Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing!
L'Avenue is Jesse Reuben Wilson's synthwave project. He creates music that is unabashedly influenced by the aural and visual aesthetic of the '80s. In an interview, he talked to me about how he got his start in music, why he loves synthwave and how he created his latest Cherry Crush EP.
Karl Magi: How did you first get interested in making music?
Jesse Reuben Wilson: I started out very young and wanted to be the world’s number one drummer. When I was about two or three years old I would play on the tops of the plastic powdered milk containers with chopsticks – they were the closest thing to real drums. At seven years old I upgraded the milk containers to a miniature drum kit, not one that was really tinny and tacky but a proper kit with all the lugs and everything.
My dad is a guitarist so there was always a guitar in the house and I used to pick that up and tinkle and then eventually learnt a chords and got reasonably good. We also had a piano in the house and when I’d come home from school I used to mess about on that. I was more interested in the ambient tones that I could get out of it with the sustain pedal. I had a few lessons of the usual standards and I was bored to death – I was interested minor keys and jazz chords – stuff like that. I also learnt bass guitar so by my mid-teens I was a reasonable multi-instrumentalist.
Later on my step-mum bought me a four-track tape recorder and I'd bought a Roland Juno 60 synthesizer and I started messing about multi-tracking and putting the whole thing together. That's where being a producer began and since then I’ve had a bit of a career with various projects in various genres.
KM: Tell me more about your route into making synthwave music.
JRW: I caught the synthwave bug about two years ago now. I’ve always been a big fan of the ‘80s and things like Broken Wings by Mr. Mister. There’s just an aesthetic, visually and musically, about that decade. Obviously the ‘90s were quite interesting but after that decade, things just kind of go off in many directions. I had quite a strong love affair with the ‘80s, but I progressed into producing nu soul, jazz, hip hop, drum ’n bass and deep house.
I have a deep house project and I’d released some stuff on Silk Records (a Russian/US label) who are very well established in that area. I was on their mailing list on Facebook and I got information about a remix album from some group called The Midnight. I didn’t know anything about them and I thought, “Oh I’ll have a quick listen” and realized it was quite good stuff. I thought that since it was a remix album of all their material, I’d quite like to hear the source material.
Of course, it was a remix album of Endless Summer, so once I’d heard the original that was it. I was in Prague with my wife. We had a short trip over there and we’d hired an AirBnB apartment quite close to the main city and I’d got the album on my phone and I had a little Bluetooth speaker, so whenever we were in the apartment making something to eat or whatever, I just played this stuff and I could not stop listening to it!
I don’t know about anyone else, but I remember buying vinyl LPs back in the day and playing them to death. You’d just play one record to death and you’d still never get bored of it. In our day and age it’s much more about tracks and listens and playlists, so it was a very unusual experience to go back to playing one album over and over again. What blew my mind was that it captured the aesthetic of the ‘80s, but it had contemporary production values. At the time, I foolishly thought that I was The Midnight’s biggest fan but I’ve been disabused of that (laughs).
After that, I came home and I couldn’t stop myself, so I spent a bit too much money on synth plugins. At the time, I hadn’t realized how many synth manufacturers have reproduced their old synths in digital form as plugins. Black Friday that year was a very black Friday! Literally, for two months solid, I was making music every day. I wrote a whole album in that time. Not coming far off two years now, I had enough material and L’Avenue was born.
KM: Who are some of your musical influences?
JRW: It’s an incredibly wide sphere. Throughout my musical career, there have been so many artists from Level 42 to Bruce Hornsby to Goldie in drum ’n’ bass. I must admit that as we moved towards the 2000s that’s when things started to get track based, so it’s difficult to pull out specific artists because you’d have mixtapes with a whole load of different people.
I also listen to movie scores and anything that’s emotionally high quality regardless of whether it’s dark and miserable or absolutely joyous. One of the things that drew me specifically to The Midnight and what I really like about Tim’s production mentality is the idea that “we’re going to go full ‘80s and we don’t care if people don’t like it!” The saxophone element is especially bold! I had not heard that for a long time. I think what I really enjoyed was that they weren’t scared to make people feel good.
In a lot of ‘80s music, it was okay to be happy. Funny enough, the other day I was listening to Everybody’s Dancing on the Ceiling and the production on that record is so outrageous! It’s such a feel good track. Even though a lot of synthwave is quite dark, there’s an aspect of it that makes it okay to create music that makes you feel good.
KM: Tell me about the approaches you take to creating new music.
JRW: The urge to create can come from anywhere for me. I was watching the TV a few nights ago with the missus and in the background of one of the adverts there was this little synth line and it felt kind of ‘80s and I thought, “Ooh, that’s a great little melody! I’ve got to do something similar to that!” Inspiration hits when you least expect it. We were just on holiday in Spain and as I came out of the pool and this drum beat was in my head, so I actually had to record it on my phone because I didn’t have any gear with me.
Sometimes it’s about an emotion that you want to convey. I love to try and capture that ‘80s feeling related to college campuses, prom nights and first dates. It’s this very romantic aesthetic.
There are a few go-to plugins that I have that capture that kind of mood and then I’m away! There’s always a bit of trepidation when making something new. When you’re lost in that moment, it can feel great and then you start thinking about whether or not you’ll hate it the next day. I’ve been doing this for long enough that generally I can tell if something’s going to be good or not. Then it’s a question of whether it’ll go on the album or be a standalone track.
KM: Talk to me about your Cherry Crush EP.
JRW: As mentioned earlier, I’d written an awful lot of material prior to Cherry Crush. In the past, I usually released things on other labels and seen how the label will make a release. With L’Avenue, I’d observed The Midnight, FM-84 and Mitch Murder doing it themselves and because I felt so close to this, I wanted to have no filters on how it came out. I’m a graphic designer by trade which is very helpful because I can do a lot of the artwork myself. I really wanted to have full creative control on that, so I didn’t want to come out with a full album when no one knew who the hell I was. The record would have to be incredibly good for it to make some bigger waves.
I put my marketing hat on and looked at how other people did it. The Midnight came out with a six track EP. Michael Oakley came out with a six track EP although he put out a couple of other tracks as well. I thought maybe I’d come out with something that’s a bit more than an EP and not a whole album to whet people’s appetite and say “Hello! I’m the new kid on the block”.
Funnily enough, Cherry Crush was a title I’d had in my head for a while from another music project that I have. The other track was completely different called but because this title had an ‘80s aesthetic about it and I was just like, “I’ve got to use this.”. The first track I finished was Sundown which is the final track on the EP. It’s pretty downtempo and I actually did release that as a one off track originally. I thought that I’d better do some downtempo stuff, some middle tempo stuff and some synthwave-y stuff to cover all aspects of the project.
Black Rain and Lipstick & Sushi are probably the L’Avenue template. More stuff that I’m doing now has a bit more of the Business Talk type vibes. Cherry Crush, that actual track, is a bit more of a one off. I’m not going wholly in that direction.
That collection of tracks seemed to make a good EP and cover a lot of ground and it would make a good debut to arrive on the scene with. Artwork-wise I'd found this amazing photo of the an '80s looking model and manipulated it, adding some ‘80s earrings, etc.. and it’s such a stunning shot. It’s had a really good response. I’ve got a great shot for the album coming as well!
KM: What’s coming up in the near future for you?
JRW: I’m working on the album that I started before the Cherry Crush EP. It’s developed even further and a lot of the tracks that I had written previously I’ve parked and allocated for future EPs and singles. I really want the album to be a cohesive whole, similar to what The Midnight did on Endless Summer, where people can really go on a journey from beginning to end.
My aim is to capture an emotion and have listeners experience that ‘80s aesthetic as deeply as possible – touch as many people as I can with it ideally. As with Cherry Crush, the album is going to be instrumental.
I’m aiming for early next year to release the album. Up until that point, there’s still a lot of leg room for Cherry Crush. We’re going to do cassettes, CDs and vinyl. I want to really splash out on the merch.
KM: Give me your thoughts on the synthwave scene right now.
JRW: I found the whole synthwave scene not just musically interesting but visually interesting as well. Even though I’ve been doing these other music projects, they don’t have that. I’ve been more active on Instagram than I have probably on other areas of social media. My Instagram page is carefully curated to match the music of the project. They are the audio and visual partners to the project. It’s all about the art and the feel of the ‘80s. I don’t put anything on there that I don’t feel somehow captures some aspect of that scene.
I've also found the synthwave community to be really friendly, open, warm and supportive and that has been really great. People are so enthusiastic and excited about the scene and the music – that's been so refreshing.
The other interesting thing about the synthwave scene is that you don’t just release something and that’s it. It’s ever bubbling. I’ve not experienced anything like it before. How can something that’s set back in a particular decade still be so interesting on a daily basis?! It’s awesome!