Guitarist gets his game on

Jesse Martin, guitarist of Youngstown’s the Zou, discovered his inner passion and fascination for video game music compositions through playing countless hours of “Super Mario 3” and “Mega Man X,” when he was young.

Like most parents, Martin’s parents would tell him to go outside and be active instead of staying in and playing video games.

“Every time I went outside, I’d just end up getting into trouble or breaking bones,” Martin said. “So my parents eventually stopped telling me to go outside.

”After my arm healed from a particularly horrendous skateboarding incident around 2002, I picked up guitar more seriously during rehab. At the same time, I was playing video games such as ‘The Legend of Zelda, Ocarina of Time’ and ‘Perfect Dark’ on the Nintendo 64. The composers for these games, Koji Kondo and Grant Kirkhope, left a deep impression on me in these early years.”

Today, when Martin is not performing or recording with the Zou, he is a freelance video game composer and sound designer. Martin composes music for video games under the name sleepytimejesse and is also a freelance composer and arranger for the New Music Society in Youngstown. Martin has composed music for the gaming sites Kotaku, Ubiktune, Snesolgy, Destructoid and GoNintendo.

“Last year, I put together a compilation called ‘I Miss You-Earthbound 2012,’ and I wanted to give it away for free,” Martin said. “It was so successful that I actually ended up losing money myself trying to host it. So I contacted the Chiptune Netlabel, Ubiktune, about taking it off my hands.

”Through that album, I also got my first write-ups by GoNintendo, Destructoid and a lot of other gaming sites. That got me in touch with other people doing what I am doing, which eventually led to some fun things like doing a Halloween single for the Super Nintendo website,

”Basically, it got my name out there and way further than I would have expected.”

Murad Shorrab, bassist of The Zou, said that Martin’s musicianship is off the charts and amazing. Shorrab is doing some voiceover work on Martin’s video game compositions. For Shorrab, Martin is an inspirational force.

”Jesse can play anything you put in his hands,” Shorrab said. “His grasp of composition and structure is in a league I’ve never played with before. As a result, things like tone, context and atmosphere come really easy to him.”

Martin said he has done work for the video game blog, Kotaku, which is a part of the American online media company and blog network, Gawker Media. Kotaku is a handy guide for gamers in discovering the new trends and advancements in the gaming industry.

“Kotaku is a powerhouse of gaming news and you can’t really tell what they’ll pick up or where they find what they present,” Martin said. “It’s a humbling experience to have 10,000 people hear your music in one day like that, out of nowhere.”

Jake Sabeh, drummer and digital percussionist of The Zou, said that he has known Martin for a year and a half, and during this time, Sabeh said that Martin has become an inspirational mentor to him.

“His willingness to share his gift is really inspiring,” Sabeh said. “It’s something you don’t see a lot of these days. The enjoyment he gets out of not only playing, but also teaching, was immediately apparent,” Sabeh said.

To Sabeh, Martin is an accomplished musician and has added great texture to The Zou’s songs, as well as to his own music for video games.

“His ability to fill in the sonic gaps and round out the song with ease is simply astounding,” Sabeh said. “The most impressive part of this is how fast he can churn things out. I’ve witnessed Jesse write huge, flowing, complex songs and parts in a fraction of the time it takes most people.”

Martin said he has currently taken a semester off at Youngstown State University to devote time to composing music for for indie video games. He is currently creating music for the game “Genesis,” an indie game by the company Crash Studios and “Saturn Valley Online,” a game created by Team Skyon. Martin also recently started working for a new start up called RAWRSoft as a composer and sound designer.

Some music compilations that Martin put together include “I Miss You-Earthbound 2012,” and “Make Music, Throw Music: A Yoshi Island Tribute.” For Martin, making these compilations helped him to explore a new stylistic side to his compositions.

“When I put together these compilations the goal was to emulate the musical style of these games, but to write entirely new music,” Martin said. “The whole idea is to get outside of your comfort zone and put yourself up against other composers doing the same, which is an awesome learning experience as an artist. I actually get recognized for putting together compilations, which I would have never expected.”

“He is able to view music from every side and quickly adapt, improve, and master it,” Shorrab said. “His skills are a testament to practice and dedication and his success is a result of hard work, nothing more. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you aren’t constantly striving to improve and innovate, who will hear it?” Shorrab said.

Shorrab is a witness to the hours of hard work Martin has poured into his talent. Creativity involves patience, time for edits and most importantly, inner strength.

“He has spent thousands of hours on his own hammering away, and now that it’s seeing the light of day, people are giving him levels of feedback,” Shorrab said. “I don’t think even he expected this. I think we are only seeing the very beginning of his influence.”