An Interview With U.K. Synthwave Producer Ampholyte
Ampholyte (Chris Davies) is a synthwave producer from the U.K. He says that he's a mathematician with a musical dream. Ampholyte is a name related to his current field of research that he picked because of it's "nice ring and futuristic sound." In an emailed interview, he told me about how his passion for music was sparked, how his creative process works and his latest EP entitled Into Space.
Karl Magi: What sparked your initial passion for music?
Chris Davies: I loved going down to the record shop, finding a new band your mates hadn't heard of and sharing that experience with them. My dad's a punk at heart, and throughout my teenage years we'd take turns playing new and old punk/punk rock. I was a drummer/pianist throughout school and in a band at college that didn't really go anywhere. I was into grunge, but always loved the classic trance and minimal techno/ classical music. I introduced a friend of mine to trance, he in turn introduced me to music production software and together we learned to write music. I fell out of touch with the production during university, but he kept it up and I'm glad to see he's going good in the EDM scene.
KM: How did you become interested in making synthwave?
CD: I've always been very science focused, but I've a creative streak running through me. I find the process of composing and fiddling meditative, and the final product fulfilling. I took a large break from writing music, but couldn't be happier that I've got back into it. In some ways, I feel that synthwave allows me to be creative whilst paying homage to my mathematical brain. I enjoy painting, but I find my ears are the window to my soul.
I'd go through phases of listening to different forms of music from punk rock and metal to electroswing and steampunk/ fantasy music. I played a game of the TTRPG Tales From the Loop, and fell in love with synthwave there and then. Sometimes I think it found me more than I found it (without trying to sound clichéd).
KM: Which artists have most inspired you musically and why?
CD: The artists of the '80s and cinematic/video game music are a massive influence for clear reasons. However I'd like to cast a wider net, so let's try to map it chronologically. Bach's mathematical approach to music has always interested me, so it's something I play around with frequently and one day it may play a big role in a few releases. It was Tiësto who showed me that electronic music works so well with orchestral sounds. The post hardcore riffs of bands like Funeral for a Friend taught me the importance of a melody that makes you move. It was probably Starset that began my journey towards synthwave with their big space rock sounds. Tycho and Enya led me towards chill tracks and ambient music.
Coming directly into synthwave, it is tough to say what came first between the likes of FM84, The Midnight and Kyle Dixon/ Michael Stein. I became totally enamoured with it. After no time at all I was listening to the bands supported by New Retro Wave and ThePrimeThanatos on YouTube. Right now, the #synthfam community on Twitter is overflowing with inspiration and every single one of them brings something interesting to the table. There's too many to name individually here, but come find us.
KM: What are the elements in synthwave music that most attract you?
CD: Very personally, I feel it is able to express more emotion than other forms of electronic music or at least I feel it's more able to connect to that emotion. Whether you like it super laid back, cinematic, with face melting guitars or dark and dirty, it has it all. It's got complex, new experiences wrapped up in a nostalgic bubble. It is born from video games and movies, but it is so much more than that. I love other forms of music. Electroswing moves me physically, but I find synthwave tends to move me in a different way. I've never used the word "macabre" to describe a track for an electronic track outside the synthwave/darkwave scene, and I think that sums it up.In addition to the above, there's the punchy snare that just hits you in the chest. It's just as attractive as the emotion. I try not to take myself too seriously and I feel I have that freedom with synthwave.
KM: How do you approach the creation of new music?
CD: I like to think of my music as a conversation between two elements. In the first wave (pre-Into Space), I would pick elements and build a song around them. My track 2688 was about a more complex bassline and how it played with a complex pad. Stars is about the relationship between the bass and the lead. Synthetic Lullaby is about the two leads overlapping, yet complementing each other. More recently, I've been trying to put the focus on expressing different emotions in the music, and I'm pretty happy with the results. Honestly, I have about three times the number of failed attempts than tracks that make it! They are either missing that spark or they just outright suck.
KM: Tell me more about the Into Space EP. What are the themes you wanted to explore on it and how did you go about crafting it?
CD: Ever since I was a child, I've been fascinated by space. Well, dinosaurs first, but then space. I really just wanted to create a feel-good, uplifting EP that would fit nicely into the cassette holder of your rocket ship. I also really wanted to capture the optimism of the '80s.
The first track that I wrote was A Legend Echoes, and that sort of set the stage for the rest. Slow, 12 bar chord progressions allowing for a slow punchy retro melody followed through into the development of Stars. For me, Stars is all about the shy bass line subtly gaining confidence through each iteration of the melody.
Synthetic Lullaby was possibly the happiest accident ever. Everything I did during the creation process of that track just felt right, almost like it was guiding itself to completion. It's my most popular track and really does capture everything I wanted to represent on the album. Every note, every volume change, every instrument, just clicked.
Hyper Space was born out of me experimenting with negative harmony, and the chord progression was just so nice! It is, in fact, the inversion of Stars. I sped it up, and originally it had a darker tone that didn't quite gel with the rest of the EP (you can find this older version on my Soundcloud), but it was nothing that an uplifting harp couldn't fix.
KM: Where do you want to take your music in the future?
CD: I have loads of fun ideas and I'm working to make these a reality now. I have a new EP on the horizon, which is an emotional journey of interconnected tracks with repeating motifs. The first track, The Calm, can be found on all major platforms. It represents love and longing, but the other tracks devolve to become a bit more haunting, before a final triumph. It's been a lot of work but a great learning experience. Beyond this, I absolutely love the sound of the erhu and I am likely to base the next, or future EP around it. I want to blend the retrofuturistic sounds of Western synthwave with the traditional sounds of the East.
I am keen to continue experimenting with genre fusion. I already have a sort of trap/synthwave track in the works and a more funky synthwave track less near completion. I want to go really out there with it to find a really nice niche and a unique blend, but I'll go where the music guides me. Mainly, I want to have fun while I do it!
I have plenty of material to work with and ideas to realise, so watch this space!
KM: How do you find new creative inspiration?
CD: The Twitter #synthfam community is ablaze with talent. It's always inspiring me to do better or reminding me to take a break when I need it! I'd recommend any artist/fan/journalist get involved, new or old. I run a favourite Track of the Week playlist that encourages me to go out and listen to as many new artists as possible. Other than that, my process can be pretty abstract at times. I'm constantly experimenting, learning and growing.