An Interview With Synthwave Artist Color Theory
Color Theory (Brian Hazard) says that he wants to "explore the pleasure in sadness through his distinctive brand of melancholy synthwave." In an email, I asked him about his approach to creating music, his creative inspirations and how he recharges his creative batteries.
Karl Magi: How did you first become interested in making music?
Brian Hazard: I was inspired by a high school friend. We made several recordings on his ghetto blaster by plugging in a mic and singing over an Alesis MMT-8 sequencer connected to my Korg, or his sampler, depending on whose house we were at.
We called ourselves The Thought Chapter and put out a flyer saying we did weddings, noting that a demo tape was available upon request. Well, someone asked for the demo tape and we put it together in a weekend! If not for that, I wouldn’t have any record of that period. Of course, the recordings are all embarrassing.
KM: What drew you towards making synthwave/retrowave music?
BH: Synthwave is what I’ve always wanted to make — the music of my youth. Until a couple of years ago, I didn’t think there was an audience for it. An 80s influence is on display throughout my entire discography, but I tend to fuse it with whatever is popular at the time. For example, my 9th album Adjustments has EDM elements, and at least a couple tracks qualify as progressive house.
I wish I’d been aware of the scene a few years earlier, but it somehow escaped my notice. I was part of the modern synthpop scene of the mid to late '90s, which despite sharing influences, never cross-pollinated with outrun and the other precursors of today’s synthwave.
KM: Who are your major musical influences and why were they so important for you?
BH: Historically, my holy trinity is Depeche Mode, Cure, and the Smiths. Those were my high school loves. In my college years, David Sylvian and his work with Japan was hugely inspirational to me.
Vocally, I’ve been compared to Martin Gore of Depeche Mode for my entire life, and have been mistaken for him in recordings. I guess that’s what happens when you sing along with a guy for hours every week over the course of years.
My upcoming album is inspired by The Cure’s Seventeen Seconds. Without a doubt, that’s the album I’ve listened to the most in my life, but I wouldn’t call it my favorite. That honor goes to David Sylvian’s Secrets of the Beehive.
KM: Tell me more about how you create new music.
BH: I actually answered that question in excruciating detail over the course of nine posts, compiled into a single article called Why and How I Made My Supernatural Synthwave Album.
But the short version is this: I’ve got a text file full of song titles. Usually I’ll start with a title and some sort of sonic inspiration to create an instrumental snippet extending through the first chorus. Then I’ll come up with a melody, write the lyrics, and expand the snippet into a full song.
That’s the easy part. Next I have to arrange/produce/mix (it’s all one process) to flesh out the sonic skeleton, which takes somewhere between a week and forever. Recording and editing vocals is also a lot of work, especially if there are a lot of harmonies or the part is challenging to sing.
With The Majesty Of Our Broken Past, I set out to produce an undeniably synthwave record, rather than blending synthwave elements with my established sound. My initial idea was to partner with some of the bigger names in the scene to produce an album of collaborations. Aaron Vehling of Vehlinggo fame was incredibly helpful in making connections, but ultimately nobody was too psyched to work with an unknown in the genre.
Disappointed but not discouraged, I started building on the ten one-minute demo snippets I shared with potential collaborators. It helped that I had to deliver a new song every month to my patrons on Patreon, or I might have slowed down or lost focus.
I released many of the Patreon tracks as official singles, but I wasn’t sure if they would culminate in an EP or an album, or if I’d just keep releasing singles a la carte. Ultimately I decided to go the album route, but I didn’t feel like the singles gelled as well as they could, so I spent a couple months in makeover mode, including re-recording vocals for the entire album.
KM: What are your future plans for your musical career?
BH: My primary focus is expanding my Patreon membership. I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to have a direct channel to, and direct support from, my most passionate fans. Most of my time is spent creating content for patrons.
It’s been two years since I launched my page, and I’ve kept my end of the bargain by delivering patrons a new track every month. Many of those are patron-exclusive, though some will eventually be released officially.
After I wrap up my next album, I’ll give the collaboration thing another shot. I’m not exactly a household name, but I’ve earned a modest degree of visibility within the synthwave community.
KM: What are your views on the current state of the synthwave/retrowave scene?
BH: The consensus seems to be that the sky is falling due to the influx of amateur producers. I see that as an asset, not a liability. It just means that more and more people are passionate about the music we love. As long as the big names in the genre continue to produce quality releases, I don’t see a problem. The genre will continue to evolve, expand, and eventually die out — as all do.
KM: How do you reinvigorate yourself creatively?
BH: I don’t, really. That little text file of song titles and ideas continues to grow, and I’ve already got a concept in mind for my next next album.
If I’m not feeling inspired on any given day, that’s okay. The important thing is to make the effort. Once I get going, the work always inspires me to continue.
I mean, you never know... I could wake up one day and not care anymore. If that happens, I’ll still have eleven full-length albums and a bunch of other releases under my belt. But no matter how large my catalog, I doubt I’ll shake the feeling that I never reached my full potential.