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Exclusive Mr. Hartgrave Interview featuring his cover of “Life on Mars”

Not unlike Bowie’s, I hear the voice of Mr. Hartgrave almost every day. Mr. Hartgrave is a celebrity among players of the mobile game, Marvel Strike Force. I’ve been playing the game, with two breaks, since 2018. Mr. Hartgrave’s YouTube channel is required viewing (or listening) for anyone who wants to play the game at a high level. Plus, its entertaining on its own. Think about how the old Car Guys NPR show was appealing even to people with little interest in cars. I have to imagine people with no interest in Marvel Strike Force would find Hartgrave’s show worth watching. Hartgrave’s sets have a “dark side” feel. Of late, he’s been accompanied by a 12-foot tall skeleton, amongst other oddities. Hartgrave bears a resemblance to the actor Tom Hiddleston, and he occasionally dresses as Loki, who happens to be a character in the game (but more often, he’s the one major content creator wearing a suit and tie, which within this community is subversive in its own way). His analysis is supremely helpful for other players, and his angry rants would be hilarious even to people who have no idea what he’s ranting about.

But while his videos feature his analysis of the game, they also begin and end with his music. A while back, Mr. Hartgrave included a cover of “Life on Mars” (which I’ve included in this post), which led me to reach out and ask for this interview. If you’ve spent any time on this blog, you know I’ve listened to a lot of Bowie covers, and I have to say I’ve had this one in my head since I first heard it about a year and a half ago. Listen for yourself, but first, here’s the interview:

Q. How do you explain MSF to people who have no idea?

A. It’s one of those stupid mobile phone games that people get addicted to that isn’t very good but becomes an awful habit that they keep secret from everyone around them and secretly spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on. So yeah, I get views on YouTube since I will talk to them about it.

Q. It occurs to me that MSF, music and content creation share certain qualities—you need to be disciplined and devoted, have specialized knowledge, think things through, and there’s an expressive aspect of each—all of which is demanding. What’s the draw for you?

A. I have always sought a stage to perform on, this has provided me with a platform to ply my craft and entertain. MSF just happened to be the door that opened, I have since opened other doors using what I have learned from making videos on MSF. I’m hopeful that I can walk through one of those other doors someday!

Q. I read somewhere that “all the weird kids loved Bowie,” which among MSF content creators can be said about Mr. Hartgrave — what’s the shared thread of what you’re delivering to your audiences?

A. I think one of the main things Bowie aimed to deliver was a spectacle, I enjoy giving people something interesting to look at. Constant innovation and re-invention is another, I do a major presentation overhaul every year. If you grab a few random videos from either of my channels over the last few years you can tell just by looking at what year any video came from by the presentation, we are always pushing forward.

Q. As a musician and gamer, do you see any parallels between the immersive experience of playing Marvel Strike Force and the emotional connection created through performing music?

A. Oh yes, certainly, the emotional connection that I have with my viewers has always impressed me. People reach out to me constantly to share how my videos have helped them in some way shape or form, and not just by helping them figure out a video game better. Often they are telling me how they found one of my videos while they were struggling and it helped them through a tough spot and that is something I had no idea would happen when I started.

Q. You included a cover of “Life on Mars” at the end of one of your videos. It seemed like you talked a little more about that recording than you usually do about your music. Why was that one special to you? Have you done other Bowie covers?

A. I’m not sure what it was that made my cover of “Life On Mars” such a talking point, but yes, this is actually the second interview I’ve done on it! I haven’t done any other Bowie covers, but maybe I should!

Q. You have shows about MSF and wrestling, but where can we hear more of your music? Do you have any musical videos on YouTube? Or elsewhere?

A. I record new covers and original songs and play them at the end of my videos and anytime I get a request to share them I upload them here at https://www.patreon.com/MrHartgrave (click to link) , It’s only $1 a month. I also have some free music at https://mrhartgrave.bandcamp.com/ (again, click to link) and that is where you can follow me for anything more ambitious that I may do going forward.

Q. Final question—what’s your favorite Bowie album, and what’s your favorite Bowie song?

A. My favorite album is Earthling and my favorite song is “I’m Deranged”.

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I want to thank Mr. Hartgrave and put in a plug for him to cover another Bowie song (actually, he’d do great with “I’m Deranged”). Meanwhile I have to go change my Cosmic Crucible defense and, oh, it’s time to Blitz. And to any Grave Diggers who happen to be reading this— keep digging!

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