UPDATE: Karen O has released the full version of “I Shall Rise,” available below.
“You know how Gloria Gaynor has her ‘I Will Survive’?” Karen O asks from her New York home. “I always wanted to do my version of that and this was it.”
Earlier this year, Microsoft approached the Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman to pen the theme song for the upcoming video game Rise of the Tomb Raider. The result is “I Shall Rise,” the dramatic new track that serves as the vocalist’s first original song since last year’s Crush Songs.
While the full version of the song won’t be available until Friday, Rolling Stone is premiering the Rise of the Tomb Raider trailer, soundtracked by O’s haunting, Bond-esque new song. The clip features protagonist Lara Croft traveling to Siberia to unearth the secret to immortality against an evil group known as Trinity. The sequel to the 2013 hit Tomb Raider is set for release on November 10th via Xbox One and Xbox 360.
“It all sounded really tasty,” O tells Rolling Stone on creating music for video games. “They wanted drama and high-stakes and melodrama. That was very appealing to me because I love making music connected to a storyline. It was all stuff I loved like having the theme song to [Lara Croft] becoming an icon and the creation myth to the moment she becomes Lara.”
While the singer admits to not being a gamer — “I’m not used to the 3D. I’m used to characters just moving forward,” she says, laughing — the new mother can relate to Croft’s own traits. “Some of the themes [Microsoft] gave me was transformation and survival and realizing one’s own destiny and pushing past one’s own limits, which is basically everything I’ve been going through with a newborn baby the past two months,” O says. “I’ve been going through my own transformation.”
For O, who says she got so emotionally invested in watching her brother play video games growing up, she cried when he won, working with video games is similar to her recent work in film and television. “Nowadays, the artistry of video games have come so far, it’s more like a film you can interact with,” she says.
In contrast to the personal, autobiographical Crush Songs, “I Shall Rise” uses Croft as its muse to portray a boastful, defiant protagonist. “They’ll know my name/After the storms are passing through,” O sings. “They’ll know my name/When they’ve forgotten all about you.”
O also drew real-world inspiration at the christening of a relative’s daughter. “I picked up a Book of Hymns, thumbed through it and was really into how much melodrama there was,” she says. “It could be the half-Korean part of me; Koreans love melodrama. That sparked some inspiration for the lyrics to this with the themes of survival against the elements and the transformation of being reborn. The melodrama of the Biblical stuff is a lot to sink your teeth into.”
Despite the new song, O’s current top priority is more personal than professional. “I’m in babyland at the moment,” says the singer. “It’s all quite fresh and I’m technically on maternity leave right now, so everything is really up in the air. I’m going to see how it all pans out over the next few months with how to move forward with projects. But I’m so ensconced with having my first baby, that I’m just going to wing it and see how it goes.”
Winging it extends to Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who have been on hiatus for at least a year. “It’s just waiting to see how everything works out with starting a family and seizing the moment when it strikes,” she says of the band’s status. “I’m in the full-time job of [motherhood] at the moment.”
“I Shall Rise” is just the latest of many soundtracks the singer has recorded. In 2009, O wrote and recorded the soundtrack to Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are. The singer reteamed with Jonze for Her, where her track “Moon Song” earned the singer an Oscar nomination. In 2013, O joined Trent Reznor to cover Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” for David Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
Earlier this month, the singer released her sultry cover of Animotion’s 1984 hit “Obsession” for the Starz show Flesh and Bone.