An Interview with Australian Synthwave Artist Water and Bridges
Andrew Morrow (Water and Bridges) is an Australian synthwave artist who has his roots in punk rock and garage bands. He became fascinated by synth-based music and explores different elements of synthwave in his music. In an email, he told me about his musical genesis, his inspirations and his creative process.
Interview with Water and Bridges
Karl Magi: How did you first start making music?
Andrew Morrow: For me, the process started in high school. I had pestered my parents until they bought me a cheap acoustic guitar. It was an ugly shade of bright blue and sounded terrible, but it was enough for me to get into trying to learn songs off the radio and playing melodies by ear. Over the next few years, I taught myself how to play basic rhythm guitar and formed a few skate-punk and rock bands with friends. We would play in their garages on a Friday night to a grand audience of their parents. We had fun and it was these experiences that got me passionate about creating music, not just listening to it.
We had an under-18s ‘nightclub’ that would happen once a month in our town. After going to this many times and listening to all the electronic dance music, I felt that making music with a computer was the next path that I wanted to go down.
KM: How and why did your interest in synth-based music start?
AM: I’m a child of the ‘80s, so I grew up with the soundtrack to the original Transformers animated movie always in rotation, alongside artists like Depeche Mode, Journey and Phil Collins etc;
When the revival of these nostalgic films started with the likes of the Tron sequel, Turbo Kid and Kung Fury I found myself listening to more and more of that older music and, almost by accident, stumbled across the synthwave genre on Youtube.
I had heard some songs by The Protomen a few years earlier on an online series called Video Game High School. I quickly became a fan of them, but never realised that they were part of much larger scene.
KM: Who are the major artists who've had an influence on your work and why did they influence you?
AM: In our current landscape, I can’t avoid mentioning Gunship and The Midnight. They’re the juggernauts of retro music. Their albums have entered into that rare sort of music that we start to associate with memories and feelings. I don’t think any genre or band has had that impact on me since the punk and emo bands of the early 2000’s. Songs like Sunset and When You Grow Up and Your Heart Dies give me chills and take me back to a time period that I never even lived through. Digging deeper, artists like Michael Oakley and Kalax who both make vocal synth music sound and seem so easy, have been a huge inspiration to me.
While I have yet to release any vocal synth tracks, their amazing music is pushing me more and more in that direction. They’re also both just kind guys who are willing to chat with upcoming artists like myself, giving advice and encouragement. The fact that there are few (if any) big egos in our scene is really something special. I also love the darker side of our genre(s). I love the artists like Scandroid, Peturbator, Ray Gun Hero and Crockett who manage to blend some of the summer sounds with the more grungy elements of darksynth. They are honestly probably some of the bigger influences on my newest album. The space-style, cyberpunk part of our scene is so magical.
KM: Tell me a little about the creative process(es) you go through as you make new music.
AM: It is honestly hugely eclectic. It might be clichéd, but often it feels like the songs sort of write themselves. I’ll wake up with a melody in my head and, within a morning, I might have a song structure laid out around it. After a day or two, I might then come back and re-assess it, take out some of the more mediocre parts and continue to add to it. Most songs tend to take their general shape within a few days. Sometimes, it will be a bassline that starts it and a song will emerge around it. Occasionally, I’ll be dropping notes into the software and accidentally stumble across something really musical as well. There are probably no two songs that were created in the same way. To find the actual sound I want for each song, I’ll put together a group of synths and patches that have a really nice balance together; that just work.
For instance, the track Moonlit Serenade off of the new album started with the saxophone melody. I knew straight away that it needed a really soft chord progression behind it with some sort of warm pad, and once the beat kicked in I wanted the melody layered with those stereotypical 80s bells. The sound I wanted was there in my head, it was just a matter of sifting through my VSTs and tinkering with settings until it sounded right.
KM: Tell me more about Starbound. How did the album come about and how did you approach making it?
AM: Starbound started with one track (the title track itself). I had just released my first album Tales From The City and I was feeling a bit of a void due to the absence of doing anything creative. While studying for university, I had heard the classic Robert Miles song Children on the radio. This song has such a sci-fi, space vibe to it and transports you to somewhere completely alien. I wanted to create something that had that same impact, and the track Starbound began to take shape that afternoon. Soon after, Polybius and The Last Flight were written and I felt like an EP was emerging – some sort of concept album about a doomed space flight.
As time went on, the theme got vaguer and had less impact on my writing.Tracks like Moonlit Serenade and Free are a lot brighter, more uplifting songs than I expected the album to have. I spent weeks on Battlestations! because I was unable to get the mix right and I had a complete artistic block. I was close to scrapping the project altogether, but thanks to some amazing feedback from a friend and a few other artists, I managed to overcome the problems I had with the sound of that track.
The music for the album was finished around August this year. I spent the next few months perfecting the mixing and mastering, while working with my artist Neon Dream Designs (who also did the amazing artwork for my first album) on the concept for the accompanying artwork. I held back the release until the end of November to align with an album launch show that had been planned for early December in Melbourne.
KM: What are your views on the state of the Australian retrowave/synthwave scene?
AM: This is an area that I’ll admit I’m relatively outside of. I’ve spent many years in the Australian metal and hardcore scene due to a band that I was part of, so the bulk of my contacts and musical perspective comes from the state of that genre in our country. Live and local music here in general are thriving, with radio stations like Triple J and The Faction opening doors for small artists to reach a wide audience. These stations actively find, and promote, up-and-coming artists to a national stage, and allow these artists to get some of the recognition and exposure that they deserve for their hard work.
Retrowave appears to be a very fledgling scene here. Until I discovered Laser Highway (a monthly retrowave / synthwave nightclub event in Melbourne run by DJ Zerotonine), I didn’t know there was any synth-specific events at all in our country. Melbourne is our music capital, and caters to every genre, sub-genre and interest with so many fringe scenes and cultures, and it is in this place that synthwave has also found a home. I’m excited to be playing there this month, and hope to meet some amazing Australian synthwave DJs to help broaden my horizons in terms of Australian retro music.
KM: Where do you want to take Water & Bridges in the future as a project?
AM: This is something I’m currently mulling over. Part of me expects that I’ll feel that same artistic void over the next few months, and no doubt I’ll start working on new music, but part of me also wants to take a break and return to being a consumer for a while. I’ve been in conversations with a couple of vocalists, one of whom is a relatively high-profile hip-hop artist, about doing some collaborations. If these projects come together, I may have the material to produce my first vocal synth collection some time in 2019 but time will tell. The idea of merging hip-hop / rap and synthwave is something that feels fresh, and has already given me some creative energy that I haven’t felt in quite a while. It might be this path that calls to me the most heading into 2019.
KM: How do you reinvigorate yourself creatively?
AM: Listening to new music, and genres that I generally don’t gravitate to. Lately, I’ve been listening to huge amounts of hip-hop, and ‘emo rap’. Lots of these artists have amazing lo-fi beats behind their vocals, and it is these beats and some of the synth sounds that they use that has really grabbed my attention. The use of clean guitars in some of these tracks too really has me interested in trying something new. Artists like nothing, nowhere and R I L E Y use saxophone, guitar and synth to amazing effect.
Buying and setting up new sounds is also a great way to freshen things up again. I’ve been on a shopping spree since Black Friday sales to acquire a ton of new VSTs, as well as a bunch of new preset packs for my favourite synths. My sound palette for Tales From The City and Starbound were relatively similar, so it will be a good step forward now to move into some new sounds, styles and instruments to flesh out something that's both Water And Bridges and new.