An Interview with Ukrainian Synthwave Producer Earmake
Earmake is a Ukrainian synthwave producer who is passionate about creating music that is strongly influenced by retro-futurism, cinematic soundscapes and dreamy synths. In an email, we talked about his roots, his creative process and his view of the global synthwave scene.
Karl Magi: How did you first begin to be interested in making music?
Earmake: My process of becoming a musician began thanks to a Swedish DJ and musician Basshunter (Jonas Altberg). I loved genres of music like dancecore and hands-up, and their sub-genre branches. I listened to artists such as Manian, DJ Splash, Cascada, DJ Gollum, Italobrothers, and so on.
I heard the music of Basshunter, and came across a YouTube video of how Jonas was making this music. When I like a certain film or artist, I go to Wikipedia and read about it. In Basshunter’s biography, I read that he was an ordinary guy who played DOTA and wrote music in FL Studio, and at that time already had a contract with Warner Music. I decided to try making music, downloaded the program, and repeated the process (like many home producers).
My father was a DJ and collected imported music (Italo Disco). Italo Disco was quite difficult to get in the USSR, so my childhood was associated with that music.
KM: What got you interested in making synthwave music?
E: I discovered synthwave in a very funny way. Let me ask a counter question to all of you old school music lovers out there: Where did you first hear Nightcall? I am sure that almost everyone will answer, “In the movie ‘Drive’ “ but I heard this track in the Gameloft mobile game Gangstar Vegas. (I still haven’t watched Drive, and I won’t do it now).
I was driving in my car and the radio was playing Kavinsky. I was surprised by the very strange vocal, got onto Google, read the artist's biography, and then listened to his other works. His music, his visual style and his style of clothes won me over. After that, I started to quickly get into synthwave culture.
KM: Who are the musical artists that have inspired you?
E: Like many people, my tastes depend on the time in which a particular genre is popular. I went through Russian rap, punk rock and Eurodance. All of this (fortunately) is over. I listened to those styles as a teenager. As I said earlier, the first artist that inspired me was Basshunter and then Kavinsky. I love the visual style of Outrun music, but I’ve never tried to write it and I don’t want to. I am a romantic. I like cinematic music, space music and dreamwave music.
I also really like ambient music and Berlin School music. I’ve been most influenced by Tangerine Dream, Global Communication, Stellardrone and Carbon Based Lifeforms. I am also very inspired by the work of Dynatron with whom I have a collaboration currently.
KM: How do you approach making new music?
E: You know, over time, inventing something new becomes more difficult. As Uncle Ben said in Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility." The higher you rise, the more people expect from you, and sometimes it is difficult to keep the bar high. When I first started writing music, I had a lot of enthusiasm and inspiration.
One example is the track called Nightly Flights from my album WANA. Nightly Flights was actually played in the eighth episode of the second season of the HBO series - Vice Principals.
I wrote the track after I’d gone out at night. I’d looked at the stars, felt the cool breeze on my skin, returned home and wrote a demo. I finished the track on the next night because of my enthusiasm, zeal and inspiration. Now I have to keep that bar high and take care not only of my creative approach to music, but also its quality. Nevertheless, it remains a creative process.
Sometimes I am inspired by the works of my colleagues, sometimes I am inspired by landscapes and nature, sometimes I want to try something new for myself. Over time, I began to increasingly creating sci-fi atmospheres in my music. I’m inspired by retro-futurism (Hi Dynatron!), so therefore I am inspired by everything connected with it.
KM: What are your future goals for your musical career?
E: As for my future, I signed a contract with NRW Records this year. It’s the biggest label and trademark in our genre, so I’ve reached the peak that I’ve dreamed of throughout my musical career. Of course, I still want to continue writing music and improving my skills. I want to be one of the top artists in synthwave. I was nominated for “the best synthwave project from Russia/Ukraine/Belarus” by a large Russian synthwave group on vk.com. My track on NRW scored two million yearly views.
When you see positive results from your work, it inspires you to even greater heights. Due to quite frequently playing live at parties here, my goal is to play in the synthwave scene in another country, or even overseas. Recently, I’ve increasingly been thinking about an alternative project in a different genre of music. I really love psybient music. I even wrote a collaboration with a top psybient artist from Russia called Astronaut Ape that’s coming out soon.
KM: What are your thoughts about the global synthwave music scene?
E: This music is beautiful, so even somebody who doesn’t know about synthwave is drawn into it from the first second of listening.
The problem is that the synthwave scene is overrun with similar works. Every day, a new home producer is born. Often it’s some schoolboy who has downloaded FL Studio and repeats the same simple Outrun sequence (for example) of bass with sidechain over and over. Synthwave is becoming more mainstream and part of pop culture. It’s used in movies, games and TV shows but it’s also still underground. There’s still soulful, nostalgic, non-commercial synthwave out there. It’s the type of synthwave that doesn’t get played at big festivals.
There’s still too much similar music. I entered this genre when Aphasia Records and Rosso Corsa Records were the dominant labels, and the most popular artists were Betamaxx, Miami Nights, and Lazerhawk. At that time there was not a lot of this music, but it was very melodic and unique (Absurd. Sorry! I understand that synthwave is built on the repetition of the old).
Everything old becomes new again. Old cultures come back in again. Right now,the fashion is for ‘80s music, movies and clothing, but maybe soon everyone will get tired of it. I really hope that this won’t happen because most modern music is commercial nonsense. Synthwave is music for the soul, so we are the only hope in the world.
KM: How do you rebuild your creative inspirations?
E: Over time, it becomes more difficult. As I said earlier, in addition to inspiration, you have to think about quality. Sometimes it doesn’t work out the way that I want it to and sometimes I want something that doesn’t work.
I’m doing a reboot, so I listen to other genres and I don’t listen to new releases in synthwave. I can't bring myself to write something unless it comes spontaneously. I can sit down and try to do something, but I won’t get it or I can sit down and write a track in a day. Creativity is something from which you don’t know what to expect. You can try to do one thing - and get something completely different, which is even cooler than what you originally wanted.
Besides all of my romantic words about creativity, there is still such a thing as need. Sometimes need obliges one to be creative. For example, if I haven’t had any new releases for a long time, it’s time to force myself to write something new. Either a commitment to a specific contract (I now have another one besides my NRW contract) or several contracts for soundtracks.
Sometimes there are moments that I cannot control and those are what we call inspiration. It’s my favorite feeling, so I wish everyone could feel it more often.