An Interview with Synthwave Artist Full Eclipse
Full Eclipse is an artist who is passionate about the crisp production values and synthesized sounds of ‘80s music, but he’s also interested in injecting human feeling and touch into the music he creates. While there’s a retro element to his music, he also explores questions about the future of humanity and where our relationship with technology is going. I talked to him about his creative process, the themes and ideas he explores in his music and how he refreshes himself creatively.
Karl Magi: What sparked your initial interest in music?
Full Eclipse: I grew up in the ‘80s and my earliest memories of starting to appreciate music and getting involved with it are listening to it at home and driving in the car with my parents hearing the radio. A lot of the music that was popular at the time really embraced the digital age with synthesis, programming and MIDI. The pop tunes in the ‘80s used a lot of synths and lush, atmospheric pads. The songs had really crisp, clean production and that definitely appealed to me, so even at a young age I started tuning in. My interest in music was maintained throughout my formative years into my teens and twenties.
In my teens, in the ‘90s and early millennium, I really got into post-punk and grunge music. Throughout all of that, I always had a strong interest in what people were doing with synthesizers as well, so despite the fact that grunge stripped away all of the excess and the synthetic elements of ‘80s music, I still really liked hearing the production. It had that aspect and element of humanity in it. Grunge was certainly going for that, so I’d say that my fascination with the crisp and clean production of ‘80s music coupled with grunge music’s raw emotion is something that I go for in my music.
KM: What has drawn you towards synthwave music?
FE: Most of the music within the synthwave genre goes for the more slick, polished and digital sounds. Certain musicians and producers within synthwave are still seeking out an emotional response from their listeners, but they’re going at it in kind of a roundabout way which I appreciate. Artists like Bart Graft, Hello Meteor and FM-84 are really trying to tap into a more emotional, passionate feeling within the synthetic. I think it’s a noble pursuit because, when you’re using a lot of digital technology, it’s very difficult to sound human and emotional. The artists I’m drawn towards, am influenced by, and appreciate the most within synthwave are the ones who’re able to achieve that and are quite clearly producing their work first and foremost as a labour of love. I find that incredibly impressive!
KM: Talk about some of the themes and ideas that you want to explore in your music.
FE: Having described how I appreciate the amalgamation between the human and the synthetic and digital, I aim for that myself. A lot of the themes in my music relate to the difficult cohabitation between the human, the electronic and the synthetic.
My debut EP Survival was absolutely a passion project that had everything to do with my concerns for where we’re going as a human race. We’re hurtling towards the unknown with our technological advances, yet our understanding of ourselves doesn’t seem to be advancing at the same rate. I just wonder whether we can navigate the future in a safe way or whether we’re headed towards some sort of oblivion.
I wouldn’t call myself a fear-monger or a doomsayer, but I do have concerns. Sometimes it’s great to have a conversation in words about these things, but sometimes it’s a gut feeling and the best way for me to express those kinds of feelings is through my music.
KM: How does the creative process work for you when you’re coming up with new music?
FE: When I first started dabbling in electronic production, I would often start with drum patterns and then layer melodies and pads on top of that. In the last two or three years, I’ve been starting with a melody or some kind of sequence of chords in my head. I’d put that down and record it, do some additional tracking and fine-tuning, and then fill in the blanks with a bassline and drums. I’m very much a melody-driven individual, so when I listen to music I am mostly focused on a melody and that’s what resonates with me and what I remember about the music that I love.
KM: How do you bridge the gap between humanity and synthesis in your music?
FE: I honestly avoid using MIDI and I avoid quantization. I’d say 99 percent of the keyboard and synth work in my music has been hand played without any quantization or MIDI. It’s just being hand played and sometimes I’ll have to play a part a couple of times to get it right and sometimes, if I’m lucky, I’ll just manage to catch that perfect take and nail it on the first try. Those subtle off time sections or slips of the finger while I’m using the bend or modulation wheels on a synth are what put a little humanity into it.
When I know that my hands are on a physical keyboard or other hardware and I am slamming my fingers down on those keys or revving that oscillator knob, it’s kind of a release for me. It ensures that what I’m doing is more from the heart and that it’s me speaking, rather than inputting something into a computer and that computer digitally interpreting my emotions.
KM: Talk about your views on synthwave/retrowave and where that scene is at now as well as its future.
FE: A lot of electronic music, since its earliest days to its becoming more mainstream, has been about exploring the future and about pushing the envelope to see where it could go. Now, many decades later, the technology has gotten better and people’s understanding and acceptance of electronic music has increased, but at this point there’s a huge number of people who enjoy electronic music who are comfortable looking back at and referring back to earlier ages of it.
The ‘80s was a fantastic era for electronic music when it was becoming refined and making strides, but there was so much in that sound that didn’t get explored then, so let’s see what we can do to push that sound even further and go in directions that weren’t broached at that time while maintaining the moods, atmospheres and artistic spirit of the era. I love that about it because a big part of synthwave is the nostalgia factor. Although young synthwave listeners weren’t around in the ‘80s, they still have an appreciation for that sound. A lot of synthwave has a sound that’s archaic at this point and it harkens back to what we classify as a stylistically better time.
We can look back and see now that the ‘80s were, at times, a shit show of raging capitalism, superficiality, vanity and greed, but I can’t deny that some of the looks, some of the styles and some of the feels of that era are undeniably slick, cool and fascinating.
KM: Tell me more about some of the current projects with which you’re engaged.
FE: There’s a new album coming out, but I haven’t set a specific release date. It’ll be eleven or perhaps twelve brand new tracks. There’s going to be several featured guests. I know several jazz musicians, so therefore I’ve added a good amount of live tenor sax and trombone. There are also some guest vocals from a friend and bandmate called FRM and I’ve also put my own vocals into quite a few of the songs.
Those tracks are all mostly done and sent off to my mixing guy, DATAStream, whose real name is Martyn Stonehouse. He’s a familiar name within synthwave and he’s in charge of mixing and mastering, which is excellent. I also have Bart Graft doing some fantastic guitar and synth work on one of my tracks and a producer who goes by the name LeFanu who is a passionate musician with a rock background and just a passionate, heartfelt person in general. He’s also an ardent lover of synth music, so we’ve talked as friends for several years now and he threw down some beautiful synth work on one of my tracks too.
The album is going to be called Former Selves and that title has to do with exploring identity in this age of social media and posturing on the Internet. It’s about people trying to put their best face forward and not really being able to quite understand the nature of another person or even themselves, really. In this age of social media, there are such extreme examples of narcissism and vanity that we’re exposed to every day. I think it’s a risk for most people who decide to put a lot of their lives on social media. It’s almost inevitable that when you put a lot of effort into being a presence on social media there’s a danger that you become a face and a look rather than a voice and a heart. People start to rely on and perceive themselves as what they’ve created rather than who they truly are.
KM: How do you keep yourself creatively inspired?
FE: There’s always new inspiration to be found in the music of the past, but it’s also easy to be inspired when you’re listening to all of the incredible new music that’s out there these days. We have such easy access to it, although you do have to wade through what you’re not partial to in order to get to the gems. If you’re persistent you can do it and find some incredible music. I find that just exploring Bandcamp, SoundCloud and Spotify keeps my finger on the musical pulse. There’s such a wealth of material out there that’s truly inspired and that inspires me in return.
I’m also inspired by cinema. As a guy who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s with an appreciation for film, I am absolutely captivated by some of the film scores that I heard back in the day. The Blade Runner score is a landmark not just within the area of scores and electronic composition, but as an inspiration to synthwave artists too. I’m starting to hear that passion and the embrace of the retro again in modern scores. The new Blade Runner 2049 score was mind-blowing to me, although it was vastly different from the original Vangelis score from 1982, it was incredible nonetheless and perfectly suited to the new film without relying too heavily on retreading or recreating what’s already been done.
It showed us how updated, modern technology and tools can be used to create futuristic, state-of-the-art music that’s still beautifully timeless, emotionally rich, and yet has a vintage appeal to it.