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How Respawn gave Jedi Survivor the most eclectic Star Wars music yet

We spoke to Star Wars Jedi Survivor music director Nick Laviers on how Pyloon's Saloon's cantina music was brought to life for players on PS5, Xbox, and PC.

Star Wars Jedi Survivor Interview music Pyloon's Saloon: an image of Cal and DD-EC in the cantina on PS5

Respawn Entertainment’s Star Wars Jedi Survivor is without a doubt one of the best PS5 Star Wars games – and, of course, best Xbox Star Wars games – ever, and there are quite a few reasons why. From compelling Star Wars Jedi Survivor characters and a gripping narrative to rewarding combat mechanics and fantastic customization options, this game really does build on every aspect of Jedi Fallen Order to deliver something of a masterpiece.

However, one thing we think deserves more attention is the cantina music that brings Pyloon’s Saloon to life. Throwing together an album of in-universe music can’t have been easy, especially when you consider the fact that the only real blueprint for that is Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes’ jaunty jizz or the Max Rebo Band’s mellow melodies, but Respawn Entertainment has done it – and done it well.

Through the Sounds from the Galactic Skylanes album, Respawn drew on some truly wonderful artists from around the globe to create a set of songs that’s so distinctly out of this world it transports you to a Galaxy Far, Far Away. Wanting to know more about how it was brought to life, we were able to chat with music director Nick Laviers about the work he – and composers Stephen Barton and Gordy Haab – did to bring the Sounds of the Galactic Skylanes to life through Star Wars Jedi Survivor.

Opening up our conversation with a rather broad question, we ask Laviers why he – and, by extension, Respawn Entertainment – decided to create an entire album of in-universe music for Star Wars Jedi Survivor. It’s best to just get straight to the point, right?

In response to this, Laviers reveals that this all spawned quite simply from himself, Barton, and Haab all “thinking it would be cool” to have an album of cantina music produced as a separate entity from the soundtrack. The soundtrack, of course, is a full orchestral suite that accompanies some of the game’s most dramatic moments, but this cantina music would be something different entirely.

“It’s funny,” Laviers explains, “because it didn’t officially come to fruition until quite late in the [development] process… We have a head of music at EA, [someone] who centrally coordinates everything, Steve Schnur, and in November last year we went to him and said ‘okay, I think it’s time to start thinking about the album release now… Are we doing one album with just everything, or are we doing two?’ And he was definitely all about [having] two, which is great, because it’s what we wanted.”

While this is an interesting insight into the literal side of things, this doesn’t quite explain the aspirations behind the album. But, fear not, for Laviers continues to explain why he felt this was something well-worth doing – other than the fact that it’s really cool.

“I like the idea of having kind of like a pop album – you want two different playlists in your car, really, depending on what mood you’re in. If I’m really deep in the story, I just want to relive the story from the soundtrack. You can do that with the OST. Then, the cantina [music] is kind of in its own space… I think you’re going to be in more of a party mood if you’re listening to the cantina album.”

Laviers also adds that the idea he was most excited about was “having an in-universe album that could then be pulled out of the universe and actually be manifested in the real world” . We can’t imagine the opportunity to produce an album of Star Wars music comes around too often, and – even though it is tied to a project – the fact that you can go off and listen to the entire album online whenever you like without the need to boot up Jedi Survivor or trawl through gameplay footage is very exciting. Although, we will admit we’re not quite sure every single track quite fits the ‘party mood’ Laviers mentions.Yubnib Zekk and the Main Characters’ “Who Mourns for Taris?” is quite a sad song.

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The mix of moods, though, is intentional and it’s still a song worth listening to alongside other tracks like Mister Mockwell’s Rumble Droid and NAAARTAAAT’s Spiceman. This eclectic mix of different sounds and genres is exactly what makes this cantina music album so fantastic – and so interesting. Eager to learn more about how Laviers – with Barton and Haab – whittled down a world of music to settle on just five artists to collaborate with, we ask Laviers exactly that – and whether the process was a difficult one.

“Yeah, it was a hard process… The whole thing goes back to 2020, when we started working on the game, and I can remember spending the first half of the year with the team developing the idea of [Pyloon’s Saloon] itself and who would perform in it… Once we got to about September [2020], we landed on this goal of hiring a kaleidoscopic collection of bands… We wanted to go really, really wide – because we were very broad-minded with regard to what we were going to do.”

Chasing Laviers up on how much input he actually had on the development of Pyloon’s Saloon – as alluded to above – he admits that he doesn’t actually remember having much at all. Although, he was certainly a fan of what Respawn was doing with the location. From what he says, though, iIt certainly sounds like he played quite an important part in facilitating the distinctly ‘Star Wars’ atmosphere this Koboh cantina provides players.

“I think if it had gone in a direction I didn’t like, I would have definitely said so… But, we liked where it was going and we were inspired by that… We had more influence on the story arc of Pyloon’s Saloon and the mechanics side of it… We made choices on the songs that would be available when you first turned up there… how the tracks were deployed, where you get them, when you heard them, the sound quality, and the spatialization within [Pyloon’s] Saloon.”

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Laviers also adds that he actually reached out to the entire development team for help compiling a list of candidates. This also includes the team Respawn worked with at Lucasfilm. Collaboration was key when it came to producing this album, from start to finish.

“I did a little presentation, talked about what our goals were, and said “okay everyone, we’re incredibly open-minded, so your thing could become the cantina band”… We did the same thing in our conversations that we were having with Lucasfilm, so they went off and came back with ideas. We had our own ideas, obviously, [and] we got loads of ideas from the team… We compiled this huge document with links to different YouTube videos and things which we reviewed and discussed.”

How long is that list, though? Well, Laviers didn’t give us specifics, but he did say it was “a massive, massive list of bands” – and that they loved them all. That doesn’t mean Laviers was limited to the list, though. In fact, there was one band on the album before the concept of the album had even fully formed.

We are, of course, talking about The HU – who’s song Sugaan Essena you may recognize from the introduction of Jedi Fallen Order.

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The HU are back under the pseudonym of The Agasar in Jedi Survivor and, discussing how Respawn settled on the five artists featured on the album, Laviers reveals that The HU’s additions were almost added to Jedi Fallen Order in a post-launch update. So, maybe that’s when this whole process really started.

“We already had The HU on board… We never really stopped working with them… When we finished doing Jedi Fallen Order, we did those three tracks with The HU. They went off to Bali just before COVID started at the beginning of 2020 and they came up with these amazing songs… We were toying with the idea of putting them in our [Fallen Order] DLC at the time – Meditation Training – and we thought ‘no, we want to keep them for something special’. So, we decided to sit on them for a really long time.”

Laviers adds that, despite the fact that songs like Eseerin Vasahina were being worked on way back in 2020, he went back to tinker with these tracks throughout the process, with it actually being “one of the last things” he did last year prior to release. Still, with The HU in the bank, there was something for Laviers – and Barton and Haab – to build on.

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Following on from this, Laviers shares that “the first band was TATRAN” – a talented trio bringing otherworldly instrumental rock to the project under the name NAAARTAAAT.

“One of our music team, a guy called Cory, had been to the [National Association of Music Merchants] music show and bumped into this incredibly good drummer called Dan Mayo – who’s the drummer in TATRAN. There’s a video TATRAN did called Border View which we were really inspired by right off the bat… Dan’s drumming was amazing, but it led us to the band and we all agreed that it just screamed ‘cantina’… It’s groovy, but alien-sounding, so that was a really obvious one… You can’t really compare them to anyone else, either – they’re very unique”.

If you want to check this out for yourself, you can below. Listening to it, we can certainly see why Laviers would want TATRAN on the album. It’s certainly a unique sound.

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So, with two of the five down, what came next for Laviers and Respawn? Well, the third spot went to Turkish psychedelic rock band Altın Gün – who feature as Altin Lazer Blaster on the album. This one was actually sourced by “the team”.

On Altın Gün, Laviers explains that their music was “right away, a pretty alien blend of music” that offers a different vibe to the music from TATRAN and The HU – something that “really complimented what [Respawn] already had”. Interestingly, Laviers and his team also worked with Altın Gün to create their own language, as they decided that they wanted to lean into vocalist Merve Daşdemir’s rapping for Altin Lazer Blaster’s sound.

If you want to hear a little bit of that, you can listen to Shortpaw’s Dance below:

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This collaborative outsourcing process also brought Florida-based producer Kaelin Ellis and Rochester-based rock band Joywave to the table – who are included on the cantina music album as Mister Mockwell and Yubnib Zekk and the Main Characters respectively. Laviers praises Kaelin Ellis’ “chill out vibe” – which filled another proverbial gap in the album’s spectrum of music – and Joywave’s “very soggy, very poppy, and very accessible” sound. Daniel Armbruster, vocalist in Joywave, “had already created the voice of Yubnib Zekk” going into things – which we can certainly imagine made things a lot easier.

Following this run-down of how the album’s artists came together,, we asked just how collaborative the process actually was. In response to this, Laviers surprisingly shares that the whole thing was built on Zoom calls, emails, and a fair bit of creative freedom.

“It was pretty collaborative… and different in a way for every band, because they all had their different ways of working… Some of them I worked with more closely than others… but, I think the fact that it was different for every band added to that uniqueness as well”.

Laviers adds that “[Respawn] chose bands with really interesting [and] really unique characteristic sounds” – and, more importantly, strong identities. Taking that as a starting point, he “pushed them a little bit further” with suggestions “that they could riff on and develop” throughout the process. This, though, was actually all done over Zoom calls – which then devolved into “mainly email communications back and forth” as development and production of the cantina music album continued.

With The HU based in Mongolia, Joywave in Rochester, Kaelin Ellis based in Florida, Altın Gün in Amsterdam, and TATRAN based in Tel Aviv, bringing everyone together – during a global pandemic – would have been quite the challenge, and quite the risk. However, Laviers did express that he “would love to work with the bands in person” – and who’s to say that he won’t in the future.

Either way, it sounds like producing an album of cantina music for Star Wars Jedi Survivor was a lot of fun. However, it wasn’t without challenges.With the cantina music in A New Hope so iconic now, we can imagine there was some temptation to lean on the pre-established sounds we know and love. So, we asked Laviers if there were ever any concerns that this was going to end up too similar to that upbeat jizz – or, perhaps even, too dissimilar to it.

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Explaining that dealing with this “definitely was a journey” for the development team, Laviers mentions that Barton actually wanted this album to be “the Star Wars version of Morning Becomes Eclectic”. For those of you who don’t know what this is, Morning Becomes Eclectic is a prime-time radio show that focuses on a strange mix of music from around the world, giving bands that wouldn’t necessarily get primetime radio coverage a chance.

“That was kind of our idea, [but] we wanted the bands to be able to stand on their own feet as well… We chose bands that already had a following and had some life outside of the game… in the selection of stuff that we had, each one had to have a very unique voice… We didn’t want it to sound homogenous”.

Laviers, Barton, and Haab all wanted to make sure each song sounded different from the last and – by extension – nothing like anything we’ve heard in Star Wars before. On that, we’re confident that they succeeded. We’re not sure any official Star Wars music album would fall short when it came to fans’ ears, but it certainly can’t hurt to have these unique bands – which already have their own followings – to work with.

It also helps that quite a lot of these artists were Star Wars fans before they started working with Laviers and Respawn. When asked how Respawn decided on the in-universe artist names and track titles, Laviers explains that “just when the bands thought they were done, [Respawn] emailed them with a bit of homework – which was to come up with a band name and song names”.

From Ebon Flow being a reference to the infamous dynamic-class freighter Ebon Hawk, Spicemen an obvious reference to the in-universe drug Spice, and Shortpaw’s Dance a reference to a Chadra-Fan privateer (which popped up in Star Wars Uprising), there’s a lot of easter eggs to find here. This process was “gradually drilled down” until the names were presented to the bands – just for a final check.

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Throughout our chat, Laviers was humble in his recounting of the process of producing an album of cantina music – always praising the work of his colleagues and the creativity of the bands he worked with. However, it’s clear that he provided something of a guiding light to all involved, encouraging exploration into exciting new avenues and keeping everything ticking over. He describes it all as “one of the most all-encompassing collaborative things [he’s] ever worked on” and, while true, it’s clear that his passion for music and passion for Star Wars was invaluable.

If you want to listen to the soundtrack in its entirety, you can find it on Spotify down below:

We know we were annoyed that Star Wars Jedi Survivor abandons one of our favorite Fallen Order features, but we’re also enamored with the Sounds from the Galactic Skylanes album and the excitement Laviers has when speaking about it is contagious. A lot of thought went into crafting a different musical experience for fans of the franchise, and all that effort has paid off. We might want a Horizon Forbidden West-style expansion for Jedi Survivor, but we need more cantina music. Let’s just hope Greez does decide to set up another cantina on Koboh after all.