Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing!
Crü Jones is a synthwave producer who blends his love of '80s rock with a wide variety of other sonic influences and ideas to create a unique flavor of synthwave. In an email, he told me about his start in music, his approach to creation and his latest single APEX MOON.
Karl Magi: How'd you first get into making music?
Crü Jones: Like so many others in the scene I started out as a guitarist. I began playing guitar at age 13 and was influenced by bands such as Def Leppard and Iron Maiden. Music has always been a priority for me in various degrees. In the early 2000s, I finally joined my first band. We worked as collaborative effort, usually off a riff or some progression I would come up with and just build from there. I went on to work in various different groups and still managed to keep guitar as a passion of mine in-between any potential gigs I had at the time.
KM: From there how did you get into making synthwave music?
CJ: Some time in 2015, I was listening to a podcast and in between segments there would be music breaks. The music used in this particular break was Crystaline by The Midnight. I immediately grabbed my phone and started googling the lyrics I was hearing and from that point on I was hooked. It was like being a kid again.
Like I had mentioned previously, i was already still active to some degree with music but before I discovered synthwave and with the current state of rock always found myself gravitating towards the hair metal of the '80s because a) it was and still is great fucking music and b) it is pure nostalgia for a time less complicated and full of life. I even talked to a co-worker of mine and was close to doing an '80s tribute band much like Steel Panther called Delorean. No shit, it was in the same font as Def Leppard. I still have that logo,
I guess you could say I was an '80s shredder that already had the desire to bring my hunger for nostalgia feels and make music that was representative of that feeling, so when I discovered synthwave that was it. The soundscapes, the structure, the lyrics, everything about it was exactly what I was trying to accomplish. Initially that was the starting point. I studied bands like The Midnight and FM84 for a long time and after a few years decided to delve into the production side of things and learning music from the music producer's chair POV.
KM: Tell me about people who influenced you as a music creator?
CJ: Well, as mentioned earlier, Def Leppard has been a huge influence on me. The guitars are huge, flashy but the song writing and structure was still very self-aware and left tons of room for vocal melody and one thing I've learned as a producer is your audience only shrinks when, as a musician, you don't take vocals, lyrics, and the melody lines for it all very seriously.
Don't get me wrong, I love B-side tracks and instrumentals but I'm also a musician. Not everyone who is a music fan is, so I think as a guitar player who loves to shred and just play, Def Leppard was the band that made me realize that you could balance all that and still keep the non-musician, music lover engaged. Other influences of mine are as mentioned, The Midnight, FM84, Mitch Murder, Le Cassette and so on. I have tons of musical influences really so we could be here all night. It's probably best if I keep the list short, fam.
KM: Talk to me more about your approach to creating music?
CJ: Well traditionally, it has always been to come up with a melody and a progression. I would just recreate what I was hearing in my head. I'm not very well versed in musical theory, I know it to a degree but only what I've picked up over the years, but I try to forget all that when creating music so I don't feel boxed into a set of rules. The only rule in music is either it's good or it sucks and even that is subjective. You have freedom as an artist, there are no absolutes except for this one constant, this one rule: Def Leppard is the greatest rock band of all time. Pyromania is the greatest rock album of all time and it has been tested and found to be 100% fact. Everything else is fluid. Okay... where were we?
Like I was saying, I used to and still do focus on melody and chord structuring but with less emphasis on it. What I tend to do now is break that down to its simplest form first. For instance, before I would try to come up with epic sounding lead lines, arps, ect; You know, pure ear candy. I would add foundation after the fact. What I began to notice is the song was not always as well-written because the foundation wasn't the first priority. The song was a slave to the ear candy, the arps or lead lines. That left whatever I was working on, having much less room to grow organically and when a song is forced and doesn't come naturally you can hear it.
Thus my approach now is I try to purely focus on the foundations first, writing the song in its simplest form to leave room for more melodic possibilities. I've even began the process first with a beat or the simplest form of bass lines and structured accordingly. I work 100% in the box so half of what you hear is originally drawn in and then once structured, depending on the feel I need, replayed for a human feel or left drawn for things I want to be left quantized. I'm sure as I grow as a producer the process will as well. I'm still very new to this so...
KM: Tell me more about your latest APEX MOON single.
CJ: Okay well APEX MOON is a perfect example of a song that, from a writing POV wasn't forced at all. It's a little over five minutes in length and was written completely in like two hours. It just wrote itself in a way. The production side of things was a bitch. I'm still not complete happy with how it turned out honestly, but as I said earlier, I'm new to this so I thought, "F it man, just release it!"
The original intent, from a soundscape side of things was to blend early '90s trip/hop with my synthwave side. I absolutely love Hooverphonic so I wanted to blend a little of that type of sound in there with a lo-fi groove. I think I achieved that part pretty well. The song has tons of dynamics, which I love, and I think it ends in a very climactic way with a cinematic build. The upcoming EP will have a new version of it, remixed and remastered. It sounds much better now. I'm also currently working on a few other things some of which I wanna leave as a surprise until when it is finished. I think the community/listeners will dig it, at least I hope so.
KM: Where do you want to take your music in the future?
CJ: Whatever and wherever it gets to is up to chance I guess. I don't really have goals outside of making music that a) I like and b) hopefully others connect with as well. I would like to perform live eventually but like I said earlier, foundation is key so the interest would have to be there for that to become any sort of reality.
KM: What are your thoughts on the rise of Twitter #synthfam?
CJ: I love this community. It's full of amazing talent that inspires me to move forward and learn more. I'm in awe of some of the hidden gems out there. Two of my favorite producers in the underground scene are MicroMatScenes and Backfrom84. Both of those dudes are insanely talented and deserve 20× more eyes on their work. Backfrom84 has a new EP that dropped on Sunday, Nov. 3 and I am so fucking stoked to hear it. That guy is an absolute genius. Like Tim from the The Midnight everything BF84 touches turns to gold.True story.
I love how MicroMatScenes has used his own personal side of '80s culture to bring a story other people might not have known existed. That's the beauty of telling your own story, its huge world out there, everyone has their own perception of that world. #synthfam has the perfect opportunity to tap into their own nostalgia and tell their own personal experience through music. Its really an honor to be a part of it as the #newkidontheblock.
KM: How do you reinvigorate yourself creatively?
CJ: I'm sure this is different for everyone. I've been writing and playing as a musician for sometime now and my approach to this has always been to unplug from time to time. Listen to something different for a bit. I never force a tune so if writers block is killing me I move on to something else or take breaks entirely for a day, maybe 2 or 3 and when I return then something usually comes out of it. For inspiration it varies. As I said earlier, one constant is Pyromania by Def Leppard. The greatest rock album ever by the greatest rock band ever. "It's science"...