Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing!
No Rush is an electronic music producer from the Bay Area. No Rush '85 is his synthwave project. I interviewed him about why he was drawn to create synthwave music, his new (non-synthwave) EP Holding Patterns and where he sees synthwave going in the future.
Karl Magi: What first sparked your interest in making music?
No Rush: It was a really gradual process. I played bass in a few bands in high school and college, which was probably the first time I ever wrote music, and tinkered around on Garageband and Protools throughout college. But I only really started listening to electronic music after college, and I think that was what really propelled me toward making music myself. The first time I heard dubstep in like 2011, my mind was absolutely blown, because I had no idea it was possible to create sounds like that, let alone put them in music and make it danceable. It occurred to me then that there was really no limit to the kind of music I could create in my bedroom with a laptop, and that was pretty much it. I DJed my first show on New Years' Eve in 2012 and never looked back.
KM: What are the elements that have drawn you towards creating synthwave music?
NR: I'd been producing trap and glitch hop for years as No Rush before I started making synthwave. I still love those genres, but melodic complexity isn't exactly their strong suit. What drew me to synthwave was its focus on melodies, harmonies, and chord progressions. The raw emotion of a good chord progression that gets me every time, whether it's a bunch of weird jazz chords I've never heard before or the most basic four-chord pop progression. With synthwave, you get these standard pop chord progressions you've heard a million times, but also a ton of odd substitutions and jazz chords, so you have the combination of familiarity with something more unpredictable and emotionally nuanced. I love that. On a simpler note, I also just really like saw waves and pitch bends. And of course, there's the nostalgia factor, which is what got me listening to synthwave in the first place.
KM: In general, how do you approach the creation of new music?
NR: It's a bit all over the map for me and I'm always trying to come up with new approaches. Sometimes I'll just start with a chord progression or bassline, whereas other times I'll start by finding or designing a synth patch that inspires me. Occasionally I'll start by recreating someone else's song. However I start, I'll keep going until I stumble upon an idea or sound or melody that really grabs me or feels special in some way, and I'll expand on that from there.
Also, coming up with a general percussive or rhythmic theme - what I might call a groove if I was making hip-hop - and then making sure all of the instruments either follow that theme or play off of it, is just essential to writing coherent songs. Melodic cohesion comes naturally to me, but I have to make a conscious effort to make sure all of my rhythmic elements are in sync.
KM: Tell me more about your Holding Patterns EP. What are the ideas that you wanted to explore on it and how did you go about making it?
NR: I made Holding Patterns as No Rush, which is my non-synthwave project, and it was a tough one. It's important to me that any EP or album I release has a unified feel to it, as opposed to being just a collection of songs, and I kept feeling like I had 75% of three different albums. It took like a year and a half and it's still only maybe 75% of what I want it to be. That said, it does have some stuff I'm really proud of on it and I still play some of that record it live. Also, I made it during during a very uncertain and difficult period of my life, and I think the flaws of the final product kind of reflect that, so it does feel deeply authentic to me in that sense, even if it's not perfect.
I recently re-listened to all of the Holding Patterns demos that I scrapped, and there's some solid gold in there. I'm planning on releasing them on their own EP or album at some point.
KM: Where do you want to go with your music in the future?
NR: I would love to release a No Rush '85 album, since I've only put out singles so far. I've also been making some weirder, kind of lo-fi glitchy lounge stuff that I'm probably going to put out as No Rush. It's dope and I can't wait to release it, but it's on pause for the time being while I focus on synthwave. On a professional level, I'd love to make video game soundtracks - indie devs, hit me up!!!
KM: What is your view of the current state of the synthwave scene?
NR: I really like how much focus there is in the scene on graphic design and animation. I make my own album art and animations for Instagram, and I've just been so inspired by what other synthwave artists out there are doing visually. In general, just being able to bond with so many strangers online over our shared love of 80s media is a really wonderful thing.
It does seem like the term "synthwave" has grown to encompass a lot of wildly different genres, some of which really have no business being under the same umbrella. Darksynth really doesn't have much in common with italo disco, for example, and for strictly practical purposes, it feels odd to refer to them both as "synthwave." But really, this is just a sign that synthwave is growing and expanding as a genre, and I'm all in favor of that!
KM: How do you recharge your creative batteries?
NR: A lot of the times I'll listen to music that's in a completely different genre from what I'm making, like ska or trip hop or something. That often inspires ideas I'd have never had if I was listening to the genre I'm making, and more broadly, it reminds me of the universal songwriting techniques that tend to work across genres. Other times, I'll get out of the house entirely and listen to some tunes in a different physical environment, like on the road or while walking around the city. It's all about clearing my palette and being able to approach my music with fresh ears.
Karl Magi (author) on April 15, 2019:
Thanks! I'm fascinated by the same things (hence my interviewing musicians).
Cristina Cakes from Virginia on April 15, 2019:
It's always interesting to learn what motivates musicians. Great questions!