1 to 1 and exclusive Fakeman track premiere from Brandon
This article is a special one for Fakeman. Not only do we have an interview with British Synthwave artist Brandon on his new album ‘Retrochrome II’ but we also have an exclusive premiere of one of the new tracks from that album, not yet available on Bandcamp.
So buckle in and check out Brandon’s new track ‘Sundown’, released on 28th August 2020 and then stick around where Fakeman and Brandon talk collaborations, lockdown and Hotline Bristol, his next scheduled live event for 2021!
This is Sundown… A personal favourite. Hit that play button!
PF: So Brandon! Thanks for taking the time out to chat. Tell me a bit about Retrochrome II. How was it to produce compared to your debut album?
B: Thanks for having me! Pleasure to be a part of the Fakeman-sphere!
Retrochrome II was an absolute pleasure to write. Its only 7 tracks, so is essentially an EP really, but I’m really cutting it fine without it falling into 8 tracks+ album territory. I’ve never really felt brave enough to write a solid lengthy album if I’m honest. With the release of Retrochrome in 2018, I’d had two years post the release of the Neon Haze EP to figure out my ‘sound’, if you will. Not that it is particularly unique or anything, I just wanted to figure out what approach to the genre I enjoyed taking the most. I realised quickly that I wanted to lean pretty heavily into 80s production, more so than taking a more modern retrowave approach or trying to combine multiple sub-genres. I just seemed to have the most fun trying to emulate and evoke what I heard in some of my favourite 80s pop tracks, or the odd mid-80s film score. I feel (and hope!) that 2018’s Retrochrome encapsulates this.
When I began writing tracks for Retrochrome II, I wanted to double-down on that last approach somewhat. The first Retrochrome release was supposed to be like a fun collage of sorts. And with Retrochrome II, I wanted it to feel the same. I wanted it to feel cohesive, but there’s no overarching emotional theme or message, other than simply “here’s my love letter to the 1980s”… or at least the rose-tinted Hollywoodised version of it. With that in mind, I again wanted a nice mix of styles, without veering too much away from the overall vibe of the EP. There were a couple of styles I never got to include on the first Retrochrome, such as the swung groove / new jack type stuff, so tracks like ‘Miami Fresh’ try and make up for that. ‘Lightning’ is sort of mine and SJBRAVO’s nod to the likes of Billy Ocean, Miami Sound Machine and MJ etc. I start Retrochrome II off with ‘Hold My Heart’, again featuring SJBRAVO, which I think is a nice contrast to the first track on 2018’s Retrochrome – ‘She’s On Fire’. Then there’s tracks like ‘Thrillseeker’ that are sequel tracks of sorts to what existed on the first Retrochrome. I do try to add a few modern production touches to tracks here and there, such as the vocal chops at the end of ‘Hold My Heart’. Overall, I’m really happy with how it all turned out. I’m pretty sick of hearing it now though.
PF: SJ Bravo is back on this album. What is the writing process like working with Sam? You guys clearly work well together!
B: It’s always a blast working with Sam. Despite the obvious inclusion of his vocals, he shapes our collaborations a lot more than people might think. While I’m mid way through producing multiple instrumental tracks, I’ll send him a bunch of works-in-progress across. Luckily, there’s often a track or two that grab him and spark something that serves as a jumping-off point for the lyrical content or a vocal melody. I’ll then get demos sent back to me from Sam and we take it from there, building up and fleshing out the songs together. There are sometimes instances where I’ll have composed a section of a track that I really like and feel is musically interesting, but Sam feels it doesn’t really serve the track as a whole. He’ll convince me to remove it, under the guise of it being ‘optional’ and my ‘choice’, but ultimately he’s always bloody right (annoyingly). He’s also great at supplying me with alternate iterations of his parts, and will gladly throw the ball in my court to make a decision. For instance, there were a number of contrasting versions of parts throughout ‘Hold My Heart’ that didn’t quite make it in the end, but they were all great.
All in all, Sam really takes our collaborations to the next level through his contributions and I really have a lot to thank him for in helping my music reach the audience that it does. I hope he reads what I’ve said, cos he’ll be getting the drinks in next time we meet!
PF: We’ve got the premiere of your track ‘Sundown’ on Fakeman today. As with all your work, it’s got that cinematic feel and the panpipes are a gem. What were the inspirations for that track specifically?
B: Cheers! Oddly enough, ‘Sundown’ is the one track that I have the most vivid memory of conceiving. I wrote it last summer sometime after rewatching Rain Man. I’ve always loved Hans Zimmer’s score for that film, and when watching it this time around I realised (though I haven’t fact-checked this so I’m probably wrong) that he seems to be using sounds from the Korg M1. I have the software version of that synth, so began messing around trying to create something in a similar vein. Soon enough, the track kinda became something of its own and again there were a few modern production touches added, such as the filtered arpeggio performance during the outro. I quite like that ending, especially as the initial ending I wrote sounded pretty crap.
PF: How did you find the impact of lockdown on your production?
B: It felt like I was really nearing the finish line just as the lockdown came into effect. I had all the instrumental tracks just about finished and the vocal collabs with SJBravo were in demo states. The intention was to record the final vocal performances in early March at Sam’s studio in Nottingham (as we had done two years prior), but those plans were scuppered of course. I was already working remotely with Sam Hughes, as he’s based over in Finland, but this wasn’t so much the case with SJB. Due to a few other additional small factors, the whole process of finishing up the album really began to slow. Thankfully though, after a month or so things really got going again and, although not ideal, working remotely proved to pay off in the end with both collaborators delivering the goods in top form.
PF: Sam Hughes is also back on Retrochrome II with the excellent ’Thillseeker’. How did you both meet and end up working together?
B: We met a few years back through a mutual friend. Sam is a great guy and a man of many talents. He currently works at Remedy games as part of the sound team, though has been doing video game VO for years. He also runs The Sound Architect Podcast – a little plug for him there. However, aside from all that, he also happens to be a great guitarist. When we first both discovered our shared love of Synthwave / Retrowave, and then Sam discovered I was releasing music as an artist within the genre, he was dying to collaborate. The great thing about having Sam lending his guitar skills to the Retrochrome releases is that, despite me also being a guitarist, he has a different background and approach to me. So he kind of brings a new voice to the instrumental tracks, where normally you’d just have me rehashing the same guitar improv. I’m really pleased with both of our Retrochrome I & II collabs.
PF: The first Retrochome was a huge success in the scene and you’ve continued with the same vibes this time for the second collection. Who have been your musical hero’s that have inspired your production?
B: Thanks for saying so! I’ve been super thrilled with the reception Retrochrome got. Inspirations for Retrochrome II were those mentioned already of course, i.e Billy Ocean, Hans Zimmer (at least 80s Zimmer)… it seems strange to mention those two in the same sentence but whatever. Other influences were also composers like Jan Hammer and Harold Faltermeyer. I’m also a big fan of late 70s/early 80s soul pop and I think you can maybe hear this a bit in ‘Hold My Heart’. Also, here’s an odd one, but Lee Jackson – the guy who wrote the theme for Duke Nukem 3D – I’m pretty sure he’s the reason for that videogame-y guitar+synth combo in ‘Steel’.
PF: It’s also been announced recently that you are joining Space Jams and of course Steel City Collective for their Hotline Bristol gig next year. Can you tell us a bit about that?
B: Hell yeah! I’m super excited about that! Big thanks to Jack at Space Jams. The line-up is incredible and I can’t believe I’m going to be able to play alongside such talented artists. I also feel like the overall sound of that event will be nicely cohesive. Very summery. Very HOT… line Miami. Sorry. This will also be the first time that SJBRAVO is able to join me on stage as it stands. You’ve seen him perform live yourself Mr Fakeman, so you know he brings his A-game.
PF: Finally, The question I ask everyone! What music are you listening to at the moment?
B: I try and steer away from Retrowave a bit while I’m working on tracks, so I’m delving back into it all headfirst now and catching up on releases I’ve missed. I’m enjoying updating my own personal retrowave playlist with new additions from the likes of Robert Parker, LAU, Ollie Wride, September 87, Jessie Frye and Video Kids etc. I’ve already got the new Beckett album pre-ordered too! I’ve also been listening to the Ghost of Tsushima and True Romance soundtracks of late, having just picked up the latter on vinyl and pre-ordered the former on vinyl too. I’ve also been spinning Mitch Murder’s selections boxset a lot.
You can check out Brandon’s work at his Bandcamp page where you can also pre order the new album “Retrochrome II’ and a whole stack of vinyl and cassette options as well as Brandon’s other releases.
A big thanks to Brandon and to Steel City Collective for their time on this one. It was a blast.. Now you’ll need to excuse me.. I have to return some videotapes.