Monday, November 28, 2016

NERD MUSIC: Interview with Vampire Step-Dad

NERD MUSIC is excited to present an interview with Vampire Step-Dad, a high-concept synthwave act by an up-and-coming artist in the scene. [Disclaimer: The G mastered Vampire Step-Dad's last two releases.] Please join Vlad and I as we talk music, nerdery and '80s pop culture! And if you like what you see/hear, you can support Vampire Step-Dad by purchasing his music via Bandcamp, and follow him on Facebook and Twitter, where he is very active.

Thanks for "sitting down" with me! To begin, how did you get into making synthwave music?

Glad to be "here." To answer your question, I first discovered synthwave from a video on YouTube called "MiniDrones Blew Up My Toys!" It's this awesome video where RC cars and mini quadcopters are fighting, using explosions and it's all stylized like a Michael Bay movie. But good. Anyway, they used "Hang 'Em All" by Carpenter Brut, and I was instantly in love. This was just before EP III came out, so just after finding him, he released EP III and I was blown away. It sounded familiar but different than anything I'd heard before. It took me a month or two to look into what style of music it was, and that's when I discovered Synthwave. I was instantly fascinated and had to try and make some myself.

One of the things I love about Vampire Step-Dad is the concept, the idea that the music is made by the protagonist in an Alf-like sitcom. How did you come up with that?

Well, I knew I needed something really original. At first I was thinking of a "name" style, like "Skip Tracer" or something like that, but I realize it had two flaws: 1. It was already taken by a country band 2. Personal names are easily forgotten. "Was it Chip Tracker? Skip Lazer? I know it was a name of some sort..." So I had to avoid that route. The most important thing to me was that it screamed "80s" all on it's own. There was plenty of trope names already, nights, neon, lazer, had all been done to death. And on top of that I've never really been able to take myself too seriously, so I didn't want to try to put on airs of badassness.

So I thought hard about what I experienced the most out of the 80s. For me, it was the TV shows. I loved 80s action movies, but if I'm honest, most of what I watched was family sitcoms. Cosby Show, Family Ties, Alf, as you mentioned. So I knew I wanted to go that route. Expounding on this, the 80's had a lot of non-nuclear families, like My Two Dads and Three Men and a Baby. So that was another facet that said "80s" to me. And LASTY, you know... monsters.

Zombies are overdone, werewolf didn't roll of the tongue very well, and Frankenstein's Monster would leave you too limited. So, Vampire + Step-Dad. It fit all my needs. It sounded 80s. It was memorable, because it makes you immediately start imaging what he'd look like and what situations that could cause. And it aligned with my sense of humor very well. Of course, I didn't realize "Stepdad" is the proper way to spell it until after I got my logo designed, so I had to embrace my own idiocy and run with the dash. (Yeah, that's right, dad jokes. brace yourself.)

You explore different aspects of '80s pop culture in your music. Is this a conscious part of your creative process, or something that emerges organically?

Very, very conscious. My attraction to synthwave is all about the nostalgia. I totally respect the guys making old sound new (like Carpenter Brut) but for me, I want to sound like someone forgot to release the soundtrack to an old movie you've not seen before. Also, with the way I write, sporadically and with no real theme, it serves me well to just go with what's inspiring me at the moment, and see where it takes me. This is why it surprises me when people say my release have any sort of coherence. But hey, I'm not going to argue with anyone that's liking my stuff. But yes, ultimately, I want the first few chords of a song to scream "THIS IS AN 80S SONG! GET IT? DOESN'T THIS FEEL SOOO 80S?" Some people think this is a path that leads to a dead end, but oh well. Maybe I'll shift gears when I feel like it. Right now: EIGHTIES.

When I first heard "Green Berets for Breakfast," I felt like it was straight out of a Stallone and Schwarzenegger buddy flick that was never made, but should have been. A live action Contra. Or Ikari Warriors.

Which version? Original, or Redux? "Berets" was on my first EP, and the response I got with it was very lackluster. But I knew I had something good there. The original has a very slow start, and doesn't do anything special for a good long time, so I can totally understand why people moved on from it. But I new it deserved better, so I revamped it for my second release, Sweater Weather. I gave it a much more powerful open, I sped it up just a tad, and I threw in some new synth solos, to really drive the point home that this is all about badass sweaty dudes with camo paint on their faces. I grew up in a military family loving action movies, so I spent plenty of time running through the woods playing "army" so I knew I wanted to make a track worthy of being in Commando. Man I love that movie.

"Redux!" That was the first time I heard your music, and the Commando vibe is unmistakable. I'm still waiting for the VSD ode to Predator, though. You could call it "Get to the Choppah."

No, I think I'd call it "Puddle of Mud" just to throw people off.

Another thing I enjoy about your music is that it doesn't align neatly with any one of synthwave's dominant tropes, like "retro cyberpunk" or "teen romance." Instead you cover a range of references and approaches, even on a single release. At the same time, there's an unmistakable VSD sound. Conveying a range of aesthetic interests while cultivating a signature sound is no easy task. How do you pull it off?

Completely by accident. I'm not "aligned with a trope" because I can't be that consistent. I rarely sit down and go "OK, I'm going to write an action song!" Cause it always comes out forced. Most of the time I fiddle through presets for an hour until something grabs me, then I build on that. A lot of the time it feels like the song itself wants to be something. Like I'm just digging up something that already exists. I often just feel like I'm along for the ride. A few months ago I noticed I had a few songs and ideas that feel along two paths, so I thought to myself "I can make these two EPs, and actually have a themed EP! Like the pros do! SO I continued with that plan, but I've been stuck for a month now cause saying "I need to write this kind of song" to fill out an EP has me sapped for motivation. My brain has a really hard time working that way. The fact that I have a "sound" is immensely gratifying to hear, as I think most artists are unable to really know what their sound is, or even if they have one. The way people hear your music can be completely different than what you intended.

A lot of our readers are fans of science fiction, fantasy, role-playing games--you know, geek culture in general. And synthwave arguably fits into that category too. How would you describe the connection between this music and broader geek culture? In general or in specific reference to your own music.

You know, I've always felt like geek culture, and this is especially true today, is not so much a discrete culture, but just pop culture in overdrive. Anyone can enjoy a good sci-fi movie, but we're the ones that want to fully understand the universe it's set in, and create a board game, a graphic novel series, and a pen and paper RPG set in it. We want to bathe in it. In the same way, synthwave is just the 80s in overdrive. We're not actually interested in recreating the REAL 1980s. We want to recreate what our memories tell us it was. The distilled, hyperreal version of the 80s. And a lot of sci-fi and fantasy is similar. Look at Blade Runner. There's not a normal street in the whole movie. Everything is wet and lit by neon. People are holding umbrellas with fluorescent lights in them. It's ridiculous, but we love it. So synthwave has that same feel. Soaked in aesthetic. Just drenched with it. And of course, it's also referencing all those movies to, so it has a doubling down effect.

What other groups or artists are you into these days?

Hello Meteor is my go to. When I don't know quite what I want to listen to, but I know I want it to be good, Hello Meteor is it.

I'm obsessed with Oscillian's Shakedown EP. It's like he mainlined Harold Faltermeyer, and it's just so perfect. And Brandon is another one I listen to a lot lately. His debut EP, Neon Haze, is a ridiculously good foot to start on. He's got great songwriting skills, not to mention his production is stellar.

How about your upcoming projects—I think I heard something about a Valentine's Day release...

Yes, I've got a romance themed EP, set to come out in time for VD Day. V Day. Sorry. I've got another one after that that I'm pretty excited about. Not to say I'm not excited about the V Day EP, I'm just stuck working on it right now, so I'm less happy with it.

For all the fellow producers out there, I've got to ask: what kind of gear/software do you use?

I use Reaper for my DAW. Got tired of paying for Pro Tools over and over again and checked out Reaper and was blown away. Never looked back. I use pretty much all stock plugins for mixing, save reverbs. The stock plugins in Reaper sound great and are easy to use. You can actually get them as a free plugin suite if you're on PC. Use them in whatever VST supporting DAW you want.

I work entirely in the box. Software synths, drum samples, amp simulators. I actually have my DAW set up within Dropbox so I can hop between my desktop and my laptop seamlessly. I can start writing a song while on the train, and then when I get home, I can hop on my desktop and it's right there, just as it was on my laptop. It's a pretty awesome workflow. If this intrigues anyone, feel free to find me and ask questions.

My favorite softsynths are Synth1, and OP-X Pro II. Synth1 is free, and the stock bank is cheesy, so a lot of people write it off, but it's so easy to work with once you understand the signal flow, and I've been able to make some great sounds with it. OP-X Pro II is an Oberheim ripoff, and it sounds great, and has a million amazing presets to start from. So good for basses and leads. They sound huge.


POSTED BY: The G--purveyor of nerdliness, genre fanatic and Nerds of a
Feather founder/administrator, since 2012.