KILL SCREEN 010: Katie Davies and Josh Andrews of PUPIL SLICER Give 100 Percent to This Interview

“The problem is, with this interview, I’m just gonna go on and on.” Katie Davies, vocalist and guitarist for up-and-coming mathcore/blackgaze amalgam Pupil Slicer, has a sense of excitement in their voice, and they certainly have a lot to be excited about. After the release of their breakout debut Mirrors in 2021, the group have wasted no time in preparing their wonderful sophomore offering Blossom. Blending their established frenetic, angular core with a heavy dose of melodic blackgaze and a touch of electronics for good measure, the result is an album that is both catchy and crushing that will result in repeat listens. On top of that, the group are gearing up to set out on their first European tour of their careers offering support to Japanese psych rock legends Boris. But that’s not what Katie is excited to talk about today. Today, we’re here to talk about video games.

Joining them is drummer Josh Andrews, a Nintendo diehard with a more reserved—but no less dedicated—background in digital entertainment. Even with the Kill Screen columnists’ decades of experience behind a joystick, their library of not only finished, but 100 percent completed games is enviable. Cutting their, uh, teeth at a very early age in the ’90s during a golden era of console gaming, the duo became quickly engrossed in many of today’s celebrated classics, including the Metal Gear Solid series, the Legend of Zelda 3D titles and the Grand Theft Auto franchise, to name a few. Their interest in gaming has stood strong into the present day and finds itself merging with the identity of the band. Without spoiling any details, Davies describes how a few games in particular impacted them so much that they served as the narrative foundation of their latest album. What follows is only part of our in-depth conversation with the British pair. Maybe one day we can 100 percent complete this interview.

What were your first video game experiences?
Andrews: I think the first games I got were Pokémon Red and Blue. I had both of them for some reason, even though they were literally the same game. I remember playing that when I was really young. My first console was an N64. I just remember getting Super Mario 64. It was really good. I never had a PlayStation; I was one of them kids who just had the Nintendo, but then I’d go around my friend’s house and they’re running people over on the original [Grand Theft Auto] and I played it through them. That’s my most vivid memories; playing Ocarina of Time, Super Mario 64 and then running people over at my friend’s house who had the PlayStation. [Laughs]

Davies: One of my firsts is actually similar. There was a pub near where I lived that had a PS1 set up and I thought it was sick. I played The Emperor’s New Groove movie tie-in game. I was probably, like, 3 years old and then I begged my mum for a PS1. I think we got one second-hand. I had a PS1 and a Sega MegaDrive that had Sonic 1 on it. And then on the PS1, I think we rented games but they were so expensive. I remember renting Carmageddon when I was 3 or 4 years old. We rented it in the evening; it was one of those one-day rentals. I played it, watched the opening movie, started one race and then my mum was like, “That’s too violent,” and then returned it the next day. [Laughs] And then there was a neighbor when I was 3 who lent me Duke Nukem for PS1 as well. Starting off with the good stuff at that age.

What have you been playing lately?
Davies: I’ve been playing all sorts recently. At the moment, I’ve been [playing] all the Devil May Cry games. I just finished 2 and it was, uh… I forced myself through 2. But now I’m on 3 and I’m like, This is literally one of the greatest action games of all time!

And then I’ve got loads of things I’ve just had on the go for ages. I’m, like, 90 hours into Persona 4 and just can’t be bothered to get through the last month after solving the case. I’ve got [Final Fantasy] IX. I’ve been on and off for a while. I’m at disc 3 in that. I went and replayed the original Dead Space ahead of the remake, finished that and [now] I can’t be bothered to buy the remake because the original was so sick anyway. [Laughs] I hadn’t played it for ages. Dead Space 2 has always been one of my favorite survival horrors. At the studio, while we were recording the album, I finally got around to finishing Silent Hill 2, and then I played 3 and 4 right after. They were all sick.

I finished Sekiro, like, a month ago but I missed one area near the end, and now I kinda want to replay the whole game to do that because the game is sick.

100 percent means 100 percent.
Davies: I’m quite bad at needing to 100 percent everything, get all the achievements. Because of that, I have to play all the games in order and I have to 100 percent every game. It bogs me down. I could just play Devil May Cry 3, but I want to play Devil May Cry 1. And then I’m like, Do I want to go into Devil May Cry 2 or should I play 1 until I finish Dante Must Die or S rank every mission? I put these things on myself. I did actually go on. I was like, I’ll finish every Devil May Cry game, then go back and 100 percent them.

I usually try and get through everything on the hardest difficulty at some point. It ends up making it hard for myself to play stuff. I can’t finish Hitman until I’ve Silent Assassin’ed every mission with no kills. When I played [Metal Gear Solid] 2 and 3, I’m like, I can’t have any kills or alerts the whole game, and have to restart every time. I’m very specific with the way I play stuff. I could play Star Wars [Jedi Knight II:] Jedi Outcast and Jedi Academy; I’ve wanted to play those for ages. But I have to play Dark Forces 1 and 2 first. And then I finished Dark Forces 1 and 2, but I have to play the expansion to Dark Forces 2 before I can play Jedi Outcast. It means I get a lot of stuff played! [Laughs] I’ve fully enjoyed them and get my full money’s worth out of them.

You also must be pretty good at these games to be able to be getting all of the most limitations on yourself and getting through them.
Davies: I always feel like I’m not that good at it, but then I’m like, Oh yeah, I have cleared a lot of stuff that probably most people would find pretty tricky. Like Sekiro; once it clicked with me, I was like, This game is fine. Elden Ring past Liurnia, I didn’t die to anything more than once. But that was because I was way over-leveled. The way I played Elden Ring, it made it twice the length it needed to be because I had to do every side thing and every quest and then the game stopped being fun because everything was a cake walk. I was, like, 50 levels too high the whole game.

Andrews: Opposite to me, basically, because I just rush through it and made it hell for myself and put really stupid limitations on myself, where I couldn’t use any summons and stuff. So, it was just horrific, from start to finish. [Laughs]

Josh, what have you been playing?
Andrews: I’ve just bought the new Metroid Prime game. That’s really fun. I really like all the original 2D Metroid games. I’ve played most of them; Super Metroid, Metroid Dread, Metroid Fusion. I’ve not played the original two games. I’ve never had a Nintendo GameCube, so I missed out on Prime and been waiting for a way to play it for a while. I think it’s a really cool game. I don’t really understand how they make Metroid games translate into 3D, but you can see why it does. It really works well.

I’ve obviously not played the original, so I can’t really compare [the original to the remaster], but it seems like people think it’s really remaster. I was doing the classic controls for ages, where you just have one joystick and then you have to hold the bumper to aim everywhere. I was like, How the fuck did people put up with this? I think about 5 hours into it, I was like, I’m gonna switch to the other controls. Not even for a boss reason or anything, I just want to fucking looking at the ceiling without having to stop all the time and hold a button. I played it faithfully for a little while, but then laziness just kicked in. It’s a really cool game.

What are the types of games that you typically gravitate towards? What are some of your favorite titles?
Davies: Everyone’s like, “I like to play everything.” But I do try to be fairly open. GTA IV is probably my favorite game ever, and then Kingdom Hearts II, from a gameplay standpoint. The story is not as good as the first and a bit all over the place, but gameplay-wise, playing on critical [mode] is amazing. Cyberpunk [2077] I actually really enjoyed recently. That was instantly one of my favorite games. It’s got technical issues, but I really liked the world and the story. Final Fantasy XIV is probably one of my favorite games and our new album’s based around the last expansion [Endwalker] for that. I played that and it really affected me, and then wrote a whole fucking concept album about Final Fantasy XIV mixed with Outer Wilds. Those two form the basis for the story for the album. Outer Wilds is ridiculous as well. That’s probably a top 3 game. If you like playing games, it’s a game made for you. It’s a game that expects you to know what the conventions of the media are and then uses those and turns them on their head. It’s like, “Go explore and use stuff. Use your own intuition to sort of figure things out.” It’s got a great story, great music.

I like a lot of JRPGs, but that’s only recently I got into that. Over the last 5 or 6 years, I’ve gotten really into survival horror games, played every Resident Evil, Silent Hill, stuff like that. I 100%’ed every Assassin’s Creed game up until 3 as they came out when I was a kid. I’ve got a place in my heart for a Ubisoft collect-’em-all type open-world thing, although I think I’ve probably burnt myself out on those sorts of games. It’s just a treat once every three years, to do one of those. I liked Black Flag. The story was shit in that, but sailing around was fun. I haven’t played any of them since then. I actually thought Watch Dogs 1 was, like… OK. That’s my hot take. It was not hot trash; it was fine. [Laughs]

I’m playing Spider-Man again now it’s on PC. I one-hundred-percented that when it came out, but I haven’t done the DLC or Miles Morales. I’ll work on those next.

Time to start from the beginning. Play it all in order. 100 percent. Again.
Davies: I can’t just hop into Miles Morales now it’s on PC because I haven’t done the DLC for it, which means I have to 100 percent the base game on PC again, and then I can play the DLC. [Laughs]

Does that mean that you’re also gonna have to start with old NES Spider-Man games?
Davies: No, no. I can hop in at some point. I have had that problem with the Elder Scroll series. I want to play Skyrim because it’s comfy and I remember playing it when I was young. But I was like, Well, I should play Oblivion before that. So I should play Morrowind. But I didn’t go back to Daggerfall. I’m working on Morrowind. I’m just, like, I’m so tired at the moment, there’s so much thinking in Morrowind. [Laughs] Which is why I know most people like Morrowind, but I just want to turn my brain off and play Skyrim, where you just click and it tells you where to go because there’s been so much work.

I’ve been so busy with the album recently, the last game I one-hundred-percented was Vampire Survivors, which—I don’t know if you know about—is a 2D auto-scroller. You just walk around and it automatically attacks and the only control is the left stick. It took, like, 40 hours to do. It’s basically a mobile game port or an old Flash game. That was sick. [Laughs] It’s just relaxing.

Josh, what about you?
Andrews: I’d say the Zelda series, especially the 3D Zeldas. Twilight Princess, I really like Skyward Sword and I think Breath of the Wild is a masterpiece. I really like open world adventure games, puzzle elements. Hopefully the new game will be good. I think every single Zelda release that’s come out since Ocarina of Time—which is when I was, like, 5 years old—I remember being really excited for. This is the first one, Tears of the Kingdom, where I’m a little bit like, I hope this will be good. Normally they have quite good quality control, but it does kind of just look like it’s Breath of the Wild with floaty platforms and nuts and bolts elements in it.

There’s a lot of series that me and Kate have got each other into. Kate’s got me into the Metal Gear Solid games. I played Metal Gear Solid 2 when I was younger and was really confused about why this blonde guy was in it. I played it for a little bit and was like, That was cool, I guess, and sort of never really completed it. And then Kate was like, “No, you need to go back”—in typical Kate fashion—“play 1, then play 2.” I’ve actually played through all of them. I think Metal Gear Solid 2 is a masterpiece. The first three games especially are brilliant.

The only other thing I’m quite into is a few online games. I’m quite into Dota 2. I’ve sunk quite a few too many hours into it. Recently, I’ve been playing a game called Squad with my friends, which is like a sort of army sim game, where you basically hold the W key for about 30 minutes and then get shot, which is great fun. [Laughs] Just running around and getting told what to do and then if you can’t someone gets shot, basically. Some sort of competitive online stuff, and then any sort of open-world adventure that sucks you into the world. I’ve always really loved stuff like that.

Another one that pops into my head is Kingdom Come: Deliverance, which is a recent game that I really enjoyed. It’s just a very overly immersive game that you can really get into. It’s obvious the developers of it really wanted to create a world that feels very realistic. You start off and you’re basically a peasant who’s rubbish at swinging a sword and the mechanics are really hard to get used to. But by the end of it, you set out a little plan to take out a bandit camp of four people, which, in a lot of games by the time you’re really high level, is just easy. But in that game, you have to plan it and approach them, take a couple of them out and then pull them away. The story’s quite fun as well. It’s a bit silly at times. Brian Blessed, of course, turns up near the end of it and just starts being Brian Blessed. [Laughs] It’s really good.

It seems like the both of you play console and PC. Is there a preference between either one?
Davies: I’d rather everything was on PC just for ease of access. But I’ve got no problem if a game’s got a shitty port, I’ll still play [console]. I wasn’t gonna be emulating Silent Hill 1 through 4; I played those all on the PS2. I found some old copies because I was like, “I want it to be the way it’s meant to be.” Sometimes you just have to deal with that, like the stuff that’s exclusive to PS1. I guess you can emulate Gran Turismo 2 now and it’ll be perfect, but there’s still something fun about play that on the OG hardware. I’ve not got a PS5 or anything, but there’s not really much that’s on a PS5 that I can’t just play on PC. Steam needs Demon’s [Souls] Remake and Gran Turismo 7. The latest Gran Turismo they ruined with microtransactions, so I’m like, “Well, I’m glad I didn’t buy a PS5 just to play that!” The only thing I might need a PS5 for is Spider-Man 2 and the Wolverine game they announced. But seeing as Spider-Man 1 and Mile Morales are both on PC now, I’m like, “Well, those will probably just come to PC.”

It’s a good time for PC gaming. Everything’s cross-platform. It seems there’s a bigger push. Microsoft realized, We have PC and Xbox and we can just put all games on both if they’re exclusive. And then Sony have started porting their stuff. My problem with PC stuff is Epic Games Store. I can’t be bothered with downloading another store front, but there’s some stuff that’s exclusive there. I’m gonna have to get it for Alan Wake 2 and Control 2. Kingdom Hearts, all the PC ports, are on the Epic Game Store and I can’t be bothered to buy it. It’s annoying. I mean, I’ve one-hundred-percented all of them before. But it’d be nice to again. [Laughs]

To be honest, most of my achievements are on [Xbox] 360, anyway. That was the era when I was like, Everything has to be one-hundred-percented. I think on Steam, I’ve only got nine one-hundred-percents. I platinumed Uncharted 1, 2 and 3 on PS4, but I never use my PSN, so it’s, like, what’s the point anymore? So, what have I got? [reading from Steam] Vampire Survivors, New Vegas, Control, NieR 1 and 2, Quantum Break, [Star Wars] Jedi: Fallen Order, [Metal Gear Solid:] Ground Zeroes. Those are all my 100 percent achievements on Steam. It’s not that many. And then a couple 3 hour games that are, like, whatever. Anyone can do that.

Andrews: I think the Switch deserves an honorable mention.

Davies: The Switch is great because I don’t feel obligated as much. It’s not got those achievements.

Andrews: But achievements aside, as well being in a band, we can bring Mario Kart on the road.

Davies: I hate Mario Kart. I suck at it. [Laughs]

Andrews: Only because you’re not a Mario Kart expert like me. [Laughs] I do like the idea of a Switch. I remember I bought Dark Souls recently when we were on tour. I had to go to the Czech Republic, I was playing that on the plane. It was too dark to actually see, but aside from that it was pretty cool.

It seems like PCs are probably the way forward just in general for games. You can just upgrade things so quickly and it seems like all of the games are developed probably with the PC in mind, really more so. Unless you had a very specific friend group who played a very specific game on PlayStation that you all agreed to play—like FIFA or something—then it’s probably worth having one. Nothing’s compelled me to get a PlayStation 5, as of yet.

The new album has a list of games as inspiration. Two of which that you brought up were Final Fantasy XIV: Endwalker and Outer Wilds. Why are these in particular the ones that you went with for inspiration?
Davies: They just both struck me massively when I played them. It was right just before I was about to start putting together the concept for the album. Both of those games made me cry for ages. Both of them are about despair and existentialism, but also have hope at the core of it and a nice message. They just affected me a lot when I was going through a really hard time. And then I ended up just sort of pulling elements from them and assembling into my own story that pulls from all sorts of hard sci-fi cosmic horror things across all sort of mediums. Originally, it was just going to be the plot of Endwalker and then I just kept adding things in.

It’s come together as its own story. I hope people are really gonna like it. I was watching loads of stuff like interviews with David Lynch, where as long as you built this world and this story, you can know what it means but you don’t need to tell other people. They can get their own meanings out of that. Someone can read along the story and get a different conclusion from it. I think a lot of mine and Josh’s favorite media is left ambiguous and you’ve got to pick what it meant and what happened out of it. I think those are the best things because then you’ve had to put in the work to come up with that, and it means more to you because of that.

I’ve not wanted to talk too much about specifics of this because I just want people to listen to the album. There were ideas before of, “We’ll talk about what this song is and go track by track.” And then I went off that idea. I can go track-by-track with our music video directors and our artists and have it all tie in. Our music video director understands what the story is and what we’re trying to achieve and then in the visual form we can convey—as closely as we can—elements from the plot into the videos. But I’m not gonna go and say, “What does this shot mean? What does this line mean?” There’s enough there that you can probably piece it together and fill in the blanks yourself. It’s the Outer Wilds of music: You’ve got to put in the work.

At least to me [Michael], the beginning of the track “The Language of Stars” feels a little bit influenced by Akira Yamaoka. Do you take any inspiration from video game composers when writing music?
Davies: I think there is definitely stuff that comes through. I spend a lot of time listening to video game music anyway. I’m not sure if that was directly inspired by Akira’s work, but it could have been at some point. I listen to a lot of the bangers, he’s got a lot of tunes.

I feel like that’s a really important pillar of a good video game, is having a soundtrack that sticks with you. There’s so many games that just miss the mark on that. The Resident Evil games and Silent Hill games, fantastic soundtracks. Could I name one song from Alien: Isolation? Probably not. It’s a good game, but it’s just not gonna stick with you. It’s the whole package experience. You can go back to a song that you really liked in a game and it just brings back all the memories of why you liked the game. You probably end up playing the game again because you’re like, “Ah, that song was sick, I wanna play that game again.”

I think it’s sort of an overlooked thing. Especially with a lot of AAA games now—maybe always, really. And with a lot of movies now, as well. I’m a big defender of the [Marvel cinematic universe], even phase 4. I love it. Just put some good fuckin’ songs in them. There’s one every so often, but it’s not gonna stick with me. Like the [Sam] Raimi Spider-Man films. Danny Elfman did the music for No Way Home and the old Spider-Man films, but one of those has songs you can sing; one of them doesn’t.

There’s a lot of influence coming through just because everything does when you’re writing music, I guess. Every melodic and rhythmic idea is gonna be informed by everything you’ve heard before that point and what you’ve been listening to. I don’t think anyone could really produce music that wasn’t influenced by something that they’d heard before.

You have a European tour coming up with Boris. Are you hoping to get any gaming time in with [vocalist and guitarist] Wata?
Davies: Oh yeah, me and Josh were both saying as much as I hate Mario Kart, I’m still like, I going to get in some Mario Kart with Wata!

Andrews: I’ll be in my element, at last.

Davies: Josh can rep the Pupil Slicer name in Mario Kart and make sure our honor isn’t destroyed as being terrible gamers.

Andrews: I got super into it in lockdown. Following the optimal tracks, just too far. It was getting to the point where this isn’t a fun party game that you’re meant to play with your friends and family. I got a bit too deeply into it.

Are there any other titles that you’re looking forward to this year or going forward?
Davies: Yeah, I’ve got quite a few that I’m looking forward to. Obviously RE4 Remake’s out in two weeks [edit: Davies has beaten Resident Evil 4 prior to the publication of this column]. Jedi Survivor comes out the day we go on tour with Boris, which sucks because we gotta wait. Cyberpunk DLC I’m hyped for. Diablo IV is in June. FFXVI, it sounds like they want it to be more of a character action Devil May Cry-style game. I like those, but that’s not what Final Fantasy is. It can’t be worse than XV and XIII, so…

We still have a soft spot for XV. I [James] defend both XV and XIII. I’m not saying they’re as good as the classic titles.
Davies: I don’t think they’re terrible. XV did the opposite of “gets good 20 hours in,” and gets bad 20 hours in. The game’s sick and then you’re like, “That’s everything there is to it, it’s just a hallway for the rest of the game now,” once you reach a certain point. There’s just massive holes in it. If XV had been finished, I think it would have been amazing. It’s like, “Oh, and then we went here,” and then the game ended. I was invested up until then!

I want to play Returnal. I know that’s already out, but it costs money. [Laughs] That just came out on PC. Sifu is out in two weeks; that looks really good on Steam. Hades II at some point. I’m waiting for The Last of Us Part II on PC, as well. I assume that will be at some point within the next year. Maybe they’ll do a Last of Us II Remastered three years after it’s come out again and then put it on PC. I don’t know. Last of Us is becoming like Skyrim at this point. I feel like it’s come out every year for the last 10 years. I didn’t even think The Last of Us was that good. I thought the story was pretty good and then the gameplay was kind of boring and generic. But then the remake looks like it’s using II’s engine, which looks a lot better and more fluid.

There’ll be a new Final Fantasy XIV expansion I assume at the end of the year because it would have been 2 years then. I’ve got to make sure I’m not on tour when it comes out. Suicide Squad I was extremely excited for, up until two weeks ago when they actually showed it. And it was a live service game with a battle pass and RPG-lite stats. But now it’s been indefinitely delayed again until the next year. It’s probably too far in development to remove all that stuff at this point. Rocksteady have made three of the best games ever [the Batman: Arkham series]. They’re all fantastic. And then they made this and it’s like, “Why have you done that?”

I don’t like playing any game with a battle pass or live service elements. I can’t get into Destiny. I bought Destiny 2. I played a bit of it and I thought it was cool and then I went to come back to play it again and it was like, “All that content you were playing is not in the game anymore, we’ve rotated it out.” And I played for 4 hours and it was like, “You’ve played all the free content, now buy expansions. But also don’t buy the first two expansions because, while they’re on sale, they’re not in the game anymore and if you buy them you’ll not get anything.” And I was like, “Well, why would I buy a new expansion if it’s gonna be removed in 3 years if I don’t play it?”

Also, why do you even have the option of buying something that doesn’t do anything?
Davies: Make those previous expansions free. The MMO formula is you buy the latest expansion and you get all the previous ones. At least in that case, it’s kind of justifiable if they want to remove the old content instead of, You have to buy all the previous ones to get the two guns you get, but you won’t get any of the content.

Armored Core VI as well. I’ve always loved Armored Core. That was my first From Software game, Armored Core 2 on PS2. That’s gonna bang. You’re gonna get loads of Dark Souls fans who are like, “It’s got robots, but I’ll play it because it’s From Software.”

What about you, Josh? What are you looking forward to?
Andrews: I haven’t really been following that much. Definitely the Resident Evil 4 Remake. Obviously the new Zelda game, which comes out on tour as well. I’ve got the difficult decision: Do I scramble to play 2 hours of it on a bumpy road before arriving at a venue or do I just wait fully until I get home and just enjoy the experience on the big T.V.?

Davies: We’re both in that position with that one. Are we both going to be able to scramble to find a place with good enough wi-fi for us both to download Zelda? And then we’re both going to play it in the van.

Andrews: That could be torture, though. It could just be so unenjoyable, so I might just wait. I think just those two, really, are the only ones that I’m like, I’m definitely buying both. I’ll just wait and see with other stuff. I’m a bit of a pensive buyer with games, to be honest. Unless I know I’m going to be super into it. I don’t trust reviewers.

Any final thoughts for the metal gaming audience?
Davies: Go and play Outer Wilds if you haven’t. It’s one of the best games ever. Don’t look up anything about it before playing it as well. That’s very important. The whole game is just what you know about it. It’s a game where the way you solve puzzles is by realizing something and being like, “Oh, I could have done this all along.” And it’s sick. It’s like Majora’s Mask on steroids. It’s so good.

Andrews: 1v1 me at Mario Kart on tour.

Davies: Come to the merch table, we’ll set up Mario tournaments. 

If you got pit beef, bring it to Mario Kart.
Andrews: I’m a Toad main. That’s my only requirement: I get Toad. You can set the speed, I don’t care.

Blossom is out June 2 on Prosthetic Records and can be pre-ordered here.
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