Jessy Carolina and Bioshock Infinite

Jessy Carolina of Ommie Wise/Jessy Carolina and the Hot MessBeing someone who’s reviewed a lot of games, I often take the time to address how much of an impact a game’s soundtrack has on the overall experience during my time with the game. When a game’s moments are either enhanced or highlighted by a musical composition, that’s when I know that it’s done its job. But sometimes, developers go above and beyond this and create ambient music that provide the color, tone, and the mood of each scene.

If you’ve played Bioshock Infinite, you’ve probably heard of a haunting female voice that sings during the title screen and have probably heard a similar sounding woman in the Columbia Fair just before you obtain your first Vigor. That voice is none other than Jessy Carolina, a talented musician from New York. We got a chance to interview her recently and talked to her about her musical career and how she got involved with Bioshock Infinite.

Tell us a little bit about the bands that you’re a part of.

I play in two different bands. The first being Ommie Wise, was featured in the game performing an original song I wrote titled “Wild Prairie Rose”. We started playing together as Ommie Wise about two years ago working out songs that we’d individually written as solo performers and were performed as such. The three writers in the group include myself, my husband Mario J. Maggio, and Noah Harley. Although I’m not very into labeling what genre our songs and style fall into, I guess I’d have to say it’s closer to folk… weird folk. We released our first album on vinyl and CD with Wind Some Lose Some Records, based out of Copenhagen, Denmark a little while back and will be recording some new material this summer which may include a recording of “Wild Prairie Rose” which should be released in October 2013 if all goes as planned. The second band I perform with is Jessy Carolina & The Hot Mess. We’ve been together for a number of years and perform traditional jazz. It was because of this group that I was originally asked to perform “After You’ve Gone” for Bioshock Infinite.

Jessy Carolina and The Hot Mess
Jessy Carolina and The Hot Mess

What made you interested in this style of music?

When I began to actually listen and appreciate music, I listened to primitive American music and that’s what I wanted to play. I listened to recordings of Blind Willie Johnson, Memphis Minnie, Jelly Roll Morton, The Carter Family, The Carolina Tar Heels, Roscoe Holcomb, Elizabeth Cotton, Woody Guthrie, Bessie Smith, and many many others. I was fascinated by this music because it was good. It meant something, it was real. People who wrote the music cared about what they wrote, and people that performed it also cared for it. I didn’t want to hear popular music on the radio after I found good music to listen to.

How long have the bands you’ve involved with been around?

Ommie Wise has been together about two years and The Hot Mess has been around in different variations for a little over 4 years.

Are you or any of your bandmates gamers?

I guess you could say my husband Mario (Ommie Wise and Hot Mess) is a gamer. He finished playing Bioshock Infinite within a few days and really loved it.

Had you heard of Bioshock prior to getting this gig?

I hadn’t heard of Bioshock, but I hadn’t really heard about anything having to do with video games since The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time came out. I loved that game!

How did you hear about this gig? Along the same lines, were you told what the recordings were going to be for?

I was asked if I was interested in performing “After You’ve Gone” for a video game that was coming out, and I thought that sounded cool, so I did it.

What songs did you perform in the game?

I performed “After You’ve Gone”, CCR’s “Fortunate Son”, my original “Wild Prairie Rose”, and Mozart’s “Lacrimosa”.

How much involvement did the developers have when recording the songs?

Jim Bonney, who was heavily involved with music for the game, was at every recording session with me.  He’d let me know what kind of characters would be performing the songs in the game and the story that was going on around them which really helped give me an idea of how to arrange and perform some of the songs.

When I first heard “Wild Prairie Rose” at the beginning of Bioshock Infinite, I actually stood there for a good period of time listening to the song, not realizing that it was looping the whole time! I’ll admit: It’s probably one of my favorite songs in the game. Can you tell us what the inspiration was for the song?

Well, thank you very much! I’m glad you liked it!

I did my early growing up years in the Red River Valley in North Dakota. The song is about a songbird, the western meadowlark (state bird of ND) and a flower, the wild prairie rose (state flower of ND).  I guess I was just missing the beauty of where I grew up and decided to write a song about it. The song involves the elopement of a bird and flower. The flower gradually dries out and dies as the bird abandons her to move onto another young flower to use. The story doesn’t mirror anyone in particular, but takes after the fashion of American murder ballads.

When they asked you to sing Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son” what kind of instruction did they give you? Were you told that they had other contemporary songs interpreted in the style of the period? (e.g. Girls Just Want To Have Fun by Cyndi Lauper, Everybody Wants To Rule The World by Tears for Fears to name a few)

I didn’t receive any instruction on how to sing the song. When I went into the session they asked if I could belt it, in other words, sing it loud. I did a few takes like that in a style similar to the CCR version. Then I tried a few different styles on my own to see if that was something they might like just so they had some different options to choose from. They told me there was going to be fighting all around and that the character would be leading a revolt of some kind in a factory setting, and then the character would probably be shot. I think they might have tweaked that idea a little bit after choosing the gospel version of the song. I was really surprised to see that they chose that version and was really flattered that they picked something weird that I tried out. I didn’t really know anything about the other songs in the game until later. I came into the process just as they were finishing up the game and everything was kind of rushed.

Were there any other songs you performed that didn’t make it in the final game?

Sure, Ommie Wise hashed out a few different folk songs including Frankie and Johnny, but they ended up choosing “Wild Prairie Rose” which is an original of mine. I tried out a few different CCR songs and different vocal stylings for them. I like the version they picked.

Ommie Wise at Jalopy
Ommie Wise

Have you had a lot of people coming up and saying that they found you through the game?

There have been a few people that have written The Hot Mess because there seems to be some confusion about the band being in the video game on YouTube. The Hot Mess is not in the video game at all, just me and Ommie Wise. I’ve tried to keep up with writing everyone back to correct that, including the people that posted on YouTube. There have also been people that write Ommie Wise to figure out how to buy the music. I just try to keep up as best as I can and really appreciate the interest.

2K Games, the publishers of Bioshock Infinite, just today released the sales numbers for the game: 3.7 million copies sold since its launch! How do you feel about having your music being heard by so many people all over the world?

It’s kind of nuts when I think about it, so I don’t really think about it. I haven’t been swarmed with people asking about it, so it doesn’t really affect me everyday. I think it’s pretty awesome for sure. I just hope that if people like it they’ll take the time to check out the other stuff we’ve done and support the music.

Have you seen the final game, specifically, the portions where your music is played? What are your thoughts?

I’ve seen my husband play portions of the final game, and I came away very impressed and humbled to have been able to participate in such a wonderful project. I’m very proud to have been involved and have my music in it. I would love to do something like that again.

Did your husband talk to you about the story, the theme, and ending of Bioshock Infinite after he beat it? It was quite the hot topic for the past few weeks or so, given the way the story concluded.

He finished the game and asked if I wanted to know what happened. I had tried to play the game but it was pretty hard being that I absolutely suck at video games, and expecting a baby it made me VERY nauseous. I’m pretty sure I threw up after the first ten minutes playing it. So, yeah, I asked him to tell me about it because it’s gonna be a while til I can try it again! I thought the story sounded really awesome and creative. The ending was something I didn’t expect at all, which is a good thing!

I actually really do suck at video games, but if I was gonna try and play one, Bioshock Infinite would definitely be the one I would play and try to beat. It’s really incredible.

Where can our interested readers see your band play?

Jessy Carolina and The Hot Mess performs regularly around NYC, we’re also working on a few upcoming tours of the east coast for now. Ommie Wise can also be found in NYC and also abroad. Best bet is to friend us on Facebook and keep up to date that way.

Many thanks to Jessy Carolina for spending some time with us for this interview. Make sure to check out both Ommie Wise and Jessy Carolina and The Hot Mess on their Facebook page and their site, linked below.

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