Dan Amrich and Jude Kelley didn’t set out to create a full-length, Star Wars-centric cover of one of The Beatles’ most beloved albums. It just kind of happened.
Amrich, a community developer at Ubisoft and former games journalist, and Kelley have been making music together for quite some time. The two used to play different gigs as part of an ’80s cover band while living in the Bay Area; they make up the musical parody duo Palette-Swap Ninja. Five years ago, they decided to embark on a journey to take The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and parody the entire album. Princess Leia’s Stolen Death Star Plans was released earlier this week — just ahead of May 4, the unofficial day of Star Wars celebrations.
Nerd parodies aren’t anything new, but undertaking a project like this one comes with its own difficulties. Those challenges were made infinitely more difficult considering that Kelley lives in Boston and Amrich lives in San Francisco, creating 3,000 miles of distance to contend with — on top of trying to pay homage to one of the most beloved films and celebrated albums of all time.
When Kelley moved to Boston 10 years ago, the two didn’t want to give up on making music together, he told Polygon. What originally started as a conversation to create a couple of one-off tracks — to the tune of different songs by The Who — ended up being a five-year project to recreate one of the best Beatles albums of all time.
“We had released several one-off songs, and we enjoyed that, but we wanted to do a concept album to tell a larger story with a little more impact,” Kelley said. “At one point, we were considering parodying a Who album based around the idea of competitive arcade gaming, but it wasn’t coming together. Fortunately Dan’s wife, Katrin Auch, suggested we drop that and combine two bigger, more universally beloved things.
“She threw out Star Wars and The Beatles as examples — and we said, ‘Yeah, let’s do that!’”
Amrich said his wife casually tossed out the idea while the three of them were going to lunch. He and Kelley immediately fell in love with the idea, adding that by the end of their meal, they had a number of the song titles and story pillars in place. Despite their enthusiasm for the project, however, it turned out to be bigger than either of them imagined.
“The lyrics alone took more than a year,” Amrich said.
Even with the glaring hardships staring them down — including a 3,000-mile separation from each other — Amrich and Kelley weren’t deterred. After a decade apart, they had figured out a way to work with one another despite living in different time zones. In many ways, their time they spent apart, collaborating from across the country, prepared them for this kind of project.
“We started musical collaboration at a distance about ten years ago,” Kelley said. “It started out kind of rough, but we kept at it, developing a smoother workflow as we went along.”
“We mostly sent each other emails with updates and ideas, and worked whenever our normal lives allowed,” Amrich added. “Sometimes I’d stay up late in California and hand off a track just in time for Jude to start working on it in Massachusetts!”
Over the course of five years, Amrich and Kelley finally managed to finish the album. Because they had to communicate digitally and emphasize certain parts of each track they wanted to highlight, Amrich and Kelley were able to pay closer attention to details in A New Hope that they missed previously. For example, a small chronological error referencing Red Six became an Easter egg on the album.
“During recording, Jude pointed out that a few minutes after Porkins — Red Six — dies, the Rebel base calls in, ‘Red Six, can you see Red Five?’ It’s just a really small continuity error, but if you think of it narratively, it’s kind of cruel,” Amrich said. “‘Oh, sorry, Red Six — forgot you died horribly just a few minutes ago, screaming in agony.’ So in our version, right after you hear Porkins eat it, I snuck in that line.
“That sick joke made me laugh, and I never would have noticed it if Jude hadn’t pointed it out.”
Kelley and Amrich have included a number of Easter eggs in the album, along with versions of composer John Williams’ original soundtrack, but they didn’t want to forget the source material they were using to make it in the first place.
“At the end of the vinyl version of Sgt. Pepper, there’s a 15,000 Hertz tone followed by a few snippets of singing,” Kelley said. “It was just there to mess with people who didn’t have automatic turntables. We didn’t include it in the videos, but the audio version of the album ends with that 15K tone that your dogs or kids might be able to hear, followed by a few parting words on a loop.”
The two musicians don’t have any plans to work on another full-length album, saying that the five-year journey was one they’ll always cherish but weren’t looking to repeat anytime soon.
“We have a few ideas for songs, but the last few months of this five-year journey have been really intense,” Amrich said. “I kind of want to take a nap.”