You could say that Alan Wake 2 was decades in the making. Last year’s blockbuster from Remedy saw the studio return to its roots and the horrors therein, dredging up the past to loop into something new, now. But it wasn’t just the main character or gameplay style we saw return, but the sounds and inspirations of the original Alan Wake too, bubbling up from Cauldron Lake through the music of Poe.
When I was playing Alan Wake 2, I was pleasantly surprised—maybe even a bit shocked—to hear a song that sounded like Poe between chapters. And a quick search later, I had verified as much: singer-songwriter Poe had collaborated with Remedy’s Sam Lake to record a new song, “This Road,” just for Alan Wake 2.
For fans of meta-textual works, this was an incredible piece of news. It felt like several long threads, reaching back through old references and inspirations, now tying a new knot. So naturally, I needed to know as much as I could about how it happened, and reached out to both Sam Lake and Poe to discover. As it turns out, it was more of a full-circle moment than I could have anticipated.
A door between two rooms
First, we need to lay out a bit of a timeline. Before Alan Wake was released in May 2010, there was a book called House of Leaves, written by Mark Z. Danielewski, and published in March 2000.
The book follows several characters through a meta-textual journey: a tattoo apprentice named Johnny Truant discovers a manuscript from the strange author Zampanò. It follows a documentary about Will Navidson, a photojournalist who discovers his house is larger on the inside than the outside. The story twists and turns as you read through both the document itself and several different layers of footnotes, as the text and book itself feel like they start to warp too.
Alongside House of Leaves, there is Haunted by Poe. The musician happens to be Danielewski’s sister, and Haunted can be easily seen as a counterpart and companion work to House of Leaves, including tracks like “Exploration B,” “5&½ Minute Hallway,” “Dear Johnny,” and “House of Leaves” – all references to the novel.
It’s not hard to see how House of Leaves became an inspiration for Lake as the team at Remedy was building the layers of Alan Wake. And, through that, Poe’s music.
“House of Leaves is one of my favorite post-modern novels. It has been a big inspiration for me through the years, for the original Alan Wake, and for the sequel as well,” Lake told me over email. “The writer, Mark Z. Danielewski, is Poe’s brother, and Poe’s album Haunted is a sort of a companion piece to the novel. This is how I found her music and fell in love with it. I feel Poe’s music fits Alan Wake perfectly.”
So, the title track from Haunted wound up on the original Alan Wake soundtrack. It’s a fitting song, and I’ve even seen some people who discovered Poe and her music through it. For Poe, Haunted would be the last studio album in her discography, though she’s continued to make and release music over the years, including a song called “September 30th 1955.” Released on YouTube 11 years ago today, that tune – and the re-release of the original Alan Wake – would lay the foundation for Remedy, Lake, Poe, and the House to overlap all over again.
Some say that it loops forever
In the summer of 2020, Remedy was in the process of re-licensing songs for Alan Wake Remastered. At the time, Lake says, the team was discussing the possibility of making new music for Alan Wake 2, so he reached out to Poe. He was looking to create “original tracks that would be tailor-made to fit the mood and for lyrics to be about the story, an extension to the story,” as Lake puts it.
One Twitter exchange later, Poe and Lake were talking.
“Being a super fan of Alan Wake and of Sam, I was obviously floored and let him know that and then we started communicating and riffing with each other,” said Poe over email. “Sam and I riffed and riffed and then we riffed some more and then some more and then eventually we started doing Zooms and riffed more there…. you get the picture.”
After several initial Zoom meetings early on, Lake says things got put on hold until the project went further. Then, in May 2023, they linked back up and started work on the song that would appear in Alan Wake 2, “This Road.”
Not only would this be a new song from Poe for the soundtrack, but Lake would be collaborating on it. Poe describes the collaboration as a trip; “at times it felt literally telepathic,” she says. Lake was into the song “September 30th 1955” that Poe had shared on YouTube, and Alan Wake 2 fans will probably recognize its refrain: “And some say that it loops forever / This road that I lose you on every time.”
“‘September 30th, 1955’ is about a road and a story that loops forever and the only way to get off that road and escape that story is to get off of time,” said Poe. “In order to expand the song for Alan Wake 2 I felt like I needed to rip a hole in time and space and Sam was obviously all for that ha ha!”
A whole plane shaking
When creating the concept for how Poe’s song would fit into Alan Wake 2, Lake says he had a clear idea for the song: where it would be used, and what kind of structure Remedy needed. (I should note that, at this point, we’re probably going to get into some general story spoilers for Alan Wake 2.)
Lake shared a quote from the document he wrote for Poe:
“The Dark Place Song, a story from Alice’s POV, as she watches her husband struggle and fail to escape the Dark Place. Dreamy, hazy, haunting, beautiful, intimate, dark. Can also be a bit creepy and threatening, as there is a voyeuristic and manipulative aspect to the setup. The story loops around three times, getting progressively darker. Optimal would be three verses plus a chorus, the full song also cut to three different, short versions. The first verse plus the chorus for the first loop, the second for the second, the third for the third.”
Lake also wrote a short story, and later a poem, to help serve as inspiration, which he did for other song makers too. “Sometimes these poems end up as lyrics directly, sometimes they simply serve as inspiration, a starting point,” said Lake. “Poe is a wonderful writer. She took the idea of what I had, but made it her own, and much better with that, much more nuanced.”
“You know that feeling when a plane lands and the whole cabin starts shaking?” Poe says about the sound and creation of the song. “I usually get this momentary sense of panic and excitement when that happens because there’s always that split second when it feels like it could go one of two ways: either the shaking is going to mellow out and you’ll land safely; or it’s going to do the opposite and just keep escalating until…. something unimaginable happens.
“Pondering that unimaginable thing that could happen led to a few decisions about how to approach the recording: the new road needed to start with the original vocal samples from ‘September 30th, 1955’ (because those samples were residue from the exact moment in time when an important part of this journey took place); the music needed to start on the grid, submissive to an external clock, and then it needed to let go of that imposed sense of time, fall off the grid, and slow down over a long period of time; and finally, the slow down section of ‘This Road’ had to be recorded live in one take.”
With all these conditions and decisions determined, Poe and Lake pulled together musicians and gave it a try. What happened then, as Poe describes, was mind-altering.
“We only did one take and it was one of the most transcendent musical moments I’ve ever experienced in my life,” said Poe. “We all looped the chords from the main refrain and we slowed down instinctually. It was the first time we’d ever played it together and everyone stayed perfectly connected.”
Darrel Thorpe, the engineer on the track, was manipulating an AMS delay on Poe’s voice and even that landed with, as Poe describes it, “perfect imprecision.”
“It felt as though maybe we really did tear a hole in time and space because, when it was over, the road I was on turned out to be different from the road I was on,” said Poe.
A loop, a spiral
One of the questions I asked Poe was whether this all felt like a full-circle moment. The first Alan Wake, heavily inspired by House of Leaves and Haunted; the sequel, building on those inspirations, bringing Poe on for an original track. Poe simply said “more than you know.”
She described Lake heading to East West Studios (formerly Ocean Way) to hear “This Road” for the first time. East West was where “Haunted” was made, and where Poe did final read-throughs and edits on “House of Leaves.”
“I hadn’t been back there in over 20 years,” said Poe. “The studios look completely different now from how they looked when I was there. The interior has been upgraded, complete with a life sized horse that’s a lamp, 50 foot velvet curtains, 30 foot tall chalkboard walls to write on, and a hidden hall of mirrors.”
But as much as things change, they still stay the same in their strange ways. The changes here, as Poe says, were all superficial.
“The guts of the place, the important things, haven’t changed at all,” said Poe. “It has the same exquisite old machines – Neves, Trident, and SSL boards – the same linoleum floors that were there when Sinatra recorded; it even has the same shitty coffee machine (poor Sam); which is all to say that when Sam arrived it felt like the road had definitely looped back around only this time it had brought with it Sam who had conjured a whole universe and given a home, among his ideas, to some of the ideas that took shape at Ocean Way.
“I guess you could say that Sam arrived at East West to hear ‘This Road’ via a 23 and a ½ year hallway,” said Poe.
When she first played “This Road” for Lake, Poe says he was silent at first, which really unnerved her.
“Then he swiveled around in his chair with a huge grin on his face and said, ‘Poe it’s not a loop! It’s a spiral! It feels like we’re going around in circles but it’s actually taking us somewhere.’ I was very very moved by this,” said Poe. “On a personal level, I felt ‘This Road’ was leading me backwards and forwards in time simultaneously. Where it’s taken me is someplace familiar but exquisitely brand new and I have Sam to thank for that.”
As Lake tells it, he was quite enthused with the final track.
“I absolutely love the finished song,” said Lake. “The Dark Place in Alan Wake 2 is a dark dream of New York City, with a nightmare Noir feel to it. This Road could be a song sung in a smoky nightclub of this city, its aching echoes, distorted, heard in the endless night.”
An endless stanza
Describing the process, Poe says she definitely thought differently when it came to making a song for a game than for a “traditional” music platform.
“In Alan Wake 2 for instance, there was no real end game to the creative process other than serving the story and the experience–no algorithms to please, no song lengths to conform to. Pure instinct and inspiration,” said Poe. “It was heaven for me.”
Poe says she looks forward to experimenting more in the gaming world. “There are new ways to perform, to broadcast, to distribute, even to create within these worlds that are extremely exciting to me.”
As for Remedy and Lake, the team there is no stranger to music. In fact, it’s a core part of the process.
“Music is vital,” said Lake, about the importance of music in Alan Wake 2. “The custom created songs are vital, a key extension to storytelling. We have many artists working with us on them, starting with Poets of the Falls in the role of Old Gods of Asgard. And many other artists for the end of chapter songs in Saga Anderson’s story.”
Lake highlights how other collaborations have helped shape Remedy games, too. Poets of the Fall, a.k.a. The Old Gods of Asgard, are an obvious part of that. But Lake also notes Chisu, one half of ROOS+BERG, who created the song “No One Left to Love.”
“Chisu’s earlier song ‘Polaris’ was a big inspiration for me when creating Polaris for Jesse Faden in the story of Control,” said Lake.
For Alan’s side, “This Road” created a punctuation for his story in the Dark Place. It loops around, again and again, even into New Game Plus. It builds on top of the story, while still interweaving it with the past, tying in even outer layers of inspiration and thematic synergy with other works.
Just untangling the threads of this, running from a novel at the dawn of the 21st century to 23 years later in Alan Wake 2, is complicated. But it’s the tangle of threads that makes it interesting; seeing how, in exploring the Dark Place, both Poe and Remedy pushed to build off each other and create something profound in the process.
It all builds up, it all loops around. This creative feedback loop is, as Lake said, a spiral, pushing further into what these collaborations can achieve. Because in the right place, and the right time, it can be something as excellent as “This Road” and Alan Wake 2.