Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing!
Simon Jones is a UK-based synthwave producer. The music that he creates is full of "grit, distortion and excitement" and he says that it has to rock. In a Skype interview, we discussed his musical origin story, his approach to creating music and his latest projects.
Karl Magi: How did you first get into making music?
Simon Jones: I started making my own music back in the early ‘90s. It was around ’92 or ’93 on the Commodore Amiga. It started when I was listening to video game music for the Amiga. It was guys like Alistair Brimble and Chris Huelsbeck that made some fantastic music for those games. A lot of times I would play the games just to listen to the music and then somebody gave me a floppy disk with this OctaMED tracker software on it. I had no MIDI keyboard and no proper speakers but I just dove right into it.
The great thing about the tracker software is that with all the music in the demo scene, you could be watching the musical notes roll on the screen, so that was like an education for me. I was watching how those guys were working and what they were doing. I was just playing the notes on a QWERTY keyboard. I can still remember where the notes are. That’s how I got into music.
KM: What were the elements that drew you towards making synthwave music?
SJ: I love synth music. I grew up with Jean Michel Jarre and all of that ‘70s and early ‘80s stuff. For me, the synthesizer was always the revenge of the nerds. It reminds me of the old theme from The Kids From “Fame”. It starts out with the geek who’s playing a synthesizer and then everyone joins in and they’re all out in the street dancing in traffic. I wanted to be that guy with the synthesizer, controlling that whole crowd.
The music from the old Dr. Who series as well. There was a bunch of guys working at the BBC who called themselves the Radiophonics Workshop. They made all the sound effects and music for all tthe TV shows. I watched a documentary about those guys when I was about 10 years old and I knew that this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to be one of those long-haired freaky guys creating all of these strange sounds with all of this technology. It was exciting then and it still excites me today. There’s something else going on there with those synth sounds that affects me.
KM: Who are the artists from whom you draw inspiration?
SJ: I went through a rock and metal phase like most people do. I didn’t listen to any other music for years. The two albums that influenced me the most when I started writing music were Downward Spiral by Nine Inch Nails and Sixteen Stone by Bush. For me, the music has to rock. There are people making absolutely beautiful music with synthesizers out there, but I need that grit, that distortion and that excitement. I love big drum fills and almost riff-like sort of stuff. It has to rock and it has to punch you in the face, so everything from Metallica to Tool to Orb and Dead Can Dance. Anything that’s organic and gritty I’m influenced by. Musically speaking, Jean Michel Jarre is the maestro for me. The emotions he can conjure up are insane. The music really transports you away somewhere else.
KM: Tell me more about how you create new music.
SJ: I literally sit myself down in front of the laptop with a keyboard and stay there until something appears that excites me. It has to excite me because if I’m not being excited by it, no one else will be either. I’m fickle, I’ll procrastinate and I get bored very easily, so if it’s not working I’ll scrap it and move on to something else. Once I get that initial spark, though, I’ll take it and go as far as I can with it.
KM: Tell me first about Underwerld and then about your in-progress Destroy All Robots project.
SJ: If somebody’s in a bad situation or going through a hard time, they’re in the underworld. Underwerld is the soundtrack that’s going to pump you up and fire you up to get out of there. I wanted soemthing that was just full on, balls out, in your face from start to finish. No matter where you drop into that album, it’s going to be high energy and in your face.
Destroy All Robots is something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time. I wanted to use spoken word together with music. The reason I haven’t done it until now is because so many people said that they didn’t like to hear narration with music. People either love it or they hate it. The idea of it excited me and that’s why I decided to do it. I had this idea for a soundtrack that tells the story of the future war between the robots and the humans which we all know is coming!
I started with the idea of making a trilogy so it won’t take so long, but that didn’t work out so well. I started writing the music and then I found a voice actor online. He’s an amazingly talented guy called Tim Wells who is a proper Shakespearean actor. I wrote some stuff out and sent it to him and the guy just nailed it, so I thought that this could actually be really good. It was so good, the way that he read it and the way that he emphasized different words had a real sense of fun to it.One great thing about the synthwave scene is that people aren’t taking things too seriously. I loved what he did and I thought, “I’ve really got to do this now!”
I’m about halfway through that project. It’s taken longer than I thought it would take because I really want the music to work on it’s own as well. I plan on releasing it with and without narration, so people can decide what they want. The dialogue has got to be just right, not too much and not too little, so it can work with the music. It’s the most excited about a music project I’ve been in a long time!
I’m just going to keep making music that interests and excites me. The support from the synthwave community that allows people to make the music that they want to make is fantastic. I kind of need a feedback loop from people. I don’t want to feel like I’m doing this on my own. It has to be for someone to listen to.
KM: Give me your thoughts on the synthwave community?
SJ: I didn’t realize the community even existed until a few months ago when I just jumped into it on Twitter. Originally I took a really cynical approach to Twitter because I just don’t like social media. Very quickly I realized, “Oh hang on a minute! This is a really cool community of people!”
They were really supportive, listening to my stuff and re-Tweeting things and I’ve found some fantastic artists on there in the last few months. The quality of music and the quality of production is insane. It’s made me work harder because I just didn’t realize that the quality was as good as it is. I can’t say enough good things about the community. It’s a group of interesting people making interesting music.
KM: What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
SJ: Camping! I’ve got to do that a few times a year or I really lose the plot. I love being out there under the stars with good music and a good book. Even a couple of nights out there and I feel like I’ve been away for a week. I take my notebook and write because up there, under the stars with a clear head, it just comes so much more easily.