An Interview with U.K. Synthwave Creator Pretty Glass Folk
Pretty Glass Folk is a U.K.-based synthwave producer. His approach to synthwave combines his guitar chops and warm vocals with a melancholy sensibility and sweeping washes of synth sound. Via email, we talked about his musical roots, how he approaches music creation and how he sees the global synthwave scene.
Karl Magi: What was the spark that lit your passion for music?
Pretty Glass Folk: Looking back, I think it was probably an event that happened to me as a kid. I used to play in our airing cupboard a lot and one day, I was playing in there and I found my dad’s friends' Les Paul.
I was mesmerised by it like it had a magical aura, my young mind was just like, ‘’Woah! I’ve just discovered an electric guitar hidden in my house!’’ Just the headstock was poking out of the case and as I was touching it, assessing it, boom! I pricked my finger on one of the string ends. I can see it now, I had a tiny drop of blood on the end of my finger from where I’d been pricked.
From there, I became fascinated with guitars and wanted to learn how to play, and I guess from playing guitar came my passion for music.
KM: How did you come to be interested in creating synthwave?
PGF: I think my answer to this is the same as a lot of other synthwave artists, it first started when I was watching Drive at the cinema the moment that song started to play. I was trying desperately to remember how it went. Actually, at the time, I remember frantically trying to memorise it so I could rush home and work it out on my guitar, so I could sing it back to myself.
Lo and behold, A Real Hero absolutely blew up and it didn’t take long for me to find out this breathtaking music was the work of College and Electric Youth. It completely blew my mind and I fell in love with that sentimental, melancholic neon sadness.
At this point I’d been in hard rock bands for most of my life being influenced by '80s hair metal bands, the likes of Motley Crüe, Def Leppard and Whitesnake.
I’d never considered the possibility that I could make music with synthesisers as I’d always played guitar and had no idea how they worked. Anyway, I think after a year or two down the synthwave rabbit hole listening to College, Lazerhawk and co I decided it was time to start creating my own synthwave, I started teaching myself to manipulate sounds exactly how I want them and I fell in love with the tweaking.
All in all, I felt like my musical influences, my writing style and my absolute passion for this genre intertwined in a way that gave me an excitement for making new music, I felt like I had something to offer.
KM: Which artists have shaped your view of music and why?
PGF: I think my view of music has been shaped by a few different eras and genres. I love all that polyrhythmic stuff you get with progressive metal bands like Tesseract and Meshuggah. While it’s not completely obvious, they do influence my view of music and how I create music, specifically in the drum department. I try to avoid using run of the mill synthwave staple beats where I can, and I try to write something with a little more groove.
When I was a teenager I cut my teeth playing guitar the metalcore way. In my early days I used to cover bands like, Trivium, Bullet For My Valentine and for those of you that don’t know, there’s this amazing band from York called Beyond All Reason, growing up they had a huge impact on the way I write music. I was also obsessed with bands like Def Leppard, Motley Crüe, Warrant, Skid Row, you get the picture… I always tried to find a way to incorporate aspects of their style into my own.
If I were to summarise my view on music and how it’s shaped the way I write music, I’d take: the intro and first verse of Don’t Turn Away by Whitesnake, the main riff and guitar solo from Fallen Angel by Poison, the precision of 2000’s metalcore guitar playing, the falsetto vocals of Venno from Beyond All Reason and the synths from Kim Carnes' Bette Davis Eyes. Take all that and you’re getting a good glimpse of the music I take to my soul and where I draw my musical inspirations from.
KM: How do you go about creating new music?
PGF: I’m one of those people that wakes up in the middle of the night desperately needing to write down an idea, whether it’s a lyric, a melody, what have you. Even when I’m watching something on TV, if I hear something in the background it’ll spark something and I’ll be like ‘’Hold up! We need to pause this whilst I get Logic up and punch in an idea it just sparked.’’ I’m really annoying to watch TV with! Joking! I’m not that bad. I just get a real sense of urgency because I need to get it down before it disappears from my mind. But yeah, moments like that in general add up to the creation of new music for me.
Most of the time I’ll get a basic idea down and never touch it again. I only tend to create actual songs when my creativity is firing on all cylinders and I get most of the song down there and then, otherwise it might as well be lost forever. My graveyard of creativity is vast.
I’m 100% happy with the ones that make it out alive and they’ll go towards creating a release of some kind, but even then they wind up in a knockout situation as to which ones best serve the track flow. I like to take my sweet time.
KM: What are your future plans for your music?
PGF: I’ve been working hard on my debut LP for the past year, I have no idea when I’ll finally decide it’s complete as I still have a lot to do. Artwork, writing, recording, mixing, mastering, distribution, making videos, timing everything right… The list goes on, but one thing is certain that being an independent artist is time consuming and when you’re seemingly never satisfied, it makes the process even worse… But it’s all fun and games!
I’d love to start performing my music live, playing shows, but right now I’m focussing on how to best do that… I’m a guitarist, not a synth player! I don’t want to turn up and sing over a backing track because that’s karaoke, right? Watch this space.
I have some collaborations in the works at the moment and I’m really happy with how they’re turning out. It’s great to work with other artists. Aside from putting your minds together creatively, it’s nice to network and get to know people in the scene. It’s a lot of fun
KM: How do you think the global synthwave scene is doing?
PGF: I think it's great! There are more and more shows and festivals happening where fans and artists can all get together and celebrate synthwave music. People playing shows in general has become a little bit more prevalent I’ve noticed, I recently watched Levinsky and Millennium Falck perform a live stream show, which I hope starts to catch on within the scene, it was so good!
I think we need more events like this, because we’re a tight knit community even though we’re spread out all over the globe, there are some criminally cool people in this scene and they’re all out to help each other succeed. I’ve made a lot of good friends, just out of the fact that we’re all in the same situation, we just want people to hear what we’re cookin’ up, and for me personally I’m just striving to give people that haven’t heard synthwave that same feeling the Drive moment gave to me in some way or another. I think that’s my ultimate goal. It just affected me so much.
KM: What are the things that you do to reinvigorate yourself musically?
PGF: If I’m completely honest, I get mad creativity blocks and sometimes I won’t touch anything of my own for a few weeks as a result. This is happening to me right now, I just get sick of my own indecision and problems that I create for myself and I end up telling myself I need to take a break before I decide to scrap everything. (Haha)
When I find myself in a creative rut with my own material, I definitely think collaborating with other artists helps me get away from my own purgatory for a while. It gives you a chance to start working on something with fresh ears. Splitting the song between artists takes the whole load off your mind too, so you only have to focus on what you’re specifically adding to the song. It’s just less taxing than working on a full song which, for me, means it’s easier and more fun.
I just came back to writing this after last night. I bought some software that lets me play my synths using my guitar as a controller. My mind Is blown and I’m excited, it’s just opened up a crazy new work flow and approach to writing songs for me. I’m so happy with it. Consider me musically liberated and reinvigorated.