Tripod are an award-winning three-piece comedy act out of Melbourne. They're also geeks who are as hopelessly enamoured with games as we are.

This weekend, Scott "Scod" Edgar, Stephen "Gatesy" Gates, and Simon "Yon" Hall, will team up with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra to perform This Gaming Life, a show that has been described as "a love letter to gaming".

We sat down with Tripod to learn how the show came to be, and what it means for the band.

Q: How did Tripod come together? Was it as simple as a shared passion for gaming and geek culture?

Yon: Yeah, I guess you’d call us all a bit geeky. We were all into videogames, and because a lot of our other mates weren’t gamers, Tripod – as well as being the thing that we did musically – became a bit of a haven where we could really talk about games in a deep and in a way that would possibly be alienating for others.

The first time we ever played together was during the St Kilda Festival outside a public toilet on Acland St. If you can call that a gig, James, that was our first.
Yon, Tripod

Q: What was the first song you wrote?

Yon: Certainly the first song I wrote was about Return of the Jedi, a diatribe against George Lucas for making that movie the way he did—
Scod: Still to this day my brother-in-law’s favourite song.
Gatesy: Maybe just don’t perform it at a corporate venue for a bunch of beer-swilling assholes.

Q: Which leads nicely into my next question: what was your first ever gig? How did you get it and where was it?

Yon: What do you mean by gig? The first time we ever played together was during the St Kilda Festival outside a public toilet on Acland St. If you can call that a gig, James, that was our first.
Scod: Most of the venues we cut our teeth in are now closed.
Gatesy: That was before we were comedians, we were just doing opening gigs for other bands. I think it started getting serious when we started doing our own gigs. Because we were doing musical theatre it just seemed like a natural extension of what we did. Make your own show.
Scod: As soon as we enrolled in the Comedy Festival suddenly everything was based on whether it was funny or not, so we were suddenly playing catch-up. There was a bit form before content for a while where we thought, well, we better write some jokes. That really altered our show for a long time.
Gatesy: Special times.
Scod: Now I think we’re a bit more comfortable being amphibious, setting our own terms about what we offer.
Gatesy: So that means we’re able to perform underwater?
Scod: Yes.

Q: What’s your process for songwriting?

Gatesy: We find a hobo with a notebook and lots of good ideas in it, then we dispose of said hobo and use his songs.
Yon: As a group, though. Only as a group. It’s a nice day out for us! [In actuality] I think it’s pretty unusual. There are people who sit in a room and write, and there might be something that someone brings in, but mostly it’s a collaboration in its most horrific and messy form.
Gatesy: I think we learned to trust each other when were on Triple-J doing something called “Song in an Hour” in the early 2000s. We were forced to write a song for a national audience in an hour.
Yon: You get a bit less precious about what’s funny.
Scod: And you don’t have time to argue its merits.
Yon: Yeah, as much as we love arguing what’s funny…

So we started writing it and pitching it to orchestras. Nothing. Strangely, they thought it was commercial suicide to do an opera about Dungeons & Dragons!
Yon, Tripod

Q: How have you changed as a group over these last 20-some years?

Yon: I think we’ve calmed down a bit. We’re not in as much of a hurry. And I think that’s been good for our friendship. We’ve given each other a bit more space, you know? We’re not just working every day of the year. We have concentrated periods like have working on this show, but then we go off, do our own thing, come back together.
Scod: We also look at ways interesting ways to apply our skill set other than just in the live comedy scene. That’s been really fun. Last year we did a lot of music for cartoons on the Cartoon Network. That’s exactly in our ballpark in terms of what we can do and what we’re good at. That’s a very different environment. That’s something we always look to do: It’s to change it up in terms of the creative challenges and the kinds of things we do.
Gatesy: Much to the chagrin of our audience at times. They kind of just want us to stand in a row and sing funny songs. There’s merit in that. We have fun doing shows like that.

Q: How did you come to work with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra?

Yon: A few years ago, a friend of ours who used to be a saxophone player became a conductor of orchestras, and he said to us, 'You’ve got to do an orchestra show'. He'd come to one of our shows where we were standing there doing a bunch of songs, and I think when he said that he probably meant setting those songs to an orchestra. But as soon as he’d said that, we thought right, let’s do an orchestra show about Dungeons & Dragons. The orchestra will be the prefect vehicle to tell that kind of story. So we started writing it and pitching it to orchestras. Nothing. Strangely, they thought it was commercial suicide to do an opera about Dungeons & Dragons!
Scod: It did quite well in the States. It didn’t sell that well here.
Gatesy: The weird thing was, initially it was called Dungeons & Dragons: The Opera. When we put it on under that name, we had no trouble selling tickets, but we couldn’t get the people who actually made Dungeons & Dragons to return our calls and find out if we could get permission to call the show by that name. We changed the name to Tripod Versus the Dragon and that kind of – I don’t know, that’s another story.
Yon: Most importantly, you never know who’s in the audience. Andrew Pogson – who works with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra – was a big fan of that show. He said right, let’s do a show together. So here we are, doing a show about video games.
Scod: Andrew paired us up with a guy who’s coming out from LA to conduct, a man named Austin Wintory. He’s a big shot in the videogame and film industries. He’s a champion.
Gatesy: Austin did the music for Journey and The Banner Saga. He’s a heavy-hitter, a rockstar, and he’s really great to work with. Obviously we have a lot of the same interests, we all geek out together.
Yon: It’s hard to get much work done, actually.
Gatesy: Yeah, but it’s seriously a three-way collaboration between Andrew, Tripod and Austin. It's been a dream.

We send music over to Austin as a really simple MIDI track with a piano line, and he sends back these breathtaking vistas of texture and emotion that are the orchestral arrangements. It’s very exciting.
Scod, Tripod

Q: You trialed This Gaming Life at PAX late last year with a string quartet. Was that a success?

Yon: Yeah, we did special arrangements with the string quartet for PAX. They’re completely different to what the songs will sound like in the full show. But it was one of those special moments. We have a bunch of geeky songs already, but these songs were a bit more specific and got a bit deeper into what games are about. They’re a bit more serious too, in what they’re about. It just really connected with that crowd, it felt really right.

Q: How do you translate songs composed by a three-piece band into an arrangement to be played by more than 50 classically-trained musicians?

Scod: Our process on this has been very different to normal. Normally we’d write a song, then we’d learn it, then we’d play it live. In this case, we write the song, then we demo it with a super simplistic guitar arrangement, making a point of not having a groove being too prescriptive. Then that gives us an opportunity to listen back and say 'I think it needs an extra part here in the verse', or maybe 'We need to change key here' – really detail it. Then we send it over to Austin as a really simple MIDI track with a piano line, and he sends back these breathtaking vistas of texture and emotion that are the orchestral arrangements. It’s very exciting.

Q: So what’s it like to hear that composition for the first time?

Yon: Yeah, it’s really great. Any time I’ve heard musicians play our music – which has happened occasionally ever since we’ve been doing this – it’s a buzz. But this is like that times one thousand. And all we’ve heard so far are mock-ups played by the computer. We know what the arrangements are, but we haven’t actually heard real humans play it yet. We get told time and time again that we’re doing a rehearsal with the orchestra on Thursday and a dress rehearsal on the Friday morning of the show. And we’re constantly told, ‘Now, the rehearsal is for the orchestra, it’s not for you guys.’ I’ve never sung with an orchestra before! It’s like, OK I understand, but fuck, maybe we could throw in another rehearsal?

I’ve worked in Melbourne all my life. These three months have been like working in India, or somewhere totally different, a totally different culture and way of thinking, you know? Almost every aspect is foreign and you can’t walk away from that. That saying that a brain that has been expanded by new experiences can never go back to its old dimensions is totally true.
Scod, Tripod

Q: Has working with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra changed your craft and how you think about music going forward?

Yon: It has. I think we’ve really unhooked our leash when it comes to songwriting. We just said a minute ago that the demos we make a really simple, but we’ve really gone there with the actual songs, with key changes and time signature changes. We’ve taken advantage of what an orchestra does best, which is dynamics, messing around with tempo just creating big, dramatic moments. A lot of it feels like a film score.
Scod: I’ve worked in Melbourne all my life. These three months have been like working in India, or somewhere totally different, a totally different culture and way of thinking, you know? Almost every aspect is foreign and you can’t walk away from that. That saying that a brain that has been expanded by new experiences can never go back to its old dimensions is totally true.
Gatesy: We’re used to working at the poppy end [of the musical spectrum], which is very strict, really. People always talk about classical musicians being very strict and very straight, but it’s almost the opposite in a lot of ways. Their sense of tempo and the pulse of a song is absolutely malleable at all times which is a really interesting headspace, coming from drum-driven guitar music.

Q: So what is This Gaming Life?

Yon: Maybe we can give a couple of examples? There’s one song which is basically a love song – a break up song – between two players of World of Warcraft. One has decided that he can’t put in the amount of time he would want to put it, so he has to go cold turkey. He needs to spend time with his family, and the other one is pleading with him to not leave him.
Gatesy: It’s a show about videogames, but it’s really about people and their relationships through videogames. In a way the videogame aspect is slightly arbitrary. You could probably write the same show about people who love cars or dressmaking or whatever. It’s about relationships.

Q: You’re doing two shows in Melbourne. Will we be able to see it elsewhere in Australia?

Scod: It’s certainly the goal. We’re learning about how this new model works. Normally we can just hire a tour bus, hop in, and go to theatres to play the shows. Now we have to lug a suitcase full of charts and hope orchestras will buy the show. But yes, it’s very much on the agenda to tour the show, both here and abroad. We certainly hope we do. We spent a good period of last year writing the show and it’d a shame if we couldn’t show it to more people.
Yon: Many of these huge institutions book so far in advance it’ll probably be 2017 the next time we get to do it which is really fucking upsetting!
Scod: It really is, we’re going to be crashingly depressed after this!

This Gaming Life with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra is running this weekend at Hamer Hall in Melbourne. Should you happen to be travelling to Melbourne, you can buy tickets here.