An Interview with Synthwave Band Tom Selica
Tom Selica is a synthwave duo made up of two childhood friends with a passion for creating music together. As they put it, "Childhood friends. Associates. Amigos. Two kids who inadvertently unearthed an ancient entity via synthesizer seance. Now we have a sexy, bloody situation on our hands."
In an emailed interview, we discussed the band's origins, their creative process and the synthwave scene in general.
Interview with Tom Selica
KM: How did Tom Selica come about as a project?
Tom Selica: Both of us have had several musical projects over the years. Yet, somehow we always wind up working with one another. Whether one of us is recording, mixing, producing, or simply standing in the crowd while the other performs--we've always been involved.
I think Tom Selica is an amalgamation of all that time spent plus a yearning for something new. Something that neither of us has ever really done. Plus, growing up together, we share a dynamic that allows us to come up with ridiculous themes such as otherworldly creatures that have risen from the grave and taken on the form of famous '80s pop icons.
KM: What is it about synthwave music that so appeals to you as music creators?
TS: As huge nerds growing up alongside one another, we've always had an appreciation for sci/fi, horror, and adventure. Synthwave embodies all of those things plus the nostalgia of the era where it all came from. Synthwave also combines the best of two worlds: old school, analog-type sounds mixed with modern production techniques. That, in and of itself, is enough to get our inner nerds raging. We both come from very diverse musical backgrounds and preferences, but somehow synthwave and its associated sub-genres form a common ground for us, one where we can come together and find something to create together.
KM: Who are your major musical influences and why did they play such a pivotal role in shaping your approach to music?
TS: Between the two of us, we have influences that span dozens of artists, genres, and eras. But that's kinda what makes Tom Selica, Tom Selica. He is the byproduct of two very different spectrums. Both of us come from such different musical backgrounds that it's difficult to pinpoint a specific musical influence.
While one of us was playing metal shows, the other was holed up in his bedroom behind a laptop. We try to embrace our eclectic tastes and incorporate that into our sound. While synthwave is our main theme, we certainly don't confine ourselves to it. If something sounds dope but it doesn't fit the bill, we're not going to trash it, we'll find a way to work it into the mix. We like to think we have a little something for everybody; funk, metal, EDM, you name it.
KM: How does the creative process work for you as you come up with new music?
TS: We don't have a very strict process for coming up with new tunes. However, it usually starts with one of us jotting down the bare-bones structure of a song. We find that getting the basic structure on paper is the most crucial aspect of the writing process. It's far too easy to get wrapped up in sound design and mixing and end up with an eight bar loop that sounds amazing but never goes any further than that.
Once we have the basic idea down, that's when the fun part starts and we get to tweak knobs and press buttons, switch between different instruments, modify the arrangement etc; We try our best to let every stage of the creative process have its own scheduled slot. For example, after the song structure is hashed out, we start working on sound design; getting our leads, basses, and patches where we'd like them to sound, experimenting with different plugins and FX, layering patches, whatever. After that, we start the mixing process; getting everything where it needs to be and shaping it to make it all fit together.
Point is, while we're figuring out the structure of the song, we're not messing around with getting the bass to sound perfect or compressing our drums. Most of the voices and patches we're using during the structuring phase are all placeholders anyway.
KM: Tell me more about some of your current musical projects?
TS: We are currently working on a three song EP that includes three different versions of the first song that we recorded called Fright Night. We are going to include the original, but it will be beefed up and given the proper production that it deserves. Along with that will be two reinterpretations that hint towards the story of the concept behind Tom Selica (the character). When it's finished, it will be a three track long saga where you can press play and never hear a break in the music between tracks. Each track will seamlessly blend into the next. It's something that we've never tried before and we're really excited to get it packaged up and shipped out.
After that, we have stuff coming that has been gestating for some time now - our next wave of brand new tracks that we can't wait to share. There's still some work to be done, but when it's ready it'll hopefully make a big impression and be a more refined version of our sound that brings both of our influences together in harmony.
KM: What does the future hold for Tom Selica?
TS: One of the biggest factors that inspires us is collaborating with other musicians--both inside and outside the genre. We recently remixed Artemesis' Drive; the entire track fell into place by itself and was completed within a month. There's a spark made by collaborating with other musicians that you can't quite recreate alone. So, looking towards the future, we'd like to be more involved in other artists' projects, include more features on our projects, continue to remix tracks that we enjoy, and eventually co-produce an album.
KM: What are your impressions of the current state of the synthwave scene?
TS: There's no doubt whatsoever that the scene is growing at an exponential rate. So many producers, young and old, are finding something to connect to in synthwave and it's truly wonderful. On top of new people entering the scene every day, the community that's present is absolutely phenomenal. We never knew that we could hop online, share our music, and have so much joking around with and supporting all these strangers. But that's really the joy of music isn't it? Opening doors, spanning continents and finding common ground.
Where does synthwave go from here? Hopefully only up. You see influences of the outrun/'80s aesthetic slipping in everywhere nowadays - from pop music and back into pop culture. There is a huge appeal to it, especially to younger folks who are craving the magic of a bygone era - simpler times.
The scene and its producers and artists need to take care to not let the sound stagnate. The only way growing musical genres can survive is by cross-pollinating and evolving, not pumping out the same things time and time again. We're trying to keep this in mind and trying to bring in musical influence from everywhere we can so that we can help with injecting new DNA into the formula as much as possible.
KM: How do you recharge your creative batteries?
TS: I'm sure the answer varies between the two of us, but when things get a bit too stressful and there's risk of burning out, we turn to the tried and true method: taking a step back, finding a nice place to spread and soaking in some cosmic rays. Let the sun in. Get outside. Breathe in the fresh air, talk with a friend, hug a loved one. Pursue human connection as much as possible; as artists it can be easy to forget how much time has passed and that there is an outside world moving along with or without our interaction.
When you're a long distance band especially, the main mode we have to interact with people is through online communication. In order to thrive and keep pumping out creative energy, we need to remember that inspiration lives outside, not only on the inside. Exposure to new experiences, places, people and things is what recharges not only our creativity, but our souls as well. But hey if it's snowing or the gods are throwing a tropical storm our way, there ain't nothing wrong with hunkering down with a good video game - classic or otherwise.