Karl is a longtime freelancer who's passionate about music, art, and writing.
Raydar (Lawrence King) is a Canadian synthwave artist who creates music influenced by his nostalgia for '80s films along with an interest in making music that's true to his personal views on electronic music. I talked to him about how he got started, his sources of creative inspiration and how he goes about making new music.
Karl Magi: How did you get interested in making music to begin with?
Lawrence King: I wrote music and played in bands all through high school. I was never interested in electronic music until the end of high school. I was taking some mixed media classes and they were showing us basic music production software like FL Studio and Logic. We learned how to record bands and that’s how I got my start with electronic music. I got into Deadmau5, but I had no idea how electronic music was produced or created.
My friend had a cracked version of FL Studio that he put on my family computer. I just tinkered away on it, making goofy little songs and eventually I bought Logic which is when the Raydar stuff started to happen.
KM: What is it that drew you towards making retrowave/synthwave music?
LK: It comes from a love of '80s movies because I really like the sense of nostalgia. The whole idea behind Evil Squad was an homage to retro horror movies. I was really inspired by John Carpenter. Actually it was Lazerhawk’s album Skull and Shark that was a pretty big inspiration for me.
I didn’t know about NewRetroWave for a long time, even though I listened to a lot of that style of music. I visited their website because I was trying to ship my music off to labels. I have music out from when I was in high school on a Toronto based label called Bug Eyed Records. It never really went anywhere but there were a few singles and an EP I put out with them. Those were my first experiences with any kind of a label.
NewRetroWave just seemed more accessible so I tried to make a retro sounding song, even though I wasn’t into that sound as full on as I am now, but they liked it and they asked if I had more music. I was working on that first Evil Squad EP, so I shipped it off to them and they liked it and put it up on their YouTube channel. Ever since then, I’ve had a pretty good relationship with NewRetroWave.
KM: Talk about some of the themes and ideas you explore in your music.
LK: On my first full length album on NewRetroWave, I tried to create a sound that was a bit more true to what I had set out to make originally with electronic music whereas the first Evil Squad EP was my attempt at being really on the nose with that synthwave style. Now that I had my foot in the door, I wanted to take what I’d learned from doing that and make something more accessible, not just straight up dark, heavy synthwave. I always look at myself as the least synthwave-y synthwave artist.
With that album, I tried to start off kind of mellow and it gets kind of heavy in the middle with songs like Beatdown and Cut Lip and then it plateaus back into something more mellow. I try to look at my albums like a story. I try to imagine how a stranger to my music would want to listen to it and that’s how I piece the albums together. It’s rare that I just have an offshot on a random song and put that up. I try to package my stuff in a methodical way.
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I’m working on a second full length album that I haven’t presented to NewRetroWave. I do have a narrative in mind for it. It’s a bit of a romantic coming of age story.
KM: How does the process of creating new music work for you?
LK: It never really starts out with an idea beforehand. A lot of times it starts from opening up a project, maybe laying down some drums and tinkering around with a synthesizer. I get exhausted really quickly and close up the project. A lot of the times it just happens by tinkering around and finding something that I like about what I’ve been working on and just starting to build it up. I might build up sections of a song in different arrangements or maybe build up three different songs in one project and maybe just space them apart really far in the timeline. I’ll see what I like about each of those things and maybe incorporate them together. It’s always a different process.
For example, on the new album I’m working on, there’s a song that’s inspired by the Black Mirror episode called San Junipero. It’s a really melancholy, sombre song. I just get inspiration from so many different places. In that case, it was the aesthetic that the episode had that inspired me. In other cases, I might decide that I might want to make a really heavy song or I’ll be playing with a synthetic horn sound or electronic piano to come up with something cool.
KM: What are your views on electronic music generally and synthwave music more specifically?
LK: I’m not really the biggest fan of electronic music in general, especially for somebody who makes it. I’ve never really been into that scene at all. What I like about electronic music and what inspired me to create it were acts like Deadmau5, Justice and Daft Punk because of the innovation that they brought to their live shows and the way that they work. It was awesome being able to watch Deadmau5 live streaming because there was no mystery. He was trying to pull down those walls around the music.
The electronic music scene is hard to navigate for me. It’s especially true for someone who plays in bands. I come from more of a punk rock background, so when it comes to getting gigs, it’s hard to try and approach that as an electronic musician as opposed to as a band. Everyone just thinks you’re a DJ and it’s totally different.
As far as synthwave fits into that, I’ve had more success doing electronic music on my own than doing my band stuff, but I feel really isolated because I’m having a difficult time getitng immersed in that scene the same way I would with a band. Even now, I’ve yet to really find a synthwave community in Toronto. It’s there and I have to go find it, but a lot it just doesn’t really appeal to me.
KM: What are your current projects and what do you have in mind for the future?
LK: I’m gearing up for a full length album that’s more in the vein of Neon Graffiti. I have about half of it done in a demo form, but the thing that I wanted to do with this album was make a real retro album. I don’t mean retro only in the sense that it sounds like it could have been from the ‘80s. I wanted to make an album where all of the stems and tracks are transferred to analog recording tape. It would be a long process, but that’s what I am working towards. I’m getting it all ready and there’s a studio that I’ve recorded at before with my band. The producer there does a lot of analog stuff so I’ve been talking with him and I might go there some time in the future and get everything recorded to analog tape. I think it would be pretty neat. It would be like working backwards in a way. It’s about experimenting. It would be interesting to create the album with all the advanced tools I have at my disposal and then regress to tape.
KM: How do you recharge your creative batteries?
LK: Sometimes it’s tough. It’s just something you deal with. I haven’t worked on Raydar stuff in a solid way for about a month now. I’ve been doing other stuff, but it comes and goes. There’s days when I’m churning out tracks to a point where I get the idea across in a matter of days. There’s other days where I’ll work on songs I started years ago, even before Neon Graffiti came out. Sometimes you get hit with waves of creativity and sometimes you open up a project, listen to it once and you close it again.