KILL SCREEN 038: The Dream of the ’90s is Alive and Well for Brody Uttley and Joshua Kost of NEW MISERABLE EXPERIENCE

Photos by Alyssa Lorenzon

“Renting games, also—that’s a funny figment of the past,” ponders guitarist Brody Uttley, the newest addition to PA synth rock/shoegaze act New Miserable Experience. “Going to the video rental store and going into a corner where the games are. What, are you going to play a game in a couple of nights? I guess you’d have to.” Joining along in this walk down memory lane is guitarist Joshua Kost, recounting, “Mega Man 1 I would rent all the time. I remember that.” There’s a sentimental notion to the conversation as the group collectively looks back to the early and mid-’90s, with deference to the advent of disc-based consoles via the PlayStation. Gaming has seen massive advancements since Sony entered the market in 1994, but the crude, sharp polygons and compressed audio of their initial console iteration has seen a surge in interest in recent years, from the fringes of the indie horror community to the rise of vaporwave. “I would hear it fire up… then you would hear the high-pitched squealing noise of the disc spinning really fast, and then the fan would go on,” recounts Uttley. “It’s been so long since I’ve turned on a PS1.”

Despite the group’s credentials—Uttley being a founding and active member of Rivers of Nihil, bassist Brett Bamberger handling the low end of Revocation, and vocalist David Grossman and drummer B.J. McMurtrie in Philly’s “metal for astronauts” unit Rosetta—New Miserable Experience is not a sonically heavy band. More can be found in common with the works of Slowdive and Portishead than Slayer and Pestilence. But even with their synth-driven harmonics and clean vocal delivery, the core of their music is as somber as ever. Their new single, “Tides of Oppression,” is the first offering from their debut album due later this year and continues the dreamlike soundscapes originally explored on 2022’s Philosophy on Pessimism EP. While the previous bands offer a more direct line of inspiration for the quintet, gaming’s first forays into CD audio hold sway over the two songwriters, and the co-nerds at Kill Screen are happy to explore the past with them.

What was your very first gaming experience?
Uttley: I don’t know if it was my very first, but I do remember my mom used to go to the gym when my sister and I were real little. There was a little area where they would watch the kids of parents that were working out and they had a Sega Genesis there. I must have been, like, eight or something and I would play mostly Earthworm Jim on that. So I think that that’s my first memory of playing video games—there and playing Earthworm Jim.

My dad used to take me to a flea market locally here called Zern’s—it’s burned down since—and they would have video game stands. They would have all kinds of games there, the cartridges just laid out. They always had Earthworm Jim playing on the screen, that and that other game, I think it was called Boogerman or something ridiculous like that. Those two, they would always have them playing. So when I saw them at the daycare center thing, I was like, I want to try that because I’ve definitely seen that at Zern’s. So yeah, it was kind of an odd start, but I played it a lot. And I probably would still play it if I could, because it was a very addictive game for me.

Do you feel like that colored your perception of games from there on out? Or it just happened to be the first and then you found other stuff?
Uttley: I don’t know. I definitely played that first and then I think I played Mario and stuff like that, and Sonic. My neighbor had a Dreamcast, so I played some of the Sonic stuff. I don’t know if it’s colored how I enjoy games now or anything. I’m not really a first-person shooter guy, like, at all. I tried to get into Halo and [Call of Duty:] Modern Warfare and stuff like that, and it just didn’t take. It was probably more the community around it that I was just not really interested in, because it was just screaming at each other on the headphones and people who are so good at the game that as soon as you would spawn, you just die. I don’t know if the Earthworm Jim thing had much to do with that or not.

Josh, what was your first gaming experience?
Kost: I don’t know if this is actually my first, but it’s my most prominent. My dad used to take me to this bar as a kid and my mom was there with us, and there’s this motorcycle game and it had a handlebar you’d move and steer with. I was sitting on his lap and he pulled the bar back and knocked my tooth out. I was screaming and my mom was upset and the bartender got me a glass of ice water. That’s definitely my most prominent memory from the ’80s. But besides that, I would just say there are arcade games everywhere. I’d go into a pizza place with my parents, Pizza Hut or something. Pac-Man is there, Asteroids, stuff like that.

Uttley: Asteroids for sure. That was another one of my first ones. I love that game.

What was the first game that gave you a positive experience with gaming that didn’t knock out your teeth and have you bleeding all over the place?
Kost: [Laughs] I remember playing Double Dragon in some bowling alley and I thought that was awesome. We eventually got a Nintendo and I played the shit out of that. We had the robot that moved the stupid gyroscope around [R.O.B.]. Lost interest in that pretty quick. I played Gyromite with my sister and she’d hit the piston. That was fun. No teeth flying out of my head for that.

What have you guys been playing lately and what are typically the games that you prefer to play?
Uttley: Honestly, I’ve dialed it way back in the last couple of years with the games. I have a Switch and I also have a PS4. I guess the PS4 is the last major console purchase that I made, and then I got the Switch for touring and stuff. I’ve definitely dialed it back. I have some games for Switch that were ported over from PS4 or whatever. I have Dark Souls, I did Breath of the Wild and then I got Tears of the Kingdom back in the spring and I played that a little bit. I like stuff that’s just… not mindless to play, but like Mario Kart. Me and my girlfriend will play Mario Kart and just zone out and just button mash and go around the course. I’ve been more into playing stuff on the Switch lately. I think the last major game that I played on the PS4 was maybe The Last of Us Remaster or Bloodborne. Those were the last two games that I remember playing heavily on PS4. But other than that, mostly just Switch stuff lately.

Kost: I’m still on the last-gen console. I got the PS4. There’s a Switch downstairs. My roommate has one, I never play it. The last thing I played was World of Horror, which fucks pretty hard. I also played Signalis and Catherine: Full Body recently because they were on sale. I kind of like the more weird games that are more story-based. The last major game I think I played was Last of Us II.

With the band’s music being something a little different, do you similarly find that you’re drawn to something a little more experimental?
Kost: For music for games, I was super into collecting the soundtracks around the PS1 era. I was super into the Silent Hill soundtracks and Parasite Eve, or all the Konami shit.

Uttley: Yeah, Parasite Eve was sick. The soundtrack to that was awesome, and all the Silent Hill stuff. [Akira Yamaha, composer for Silent Hill], all that stuff is incredible. And it’s funny, too, because I only within the last couple of years pieced together that one Portishead song—I think it’s called “Sour Times”—it sounds exactly like the Silent Hill theme with the mandolin thing. He definitely was a Portishead fan is what I’m saying.

New Miserable Experience incorporates a lot of synth-heavy sounds. Are there any game soundtracks that you can think of that you would consider to directly affect your songwriting process? Do you see any kind of connection to that or is that more an outsider appreciation thing?
Kost: Definitely, I see some connection to, like I said, the PS1-era games. Parasite Eve, Silent Hill, obviously, but Metal Gear and Final Fantasy even. I was big into Final Fantasy VII when that came out. Stuff like that.

You kind of jumped to the PS1 there. Was there a particular reason?
Kost: For me, I think it was because CD audio was new in games and there was more space, but there were still limitations. Those limitations sort of disappeared when we got to PS2, I felt like, because I know a lot of the Akira Yamaoka stuff, they’re all like CD sample hacks. You can go and buy all the CDs he uses and just rip the samples and you just pitch stuff down or whatever. That’s kind of why I guess I gravitate towards that. It’s kind of the end of the limitations, I feel like.

Uttley: It’s a good era, I would say, for video game soundtracks and the tones that they chose to use with various instruments and stuff like that. Heavy nostalgia, just even soundtracks from the menu on the PS1 and stuff like that. I follow a bunch of millennial misery pages and stuff like that and just the sound of a PS1 turning on, it soothes you.

What would you say are your top three PS1-era games for you?
Kost: I’ll go with the obvious: Metal Gear [Solid], Silent Hill and Parasite Eve for me, and Final Fantasy VII towards the end there.

Uttley: I would be probably Mega Man Legends, probably Crash Bandicoot: Warped. I really like that one. [Pauses] I played weird games on PS1. I really like Gran Turismo, too. That was the first driving simulator that I ever played. I like Gran Turismo a lot, so that might be one of my top PS1 games for sure. Odd choices, but I’ll probably go with those.

Kost: [Castlevania:] Symphony of the Night as well. There’s a lot.

Uttley: Yeah, it’s wild. I had a PS1 and then the next console that I bought was a PS3. I had played on a friend’s PS2, but when I got a PS3 from having only had a PS1 before that, that totally blew my mind because they were basically computers at that point. I think the first new-gen game I played for PS3 was Fallout 3, and I was just blown away by how enormous the game was having only played PS1 games, basically. Grand Theft Auto on PS2 at my friend’s houses, we would always play GTA. But to play Fallout on PS3 after that, it’s mind-blowing how big the games got.

When was the last time that you played a PS1? Is there any interest in going back to revisit some of these classics, collect some of these retro titles or is it more of a fond memory?
Kost: For me, I guess it’s situational. I saw the PS2, but it’s covered in dust, this thing over here. I like going back and playing those games. There’s a lot of games I never got to play again after I’d seen them in the arcade and stuff in the ’90s. I can’t even remember half of them. If I saw them, I’d be like, “Oh yeah, that game.” But it’s hard to go back and find those particular games sometimes because I never owned a copy—it would just be there when I’d walk into some place. I do occasionally go back and play like Silent Hill or Parasite Eve.

Uttley: Yeah. I don’t have a PS1 or anything anymore, but you can play PS1 games on the PS4, or something like that. I played Mega Man Legends recently, like, not on a PS1. I don’t remember which console, maybe it was a PS3. I don’t know if I would go back and get a PS1 or anything like that. They’re putting out enough reissues now. On the Switch, they have the NES classics and stuff like that now, so I can get my nostalgia fix from from that. Although I do wish they would put Earthworm Jim out on Switch, that would be awesome.

We’re getting the sense that the two of you typically prefer single-player games. Is there much interest in any kind of multiplayer games?
Kost: My big thing, like I said, was [in the] ’90s, going to the arcade and playing fighting games. I’d go sleep above my friend’s store in Chinatown, and then we’d get up at, like, 7 AM, watch Dragon Ball Z and then go play whatever fighting game was at 11th Street Pizza and get our asses whooped. I think they had Soul Edge, Killer Instinct. Some kid would just unleash a 97-hit combo on me or whatever it was. Definitely tried to get good at that and I just constantly got my butt whooped.

Uttley: I would say I’m more of a single-player guy outside of just playing Mario Kart with my girlfriend or whatever. I tried to get on Halo online and Call of Duty and stuff. You literally get on there and you’re just killed immediately. Whoever killed you is just like, “Fuck you, idiot!” It’s just not fun. They never really designed those games, the stories to be particularly interesting if you’re playing the campaign mode—it’s just designed for multiplayer. I like Dead Space, I thought that was fun. I do like Doom, not the most recent recent one [Doom Eternal], but the one before that. I really like that game. I was playing that a lot over COVID. There are some first-person shooters that I like, but mostly single-player stuff. I’m not a big online community gamer guy.

Kost: Single player for me, too, for the most part.

You had mentioned the community before as well. The sometimes toxic community around gaming, especially multiplayer games, do you feel like that is a bit of a barrier that kind of prevents you from enjoying certain titles or even gaming in general?
Uttley: Probably, maybe at the time. It doesn’t bother me now, I just genuinely don’t have an interest in it. Maybe when I was, like, 15 or whatever, maybe if the community had been a little more like, “Hey, new guy, here are some things that I know,” instead of being like, “Fuck you, idiot,” maybe I would have gotten into it more. I had friends who were so into that, they would have LAN parties and stuff. They were so into that shit that I just realized, I’m never going to be that good at this. I might as well just get good at Skyrim or whatever.

Both you guys mentioned Switch. Do you play when on the road at all?
Uttley: I always bring mine and if I’m flying, sometimes I’ll play it on the plane. But honestly, usually I bring it and I don’t even get it out. If you’re bored, there’s always something you can go do. Honestly, I was playing Vampire Survivors on my phone the most on the last [Rivers of Nihil] tour. All of us were in our crew were completely addicted to it. And yeah, we all had Switches with us, but no one was taking them out because we were just playing Vampire Survivors on our phone.

I heard that the guy who designed that game was the same guy who designed some big-selling slot game. Whatever he did with Vampire Survivors, he clearly knows what keeps people coming back. But yeah, I bring it all the time, the Switch, but I never end up getting it out. I just end up playing some game on my phone or something.

You could have told me [Michael] that the developer of Vampire Survivors is the guy who made ecstasy and I’d believe you.
Uttley: You just burn time. You’re just like, Oh, there’s a half an hour. It’s been a half an hour already? I’ll just do one more. And then you do another half an hour, and it’s like, That’s an hour gone. At a certain point, you get so powerful in the game that you can just hold the phone in your hand and just let the points go up. [Laughs]

You’ve talked about PlayStation and Switch, and there was mention of Sega earlier. There was no mention of any Xbox or PC gaming. Any particular reason that neither of those really came up?
Uttley: I think I just always liked the PlayStation exclusive stuff enough to just stick with PlayStation. Plus, I just associated Xbox with Halo and I didn’t particularly enjoy playing Halo. PlayStation was my first console, so I just kind of stuck with that. As far as PC goes, I haven’t gone there because it just seems like an expensive trap. I already have a really sick PC built for recording and I’ve maxed it out as hard as I possibly can only for audio. I don’t do anything with video on it because I know as soon as I start getting into GPUs and stuff, it’s over for my bank account. If I’m going to play a game, I’m going to play it on a console. I’m not going to start getting into crazy screens that cost $1,500 and stuff like that. [Laughs]

Kost: Yeah, I think that was just a money issue for me. I could only get one, but there wasn’t really anything that was on Xbox that wasn’t also on PlayStation, I think, maybe except for Alan Wake or something like that. PC’s same, same thing. Both of my computers are full of video shit on one and audio shit on the other, so I’d have to get a third computer. [Laughs]

Uttley: I also feel like everyone that I knew who had an Xbox, I generally didn’t like them as much as people who had PlayStations. [Laughs] I was just like, “You’re scummy, you play Xbox. I’m going to my friend who has a PlayStation.” [Laughs]

Kost: That’s funny. My friend, he works at a game store and he was wearing his PlayStation shirt or like something like that. He said he walked past a dude wearing an Xbox shirt and dude is just like, “Xbox, bitch!” And then he just walked away. [Laughs]

Uttley: No. Wrong.

Josh, you said that you typically prefer “weird” titles. What are some of the “weird” gems that you’ve encountered?
Kost: Blaster Master, that was a really weird one, if you remember that game.

Great game.
Kost: Yeah. What else did I play that was weird? NieR: Automata, that’s a weird one, a little horror. There’s just been a bunch. I can’t remember the name of it, a couple of years ago, there was a weird, side-scrolling horror game [Lone Survivor]. Or just creepy games, like that game Inside. Anything that’s kind of off the beaten path. I played the first Life is Strange, I thought that was pretty good. It actually made me very upset for a minute. [Laughs]

What made you upset?
Kost: Well, it’s just, like, stuff you don’t expect to find in some video game and it kind of freaks you out, you know? I don’t want to ruin anything from it, but something happens in it and you’re just like, Oh, fuck.

I keep going back to Silent Hill because when that game come out, stuff happened in those games that just never really occurred in games before, to a certain extent, story-wise. Stuff like that I think is interesting. And then stuff that’s more, I guess you call it artsy fartsy. Gris was another weird game I played I thought was really cool. I never finished it. That Catherine game is super weird. I like the puzzle aspect of it.

Can you imagine that they sold that game to somebody? “We’re going to make a game about a guy who’s cheating on his pregnant wife with somebody who’s also named the same name as his wife, but spelled differently. And the whole game is just climbing blocks.”
Kost: “And then we’re going to remake it, and there’s a third character in there, also named Qatherine, but it’s with a Q.” It’s out there. Another weird one: Have you guys played Thumper? The game the guy from Lightning Bolt [Brian Gibson] made. It’s pretty cool. It’s kind of intense, it kind of blasts your senses a bit while you’re playing it, because it’s got this weird music going and every time you hit a goalpost, it amps it up. It’s like a buildup, and then if you fuck up it releases and it goes back down in the intensity. It’s another interesting one. So, yeah, quirky, weird stuff like that. But I also like these violent horror games and fighting games, too, and there was just a billion of them in the ’90s. Samurai Shodown was one I liked a lot.

The music of New Miserable Experience, even though it’s not that heaviness that we’ve come to expect from our scene, but it is an incredibly somber kind of music. Do you seek out that similar sentiment from the games that you play or are you typically looking for an escape from that somber feeling when you’re playing games?
Kost: I don’t know if I’m looking for a somber experience, just something that’s paying some sort of emotion, whatever it is. And the more unexpected it is, I guess the better. I’m not trying to go be devastated and sad by everything I do, [laughs] but I don’t shy away from things that make me uncomfortable.

Uttley: Yeah, I feel like I like anything that just puts me deeper into the headspace of the game. I really like Mick Gordon’s soundtrack for the newer Doom game. That stuff, it’s what it would sound like to be killing a bunch of alien monsters. It just puts you in this zone. Similarly with more somber stuff. I’m a big Atticus Ross, Trent Reznor fan, whether it’s Nine Inch Nails or the stuff that they do for film. Any time I catch stuff like that in games—the kind of somber piano stuff with an out-of-tune sounding piano or a warm synth, stuff that you might hear in a Trent Reznor score—it always tends to make the games easier to get into the world of the game.

I’m a fan of Steven Wilson. There’s this game, it’s called Last Day of June, and he did the whole soundtrack for it. It’s a short game, you can download it on the PlayStation Network or you can get it most places. It’s really cool. The animation, it kind of looks like claymation almost. It’s just a cool-looking game. It definitely helps put me in the zone, having good soundtracks like that. Even when you’re in Hyrule Field in Zelda and that music plays, it’s like, Ah, back in Hyrule Field. I don’t know, it just does something, I guess.

“I’m not trying to go be devastated and sad by everything I do, but I don’t shy away from things that make me uncomfortable.”

You guys are both talking about stuff that pulls you into the gameplay experience or the plot or the characters or the music. Is there anything that conversely pushes you away, anything that takes you out of the experience?
Kost: First-person shooters, I can’t, I can’t. The whole headset thing, it’s just not my era, I guess.

Uttley: I don’t like it when a game has an insane amount of cutscenes. If it’s too much, I’m like, Let’s gooo, you know what I mean? I feel like there’s a balance. Sometimes it’s worth it, I guess. But if a game is immediately too plot-y, I’m just like, I dunno, This world seems too complicated. I don’t know what any of this stuff is that they just talked about.

Kost: Too much exposition.

Uttley: Yeah. I feel like The Last of Us did a pretty good job with the cutscenes. I feel like that was a pretty fair balance. The Red Dead Redemption games were pretty good with the cutscenes. There were some long ones, but it was mostly OK. But there are some games that’s just so much, dude. It’s like a 25 hour game, and then if you get rid of the cutscenes, it’s like a 7-hour playthrough. [Laughs]

Are there any games that you’re looking forward to in the near future? I know that you say that you’re still last gen, but is there anything that you have on your radar or is it more circumstantial?
Uttley: Dude, I’ve just been so busy with music stuff and I just haven’t been keeping my eye on what’s coming up, honestly. The last game that I was looking forward to was Tears of the Kingdom for Switch. That’s the last new game that I got. I’m just looking forward to seeing what kind of games they port over to Switch. They just did the Batman: Arkham games. They just did all the Metal Gear Solid games. That’s awesome. I’ve been thinking about picking up Metal Gear Solid games for Switch because I feel like that’s something I would play if I was traveling. So, I don’t know. Maybe just hoping for more classics to come over to Switch, I guess.

Was there anything in the backlog specifically that you really wanted to when you have a bit of a break, when things slow down a little bit?
Uttley: I would really like to play through Dark Souls I, II and III. I’ve played Dark Souls I, but I didn’t beat it, and then I played Bloodborne. I’m kind of aware of the world and the stuff, but if I had a ton of time, like, if it were COVID again and I had that much time, I would totally play Dark Souls I, II and III just to say I did it. [Laughs] It’s just so fucking hard.

Josh, what about you? What are you looking forward to?
Kost: I’ll play the new [Grand Theft Auto] when it comes out if I can.

Uttley: Oh, yeah. Good one.

Kost: I kind of want to play the [Resident Evil 4] remake and the FFVII remake, but it’s the same thing—if there’s a ton of cut scenes in it and I’m playing the game for, like, 25 hours and it’s 7 hours of gameplay, I don’t know if I have the time here and there. Of course, I’ll play all the new Kojima stuff, even if it is pretentious or whatever people say about it—I’ll play it just to play it. If there’s a Last of Us III, I’ll play that. What I really want is another Bloodstained game. Did you play the 8-bit one they put out there?

Curse of the Moon, I [Michael] played the second one and I didn’t beat it. I kind of prefer the Metroidvania style of backtracking across the map and unlocking new areas. I really thought that they did a great job with the first Bloodstained. I really hope that Igarashi does another one, that would be amazing.
Kost: Hopefully. I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but there’s so many indie games coming out that I know there’s probably one or two I could pick, but I’d have to literally look at a list right now to pick ’em out. I can’t remember them. Did we talk about Signalis? I haven’t finished it yet, but I’m pretty far into that one. That one I thought was really good. It’s brutal.

Tell us about Signalis. How did you come across that?
Kost: My friend Joe [Capra], who was in Knife the Glitter, he recommended it. He took me out to a bunch of gaming conventions because he collects all the old stuff and he’s collecting a lot of the new indie stuff. So really, my only insight besides looking this stuff up is looking at his Instagram story and seeing what he’s bought. [Laughs]

Do you guys get many recommendations from friends? How do you typically find some of these indie games?
Kost: Mostly an Instagram group conversation just about games. Someone will throw something out there, some of my friends or whatever.

Uttley: I’m not super connected with indie games. I’ve played a few. I played one that I remember a couple of years ago, it was called What Remains of Edith Finch. It’s a cool game. Basically, you’re exploring this house of a relative of this main character. The relative died and you’re going through the rooms of the house and looking at memories of people from her family’s bloodline that have all died in the past in unfortunate or weird ways. You’re able to POV their death, basically. The soundtrack is really cool and the story is really good. It’s a sad game. It’s a real sad game. That was one of the more recent indie games that I remember playing that I thought was really good. It’s a short play, you could play in, like, an hour and a half. But the music’s really awesome. It’s one of those sad games. It leaves you feeling like how you feel the first time you saw Inception or Interstellar or something—a big shed of tear vibes, you know?

Not to spoil anything, but in What Remains of Edith Finch, that scene where you’re playing as the person who’s cutting the heads off of fish—holy shit.
Uttley: Oh, her brother. The coronation when he becomes king and stuff? So dark. Yeah. That whole section when you’re on that relative of hers, that’s one of the darkest parts of any video game that I’ve ever played. I was just like, What the hell? This is so fucked up. [Laughs]

Kost: I’ll have to check that one out.

What’s amazing with some of those games, it’s not a 70-hour RPG, multi-marathon. Sometimes you do sit down and play something that you burn through as you’re eating pizza, and you walk away thinking about it for the next two weeks, three weeks or whatever.
Uttley: Yeah, that game was very much like that for me. I went and found the soundtrack on Apple Music then, and I was listening to it for like a couple of weeks after I played the game. It definitely had that effect on me.

Are there any other games that specifically the story drew you in so much that it had you mulling over what you just experienced?
Uttley: The Last of Us, probably. Red Dead Redemption was another one. I don’t know if I really necessarily got into the lore in a huge way, but Skyrim, I maxed everything out on that game and was unstoppable. I don’t know, that one didn’t particularly shake me. But The Last of Us, that’s like the book, The Road. That’s the game version of that. So, The Last of Us is definitely a sad one, I would say. Obviously, there’s some real sad stuff in the Metal Gear games.

Kost: Heavy Rain was one that I thought was pretty intense at the time.

Uttley: I remember that one.

Kost: The Last of Us II, I had to turn it off after that one part for a while and give myself a day. [Laughs] I think you probably know what I’m talking about.

Uttley: It’s crazy how games are just like movies now, basically. But I feel like there are still games back in the day that you would play and get those big feels-y moments from, you know?

Kost: RPGs. Chrono Trigger.

Some of the 16-bit RPGs definitely hit you in the feels, even with how there was talk earlier of limitations on what was available both in terms of graphics and sound and obviously gameplay.
Uttley: Definitely.

Kost: It’s weird how something with limitations can deliver a gut punch like that sometimes, if done correctly.

“Tides of Oppression” is streaming now.
Follow New Miserable Experience on Bandcamp and Instagram.

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