INTERVIEW – In Conversation With Donna Burke (Singer / Voice Actor, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain)

By Marty Mulrooney

DonnaBurkeInterview

Donna Burke is an Australian voice actor, singer and entrepreneur who recently appeared as the voice of the iDroid in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, as well as singing the game’s highly memorable and emotional theme song Sins of the Father. It’s not the first time she’s been involved with the Metal Gear Solid franchise (or Konami for that matter) either – she sang Heavens Divide for Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker and played the role of Angela in Silent Hill 2 and Claudia in Silent Hill 3. Did we also mention she’s the Founder and CEO of Dagmusic, a sound production company and booking agency based in Tokyo? In short, she’s pretty awesome. It’s therefore with great pleasure that Alternative Magazine Online presents an exclusive online interview with the hugely talented Donna Burke!

Hi Donna, thank you for your time and welcome to Alternative Magazine Online!

My pleasure!

Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself please?

I love the sound of my own voice.

Performing SOTF

Donna performing Sins of the Father at the Refugee International Black Card Benefit – February 5th 2016

You’re originally from Perth in Western Australia. When did you relocate to Japan and what prompted the move?

I wanted to be a professional singer and actor and am grateful on a daily basis that it worked out. I met my husband here, learned to ski, found four cats, started two businesses… I’ve had so many great gigs and the wonderful thing is it keeps on getting better every year I stay.

It must have been a pretty big culture shock!

Yes – I remember being amazed people in Tokyo didn’t need cars to manage taking kids to school and living their lives.

Dagmusic me and Snake

Donna Burke (Dagmusic) and Snake

You’ve worked with both Sega and Konami on some major projects over the years, including the Shenmue and Silent Hill series. How did you first get involved with voice acting?

I studied Speech and Drama at university but my biggest break was being cast as the Wicked Witch of the West in Holy Rosary Primary School’s Grade 5 class production of The Wizard of Oz with papier mâché finger puppets… I did want the part of Dorothy but quickly learned that the Witch is waaaaay more fun!

Heavens Divide was such a beautiful song to accompany Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker. Did you have to audition to sing it?

No I just got called out of the blue – amazing.

Sins of the Father is, in my opinion, an even more beautiful and emotional song – and the perfect musical accompaniment to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. Did Hideo Kojima always want you to perform the main theme song after the success of Heaven’s Divide?

Yes, he told Honda-san that I would sing it straight after Heavens Divide came out… I waited years and was beginning to think it wasn’t going to happen but… it did!

What was it like working with Hideo Kojima and Konami?

Very professional and fun. I have great memories of walking from my office at Dagmusic to their offices in Roppongi, sometimes squeezing in a bit of lunch at Roppongi Midtown. Kojima Productions always had my name on a big sheet on a board in front of the studio. Classy! Sometimes I was lucky enough to have my session overlap so I could  sit in on the Japanese voice actors too. I’ll never forget when Kojima-san showed me the Red Band trailer. OMG – I was completely blown away. And to see my name up on the credits… what a thrill! Looking back I think I was always pretty relaxed when dealing with Kojima-san as I was completely ignorant of his world-wide fame – only now do I think “Shit! Kojima-san!” but when I was recording for Peace Walker, Ground Zeroes and Phantom Pain… I was still pretty dumb about how much of a big deal Metal Gear Solid really was. My ignorance meant I was completely relaxed.

Kojima, Donna, Otsuka night of MGSV launch

Hideo Kojima, Donna Burke and Akio Otsuka (the Japanese voice of Snake) on the night of Metal Gear Solid V’s launch

One of my happiest memories with Hideo Kojima was the night of the launch of Metal Gear Solid V (September 1st 2015) at the countdown party at Dagmusic with Famitsu. It was live, I got to sing Snake Eater, Sins of the Father and Heavens Divide, Stefanie Joosten performed Quiet’s Theme and a few VIP voice actors including Akio Otsuka sat on the sofas in Dagmusic Studio laughing and entertaining everyone watching. Before the live cast, Kojima-san gave a great speech to all of us crammed into this room and brought out a bottle of wine from 1984 (Metal Gear Solid V’s birth year) and another from 1963 (Kojima-san’s birth year) and we all toasted Metal Gear Solid – it was so special. Lots of Japanese fans were commenting in real-time via SMS on the show… it was such a great night.

And I’m really stoked to see that Kojima Productions is continuing  on… I saw that on Twitter (December 16th 2015, I think) while I was in a coffee shop and was like “Yes! The legendary Kojima Productions lives on!” So many good vibes with that name/brand/team and it’s wonderful news.

Me and Honda-san before recording in LA at Capital studios

Donna and Honda-san pose for a photo before recording in LA at Capital Studios

How did the recording process work and how much input did you have on the lyrics and musical arrangement?

For Sins of the Father I was told that I was not going to write the lyrics – they would. There were a couple of sessions at Dagmusic where I recorded various Akihiro Honda compositions – he was fine with me just la la-ing  and not using words but it’s easier for me to sing with lyrics so I QUICKLY made these up so I could do a better job. I didn’t know the theme of the game or anything about the project but Honda’s music told me a story. Take a look, you can see that this is the song that eventually became Sins of the Father – interesting isn’t it?

Please note: Swedish composer and songwriter Ludvig Forssell wrote the final song lyrics and I thought they were really great – he also wrote the lyrics for Quiet’s Theme! He didn’t use my doodles in any way, they were just written to help me sing in the early stages of the song’s development.

Here is a sample of some dummy lyrics I made for a demo of Sins of the Father back in 2012.

I think it’s really interesting how I didn’t know then what the song was going to be about but the lyrics are informed by the music of Akihiro Honda… it conjured up these lyrics which have pretty familiar themes to the end result.

I could’ve done the demo with just “la las” but I just quickly jotted down these lyrics simply because it’s easier for me to sing lyrics than just woh woh sounds.

Pretty amazing how the collective subconscious works – and how powerful music is in transmitting a message that transcends cultures and words.

Why,
did I have to try?
to survive
To defend, myself at all?
In the end
It’s the same as it ever was
I wish you never believed at all

Light
from the fire
Flickering
on the walls
of my cold retreat
For how long
Must I hide here in solitude?
Alone with just my hate burning

Oh Oh
Woah oh oh  x3

No
I didn’t get to choose
How I died
Where I lived or who I’ve loved
Look at me
Don’t you see what I’ve done to you
Such broken promises

Oh Oh
Woah oh oh  x3

Instrumental

Hate
Is your beating heart
But you see
I was there when they stole this too
You should know
There is no one to hear your prayer
No one to save you

Instrumental
Why didn’t you run when you had the chance

Were you given any context about the story of the game to influence your performance?

When I came to actually record the song in LA I knew most of the story and felt I was channelling so many dark human experiences… chilling stuff.

How do you feel about the finished song and what does it mean to you?

This is the greatest song of my career.

Donna listening to Sins of the Father at the Tokyo Game Show in 2013

Donna listening to Sins of the Father at the Tokyo Game Show in 2013

Do you remember the first time you heard it in context, in one of the game trailers or at a gaming event?

Oh what a great question – apart from watching it at the studio with the Kojima Productions team, I  remember at the Tokyo Game Show in 2013 it kept playing over and over – that was pretty amazing.

Stefanie Joosten is fantastic as female assassin Quiet. She also sings Quiet’s Theme beautifully! Did you get to spend much time with her during production?

Only as her vocal coach for recording Quiet’s Theme – that’s how we met.

Nobuko and me at The Game Awards 2015 before we won!

Nobuko Toda (a Japanese musician who has helped compose soundtracks for various games in the Metal Gear series) and Donna at The Game Awards 2015 shortly before Metal Gear Solid V won!

You also provide the voice for the iDroid in Metal Gear Solid V – thank you for always letting me know when the sunrise was imminent or rain was approaching! How did you end up providing such a cool and prominent voice?

Pretending to be English or American for years as a voice actor… nah, this is what Aussies would recognize as posh Aussie. I don’t have such a nice tone when I speak naturally – I can put it on in front of a mike – but no one has EVER stopped me and told me I have a beautiful speaking voice! I’ve been doing voice work for years in Japan and am able to change my voice for various effects – warm mother, cold villain, cheerful teenager.

I was delighted to discover that you also covered several previous Metal Gear Solid songs for the album Metal Gear Solid Vocal Tracks, including the classic Metal Gear Solid 3 track Snake Eater! Who approached you about doing this and was it fun reinterpreting these old fan favourites?

The publishing arm of Konami got in touch with Dagmusic in March 2015 but beforehand I had approached them about covering Snake Eater… but I think Kojima-san wanted to do this for the fans for some time.

Sadly, it seems like Konami is moving away from the gaming scene and the future of Metal Gear Solid is uncertain. However, Hideo Kojima has re-established Kojima Productions as an independent studio. Would you like to work with him again on future projects?

Er yes absolutely! Actually I have to say this is the dumbest question EVER – what would I say except yes!!! Come on Martin!! Really? Is this really a QUESTION that you didn’t know the answer to??!!!!! Shheeeshh!

In your opinion (and based on your own personal experience) has voice acting changed much in the world of video games since the 90s?

Yes, there are more British and Australian accents and much more diversity. Also quality control is much better – fans will call out crap voice acting and scripts.

Dagmusic staff 2016

Dagmusic staff – 2016

Finally, you’re the Founder and CEO of Dagmusic, a sound production company and booking agency based in Roppongi, Tokyo. What’s Dagmusic all about?

We’ve been going 12 years this year! One big thing we do every week is record voice actors and singers demos (for free) –  but only 15% of those who we ask to come in based on their initial voice sample are good enough to actually offer to our clients. Despite this we make it a positive experience even for the wannabees or “talent deluded” so we keep an amazingly steady stream of new talent for music and anime producers. That’s really fun to tell someone – “Hey my clients are going to LOVE you!” and know they are about to go on and make a career in voice as I have done.  But this only happens rarely unfortunately. It’s not just about talent you see. Are they likable? Can they take direction? Can they arrive punctually? Do they stink? I mean literally do they have BO because clients and other talent don’t want to be locked in a studio for hours with a stinky person!

In Tokyo there are a lot of English learning materials being made for the Japanese (bless) who are still trying to learn English so Dagmusic Studio is kept busy providing content. We record dialogues and songs for the educational market, produce songs for games and slot machines,  provide voice talent and singers for mobile games,  anime and TV commercials.  We check scripts so that it’s correct, natural English. It’s a great service we provide for Japanese clients and also for foreign talents living in Tokyo – we like to get them good jobs!

Performing improv 1

Donna performing improv live on stage

What’s next for you Donna?

Making the StefanDonna finale a big doozy, doing more TV at Youtube Tokyo, writing my memoirs and a book  about what I’ve learned so far, singing performances, more speaking engagements, teaching improv, producing music, voice acting… oh I’m tired now I need a lie down!

Thank you for your time and for creating such memorable music for a game series very close to my heart. I’ll look forward to your future projects!

Thanks so much. All the best to your readers.

You can find out more about Donna (and keep up with her latest news) by visiting:

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2 Comments

Filed under Alternative Musings, Games

2 responses to “INTERVIEW – In Conversation With Donna Burke (Singer / Voice Actor, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain)

  1. Franky2fingers

    I hope she´ll record some more pop songs like “Sins of the Father”. I´m not wise enough for Jazz.

  2. Pingback: Donna Burke talks about working with Kojima on MGSV – Metal Gear Informer

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