Synthwave Sunday: Wild Style – An Interview with Robots With Rayguns

Robots With Rayguns is a name that has been synonymous with quality over the years. His latest album, Wild Style, is proof positive that not only does he still “have it”, he’s also a driving creative force in synthwave. Wild Style is available through Bandcamp in a variety of formats, including: Digital, Cassette (my top choice!), and Compact Disc. You can also snag it at his official website, where there’s tons of other cool goodies to be had as well.

Wild Style is fresh, a ton of fun, and is a collection of songs that could have been hits in the late 80’s or early 90’s. They’re also fresh and fun now, and that’s where Robots With Rayguns has bridged that gap between 1990 and the present. These songs are impossible to put a release date on…and that’s leads me into my oft-used phrase: Good music is timeless. Also, I hope you came to this party ready to dance, because Wild Style is pure body movement compressed into a musical medium. Push play and it transports the party to wherever you may be…home, work, or a commute…doesn’t matter. Robots With Rayguns has brought the dance club to you, with skilled samples, beats that don’t stop, and a real live DJ feel.

There’s really something here for everyone, which is proven as you look through the quoted track favorites on Bandcamp. Everyone has different favorites! Whether you’re looking for the next synthwave hit, a hip-hop infused mixtape track, or a retro synth house party classic, Wild Style has what you’re looking for. For example, Spark (Feat. TT the Artist) is a song that I wholeheartedly believe could have been a club anthem of the late 80’s or early 90’s. Or Excess, which sounds like the entire decade of the 80’s mixed into one brilliant track. Then you get a song like Gone (Feat. BlueJ) that has one foot in the past and one foot in the now, showing that not only does Robots With Rayguns understand both time periods, he knows how to tap them for the best sounds possible. Obsession, my personal favorite, is a synthpop interlude with a synthwave heartbeat, soaring synths and all. And before I get ahead of myself here, no mix-tape is complete without a killer cover, and Wild Style has one of the best synthwave covers I’ve ever heard. The INXS classic, Need U Tonight, gets the RWR treatment featuring Carl Gershon on vocals. And finally, if you’re looking for a more traditional track, you can’t do much better than Wild Style closer, Nomi Malone.

And now it’s my pleasure to feature a special Synthwave Sunday interview with the man behind the music. Robots With Rayguns is one of the big boys on the scene and I really appreciate him taking the time to talk with Echosynthetic! Enjoy!!!

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For someone who is new to Robots With Rayguns, how would you describe your music to them?

I always kind of have difficulty describing my music to people who haven’t heard it because it’s such a mix of genres, but for the most part I just tell people I make “synthpop” or “dance music”.

You’ve been at this for a while. What got you started into electronic music?

I was 15 when I started making music and then I was just playing around and seeing what I could come up with. I’ve always wanted to make music but I was terrible with learning instruments and this gave me a way to create sounds in a more natural way to me. I started out making brooding industrial music. Robots With Rayguns started out as a side project in college because I wasn’t nearly as angsty anymore.

How do you continue to keep your sound so cutting edge while maintaining a foot in the nostalgia?

I think that overall a lot of the retro factor in my music is a bit unintentional in the sense that a lot of the music that inspires me the most happens to be from the 80s and 90s because that’s what I grew up on (with a heavy does of EBM and 2000’s synthpop). Most of what I listens to borrows a lot from those time periods so that’s just the sounds I’m drawn toward. But I’m also very inspired by modern House and pop music. So it’s probably just that I’m constantly blending those elements together. If you look at most music there’s always a bit of nostalgia thrown in because everything draws from what came before it. I just go a little heavier I suppose.

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

I get a lot of inspiration from marketing, film, fashion and television shows. There’s something about creating your own world and presenting it in a way that “that’s what life is” even though it may not be. It’s escapism that convinces you that anything is possible. I love the feeling of being immersed into a style, a visual, a sound, the whole package and then going “That was awesome. Now let me make my own experience!”. The world may not look the same way it does in an episode of 90210 or a Madonna video, but sometimes why not pretend it does?

Wild Style is your latest album. How do you feel about it now that it’s had some time to circulate?

I was pretty nervous about how people would respond to ‘Wild Style’ because it’s definitely my most modern and dance oriented album. It’s more of a guilty pleasure record than ‘Fresh As It Gets’ and definitely more experimental. I feel like I’m at a point where I’ve developed a signature sound and I don’t want to become too comfortable with that so I want to explore what else I can do with that. How can the RWR sound evolve? I tend to think of it a bit like a big melting pot where sometimes I like to throw in some different elements into the mix to see how they groove together because at the end of the day there’s so many possibilities.

This album was very inspired by early 90s Hip-Hop, R&B, and House music as well as current electronic music. I dropped those thick, dreamy pads and really tried to see if I could make the beats and the bass drive the tracks instead and I think it’s more edgy and confident. I think people really have responded well to it’s sound. It definitely seems to brings together more people from diffeerent music tastes to the RWR table and shows an evolution of the RWR sound.

What is your writing process like?

I don’t really have a set process, and overall it’s probably a bit different than a lot of other musicians because I’m completely self taught and don’t actually know much if anything about music theory. It’s mostly starts out with going through my sample library and seeing what kind of beat I can construct and from there I get ideas to add this element or that and just see where it takes me. Or I’ll start out laying down a simple melody and just experimenting from there. I’ll often have something set in my mind of what I want to create if I get inspired in the moment, but often it evolves into something else. Usually better in a lot of cases. Or sometimes I’ll sit there for hours playing around and everything sounds like shit and I end up feeling like a fraud. I guess it’s actually similar to a lot of people’s process after all.

What is your set up in the studio?

My studio is currently my bedroom in my apartment. So basically just my computer. Nothing fancy at all because either I can’t afford it or I don’t have room for it. I feel more comfortable the less hardware that I have to use though because I’m actually pretty terrible with hardware.

What kind of advice would you give an artist that’s just starting out?

I think the most important advice I would give someone starting out is that you will constantly have moments of doubt and rejection but that it’s a universal experience that every artist goes through no matter how confident or successful they may be. Get used to it and remind yourself constantly that you are not alone in that. Say what you want to say and create what you want to create because in the end that’s all that really matters.

When you aren’t making funky, breakbeat synthwave, what do you do for fun?

I don’t get out very much and usually I’m watching movies or TV, playing Tycoon/City building games on my computer or painting. I’m thinking of starting to make my paintings available online soon. I’m not very interesting in real life.

You’ve got some of the best merch on the market. Want to let our readers know what they can find in your “shop”?

I’ve always been light on the merch because I do pretty much everything myself, and merch takes capital, time, and patience. But I really want to keep physical CDs and Tapes going because there’s nothing like holding an album you’ve worked so hard on in your hand and knowing other people can pick it up and look at it too and feel it and hold it. You can get Wild Style on CD and Cassette tape (which is actually quite popular) as well as some dope keychains and pins featuring the amazing artwork done by Reno Msad who’s basically my right hand man and brother from another mother. There are also full sized posters that are signed by the both of us which is a really cool thing to make available to the fans.

What does 2017 hold for Robots With Rayguns?

I don’t want to give too much away yet but there’s actually a ton in the pipeline for this year and even the beginning of next. Expect lots of new music later this year starting in the summer. Some of it I will announce ahead of time and some of it I just won’t. There will definitely be a lot of surprises.

Is there anyone you’d like to mention or shout out?

I’m really lucky to have Reno Msad as an illustrator for the visuals of “Wild Style” (and most of my previous albums to date). I feel like he really gets what I’m going for and we’re constantly thinking the same thing and so it makes it easy to collaborate. It was a challenge to come up with something even cooler looking than ‘Fresh As It Gets’ but I think he really knocked it out of the park and translated what was in my head so well. Steve Gillson also once again mastered this album, and really kept the sound intact and he doesn’t try to make it as loud as it possibly can be to the detriment of the sound quality which happens quite often in modern commercial music. It’s pretty great to have a consistent team of people to go to who understand you and what you’re trying to create. I also got to work with some cool guest vocalists on this one such as TT The Artist who’s from my hometown of Baltimore and has a work ethic and style that is  truly inspiring to me.

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