#Synthfam Interview: See Thomas Howl
See Thomas Howl is a synthwave producer who crafts imaginative, cinematic soundtracks for the stories that he wants to tell himself and the world. In an email, we discussed his musical roots, how he goes about creating new music and also talked about his album DEAD AGAIN.
KM: How'd you first start making music?
See Thomas Howl: I started making music seriously when I was 13 years old. I wanted to play drums but my parents wouldn't let me because of the noise. They encouraged me to play guitar instead and so I took lessons for about a year and begrudgingly played guitar.
However the entire time I was learning to play guitar I begged and harassed my parents to allow me to play drums. I also bought a pair of drum sticks and setup pillows on my bed. I would play along with Motorhead and Kiss records and beat the hell out of my pillows everyday for hours.
Finally, they agreed to allow me to play drums. I was so excited. I got a job on a farm and nursery and worked for months to save up for my very first drum set. That was the beginning of a long love affair for me with the drums. It was an exciting time and I'll never forget it.
KM: What drew you into wanting to create synth-based music?
STH: I discovered Tangerine Dream when I was in my teens. I used to read fantasy books by an author named Piers Anthony and I would listen to Tangerine Dream while reading to enhance the experience. I still do it and It's really quite cool. Later on I started taking music production classes at Berkley College of Music and I started writing so that I had something to produce. During that time I really discovered my love for synths and things progressed quite quickly. I started a couple of projects and continued to learn until I settled in with my current project as STH.
KM: Who are the music creators,filmmakers or authors who have influenced you?
STH: Well, I would say as far as music creators, I've always loved John Williams, Kitaro, Tangerine Dream, Hans Zimmer, Prince, R.E.M., U2, Old School Megadeth, Old School Metallica, Rush...there's just so many, I could go on forever.Filmmakers would be Clint Eastwood, Ridley Scott, J.J. Abrams, M. Night Shyalaman, Ron Howard, John Carpenter. I've come to be a big fan of Jon Favreau as well. My taste in films is pretty commercial and straight forward which I'm sure is probably boring to most people. My favorite authors would be Piers Anthony and Stephen King.
KM: Tell me about how you create new music.
STH: The process of writing music usually starts with me creating a sci-fi or horror themed story. When the story is complete, I then proceed to write a soundtrack for the story. It's a pretty simple process which works for me 100% of the time. I really love it and I have a great time doing it. Writing and creating is really my happy place for sure.
What sorts of gear and software do you use when creating your music?
STH: I produce music on a MacBook Pro and I use Ableton Live. I stay in the box when it comes to mixing and mastering. Also I use a Focusrite Scarlett 4i4 audio interface and KRK Rockit studio monitors. As far as synths I mostly seem to gravitate towards my Dave Smith Instruments Mopho and the rest are soft synths. Mainly Serum, Sylenth1, DX7 and the Korg MonoPoly. I've learned over time that I can find or create any sound that I'm looking for with those five synths.
KM: Talk about DEAD AGAIN, the ideas behind the album and how you went about producing it?
STH: 'DEAD AGAIN' was a ton of fun to make. I must preface this segment by telling you that I am a huge nerd. Don't say that I didn't warn you. The ideas, once again, are short stories that I created. After the story is complete I go back and compose the soundtrack for each story. The theme for 'ENGAGE THE MACHINES' is basically a man vs. machine type scenario. Machines attack the Earth and humans have to fight back to survive. That track is followed by 'ROBOTS EXECUTED' which is the end to that short story. It's a victory song, if you will, for the humans.
The other tracks have stories behind them as well which I will briefly share. 'DEAD AGAIN' is about a failed suicide mission in space. 'HARD CANDY' is about a hardened female contract killer that no one can stop. She is completely cold and fueled by anger because of her tragic past. 'DISS DROID' is a play on words (Destroyed). It's a sad story about a droid who doesn't understand it's purpose and deep down longs to be a human.
'SKATE BOARDER MEETS GHOST BOY' Is based on a short story that was actually co-created by my (at that time) six year old son Lee. We took turns telling a story and making it up as we went along. It's a game that I like to play with my kids from time to time. 'CATASTROPHIC' Is about a crew on a heavily damaged space craft which is coming to terms with the fact that they are not going to survive. This track encapsulates their last moments alive.
Finally the last track on the album is 'CRASHING CORTEX' which is my shoutout to one of my all time favorite video games 'Crash Bandicoot'. It's all about Crash vs. Dr. Neo Cortex. I told ya I was a huge nerd.
KM: What are your future plans for your music?
STH: My plans are to continue creating music and sharing it on BandCamp. I would like to try some different styles within the synthwave realm. It's always fun to evolve and I hope I will continue to branch out and grow.
KM: Give me your thoughts about the Twitter #synthfam and what it means to you.
STH: It's hard to put into words. #synthfam means everything. It's something so rare and beautiful that it feels like hundreds of people are drawn to it very week from every corner of the globe. It's a group of talented and creative people that are so positive and supportive, it's like nothing I've ever experienced. Honestly STH probably wouldn't exist without it. It's very special to me and while we are talking about it let me say hey to the #synthfam and a big thank you for everything you all do every day. Cheers!
KM: How do you recharge your creative batteries?
STH: I usually recharge by taking time off and getting out into nature. I like to hike and bike and discover new places. I always feel refreshed after I power down the synths for a little while. I like to listen to the sound of silence every once in a blue moon....just for a short time.