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Level Up: The Wildfires Projekt Frontman Johnny Zirkel Talks N64 and Gaming

The Wildfires Projekt frontman Johnny Zirkel is a passionate gamer, so he joins us today for a new edition of Level Up to talk gaming.



The Wildfires Projekt in 2022
The Wildfires Projekt in 2022

Connection is what is the ultimate goal when it comes to The Wildfires Projekt and their musical output. The band released their latest single, “Forget About You,” last month. The song is an alt-pop juggernaut featuring Magnolia Park’s Joshua Roberts. It was also co-written by The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus’ drummer John Espy. Emotional and intense, “Forget About You” carries on the story the band has built up over previously released songs. The song further explores the personal struggles of Johnny Zirkel, the man behind The Wildfires Projekt. Over the last decade, Zirkel has battled OCD, anxiety, and depression, and he knows what it’s like to be held underwater by these conditions. The song is intended to lend some strength but also to offer some understanding from someone who is struggling.

The Wildfires Projekt (who we have featured multiple times in the past) has started to assert themselves in today’s alternative music scene with their genre-blending sound and striking lyrics. Many of Zirkel’s songs focus on mental health, loss, and personal growth but are wrapped up in the complexities of life. Zirkel encourages listeners to embrace their vulnerabilities and rise to the occasion when adversity presents itself. It’s a worthwhile approach from a talented artist who has begun to find his footing with The Wildfires Projekt.

Outside of music, Zirkel is a passionate gamer. So, we pushed the topic of music aside for today’s edition of Level Up to discuss video games, how they inspire him, and his thoughts on gaming culture.

What video game introduced you to the world of gaming?

Johnny Zirkel: “I remember back when I was a kid, my dad got his hands on an extra NES system they had at his work, and my brother and I would play Super Mario Bros 1 & 3, and this random game Gumshoe all the time. Then, the glorious day came when I received a brand new N64 for Christmas with the special see-through purple controller. Life was good (laughs).”

What are your favourite types of games to play?

“I used to be a huge fan of shooters, and Gears of War still holds a high spot on my list, but I’ve also become a fan of RPGs within the past couple of years.”

How do you feel about more games featuring VR options?

“I think VR options are cool, but not for me. I’m not a big fan of having to wear something to play a game, and when I play a game, I don’t want it to require exercise unless it’s Wii Sports (laughs). I’d rather sink into the couch, drink a Celsius, and chill.”

The Wildfires Projekt Johnny with N64 on Christmas Morning

The Wildfires Projekt Johnny with N64 on Christmas Morning

Why do you think gaming is an important part of our culture?

“I think this question could spark a whole interview on its own, but in short, I believe games provide a lot of education and world perspectives that we aren’t exposed to otherwise. From an educational standpoint, they have been known to teach younger audiences teamwork. From a world perspective, video games can open a window into other societies we’ve never learned about, as well as act as warnings as to what can happen if we put the wrong leaders in power. We Happy Few and Fallout are great examples of the latter.”

Have video games ever inspired you musically?

“They have! Last year, I released a song ‘Going Blind’ which is based on the Fallout video game series. To take things one step further, I had an animated music video created that placed my wife and I into the video as the main characters in the story.”

If you were given an unlimited budget to create a video game based on your band, what would it look like?

“Talk about a question I’ve never been asked before (laughs). I really don’t know what that would look like. However, I’ve always had the dream of turning my albums into comics with a continuous storyline. I even had an artist draw up the covers a few years back. It would be cool to take that idea and shift it into a game.”

Do you prefer console or PC?

“I like PC because it allows full customization, and you can really push the games. I currently have a Xidax-built laptop to play games on tour while in the van. However, a console can be more convenient at home because I don’t have to keep plugging it into my TV and adjusting display settings like I do on my laptop. When I am console gaming, I prefer Xbox.”

Is there anything you wish the gaming community would do more of?

“Honestly, I think the gaming community is great right now. There are a lot of games and websites like Discord where people can meet like-minded people and build lasting friendships, and these communities continue to grow.”

How do you think gaming culture will evolve in the upcoming years?

“I think gaming culture is going to evolve very similar to comic culture with more and more movies and TV series being based on them. I also think they are going to transition more into physical games. A current example of both happenings is Fallout. Wizards of the Coast just released a Fallout set this month, which is incredibly cool, and Amazon Prime will be releasing a Fallout TV series next month that I’m super hyped for! This cross-collaboration in the gaming world is just as exciting as having one of your favourite artists featuring on a song by another favourite artist.”

What is the most beautiful game you’ve ever played?

“I haven’t played it yet because I just got my Series X, but Starfield looks visually stunning. For games I have played, graphics-wise, it would be Modern Warfare II, but overall game design would be Fallout.”

Much has been made about whether video games can be art. What do you think?

“It’s absolutely art! If movies and cartoons are considered art, well, why wouldn’t the playable versions of those same concepts be art?”

Which video game gets you the most competitive?

“Isn’t everyone’s answer Call of Duty (laughs).”

If there’s one video game you think everyone should play, what is it?

“You guessed it… Fallout.”

The Wildfires Projekt Johnny and Cruise with first guitar and drums

The Wildfires Projekt Johnny and Cruise with first guitar and drums

Born in 2003, V13 was a socio-political website that, in 2005, morphed into PureGrainAudio and spent 15 years developing into one of Canada's (and the world’s) leading music sites. On the eve of the site’s 15th anniversary, a full re-launch and rebrand takes us back to our roots and opens the door to a full suite of Music, Film, TV, and Cultural content.