The OneUps Play Mexico City

The OneUps Play Mexico City

Courtesy of Mr. H photography
The OneUps’ Mexico City lineup included (from left to right) Kunal Majmudar, Tim Yarbrough, Mustin, William Reyes and Jared Dunn. The band got to perform with Yoko Shimomura (center), the composer for Street Fighter II.

The musicians in Fayetteville’s resident video game music cover band live two lives.

Occasionally, you can catch The OneUps playing a set on Dickson at the Smoke and Barrel Tavern. Here, they are mere mortals. They jam in a funk/jazz fusion style on some of video games’ most popular melodies such as “The Legend of Zelda,” “Metroid,” “Angry Birds,” “Castlevania” and “Super Mario Brothers.” Probably to most people, the OneUps sound just like a jazz group, not unlike some of the ones that regularly play at the bar. To a few, however, the band acts as a sonic highway to the video games of yesteryear.

But for a few nights a year, The OneUps are in-demand rock stars who play to crowds in the thousands at festivals all over the world such as the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) and the Music and Games Festival. Not to mention the band has sold more than 10,000 CDs. All of their tracks can be found on YouTube and Bandcamp if you’re interested.

The week of Thanksgiving, the band headlined VCON in Mexico City to play to 2,000 fans and even shared the stage with Yoko Shimomura, the composer behind the “Street Fighter II” music.

The OneUps formed as a mutual admiration for the music of video games, the themes and melodies that instantly trigger nostalgia for the Nintendo and Playstation generation. Of course, there’s a lot more the band brings to the table for the songs of the 8 and 16-bit era, so many of the songs are fleshed out in a lush and technical way.

The group’s lineup has morphed over the years since its inception in 2000, but the core group is now Tim Yarbrough (lead guitar), William Reyes (rhythm and harmony guitar) and Jared Dunn (drums). The band started as a project between Reyes and the mononymous Mustin, and included such players as Matthew Bridges and Nathan McCloud.

Looking past the video game connection, the band sounds like a pristine jazz rock band. The music is groovy, but also pretty niche and eclectic. The solos are downright impressive, and the complexity of the guitar solos can dip into the speed metal variety.

We got the opportunity to talk with Tim about the Mexico City experience and the ever-evolving role of instrumental music in pop culture:


Courtesy of Mr. H photography
Tim Yarbrough, lead guitarist for the OneUps, stoops to tweak one of his guitar pedals during the OneUps performance at VCON in Mexico City.

TFW: So tell me about Mexico City and VCON, how did that go?

YARBROUGH: We were there for three days. William Reyes, our guitar player, has a cousin who lives in Mexico. We spent all day Thursday getting ready for Thanksgiving at his house. They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving there, but there were enough ex-patriots there along with us to make it special. Friday was mostly just rehearsals, and Saturday was the performance.

The show was fantastic. They started letting people in around seven. The first band played, The Royal Cornelia Airforce —which is a reference to the Starfox games. We went on after them. We did two sets. We did a set of video game music in general and then a set with a few tributes to Satoru Iwata, the CEO of Nintendo who programmed “Earthbound,” so we did a tribute to him as well as several other living composers. We did a song from “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.”

We played a “Street Fighter II” set because the composer was there. For the last handful of songs she came out and performed with us. That was very fun. My heartrate was up and all smiles. The crowd really enjoyed it. They played these games when they were children. It was surreal working with her. She was so kind.

TFW: How does the band go about arranging pieces to play?

YARBROUGH: It depends on the piece and the timeframe. For this Mexico City gig, we were asked to play the entire “Street Fighter II” soundtrack. They would just just bring us the charts and we would alter them to our needs. If we have time, we literally just plug in the iPhone to the speakers, pick a song and just start jamming with it to learn it and get the bare bones. Some of these melodies are only 20 seconds long, how are we going to turn it into a five minute song? So we flesh out the arrangement and add solo sections, percussion sections, change the key… we really just try to change it into something we want to play and can get people to dance to.

TFW: A lot of the music you guys play seems to be from classic video game consoles such as the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis and Playstation. Do you guys incorporate modern video games?

YARBROUGH: We try to as much as we can. We did a track from “Angry Birds,” “Diablo,” and “Plants vs. Zombies.” We’re open to anything, really. William and Jared don’t carve as much time to keep up with video games. I definitely try to put some time aside to keep up with video games. Kunal, our keyboard player, is actually a game developer and composes for games, too. He works for SWDtech, and they recently Kickstarted a game called PixelNoir, which is kind of a harkening back to old RPGs. It’s “Earthbound” meets “Sin City,” is how it was pitched. He did the music for it. We’ll definitely cover a song from it when it comes out. It would be rude not to.

TFW: There’s no denying instrumental music’s popularity today is in movie and video game soundtracks rather than the top of the pop charts. What are some of your thoughts about its role in pop culture?


Courtesy of Mr. H photography
William “VCR” Reyes plays rhythm and harmony guitar alongside the OneUps at VCON in Mexico City. Similar to Tim Yarbrough, he is a graduate of the music program at the University of Arkansas.

YARBROUGH: It’s hard for the mainstream population to ever really get into stuff that doesn’t have lyrics. I don’t blame people for it. It’s just easier to latch onto a singer or someone singing words. You can connect to it more. I love that video game music is getting more publicity. It’s just like movies, just a different medium. Before movies, people wrote music for operas and plays and people went to the orchestra all the time. Now there’s just a different format for that music. Just like movies, video games tell a story and sometimes the story might not be much substance — like a Michael Bay movie — but it can still be fun. Sometimes the game may tell a deeper story and the music can help with that as well.

I think there’s been a turn in movie music to be more atmospheric rather than melodic. Especially if you think about “The Dark Knight,” “Interstellar,” or any Christopher Nolan film, you’re hearing the music paint a picture of a scene like a landscape rather than having a strong melody. If you’ve seen the Tom Hanks film “The Burbs,” the music is fantastic. “Predator,” “Commando,” they had really powerful melodies and songs. They really used the instrumental music to great effect. Whenever there was a lot of tension you would hear music that had odd time signatures and it really agitates the viewer. I think the music does that almost more than anything else in the movie. You can have someone saying the same thing, but if there’s sad or even epic music playing behind it it changes the mood almost more than the visuals would. I think people realize it more and more today in the way they perceive things. I think people appreciate it more, such as buying the soundtrack.

Categories: Cover Story