KILL SCREEN 041: Tyler Norris and Jack Beatson of FOREIGN HANDS Don Their Gaming Personas

Photo by Ashley Simpson

When was the first time you were exposed to heavy music? Often friends, siblings or a chance encounter in a record store are credited as the catalyst that forever corrupted innocence and lead us down a left-hand path of distorted guitars and “can you even understand what they’re saying?” vocals. For those of us that grew up in the late-’90s and early-’00s, there’s one name that stands out as a champion of the underground: Tony Hawk. Though it could be argued that his main contribution was convincing impressionable teens that they, too, had the ability to land a 540 Christ Air + kickflip + kickflip + impossible over a suspiciously placed cop car, it’s becoming a more common to hear the hugely popular Pro Skater series being brought up as a notable musical influence, as is the case with today’s player characters Tyler Norris and Jack Beatson of hardcore haymakers Foreign Hands.

Focusing on the ’90s extreme sports juggernaut belies their true gaming interests, however. It’s a mutual love of epic JRPGs and their anime extravagance that holds the majority of their attention to this day. Coincidentally, it’s after their first tour of Japan in support of their new SharpTone Records debut What’s Left Unsaid that the co-nerds of Kill Screen find themselves chatting across the digital table with the Delaware duo, still slightly recovering from a serious jet lag debuff. So while we take a breather from getting absolutely punished in the Shadow Realm of Elden Ring’s Shadow of the Erdtree DLC (it’s going fine, everything is fine, don’t ask), start blasting some “Superman” and dive into this week’s installment. We promise it won’t take you 100+ hours.

What are your first gaming experiences?
Beatson: If memory serves me correctly, I think my first gaming experience was playing Pokémon Yellow on my neighbor’s Game Boy Color for the first time. I remember him letting me borrow his Game Boy for the night because he lived two doors down from me, and I remember going home and sitting in my living room playing it and my parents being like, “Oh, what is this?” And I just have this vivid memory of like, All right, this is what my life is going to be about now. And my birthday that year—I think it was that year—they bought me a Game Boy Advance and Pokémon Crystal because it had just come out. And that was the first console and game I had that were my own, so that was a big year for me. [Laughs] I think I was five or six. I was pretty young. I definitely didn’t know what I was doing. I was just kind of winging it. [Laughs]

Norris: My mom had owned the original Game Boy—the no-backlit screen, just, like, green background, black pixels. She had Tetris for the Game Boy. I forget how old I was. I was, I guess, probably too young to know what was really going on, but I definitely remember playing around with it and not really getting it or being super interested in it. The first one that I definitely went out of my way, [that] I really wanted to play was, weirdly enough, the first Pokémon Pinball for Game Boy Color. I think I got a Game Boy Color for either my birthday or Christmas and for whatever reason, my mind gravitated towards the pinball game instead of the original Red or Blue or Yellow Pokémon games.

So both of you started out with Pokémon. Is this an interest that has followed you throughout life? Or did you grow out of it?
Beatson: I definitely grew out of it. It’s definitely something I still have a fondness for and an appreciation for, but I definitely fell off. I have a lot of friends who are very still into it, and still keep up with all the games. I think Diamond and Pearl was the last one I played. And then I can’t remember—I think it may have been either Sword or Shield that I bought when it came out for the Switch. I bought it because I was like, Oh, you know what? I used to love these games. Let me try this again. I bought it and I had fun with it, but I just didn’t really get a ton of fulfillment out of it. I was like, OK, this was fun, and just kind of accepted that it’s not really my thing anymore, but I’ll always have that fondness for the early games. I would love to go back and replay the early games. When I was in high school, I downloaded ROMs onto my computer and replayed a couple of the old ones. I definitely would do that again, if I have the time someday.

What have you guys been playing lately and what do you typically prefer to play?
Norris: Recently I bought Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition for Switch for the Japan trip, but I ended up sleeping for most of my flights so I only got, like, two hours in. Before that I was playing the Persona 3 remake for PS4.

Beatson: I have a Switch and I have a PS5. I prefer typically my PS5, but because we’ve been touring and traveling and stuff, I’ve been playing Switch a lot. Currently I’m replaying Persona 5 Strikers, but I did just buy the Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door re-release for Switch. I’m gonna get started on that. That was one of my favorite games as a kid, so I went out and got that and I was like, I’m gonna play this in our downtime in Japan, and we had no downtime in Japan, so I just haven’t started it yet. I’ve got that in the queue and Shin Megami Tensei V, the new edition of that. That’s in the queue when that comes out. When I get back home to my PlayStation, playing [Elden Ring’s Shadow of the Erdtree DLC].

We often hear people saying, “I bring my Switch, I put it in my backpack every time, and then it comes out, like, once.” Do you find that you often the Switch gets some use or does it pretty much stays in the bag?
Beatson: I think it depends. I’ll play it on long drives sometimes when we’re on tour, or if we have a lot of time in the venue during the day and there’s nothing to do around the venue, but I feel like I usually don’t play it as much as I expect to.

We’re noticing a trend of JRPGs. What is it about the genre that holds your interest so much?
Beatson: One thing Tyler and I have in common is our love of Kingdom Hearts. That was always big for me when I was young. I was always intrigued by Final Fantasy, but I never sat down and played any of them start to finish. I would play a couple hours of different games at friends’ houses. I stopped playing video games for a long time and what roped me back in was when Persona 5 came out. Tyler was like, “You gotta play this, it’s awesome.” So I bought it and played it on my roommate’s PlayStation, and I loved it. That sucked me back in. That was kind of what got me on the JRPG train again—playing Persona 5 and having such a cool, immersive experience.

One of the reasons I stopped playing games is because I felt like I wasn’t having that immersive experience like I did when I was a kid. I would just get so excited to play new games and get so into it when I was younger, and then eventually I just started getting bored. I like a game where I can put 100 hours in and just spend a bunch of time doing it. That’s my shit.

When you said that you found you weren’t getting as excited about games, was that just a matter of a lot of other things kicking around in life or doing different stuff?
Beatson: I think it was just being a teenager and trying new things. I started getting more into music and playing in bands when I was in high school, so that was like more of my focus. Then when Tyler and I ended up in a band together much later, he was like, “You gotta play Persona 5,” and I was like, “OK, I will.” That just fully sucked me back in.

Tyler, what is it about JRPGs for you? What keeps you going back to them?
Norris: I’d say similar to Jack. I guess my first introduction to JRPGs was technically Kingdom Hearts. Just something about it. Being that young and when that game came out, I was already familiar with the Disney IP and all the characters and whatnot, but the other side of it with Square and the Final Fantasy characters, it was just very alluring to me. There was a mystique to it. I was like, I need to know if there’s more of this. It wasn’t really until my late teens, early 20s where I started to get more into JRPGs because I had more disposable income. Video games were kind of limited to my upbringing, so whenever I had disposable income from working an extra few shifts, I would go out of my way to research what JRPGs were like—the critically acclaimed JRPGs—so I can play them traditionally.

I don’t know. There’s just a mystique to it that I really like about it, that I feel like more American-centered video games just don’t really do it for me, if that makes sense.

We learned about your gaming interest from mutual friend (and friend of the column) John Hades [a.k.a. Infernal Moonlight Apparition]. Do you guys get to talk about gaming often when you’re on tour or is it more of a solitary activity for you?
Beatson: I feel like we talk about it pretty often. I feel like a lot of the bands that we tour with, there’s always at least one person. John and I are in a group chat where we talk about shoes and games and stuff, so I now talk to him all the time. I feel like every time we’re on tour, there’s at least one or two people on the tour who we’ll identify with. One thing Foreign Hands is gonna do when we’re on tour is we’re gonna try to find the closest record, video game, whatever store, and we’re all gonna go and look around. I feel like there have been many times where we’ll be at the venue and we’ll be like, “Oh, we’re gonna go hit this video game store down the street,” and at least a couple people from across the package are like, “Oh yeah, we’ll come with.” It always ends up doing that.

We just love the idea of you guys clocking the nerds at the beginning of tour. Everybody loads in their stuff for the first show or whatever, and you’re standing around bringing things in and you’re like, “All right, video game store in 20.”
Beatson: [Laughs] Honestly, that is pretty accurate. We were just on tour with SeeYouSpaceCowboy and they’re very good friends of ours. We have an established relationship. There were a couple of days where we would all just be sitting around waiting for them to finish their sound checks so that we could all go to the game store down the street. [Laughs]

You guys just returned from a tour in the motherland of Japan. What was that experience like? Did you get to spend any time in any arcades, retro game stores, gaming cafés, anything like that while you were there?
Beatson: We actually didn’t. We wanted to go to Akihabara, we just didn’t have enough time. We were only there for a week and we were playing shows almost the entire time, so that kind of fell to the wayside, which sucks because I know Tyler and I both really wanted to do that. I feel like out of everyone in the band, we’re the ones that probably would have had the most to do there. Everyone in the band is into retro gaming and collects old video games and stuff, but I feel like Tyler and I are the big JRPG/anime guys, so it would have just been Tyler and I nerding out and everyone else like, “All right, come on.” So, when we go back, we’re going to hit that. We did go to a couple arcades, hit some claw machines. That was fun. We went to a Book Off there, too. They had a lot of cool stuff. I think Tyler got a couple DVDs. Mostly we just did sightseeing and hit a bunch of cool record stores. It was incredible, and I just feel like I scratched the surface of everything there is to do. We’re going to go back next year, I think. I’m going to stay an extra week or two after our shows because I just want to take it all in, hit all these different places and spend more money on shit. [Laughs]

You brought up retro game collecting. What kind of gems you working with?
Beatson: Tyler has more than I do. The only cool retro games I have are some old GameCube games from my childhood which are now retro games, I guess. I have an old copy of [Super Smash Bros.] Melee and a copy of Mario Kart: Double Dash!! and some stuff like that. I have a copy of Final Fantasy VII and some old Persona 3 copies, but that’s about it. Tyler has more than I do.

Norris: Yeah. It kind of sucks to refer to N64 and PS1 games as retro or vintage games.

Beatson: They are now.

Norris: Those are usually what I look out for. I think like the last true retro game that I got was a DuckTales game for Genesis, but that was years ago. Usually like my go-tos are consoles like N64, PS1, sometimes Xbox depending if it’s exclusive to the console. But yeah, Game Boy games, Game Boy Advance, Game Boy Color, all that stuff.

Beatson: You got some good PS2 JRPG stuff, too, like all the .hack games.

Norris: Oh, yeah. I am, I think, one game away from collecting all the .hack games that were released in the US. The last one I’m missing is Part 4: Quarantine, but that’s, like, a $200, $300 game by now. All the other games I’ve gotten for dirt cheap and way before the video game market kind of skyrocketed with price gouging and all that.

People use the term “retro” to describe different times. When does retro begin?
Norris: SNES is retro to me.

Then the cutoff is after that? N64 is not retro?
Norris: Again, it kind of sucks to admit it or to do it that way, but I feel like the cutoff would be around N64 and PS1.

What about you, Jack?
Beatson: I want to agree, but now I’m like, we’re so far removed from PS2 and GameCube, too. Like I was saying, I have these games from my childhood that I’m not like, “Oh, these are retro games,” but then when you go to a video game store, a copy of Mario Kart: Double Dash!! is $250. I struggle to consider those retro games because then that just makes me feel old, but I guess technically, now they are. After the pandemic, or during the pandemic, there was just such a crazy shift of everything. Tyler and I are big physical media collectors—we collect CDs and manga and anime DVDs and stuff—and all of that stuff got so expensive over the pandemic. Even manga volumes that were $3 are now, like, $20 a piece. Video games all exploded. It’s just weird to think of stuff that I don’t necessarily consider retro because it’s from, like, the mid-2000s, and it just makes me think of like, Oh, when I was 11 years old, I loved this, but that was 20 years ago, [laughs] so I guess that’s technically retro.

“It’s just weird to think of stuff that I don’t necessarily consider retro because it’s from, like, the mid-2000s, and it just makes me think of like, Oh, when I was 11 years old, I loved this, but that was 20 years ago, so I guess that’s technically retro.” –Jack Beatson

You touched upon an interesting point in talking about physical media. There’s a greater push towards digital downloads for games. More and more developers want you to download instead of selling you a physical copy. When it comes to extreme music, it really seems like the audience [has a built-in] appreciation for that physical media. We love physical copies of video games, but we also love vinyl and shirts—there’s a fondness for the tangible aspect of the music. Do you think that there is an inherent correlation between people in the extreme music community also being involved in physical collection, or is this more just a coincidence?
Beatson: I had never really thought about it like that, but I think you’re probably right, because I think of how many people we know that we’ve met through hardcore or just through playing music in general that have big physical media collections, whether it’s like movies or games or records or whatever. It seems like it’s a lot more common than not.

Norris: Collecting physical media in that sense, I think that’s just been a part of the culture since the get-go. It would kind of feel not as authentic if bands didn’t put out physical music in the way that we do. It definitely comes with the culture. With streaming and downloads and stuff, I appreciate archiving that kind of stuff just so that worst-case scenario, [if] the physical thing of that doesn’t exist anymore, it’s somehow archived and you’re able to access it, but it’s a double-edged sword—these companies own that license and that IP. If you decide to download it, you’re not necessarily guaranteed to own that forever. Whereas physical media, you own that forever. As long as it doesn’t break or get damaged, that’s yours to own for life.

We’ve been seeing more and more JRPGs going from turn-based combat—like the early Final Fantasys or Persona 5—to this more active time combat system, like you would find in a Kingdom Hearts or more modern Final Fantasy. Do you have a preference between the two in terms of that style?
Beatson: I think it depends on the game for me. When I first got Persona 5 after not having played a new game in years, I was like, Man, the last time I did turn-based combat was probably when I played Pokémon when I was a kid. I wasn’t like, Eugh, but I was just like, Oh, OK. I ended up loving it because the way that they do it in that game is so fluid and stylish and fun. Then coming back to it and playing other games like NieR: Automata, which is more like a traditional hack-and-slash, I was able to have an appreciation for both of them. So, I don’t know. I don’t know if I prefer one or the other. I think I have an appreciation for both and I’m able to have fun either way. I definitely think that out of the modern games that I’ve played, Persona probably does turn-based the best in terms of it being really engaging and cool just to watch. The visuals are so sick. I really like what they’ve done to make it feel exciting. Even though it’s still just basic turn-based combat, it feels a lot more involved, which I think is sick.

When I played Final Fantasy VII Remake, like I mentioned earlier, Final Fantasy VII was one of those games where I had a loose idea of the story and I played it in little increments at friends’ houses when I was younger. I never owned a PS1 when I was younger, so I missed out on that. When the remake came out, I played it and I loved it, and I was like, All right, well, maybe it’s time for me to finally go back and play the original. I think just the duality there of the new one with the hack-and-slash combat and then the old one with the old-school turn-based, I had fun with both. I just thought that both worked really well for their respective games, but I’m all for turn-based stuff. I still have a lot of fun with it.

Norris: If I were asked this question before playing Persona 5, I definitely would have said hack-and-slash. Definitely Persona is the game changer for turn-based combat. I now have a new appreciation for that kind of gameplay. It’s definitely made me want to research more of what other JRPG turn-based combat games I can potentially get into. I think now hack-and-slash and turn-based is equal for me.

What is it about Persona that you’re like, This is why I like this?
Beatson: For me, the menus look so sick. It’s just cool to even just scroll through the attack menus or item menus. They just make it all look so cool. All the animations when you attack and the all-out attacks and stuff, the baton passes, it’s just so fluid and looks cool that it’s just easier to stay engaged.

Norris: Yeah, I agree with that. My knee-jerk reaction is the overall story and how personalized the characters are. I think that those two things hand-in-hand is what kept me engaged with the game. I have ADD, so I’m bound to switch in and out between different things, but with Persona being my first real JRPG turn-based game, that’s one of the things that kept me still engaged and still [made me want to] play the game.

For somebody who maybe isn’t familiar with the Persona world, which game would you recommend somebody dives into?
Norris: I’d say Persona 5.

Beatson: Yeah. I love 3 and I love 4, but a lot of aspects about them as games haven’t aged very well. Now that there’s a 3 remake, I guess that kind of changes things. I still feel like if you can play 5 and you love it, and you love the way it’s set up, and you love being able to connect with the characters and stuff like that, having that prior experience and then going back to one of the older ones, at least for me, it made it easier to get through. I think if I had jumped straight into Persona 3 in 2017, I probably wouldn’t have finished it, because I would have been like, Oh man, this is a drag. There’s so many gems and great moments, and I love Persona 3 and Persona 4, but I think if I didn’t have that prior context of 5, I probably wouldn’t have been motivated to play through the older ones, just because a lot of it—at least for 3—hasn’t aged very well. I feel like 4, if you play Golden, there are a good amount of quality-of-life improvements that make it easier to play by modern standards, but I think for the average, modern gamer going in through 5 is probably the best one.

Norris: Considering all things about the game, I think it’s just more accessible, whether you’ve been playing JRPGs for 15 years or if it’s your very first one, there’s definitely something in it for everyone. That was my first real JRPG that I completed and I sat down and took the time to absorb everything about it, and I just had a fantastic time. It’s definitely a game that I would recommend to literally anyone regardless of whoever prefers playing a certain type of video games. It’s just a great game overall.

Tyler, do you see yourself checking out more turn-based combat because of Persona 5 or is it always just going to be a case-by-case basis?
Norris: I’m definitely still on the lookout for more turn-based games. Not that this example is specifically turn-based, but I’m slowly collecting the Disgaea games that came out for PS2 to PS3. I think they’re still coming out with more, but I played a little bit of… I forget which one I was playing, but I was playing a little bit of it. I didn’t quite get it, but I feel like without playing Persona 5, I don’t think I would have been super interested in playing a game like Disgaea.

On the surface, there’s not really a hell of a lot of connection between a stereotypical game soundtrack and hardcore/metalcore, but have you ever found yourself inspired either musically or lyrically by any game soundtracks that you’ve come across?
Beatson: Oh yeah. I feel like so much of my musical DNA stems from the Kingdom Hearts soundtrack and the Sonic Adventure and Sonic Adventure 2 soundtracks. They were huge for me, specifically Sonic Adventure 2. That soundtrack, I had the physical CD and I would just listen to it in my boombox over and over. And I think, obviously, the Persona games, incredible soundtracks that, again, I listened to in my spare time. I think it definitely gave me an appreciation early on, even before I was necessarily into music outside of that. What clicked with me in games a lot was if the soundtrack was really good. That made me enjoy it more, and I’m definitely still that way.

Norris: Yeah, same here. One thing I will say is I think it’s driven me to the point where if I ever do an overnight drive on tour, I will 100% put on the first Silent Hill soundtrack and listen to it to keep me up. [Laughs]

Tyler, you mentioned on the Scoped Exposure podcast that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 actually played a part in exposing you to underground music. What were some of the bands that you picked up from there?
Norris: Oh, jeez. If I can remember off the top of my head, it was definitely AFI, Motörhead… I think Goldfinger is on it too? Back in the day, PS2 games, if you go to their bonus section on the menu, there’ll be usually demos of other games that you could play. There’s a [Shaun Palmer’s Pro Snowboarder] demo and that’s how I found out about Spineshank. That correlation between extreme sports and metal/hardcore punk, it’s interesting how people can find out about that through a medium like video games.

The idea of the radio station in the video game isn’t necessarily new, but we’re seeing more extreme metal/hardcore/underground bands getting exposure from these video games. How do you feel about these kinds of underground bands getting more exposure from such a mainstream source of media as compared to old-school methods, like tape trading or word of mouth or anything like that?
Norris: I think it’s dope. I feel like if I hadn’t played Pro Skater 3 at the age that I was, I feel like at some point I would have gone into punk metal and hardcore at some later date, but I think it makes up for a cool story that your first kind of exposure to that side of music was through gaming. I think that’s super unique.

Beatson: Yeah, I agree. I found a lot of bands through video game soundtracks. The first one that comes to mind is Glassjaw, one of my favorite bands ever, and I heard them for the first time in an NFL game—like, a Madden game at a friend’s house when I was young. There was just a Glassjaw song playing on it and it’s just such an unlikely place to find something like that. I think it’s so sick because people who would be seeking those bands out might not necessarily be playing Madden games, and vice versa—people playing Madden games aren’t necessarily going to be seeking that stuff out. I think it’s cool that there’s that crossover because a lot of times I would bond with people over that. We didn’t listen to the same music, but, oh, there’s this really dope song on this video game soundtrack, and we both get stoked when it comes on, even if we both don’t like that genre of music. I always thought that was really cool. Playing Need for Speed or GTA

Norris: Burnout 3.

Beatson: Yeah, Burnout 3. Just so many good soundtracks that introduced me to new bands. Is it [Tony Hawk’s] American Wasteland where they had all the bands do the covers? There’s a My Chemical Romance cover of The Misfits, Fall Out Boy covers Gorilla Biscuits. I think it was American Wasteland, but I might be wrong. That soundtrack in particular was cool for me because it was taking bands that I knew because they were popular for kids my age, and then also like, Oh, here’s how I heard The Misfits for the first time. Here’s how I heard Gorilla Biscuits for the first time,” was that soundtrack. Tony Hawk games in particular, I always thought were sick because of that.

“I think it makes up for a cool story that your first kind of exposure to that side of music was through gaming. I think that’s super unique.” –Tyler Norris

You guys were either still playing or on your way back from Japan, but did you happen to see any trailers from Summer Game Fest?
Beatson: I haven’t gone back and watched. I don’t know if they showed it during Summer Game Fest or not, but that new Atlas game Metaphor: [ReFantazio], I did see at some point within the last week or so they put out a bunch more information about that. Then there was one other that I saw being talked about on Twitter that’s a new turn-based RPG, but I can’t remember what it’s called. I’m kind of out of the loop.

Norris: I’m in the same boat as Jack. [Laughs] I’m not sure.

Are there any other games that you’re looking forward to? Or similarly, any old games that you’re particularly excited either to revisit or something you missed in yesteryear?
Beatson: Yeah, I feel like my backlog is massive at this point. There’s so much I gotta go back and play. Like I said, I want to play the Elden Ring DLC. I’m very excited about that. And then the new SMT V, the new version of that that’s coming out. I’m really excited for that. Metaphor will be dope. God, I wish I could remember what this turn-based RPG I saw was called. It was, like, something with a number, but it looked really cool. Then whenever the third part of Final Fantasy VII Remake comes out, that’s what I’m holding out for. That’s what’s keeping me going. [Laughs]

Norris: Aside from Metaphor, I’m not sure. I can’t remember they announced it or not, but the inevitable Persona 4 remake or remaster. So far, that’s my favorite Persona out of all of them that I’ve played. I’ll be really excited for that. The new Kingdom Hearts—I know III wasn’t that good, but I’m still a diehard Kingdom Hearts fan, so I’ll still play that whenever it comes out. One thing that I am looking forward to going back is Metal Gear Solid. I have the trilogy for PS2 and I have a CRT TV and my old PS2 from my childhood, so I’m going to be very stoked to play that series organically.

What’s Left Unsaid is available now via Sharptone Records.
Follow Foreign Hands on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and TikTok.

Sign Up for the Kill Screen Newsletter

Get the latest in Kill Screen interviews, videos and contests delivered right to your inbox with zero latency!

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.