Karl has been a freelance writer for over 10 years. He's passionate about music, art, and writing!
The Tyton Project are a synthwave duo with a passion for the sonic simplicity of synthwave fused with the desire to write good songs that stand on their own. I talked to the Tyton Project's Jonah Walton about how the group started, their approach to music creation, their influences and his views on the synthwave scene.
Karl Magi: What first drew you to making music?
Jonah Walton: My father was in a band called The Castaways ages ago. I grew up loving music. I started playing drums when I was about 5 years old. I got bored with them when I was about 12 and then discovered the synthesizer. I immediately became fascinated and obsessed. I fell in love with electronic music and the rest is history.
KM: What was the journey that brought you to making synthwave music?
JW: When I was about 13, I fell in love with Depeche Mode. After that, I started diving into every electronic based band that I could find. Erasure, OMD and anything from that era. Obviously at that time, that wasn’t synthwave. For lack of a better term, it was synthpop. As to when synthwave came about, I don’t really know. To me, synthwave borrows styles from an accumulation of things out of the ‘80s.
At first, we kept to the synthpop side of things, but Josh was really drawn to the synthwave scene and aesthetic. At the time, we were in the band Trans Atlantic Crush. Long story short, Josh and I moved on to form Tyton Project.
As far as synthwave goes, I first discovered the obvious bands like The Midnight and Kavinsky. I really dig the simplicity of it. I discovered that in ways, synthwave can be simpler than synthpop. Synthpop oftentimes has a whole lot more going on. I became fascinated by the simplicity and yet richness of it and decided to dive in.
KM: Who are the artists from whom you’ve drawn inspiration?
JW: Some of my inspirations might come as a surprise. Many of them most obviously do not come from the electronic music world. Roy Orbison is a huge influence of mine. The Traveling Wilburys (of whom Orbison was a member) are another major influence. I admire those guys because of their songwriting capabilities. Roy Orbison was a genius songwriter. A lot of people don’t realize that he wrote for a lot of artists. Jeff Lynne from the Traveling Wilburys and ELO is another genius songwriter. Leonard Cohen, John Carpenter, Klaus Schulze, Vangelis, Trent Reznor, Martin Gore, David Sylvian, David Bowie and Bryan Ferry are all big influences of ours.
The whole foundation for Tyton Project is the desire to write good songs. If you can strip a track back to nothing but piano and vocal and still have the song stand on its own, you know you’ve written a good song. If you start stripping away all the synthesizers and the song falls apart, you’re just floating on fancy sounds.
KM: Tell me more about how you approach the music creation process.
JW: Our approach now has become more vibe centered. I start playing with sounds and programming in Logic, Ableton Live or Reason. The tools at electronic music creators fingertips right now is endless. For example I will pull up a u-he Diva synth and start creating unique sounds that inspire us. Once I am inspired by the sound I start to compose around it. This is a little bit backwards from how I used to write. I used to sit down at a piano, play chords and sing over top of it, but now it’s becoming more about finding an emotion that fits the synthwave genre. The drums, bass and synths all have to sound a certain way. On one hand it’s simple, but on the other hand it’s a challenge because you’re putting yourself in a little bit of a box. However, I like limitations because limitations breed creativity.
KM: Talk to me about the current project on which you’re working.
JW: We’re writing what we’re calling an EP under the “Starfire” moniker. If you look at our album covers you’ll see “Starfire 1.1: Outsiders”. That denotes one song and one mix under the Starfire umbrella. We are going to keep writing under the Starfire moniker until we run out of steam and then we’ll pivot again. Maybe we will write more synthwave, maybe we’ll write more synthpop. Who knows. Right now we’re having a lot of fun writing for some projects that we have a definitive focus on.
KM: Give me your thoughts on the synthwave scene. What are the positives and negatives in your view?
JW: I like the scene! I think it’s a neat family. There seems to be a bit of friendly competition, but competition lends itself to creativity, so it’s a good thing. I think we should all be competitive with each other, but I don’t think anyone should be whacking other people at the ankles. We need to be lifting each other up as a community because we have a joint vision of something that we love.
There’s a lot of competition to get on playlists as you know. You’ve got curators with thousands of followers on their playlists and people are obviously chomping at the bit to get on them. It can quickly get a little nasty if artists feel like they’re being ignored. I don’t think anyone should be ignored. I have no problem if someone point blank says, “We don’t dig your stuff”. That’s cool! We respect that. That’s the beauty of taste. However, a response opens a dialogue where an artist can ask what it is that the curator doesn’t like and gives them a chance to evaluate what they might consider doing differently. I think everyone in this scene has something useful to contribute.
The synthwave community is a beautiful thing because of the support and interest that is out there. It’s producing a cool culture. For me, being born in 1975, it takes me back. It’s nostalgic for me and it makes me feel a little bit more youthful.
KM: What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
JW: It’s key to take breaks. You have to unplug a little bit, (especially from social media) so you don’t get stuck in a rut. I love to paint and draw. I guess you could call it digital painting. I use an app called Procreate on the iPad and have a blast! Don’t laugh at me, but I’m a huge Bob Ross fan! You should see my Bob Ross memorabilia collection. I watch Bob Ross episodes and paint along with him. I also like to watch a lot of ‘80s movies. I listen to a lot of music to see what other artists are doing. I’m constantly updating my own personal playlists on Spotify. All artists should have creative outlets outside of creating music, I think.