Inside the 'Grand Theft Auto V' Soundtrack

Wavves, Flying Lotus, DJ Pooh and more highlight epic video game soundtrack

A still from 'Grand Theft Auto V.'
Courtesy of Rockstar Games
A still from 'Grand Theft Auto V.'
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Grand Theft Auto V, due September 17th from Rockstar Games, is the first main entry in the landmark video game series since 2008. It marks a return to Southern California, where the fictional city of Los Santos and the open countryside of San Andreas provide the setting for a heist caper told through the perspectives of three protagonists. Its virtual world is the biggest to date for the game series, and all that drive time demands quite a bit of music. We spoke with Rockstar's soundtrack supervisor, Ivan Pavlovich, about GTA V's musical stylings.

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It sounds like there's a lot of music in GTA V.
We have 15 radio stations, two talk radio stations, 240 licensed songs, and somewhere in the proximity of 20 movies worth of score. It's the largest soundtrack that we've done, and the largest score that we've done.

For this game, which is set in our version of modern day Los Angeles, what was important for us was to capture that feeling of L.A. and California. We approached the radio stations as the musical soundscape [you experience] as you fly into L.A. One of the things we've never done in a GTA game before is a pop station; exploring that made so much sense in the context of L.A.

Vinewood Boulevard Radio hosts Nate Williams and Stephen Pope of Wavves.
Vinewood Boulevard Radio hosts Nate Williams and Stephen Pope of Wavves. (Photo: Nicolas Gazin)

You worked with a number of artists on the various radio stations.
There's a station called Vinewood Boulevard Radio, which features Stephen [Pope] and Nate [Williams] from Wavves. This is a modern rock station, the embodiment of the young Los Angeles rock scene. For us Wavves is the most exciting, so it was pretty amazing to work with those guys.

Click to listen to Vinewood Boulevard Radio Sampler

Mexican culture is so big in Los Angeles, and it was fitting that we did a station like that. That's East LOS FM, which was curated and DJ mixed by Camilo [Lara] from the Mexican Institute of Sound. It's a combination of Mexican electronica, narcocorridos, other traditional songs and Mexican ska.

Click to listen to East LOS FM Radio Sampler

DJ Pooh hosts the West Coast Classics station. He's legendary – this is the guy who created the movie Friday. He's a big personality, and he grew up with all these guys who are on the station. We were getting phone calls from Pooh saying, "I'm driving over to Dre's house, what do you need from him?" And then 30 minutes later he's like, "I'm going to Snoop's house." We've already done something like this in San Andreas, so to build on that and have Pooh guiding us through it and helping us find true gems – I think that station's going to be surprising, even though we've covered that material before.

Click to listen to West Coast Classics Radio Sampler

Rebel Radio is our take on outlaw country, by Jesco White, of the [documentary] The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. Look him up. This is the kind of character that just fills out this world we've created.

Click to listen to Rebel Radio Sampler

Pam Grier, Bootsy Collins and Kenny Loggins were some other names I've heard thrown around.
We worked with all of them. Pam is the host of a soul station, focusing a little bit on low rider classics. Bootsy Collins is the host of an Eighties boogie-funk station, and Kenny Loggins is the host of our classic rock station. So each of them, in terms of Los Angeles and the surrounding areas, plays a large role.

For me, this is the most exciting soundtrack we've done, in terms of who's hosting and the music on the actual radio stations. This is our biggest accomplishment.

A still from 'Grand Theft Auto V.'
A still from 'Grand Theft Auto V.' (Photo: Courtesy of Rockstar Games)

This is the first score you guys have done for a GTA game. How does that integrate with the radio?
The score plays during missions and the open world gameplay, and during online play. It's completely dynamic, and engineered very similar to what we've done in the past with our interactive stem system – it responds to what you're doing with your character. 

Who did the game's score?
We started with Tangerine Dream. We've used them before in terms of licensed music – we're huge fans of Edgar Froese. When we started to think about who would be the right composer for this game, he was the first name that came to mind. Complimenting his work we have Woody Jackson, who scored Red Dead Redemption and helped score L.A. Noire. Woody's an amazing musician. And the third part of the triangle is Alchemist and Oh No.

Although each of these composers is used to define a character or an environment, what's been interesting about this process is that it's been the first fully collaborative score that we've done. Even though you may be triggering one score with a particular character or within a particular area in the world, you're always hearing elements from the other composers. The first time you come into the country you're blown away by Woody Jackson's rock score, but within that you're still hearing elements of Tangerine Dream, and Alchemist and Oh No. So you're never too far away from this core sound that we've established for the game.

A still from 'Grand Theft Auto V.'
A still from 'Grand Theft Auto V.' (Photo: Courtesy of Rockstar Games)

We heard that you worked with Flying Lotus as well.
For us, he's the most exciting person in the electronic music scene. We'd actually met at South by Southwest a few years back, and then when we called him, he was like, "Of course man!" He was one of the artists who was most excited about working on GTA. So for us, Flying Lotus was the perfect combination of what he does and what we wanted to achieve with this station, so he was the first person we approached.

Tyler [the Creator] is featured on his station. I met Tyler backstage at one of the Pitchfork festivals, and the first thing he said was, "San Andreas is my shit. You've gotta tell me when the next GTA is coming." So Tyler's been wanting to be involved since – well, I guess since San Andreas – and it happened that Tyler and Steve [Ellison, aka Flying Lotus] are friends, and that putting Tyler's song on Steve's station made the most sense. 

Word is that those two collaborated on a song for the game?
There is an original song made for the game. What Steve did so well was that he reached out to all of his artist friends and asked them to send him music. You'll find some classics on his station, but a lot of the station is based on unreleased new material, created either by Steve himself or friends of his who submitted music to him for this project. Steve's a huge gamer, so I think this was as exciting for him as it was for us to work together.