An Interview with U.K. Synthwave Artist Metropolis
Metropolis (Josh Anglim) is a U.K. based creator of synthwave music. He crafts music drenched in nostalgia and filled with emotive melodies that takes listeners on a sonic journey. I talked to him about how he got started with music, his creative process and where he wants to take his music in the future.
Karl Magi: What started your passion for making music in general?
Josh Anglim: I can't tell you exactly when the turning point was, but around 2011 I remember I used to record covers using Audacity and a really old USB microphone that came with Guitar Hero. They sounded horrendous but there was something about the ritual and process of recording audio that really kickstarted my love for it.
At this point, I was still extremely unfamiliar with electronic music and I was heavily invested in the emo and grunge revival scene where I was listening to a lot of bands like Basement, Title Fight, and Citizen. I was still doing my A-levels at the time and I had no idea what I wanted to do after, but something clicked towards the end of my second year and my growing passion for creating and recording music was an indication to me that I could possibly pursue this as a career. I decided to go to college and study music technology which is where my passion really blossomed and I developed a more eclectic taste in music.
KM: What is it about synthwave that first drew you into making that style of music?
JA: Synthwave as a genre was completely alien to me until 2015. I'm a huge Fightstar fan, so when I heard that Dan and Alex were involved in a new project under the alias GUNSHIP in 2015 I was immediately interested. I was at university at the time and I can vividly recall listening to Fly For Your Life for the first time, which was my first taste of synthwave. I remember being completely overwhelmed with emotion and nostalgia, so much so that I played their debut album several times in that one sitting.
Initially, I think what drew me to the record was purely the evocative and nostalgic aspects. When I was growing up my dad would always be playing synth pop and New Wave records around the house and in the car; Bands like Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Soft Cell, Frankie Goes To Hollywood etc; In 2015 I still wasn't experienced with contemporary synth-heavy, electronic music, so I probably subliminally associated the sonic identity and instrumentation on that GUNSHIP album exclusively with my childhood. The sentimental and emotional connection I have with that album was definitely the catalyst behind the origins of Metropolis.
KM: Who are some of the musical artists from whom you draw inspiration and why do they inspire you?
JA: Mitch Murder has always had a huge influence on me production wise. As a producer, I always strive to get my mixes as clear and crisp as possible and 90% of the time i'll use a Mitch Murder track to reference when i'm mixing because his production knowledge is genuinely transcendent. In terms of song writing and sonic narrative, i'd say that Le Cassette and Pinegrove have had a huge impact on my musical style. Le Cassette just have this kind of ethereal magic about them where they use a perfect combination of synthesisers, structure, and chord progressions to give their songs emotional context. I think having the ability to write both a wistful ballad like This Is All We Know and a track full of energy like Digital Power really shows how intricate and poised their song writing expertise are. This act of accurately representing an emotion through melody and sonic choices is an idea I always try and incorporate into my music.
I think that Pinegrove have definitely influenced me to be more conscious and attentive when constructing a sonic narrative throughout my tracks. Their songs will often continuously evolve and develop structurally, a characteristic I find important as it takes the listener on a journey through the events that drive the song. This is a concept i've tried to incorporate and emphasise throughout the new album. Bicep and Tonebox are two artists who have very recently began to inspire me. I only discovered them recently but their experimental approach to synthesis has really encouraged me to explore a wider array of textures and tones within my work.
KM: Give me a run down of your creative process when you're coming up with new tunes.
JA: Generally, I don't sit down with the intention to start creating a new track, I feel like it restricts me almost. I spend a great deal of time experimenting with synthesis in an attempt to generate sounds evocative of the 80's era, which I feel is a concept that can be vastly overlooked sometimes. There definitely is a subtle formula to creating synthwave music, and the the choice of synthesiser design is definitely an important component. Implementing sounds that are redolent of the past definitely add to the sentimental experience of listening to synthwave, and equally using the wrong type of synthesis or sounds can really remove the listener from the whole concept and aesthetic surrounding the genre, so this is very important to me when approaching my music.
I typically use digital emulations of analogue synthesisers like the MiniV, DX7, Prophet V, and the JX-8P. When I find a sound I particularly like, a melody usually comes naturally to me and I build the rest of the song around that. I find it benefits my workflow to layer various different arpeggios and pad progressions all together, and then break them down by finding relevant places to filter them in and out throughout the song. This way I know they'll work anywhere within the context of the track.
KM: What is the state of the synthwave scene in the U.K.?
JA: Synthwave is still a very niche genre in the U.K, but there are some incredible artists and organisers pushing the scene right now. You have Artists like VHS Dreams, Futurecop!, and Le Cassette who have already set the bar for the standard of Synthwave coming out of the U.K and I'm sure everyone is eagerly awaiting the release of GUNSHIP's new album which is going to be huge. You also have artists like Beckett who might not be as well known, but sure can deliver phenomenal pieces of work. I think the scene here will only continue to grow and events like the recent Night Arcade show in Manchester with Robert Parker and the Tech Noir stage featured at this years Standon Calling festival are a testament to its growing popularity.
KM: Tell me more about your latest album and how you approached making it?
JA: Initially I already had two songs written for the album back in December 2017, which were Open Late and Undercover. Throughout a couple of writing sessions earlier this year it became apparent that my sonic identity was moving further away from the style of them tracks and developing into something completely different, so I decided to release them as singles. I began to find myself gravitating back to the DX7 as the writing sessions began to progress, where it became a staple of my production signature throughout the album.
I had been juggling with the idea of a themed/concept album for a while throughout the albums conception but none of my ideas were compelling enough for me to pursue. Around May, Midnight Plaza and Sunset Drive were written with the intentions of being sonic representations of Miami culture, and they were among the last of the songs to be developed for the album. From here it became evident that the album narrative I had been searching for had already naturally taken shape in the form of documenting an experience in 1980's Miami, and the idea of Jack Fisher organically followed suit.
KM: Where would you like to see your career going in the future?
JA: I would absolutely love to be involved with soundtracks for retro inspired films/games if the opportunity arose. I recently watched Summer Of 84 and Le Matos absolutely smashed the soundtrack to it. Their work really added to the depth of the movie and complimented the mood. I've already started working on couple of soundtrack projects with a various selection of moods and soundscapes in the vein of Stranger Things and Summer Of 84. This is just to build up a portfolio of material intended for soundtracks in preparation of being approached. Live shows and touring are definitely on my list but i'd like to get a bit more material behind Metropolis first, as it's a prospect which would need to be properly funded. However if there was enough demand for live shows i'm sure something could be arranged. In terms of music, you can definitely expect another album from me in the future and Jack Fisher will definitely return.
KM: How do you reinvigorate yourself creatively?
JA: I definitely think it's good to take time away from projects to let the cobwebs subside and recharge the batteries. I'm currently taking a bit of time off from synthwave and indulging in numerous other musical projects. I think doing this gives you a fresh perspective and allows your brain to be filled up with a brand new collection of inspiration ready to go for the next record. Sometimes It also helps me creatively to simply just go charging in head on and binge on 80's films. Black Rain, The Lost Boys, Risky Business and Roadhouse usually get my creative juices flowing. There's no doubt that we can sometimes doubt ourselves as producers by comparing our work to the pioneers of the scene, so every now and then I have to take a step back and remind myself that we're only human and music at its purest is a form of expression that is meaningful to each and every one of us in some way or another.