An Interview with Synthwave Producer Meryl S. Kavanagh
Meryl S. Kavanagh is a synthwave producer from the U.S. Her project Eyeshadow 2600 FM reflects her fascination with cyberpunk themes and a passion for the imagination, nostalgia and futurism of the '80s. In an emailed interview, she told me about her passion for making music, her creative process and where she sees the synthwave scene going.
KM: How did your passion for making music first get ignited?
Meryl S. Kavanagh: It was actually way back in 2015 and I had barely even heard about, or knew what synthwave and retrowave were. My only reference for it at the time had been hearing something Eighties-ish in the movie Drive, but then I met someone who became a kind of short-term friend in this thing called Second Life, and she had a streaming station that she'd play inside of this virtual world and it was all synthwave. I remember a lot of Megadrive, Power Glove, d.notive and I would just sit there listening to the stuff day in and day out until one day it kind of just clicked. I wanted to make it, not just listen to it. This is coming from someone who was super into metal in my teens and twenties and not once did I ever stop and go, "I wish I could make this music, though". For some reason, these Eighties inspired synths had a much different effect and I knew right there I had to do it, if any of that makes sense.
KM: What are the factors that draw you into making synthwave/synth-based music?
MSK: I think aside from the ways in which I discovered it, I've always been kind of drawn in heavily by cyberpunk themes, and the imagination and nostalgia of the eighties, something that's really hard to come by nowadays, and to me that's just some of the coolest stuff. Like the eighties were a really special time for creativity I think, and not just with music but in movies and television and what people thought the future would be. And now we're all revisiting that and I think it's amazing to be part of it.
KM: Which musical artists have helped inspire and influence your approach to music?
MSK: I think my biggest influences, or people who just made me really feel like I had to figure this out and get into it were Perturbator, Megadrive, d.notive, Dance with the Dead, Powerglove and Dynatron (although I feel like I've been influenced by the entire scene and I regularly enjoy listening to so many different synthwave/retrowave artists). Dynatron especially influenced me though because of the big, cinematic space-themed atmospheres in a lot of tracks there like Cosmo Black. I could listen to that fifty thousand times without pause.
KM: Tell me more about your latest album ReKall. What were the ideas behind it and how did you go about creating it?
MSK: For a while I'd been trying to get to a point where you could really call what I do cyberpunk, rather than stints of retrowave and experimental electro. But then for this album I kind of pictured these themes of Cyberpunk 2077, Escape from New York, Total Recall, and I went all-in and just kind of held that image in my head the entire time. It took me about three or four months to put together and finished but what came out of all of that is probably, at least in my own opinion (if that counts), is my best work so far.
KM: How do you generally approach the creation of new music?
MSK: For me it usually involves late nights, tons of caffeine and just opening up FL Studio and slamming down a bunch of notes onto a piano roll until it maybe sounds like something, then I design a pad, and a bassline. Sometimes it turns into something like NightCity 2385, and sometimes it ends up being a quarter finished project file on my hard drive that never goes anywhere. It happens, too, at completely random times. I could be here playing a game, reading something or just watching a show and suddenly a burst of inspiration will hit me and if I don't open up my DAW right then and there I lose it. That's basically how it happens every single time and it's why my releases are sporadic.
KM: What are your future plans for your musical endeavours?
MSK: Eventually I want to expand what I do even more so, because right now I kind of consider myself or what I do to be pretty small, so like eventually I want to have a full-blown studio, you know, like keyboards or five laptops and two PCs like, that's kind of the dream for me. Just to be surrounded by all this stuff so I can keep on going forever and ever, I don't think I'll ever stop.
KM: How do you think the synthwave scene is doing lately?
MSK: I actually think the synthwave scene is probably one of the nicest ones I've seen or been around. I mean I haven't really had a chance to be involved in many other scenes directly in a music-making way, but being who I am and how I go through life, some people might look at this and wonder if maybe I experience any issues, but I really haven't and don't. The people in the synthwave scene are some of the coolest people I've come to know and I'm lucky to be here. That's not to say that everything is perfect, but you could say that about any aspect of music. Also seeing that synthwave is really starting to take off, I can only see it getting better from here and onward.
KM: What do you do to reinvigorate yourself creatively?
MSK: Sometimes I hit a wall and nothing I do feels like it's what I want and it can get real frustrating, but it's times like those that I have to take a step back and just focus on something else. Maybe a game, maybe a movie, and just breathe for a day, a couple days, a week at the most. I find if I need reinvigorating, it's best to step away and come back with fresh eyes and fresh ears and just try again. Kind of like how, if you're struggling with a boss in a video game, you always do better if you just go to sleep and do it later (how I've beaten every boss in the Dark Souls series).