An Interview With Synthpop Artist Neon NiteClub
Neon NiteClub makes synthpop that fuses modern production techniques with retro songwriting styles. He describes his music as lush and isn't afraid to say that it's cute. I interviewed him about his influences, his creative process and his future musical plans.
Karl Magi: How did you first become interested in making music?
Neon NIteClub: I grew up with a lot of music around me. My dad was a producer and a songwriter. He would go work in studios and take me along sometimes. We had a lot of audio equipment like mixers, keyboards and four track tape recorders hanging around the house. It’s weird because we had all this equipment, but it was never pressed on me to do anything with it. It was just always at my disposal, so because I had access to it, so eventually I just started messing around with it as a kid. I didn’t know how to play. I never had any official lessons or anything like that until college. I took a couple of courses at college learning how to play piano a little bit better, so that was my introduction to making music.
KM: What drew you towards creating a more retro sound in your music?
NNC: A lot of it was my father’s influence because he had a lot of those tapes around and he produced a lot of that kind of music. I listened to all of the ‘80s hits from people like Michael Jackson and Huey Lewis & The News. I was always drawn toward those sounds. The ‘80s brought about the perfect combination of creativity and technology that was available to people, whether it be keyboards, synthesizers and drum machines. It was a really fertile time for creative people.
KM: What was the genesis of Neon NiteClub as a project?
NNC: In college, I had taken those piano lessons and I was producing a lot of hiphop music. I’ve always enjoyed the production side of that. Pretty much with any music, I’m always listening to production first. I can listen to a song 100 times and I couldn’t tell you what the lyrics were saying. I know the melodies and the hooks, but I can’t tell you the meaning of it. That’s not something I gravitate towards.
I always wanted to produce my own music and do something in my own voice that used all of the influences that I’d built up over time. A friend of mine had shown me the Canadian band Chromeo’s first record and I’d enjoyed it, but I kind of left it at that. Their second album, Fancy Footwork, came out and it caught me at the right time. I knew that I could make music that infused modern production elements with retro songwriting styles.
Chromeo was the modern spark for me as far as producing ‘80s style music goes. I think they’ve mentioned in their interviews that they were the only people doing that sound at that time. There were a lot of New Wave types of sounds but Chromeo was more on the electro-funk side of things. Listening to them made me dig a little more into their influences, bands like The Whispers, Shalimar, Michael Jackson and Prince. There were also hooks from people like Huey Lewis & The News and a lot of those other one hit wonders who wrote great hooks.
KM: Talk to me about your creative process?
NNC: A new track always starts with a drum pattern and basslines. I’m definitely a big chord guy. I very rarely have just a three note chord, usually I go for sevenths or ninths. I like to describe my music as lush and I’m not afraid of calling it cute. That’s what I gravitate towards and what I enjoy listening to.
I produce and record everything myself. I have friends help me out on guitar and I’ll have their input on lyrics but everything is pretty much produced by me. Usually the whole track is done before vocals are done, but as I create the song I’m thnking about melodies, hooks and what the chorus is going to be and applying words to those melody lines is the last thing that I do.
KM: Tell me more about the creation of your Blue Electric Eyes album?
NNC: 2011 was my first release. It was kind of done on a whim. I didn’t have any aspirations by then. I wasn’t so naïve as to think that it would be something big. I did it more for myself because I wasn’t worried about “making it.” It freed me up to be creative and not worry about what was going to happen.
I’d released four or five albums and EPs between 2011 and 2015, but I hadn’t released anything after 2015. I’d gotten married and moved to a new house, so I was busy with those things. I knew that I wanted to record again, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I teach school as a full-time job so I didn’t have a lot of time to work on music.
I knew that I wanted to set aside blocks of time in the summer of 2018 to record. In the winter of 2017, I took a trip to Asheville NC which is the home of the Moog synthesizer factory. Being around those analog synths and around the aura of such priceless equipment really inspired me to start writing again with those analog sounds in mind. Sometimes the technology inspires the art. It reinvigorated me.
I strung off a couple of songs and I built momentum, so two songs led to four and four to eight. I was able to block off a lot of time last summer and focus on recording.
KM: What plans do you have for your music in the future?
NNC: I’m almost ten years into making music under Neon NiteClub. I promote my music as well as I can, but I want people to find it organically. I’ve been able to come into some success with a couple of websites like Soundreef which licenses music across Europe. They put music out into malls and shopping centers all across Europe, so I’ve been able to make a decent living off of that. Money isn’t everything with music, but it is nice to be compensated for your work. I would be lying if I said it didn’t inspire me to make more music.
It’s way more money than I ever would have hoped to make from music that started out as a side project. Moving forward, I’d like to continue writing and maybe not put albums out but put out a couple of singles every year. The reception for this last album has been very genuine and positive from people that I’ve never heard of before from across oceans. I have a bigger following internationally than I’ll ever have locally because of the appreciation for ‘80s synthpop and well-written dance music overseas.
I think I’ll have three or four singles. I already have two tracks that are ready to write lyrics for and to record, so maybe I’ll release a song for every season just to keep the momentum going.
KM: How do you recharge your creative batteries?
NNC: I definitely listen to a lot of music. My wife and my friends will attest that I don’t add much to my music collection. I listen to my playlist over and over again. I’ll listen to Prince, Michael Jackson and Chromeo. I always find those records make me happy and fulfill everything I’m looking for in music. I love movies too. I’m a video production teacher for the school I work at. The other half of my creativity lies in helping students find their voices. I love doing that and I get recharged by doing it.