An Interview with U.K. Synthwave Producer Rogue Neon
Rogue Neon (John Michael Lowe) is a U.K.-based synthwave producer. He draws his musical inspiration from the cartoons, movies and video games of his childhood, but explains that he doesn't always "colour inside the lines" as he creates his unique blend of sounds.
In an email, he told me about why he first fell in love with synthwave, his latest album entitled Visitors and his view of the global synthwave scene.
Karl Magi: In general, what made you interested in creating music to begin with?
John Michael Lowe: Wow that's a big question. I was drawn to music from a young age, I loved cartoons and the theme songs that came with them, same with movies and video games. If a movie or game had an amazing soundtrack I'd get an old cassette player and record it straight off the TV and try to time it so I'd have a neat little mix tape for my Walkman when I was out riding my bike.
Nothing got my heart racing like discovering a new song and falling in love with it. I had all this inspiration but I didn't know how the hell to utilise it.
I took a leap when I was 18, my friend told me I could have his old acoustic guitar and I just didn't put it down. I have dyspraxia so my concentration and coordination isn't great but I was addicted.
I brought out the old tape recorder and started recording little ideas, and as I improved I got to join bands and learn from them about music theory and recording.
Talking to other musicians was the best thing I ever did because there is so much to know, and there's a lot of knowledge across all the numerous producers out there.
I still consider myself intermediate at best when it comes to creating music, but that's only cause I know so many people who are amazing at it, and I have to really exercise willpower and not bug them every day for advice or assistance.
KM: What are the elements and ideas that have especially attracted you to creating synthwave?
JML: As I've said I loved cartoons, video games and movies growing up, still do. Synthwave and retro rock is something I've always had somewhere inside me, I've dabbled in punk, indie and metal but there was always something missing. When I discovered the synthwave genre as a standalone field of music as opposed to revisiting old soundtracks I realised it was what I wanted to do. I might not always colour inside the lines so to speak but you can't just replicate if you want to create.
When I discovered the synthwave genre I fell down a rabbit hole. Like most people I'd played Hotline Miami and FarCry Blood Dragon and consequently discovered Perturbator and Power Glove, from there on I found Dance With The Dead, LeBrock, Carpenter Brut, The Midnight and before those days it was soundtracks from the likes of John Carpenter and Vince DiCola who gifted me with tons of inspiration.
KM: How do you go about creating new music?
JML: I sit down and I just put a simple beat down and then I do one of two things. Either I put a single note into a bass line and play a higher melody over the top to find a riff, or I put a chord progression down and pick up my guitar.
From there, I just instinctively go where I want to. Sometimes I'll love it and be unable to stop, sometimes nothing more comes and then I save it for another time. You never know what secrets might get uncovered later if you approach a project in a different mood or mindset.
KM: Tell me more about Visitors. What were the ideas behind the album and what was your overall musical approach to the album?
ML: When Stranger Things came out, most of us who grew up with ET and Stephen King movies saw the love letter being written right away. I got an idea for a "Kids on Bikes" movie or TV show but it was all about aliens rather than extra-dimensional creatures or masked killers.
It got split into two acts, I wanted to have the sci-fi action adventure motif of laser blasters, fighter pilots in space, but I also wanted to have the mysterious vibes that come with the "Kids on Bikes" genre.
I'd be lying if I said that the Stranger Things composers from SURVIVE hadn't inspired me a little, even though a few synth elitists will probably string me up for admitting it.
That being said, the Stranger Things soundtracks are masterpieces in my eyes, so I feel no guilt in admitting that I drew a lot of inspiration from them.
The more guitar driven action packed songs came from somewhere else, I'm not entirely sure where but they came to me very easily in a lot of ways.
KM: Where do you want to take your music in the future?
JML: I'm already thinking about album three. Part of me would really like to do a heavy metal album with synth elements, think Mötley Crüe meets Europe.
Another part of me would like to go down the sunshine and happiness route that was present with quite a few tracks in my first album.
First of all, I think I need to learn some new techniques to further improve the quality of my releases. I'm a huge self-critic which is why I spent a lot longer than I should have done deliberating over releasing Visitors when I knew I probably couldn't improve the quality at this current stage in my mixing and mastering ability.
KM: Give me your take on where the synthwave scene is at globally?
JML: I think it's amazing how many people are doing synthwave, I think there's more organisation needed to really give the music a proper stage, especially for smaller artists.
I remember there used to be far more of a local scene for music in each town and city, and I've seen that diminish over time. But as long as we have pioneers like the Midnight, Perturbator and Dance With The Dead (to name but a few) I think it's alive and well and it's going to keep going.
KM: Where do you find creative inspiration when the well is running dry?
JML: If I'm not inspired I have to just stop, creating in cold blood is difficult for me and it's very unsatisfying. Sometimes I won't do any creating for weeks and I'll listen to other music. Then I'll find a hunger in me to make something and when I act on it I can usually make something I like. Primarily I write music that I'm going to enjoy listening to. It makes the mixing process a lot less painful.