An Interview with '80s Retro Singer/Songwriter JJ Mist
JJ Mist is a New Zealand based singer/songwriter with a passion for experimenting the musical sounds and atmosphere of the '80s. I talked to her about how she started making music, her creative process and where she's taking her career in the future.
Interview with JJ Mist
Karl Magi: How did you first start making music?
JJ Mist: I was brought up in a house full of music. My mother’s a musician. She’s a singer and a songwriter and she would work in various bands. She’d always have bands coming over to play or she’d be out gigging. She was a working musician, so I would go with her when I was really young. She would sing some country and jazz music and some old tunes from the ‘50s and ‘60s. I always knew music and it was always around me. I started writing my own songs at the age of five or six. I started singing and making up melodies and that’s where it started.
KM: How did you get interested in making retro/synth-based music?
JJM: I wanted to make music that sounded like it was from the ‘80s but I wasn’t sure what synthwave or synthpop was at that point in time. I looked up Mitch Murder and started listening to his music. I was impressed by the amount of effort and detail he put into it. I joined the community in 2015 when it was big but not as big as it is now.
KM: Which artists inspire you musically and why have they done so?
JJM: I really draw inspiration from artists such as Madonna. I draw inspiration from Like a Prayer and True Blue. I also draw inspiration from listening to what her producers did because she was only one part of it. It was her face on the cover, but the producers like Patrick Leonard were the ones that made the music. Her vocal style and her singing also really influenced me. She wasn’t perfect vocally but she had a lot of passion.
I’m also a big fan of Prince and his work. I’m a huge fan of Sade because she’s so smooth and she mixed jazzy sounds with synth elements. I love Pat Benatar’s vocals as well as Tina Turner’s. I love Miami Sound Machine, The Jets and Depeche Mode for the real sounds of the ‘80s.
As for people currently in the scene, I really dig DATAStream.
KM: Tell me about your creative process as a songwriter?
JJM: At the moment, I’m learning more music theory. I find it makes things a lot easier when you know your music theory. I used to just wing it with songs but it would take me ages to get the sound that I wanted. It was like trying to figure out a mathematical equation when I didn’t know how to do the math. Now that I’m learning more about theory, I’m going to finish off an album which I hope to release soon.
Now I like to put music together a little more systematically than I used to, but I still want to leave space to create and let it flow as well. You need that balance when you’re writing a song.
Sometimes a song will write itself and sometimes you have to put a lot of effort in to get it done. The single for my album is coming out soon and it basically wrote itself. I had a huge amount of inspiration, so I just pushed through and wrote a song. It’s very simple but it’s effective.
KM: Tell me more about the album that you’re going to put out?
JJM: This album is a project that I’ve been working on for a couple of years. It’s gone through a lot of changes and it’s had a lot of time put into it. I’m really excited to share it. It’s a little different to what’s out there now. At the end of the day, I’m doing it because I enjoy it and I wanted to hear something like it released. It’s funky, upbeat, jazzy and has a bit of synthwave in there too. There’s lots of pop influences and some groovy guitar licks in there as well.
KM: Where do you want to see your musical career go in the future?
JJM: I want to create as much music as I can. I’d like to perform more because I’m very comfortable performing and I enjoy it. My favourite things are getting started writing a song and performing that song, so I would like to have my career take me to places where I can perform and where people enjoy the kind of music that I make.
KM: What are your observations on the synthwave/retrowave scene?
JJM: I mostly stick to myself because I don’t like to be influenced too much by anyone in the scene in terms of the sound of my music. I try to create an authentic, yet original ‘80s sound as much as I can considering the equipment I have.
I think that the scene has become very diverse now which is both good and bad. The more people there are making music, the higher the chances that there won’t be as much readily accessible, high quality music. On the other hand, the scene is starting to encompass other styles of music with stronger New Wave influences and more italio disco sounds.
KM: How do you recharge your creative batteries?
JJM: Every time I start a new song, I’m already charged and ready to go. It’s following through which doesn’t excite me. I overthink things because I’m a very detailed person. I second guess everything I’ve done. At the end of the day, I just have to go through it and finish it. If I’m mixing and making music, I like to take a break and go to the beach or out into nature. It refreshes my mind because it’s completely opposite from sitting in front of a computer all day.