do. I remember when I was a kid I used to stand up on our fireplace and give concerts to the living room, or do stand up. I’ve always wanted the spotlight to be on me, sometimes to a fault. That’s part of my personality and I’ve had to temper that, and I think as I get older I actually kind of enjoy sharing that as opposed to keeping it all to myself.
RPGSite: On the flip side, the most obvious difference between your music and your voice acting is that you are no longer performing for a live audience. Do you miss the adrenaline and recognition that comes with performing live and what does voice acting offer in its place?
Troy: It’s funny, because I still love going to see live shows and my fiancé is a huge audiophile, going to concerts is her favourite thing, and it’s kind of a bitter sweet thing for me. We just went to the Hollywood Bowl and saw Femi Kuti, which is like a big afro world beat music, and the Hollywood Bowl is one of the best venues in the world, it’s amazing, it’s such a great vibe. I love going to see shows, but at the same time there is a part of me that misses being in front of people on a stage. There’s no greater thrill than hearing five thousand people sing your song back to you.
But the cool thing is that with voice acting or acting period [is that] you get a completely different kind of honour; while it may not be on a huge scale, with five- ten thousand people or whatever at once, I love going to conventions and whenever someone walks up to me and says “I didn’t like anime before I saw..." whatever show – Trinity Blood – "and because of what you did I’m now hooked on this, I think you’re fantastic, and this is the career I want to choose.” That’s really, really humbling and it fills – I wouldn’t say a void or a need – but it’s still a really good feeling to have to know you had that kind of impact on somebody.
That is all for now. You can catch Troy at the London MCM Expo 24-25th October, and be sure to check back for Part 2 of our interview very soon!