Exploring the Neon Grids: An Interview With Neon Shudder

What better way to kick off the summer than an interview with one of the scenes most well known contributors. Neon Shudder has carved out a name for himself by pushing boundaries, treading his own trails, and more than anything else, consistently good songwriting. When we last covered Neon Shudder he’d just released Omens III (check out our review HERE), and in that review I promised an interview. So without further delay, I am keeping that promise:

For anyone who hasn’t listened to your music before, who is Neon Shudder?

I’m a producer from Philadelphia going by the moniker JHM.

Your albums seem are so well layered they’re almost visual…what is your process when you sit down to write?

I usually have some kind of “theme” or sound in mind I try to stick with. It’s a little more straight forward with something like cyberpunk concept albums. Or when I did Hex Phase and Ghost Process, they were purposely leaning more on synthwave. Recently OMENS II and III have more a goth flavor to them, the latter having a lot more string work than the others.

What is your recording setup?

Right now I make a majority of my music in Reason but am looking at branching out to use other DAWs.  I also sample things here and there and have recently begun experimenting with vocaloid software.

You’ve been on the scene for a while. What got you started and how have you seen it change?

I’ve been messing with MIDI since I was 14 so that goes back about 17 years now. I think it was when I discovered Danger and Kavinsky in 2011-ish that I really wanted to make something like that. I loved that Danger had this 80s sound layered over catchy electronic music. I wasn’t aware of synthwave – I just wanted something with this gritty retro feel that conjured up cyberpunk imagery since I had fallen in love with the works of William Gibson a few years prior.

In terms of change I’ve just watched the scene grow a lot.  It’s bigger than ever now and there’s tons of people out there making this stuff and that’s great. On the other hand  I think it’s reaching a point where people are fracturing off into different directions. I personally haven’t felt very connected to the core of it the past few years and have moved off in my own direction, but there’s still a bit of it in me because it’s where I started.

With respect to the scene as a whole it’s getting more attention with soundtracks or established artists adopting the sound, so I think it’s healthy for people to experiment more and add something new to the scene. There’s a lot of neon grids out there…

Who are some artists you’ve been enjoying lately?

The new albums from Gorillaz and Ryuichi Sakamoto are both amazing. I’ve also been revisiting Run The Jewels 3 a bit lately.

What artists influenced you as you were growing up?

Japanese band Buck-Tick first and foremost. They’ve had the same lineup since 1985-ish but their sound has evolved so much over the years. I’ve been a fan of them ever since I started making music and they’ve played a major part in crafting my overall sound, specifically their albums One Life, One Death, and Mona Lisa Overdrive.

Aside from that artists like Bowie, The Cure, Android Lust, and Ed Harrison’s brilliant work on the Neo-Tokyo soundtracks.  Also composers like Kenji Kawai and Yoko Kanno.

Your last album, Omens III, came out in April. How do you feel about the completed project and how does it tie in with Omens I and II?

Omens I was released around Halloween that year so it felt like a name the suited the overall goth feel of the album.  After I had put out my first full length, Cadence, I needed a break from synthwave and concept stuff.  I started knocking out all these dark “gothy” songs that felt like they fit together and before long I had a whole album that I didn’t even plan.  It felt like an appropriate follow up to the first OMENS so I named it OMENS II.  Likewise, after Sons of Seraph, I made OMENS III to unwind. I think I’ve got a couple more in that “series” left in me – I certainly loved making them.

When you aren’t writing, what’s a normal day for you?

I’m a graphic designer and marketing specialist for a huge medical company which doesn’t sound very exciting. That said, even during the day I’ll get ideas for songs or albums or what have you and jot down notes to revisit later.

For an artist just starting out, what is some advice you wish someone had given you?

Learn about mixing and mastering and EQing! I struggle with that since I just kind of learned all this stuff on my own.  I’m planning on digging into it more soon so my future releases sound better.

Also, everyone is really critical of their own work. It’s really easy to look at your contemporaries and think “Jesus, that’s so good, I can never do that.”  Just keep at it.  Keep working. Keep making music.

What’s on the horizon for Neon Shudder?

I’ve been working for a while on a horror themed release called “The Aberrant.” It’s kind of a cyberpunk thriller/horror story/album.  I’m aiming for an October release.  Then I have to wrap up my cyberpunk trilogy then it’s off to OMENS IV.  After that I don’t know.  I’m taking a hiatus after that so probably nothing for a long while.

Favorite comic book character?

Marko and Alana from Saga.

Dream artist to collaborate with?

Buck-Tick, Makeup and Vanity Set, Android Lust, Raymond Watts.

Anyone you’d like to thank or shout out?

Anyone who has supported my music and myself, and people who have just supported this scene altogether. I don’t think it would last if people didn’t support it, share it, play it for others, go to shows, etc. So thank you!

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