Michael’s Odyssey – 1-1 with Michael Oakley
I love synthpop. I’ll own that fact. Arguably there is a lot of it kicking around nowadays and you really have to spend much more time sifting this vast space to find well written, well produced work. There are, however exceptions to this somewhat tedious exercise. Some artists are reliable.. Some artists quietly beaver away honing their work and then, BOOM! They drop an album that resuscitates your hopes. Michael Oakley is one of those artists. His new Album ‘Odyssey’, released last month via NRW, is akin to changing your bed linen. That comfortable duvet and pillows you have invested wisely in are now refreshed and given new life by a fresh outer skin. Michael has played to his strength and the strengths of his collaborators to bring a fresh collection of tunes that are as comfortable in a 90s chill album as they are in this neon drenched scene.
Fakeman took some time to catch up with Michael and chew the fat on ‘Odyssey’, Scottish weather, the writing process and inspiration.
Congrats on the new album, man. A different sound. Progressive. What for you where the main drivers for going in this direction?
- Thank you so much! Every time I start work on ideas for a new album I like to have a framework of different directions that appeal to me and also reflects where I’m at and what I’m listening to at that time for inspiration. So when approaching Odyssey I wanted to try to showcase a side of 80s and early 90s music that you don’t see in the Synthwave genre. There’s so many different sounds, moods and styles in 80s/early 90s music to pull from and I wanted to show this in Odyssey. I’m also a huge fan of people like Peter Gabriel, Phil Collins and Sting who were making albums that took you on a journey of different sounds, tempos, styles and moods across one album.
Certainly there were some strong 90s vibes on the new album. Who were your main musical inspirations from that period.? I was picking up some ‘The Blue Nile’ in there…
- The Blue Nile are my favourite Scottish band and on Glasgow Song I tipped my hat to them because Hats is a masterpiece that everyone should own in their collection. Such a huge inspiration to me along with Enigma, George Michael, D:Ream, The Beloved, Haddaway and The Shamen.
You have spent some time with Ollie Wride again for this album. How is it working with him? Do you both have an established rhythm to how you collaborate?
- Yeah we’re back once again! We have a great friendship and working relationship where we just seem to know how each other works and how to help bring out the best in one another’s ideas. Ollie was an integral part of this album, so much so I credited the album as being written by Oakley & Wride to reflect how much input he had on not just lyrics and melody but also suggestions on arrangement and structure. We put a lot of time in together talking about ideas and nothing is ever rushed. I talk to him for hours on the themes and concept/story for the songs so that he can step into my shoes and help me tell the story in a way people can relate to. He’s a great writer and musician so it would be completely blind of me to not utilize his strengths to lift what I’m doing. That’s what it’s always about to me, making the best possible music I can and working with the best musicians I have access to lift my ideas to much greater heights than I could have on my own.
I’m really keen to understand what equipment you were using this time around. Hardware or VST man? Any sexy changes to your set up for this release?
- Odyssey was recorded in Ableton Live with main synth plugins being Omnisphere, Spire, Korg M1, Nexus 3 and I used a lot of Roland Cloud stuff like JV1080 and SRX World board for those really nice 90s rompler workstation type sounds. I did actually buy some hardware synths last year but I haven’t used those on recordings yet. I plan on using those for my next album but I’m an absolute Ensoniq obsessive. I bought a VFX, TS10 and MR Rack and also a Yamaha SY85 because it was the first professional synth I owned as a kid so there’s a sentimental value there. It was also used on Pet Shop Boys – Very album so that enticed me. That said, I still see my future music being 99% software based. I could never go back to the hassle of midi cables and slow workflow which working with hardware brings.
We all know you’re a long way from your original home, Glasgow. And you have some great reflections on the album about growing up there. What do you miss most about Scotland? Gotta be there weather, right?!
- Haha I can live without that Scottish weather for sure but I miss my family and friends above all. Would love to go home and see them later this year. I also miss seeing some of my favourite places/haunts which remind me of wonderful memories and also I miss the humour which is a completely different language to over here. Glasgow humour is by far the best in the world!
It goes without saying that the producing process has been quite different for people during these lockdowns. Certainly this scene is full of online collaborations, but have there been any stand out elements to the album or collaborations that wouldn’t (for better or worse) have existed if we didn’t have restrictions?
- That’s a good question. Before lockdown restrictions I already knew who I wanted to work with on Odyssey and I was very lucky that they all said yes. My mainstay team like John Kunkel, Israel Medina I always work with at the end mixing stage and I wanted to of course work with Ollie Wride again. Other names were Dana Jean Phoenix, Mecha Maiko and Brothertiger so I got those guys locked in to contribute. Apart from that there wasn’t anyone else I had in mind. Now it’s time for me to consider who I’d like to work with moving forward on my next album!
Ok. So going to ask the impossible question – what’s the Oakley view on getting back out there in front of an audience any time soon?
- Well I actually have plans in motion for a pre-recorded livestream show which will be filmed in July if all goes well and restrictions don’t interfere. So you can expect a one off live show with me, my band and performers coming around August time, touch wood. I’m very excited about this and it’s a way to be able to play for everyone around the world that wouldn’t get to see me if I could tour. Right now I have no plans to do an actual tour until 2022 at least. Really depends how things look travelling wise.
Given that some artists are certainly channeling a wider range of inspirations for work nowadays in the scene, do you have a dream collaboration list?
- My one dream collaboration would be with Ulrich Schnauss. It nearly happened at one point in 2017 but sadly fell through so I hope that one day this could happen as I’m a huge fan.
And finally – what are you listening to at the moment?
- Brothertiger’s latest album Paradise Lost, Talamanca, Erasure – Chorus album, Peter Gabriel – US album, a lot of Progressive House music that was coming out around 2014 from Silk Music like Ronald Velden and Shingo Nakamura. That was this past week anyway. I try to listen to a lot of new and old music that I haven’t heard before to keep me stimulated.
Odyssey’ is out now on New RetroWave. At the time of publishing the pre-order record is still available, along with cassettes and Minidiscs. You can find them HERE. Go grab!!
Now you’ll need to excuse me, I have to return some videotapes