There are very few bands that are able to tap the past while still remaining relevant to what’s popular in today’s music. To be fair, it’s a tough balancing act. You have to juggle those nostalgic sounds without becoming too kitschy, stay on top of what people enjoy, and maintain a sincerity behind the music. Retroglyphs have it figured out. The trappings of new wave, synthpop, and pop music of decades past are all here. But this is no window into yesteryear…this is music that could (and should) be heard when you turn on the radio to your favorite station. Good music is good music, no matter what the styling or sub-genres it may dip into…and this, I assure you, is good music. Retroglyphs released their self-titled debut in May and I’m already comfortable saying they’re one of my favorite bands. A big shout out to Watermelon Banzai for bringing them to my attention!
Hyperdrive is a perfect intro…warm synths, a slow bass beat, and a voice-over saying “trust me.” Without skipping a beat, Wild Road kicks in with an amazing bass guitar hook. Bass guitar hooks are a wildly underused vehicle to get people moving. It was far more prevalent in the 70’s and 80’s but it has become a lost art over the ensuing years. Blend in your synths, perfectly timed acoustic guitar work, and organic drum work and you’ve got a stone cold hit. One More Kiss keeps the momentum going. I’m going on record saying that this is one of the best tracks of 2017. If I were documenting the year in song, One More Kiss would be on the playlist…and I may do just that. The track is so infectious, perfectly blended hooks, and the vocals are spot on. This is pure pop perfection. Imposter slows down the temp a bit with funky bass beat, a staggered drum beat, and exploratory synth tones echoing off into the distance. The whole track has a noir-ish feel that seems to encircle everything. The acoustic guitar, synth, and saxophone breakdown in the middle of the song is inspired stuff. Top it all off with smoky vocals and you’ve got another great track. The outro for the song has to be an amazing experience live. Not a bad way to start off an album!
Transformation is a transitionary track that flows right into War Torn with a voice over saying “I’m ready for the future.” Another well placed line. War Torn has a great intro, echoing drums, more of the stellar bass work, and synths that add to the overall feel without taking over. It’s an emotionally charged track that works excellently as a linchpin in the middle of the album. The Noose kicks off with a guitar hook that would have sold a million singles in 1985. Imagine your favorite track by Echo & The Bunnymen blended with your favorite New Order song and you’ve got an idea of the feel here. What makes the track so great is that while there’s an homage here to those sounds it doesn’t actually sound like either. It’s a purely Retroglyphys track, a standard of consistently solid songwriting that has continued throughout the album. The bass work at the end of the song is a pure body moving experience. No Glory in the Fall is a balance of deep bass and higher register synth work. It’s a brooding piece that really highlights the talents of each member. This is the work of a well oiled machine and you can tell by the way each sound marries so well with the others. Forever Time is our last interlude before coming to the end of the album…warm synths and a heartbeat drums take us into the closer. Two Years is a showcase of layered guitar work, vocal work that sets the tone, drum work that’s not content with playing a simple back beat, and the bass work that has set the beat for the whole album. By the time the track finishes you’re ready to hit play again and start the whole trip over!
If you couldn’t tell, I really enjoyed this album. In fact, I love it. It’s the perfect blend of the sounds I loved growing up and modern pop that you just can’t deny. Retroglyphs are a band you need to be keeping up with and that needs to start now (Follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Soundcloud). Their self-titled debut is available now on iTunes and Spotify. Go buy it! I’ll wait, but make sure you come back, because we’re not done here. Nope. We’ve got an interview with Retroglyphs! Let’s meet the band behind the music:
For those hearing about you for the first time, what is the Retroglyphs story?
Frank Cervantes (Vocals/Guitar/Keys): Retroglyphs is a conceptual 80s-style project inspired by the relationship between music and images. The idea continues to evolve and develop as we have started to create our own cinematic story built around our music.
You’ve got a new album out! What can you tell us about it?
Frank: It’s a conceptual album meant to be listened to from start to finish. There is a story within the music and lyrics that anyone can relate to. Our hope is that you make it your own. The music is there to guide you. Your imagination is supposed to take over.
Your sound is steeped in the old while still feeling fresh and new. What have been your influences?
Frank: Thank you for the compliment! Regardless of what inspires and influences us, we feel like we have our own voice that shines through everything. Personally, I tend to gravitate towards romantic serious new wave that you can dance to, as well as some of the more serious songwriter-heavy Tears for Fears kind of stuff. I love the deep cuts. I also have an affinity for 80s Madonna and 80s MJ. The 80s were definitely an era of one-hit-wonders, and you can’t deny some of the pop classics… especially the songs from John Hughes’ movies. Also, dark 80s horror soundtracks. In my opinion, pure synthwave owes more to 80s horror movie soundtracks than it does to the pop scene. We love the synth, so obviously we love 80s horror music.
What is your writing process? Take us through the creation of a Retroglyphs track.
Frank: Our tracks typically start with the beat, but sometimes we start with an idea on guitar or piano. Josh Dowiak (Bass, Moog, Backing Vocals) and I will start layering instruments in the studio and experimenting with sounds. We might tear apart the entire thing and start with a new idea that was generated out of that process. We’re not afraid to chop something up and change it, even after we put a lot of time into it. Then, we send the tracks to Josh Holland (Drums/Guitar) and Matt Wood (Synth/Keytar) to prep for rehearsal. Then, in rehearsal, we might create more ideas and bounce some ideas off of Holland and Matt, and go back into the studio and record more. Needless to say, it can be a long process, but we are constantly working on it, which is why we have a lot of finished recordings as well as a ton of unreleased material we’re still working on.
When we first started the project, we had a bunch of material we had been working on. Some of it was retro style and some of it was more indie rock. Last summer, we decided we wanted to take all of the 80s-style songs and release them under one project. At the time, we didn’t even realize there was a “retrowave” scene. A couple of Google searches later, we realized this was already a thing and we were late to the party! After dubbing our project Retroglyphs, we committed to creating songs in that style. It was during this process that we realized you can turn any tune retro. We intend to show this with some covers we are working on for our next release.
What do you find to be the most useful ways to get yourself heard in the modern age?
Frank: The internet is by far the best tool for attracting fans on an international level. You have to want to connect with people who would be into your sound and get to know them on a personal level. There are a lot of great outlets right now for retrowave and synthwave, and the fans are really excited about the music. On a local level, however, nothing works better than getting out and playing shows. We also love collaborating with other artists. We don’t consider it to be a marketing tool. It’s more something we really desire on an artistic level, but it is also a great way to connect to more people.
Best part about performing live?
Frank: Hearing the songs develop and take on a life of their own. The best performances are the ones you are feeling. You can’t just play the songs, you’ve got to feel them.
Josh H: Feeling mentally connected to my bandmates and producing something that connects on an even larger scale to the people watching us.
Matt: Making people dance!
What are your musical backgrounds?
Frank: I took guitar lessons for a year when I was 12 and immediately formed my first band and started songwriting for our group. I was always intrigued by creating my own music, though I have no issues with covering my favorite artists. Songwriting has always been the most interesting aspect of being a musician for me. I’ve written for several bands including The Once Was and The City Music Project, and I have released several records as a solo artist.
Josh H: I took up drums in 5th grade, got my first drum set in middle school, and played all the way through college in jazz bands, orchestras, and marching bands. In high school, I branched out a bit and taught myself guitar, piano, how to sing (sort of), and a few other things. I also play solo acoustic shows to mix it up a little, in addition to writing songs for my solo project called Zoo Keys. I’ve been in dozens of local rock bands, but Retroglyphs is the best music I’ve played.
Matt: I started playing piano when I was 6 and then attended BYU for Jazz Piano Performance. I’ve been playing music in Philadelphia since 2008.
How do you record? What’s your studio setup?
Frank: Almost all of the tracking is done in my home studio on Pro Tools and then mixed and mastered at Mageworks, a local studio owned and operated by our buddy, Jay Mage. Most of our stuff is performed using Midi and analog keyboards, guitars, and bass. There is almost no cookie-cutter programming.
What does the future hold for Retroglyphs?
Frank: We are taking our love for 80s pop to the next level, including collaborations with singers Sarah Kane and ARE TOO, which will be included on our next release. I think we’re tapping into some Tom Tom Club/Sade vibes that almost no one is doing in the retrowave scene. We’re also working on some lighting elements for our live show and some cinematic music videos to support our recent release. We’ve also got some t-shirt designs that will be available when we launch our BandCamp store next month.
Guilty pleasure song you can’t get enough of?
Frank: “Love Plus One” – Haircut 100
Josh H: “Backseat Freestyle” – Kendrick Lamar
Matt: “Hide and Seek” – Imogen Heap
Best video game ever made?
Frank: Mario (the original, obviously!)
Josh H: NHL 94 for my classic choice, Red Dead Redemption for my modern one.
Matt: Life Is Strange
Anyone you’d like to thank or shout out?
Frank: YES! The artists who have remixed our tracks and who are involved in collaborations with us. They are all awesome and you should check them all out! Shout out to Damokles, Jowie Schulner, Marcenby, Duh!Dork!, UNITRA, Shane Keizer, McVice, and Hot Heels! Mike from 30th Floor Records also gave us great advice leading up to the release of our record.
We are grateful for every blog and publication that has promoted the release of our record. A few guys helped us get started before anyone knew us: Zistler from Drive Radio, who was one of the first writers to feature us… New Retro Wave, who had our “coming out party” when they released “The Noose” on their We Rule Nation channel before we had any buzz… and WXPN (specifically Mike Vasilikos and Helen Leicht), which has been spinning our single on FM radio in our hometown. Finally, more than anything, our Indiegogo supporters who came out big for us. They are responsible for so many great things in the works.
Josh H: I’d also like to give a shout out to Watermelon Banzai, Cobra Commander (@CobraYouFools), Ed Christof, ArtStar, Dungeons Magazine, Philthy Mag, Andy Last from Beyond Synth, Lazlo at BlowUpRadio NJ, William from Beta Wave Blog, and Art from Galaxy Hut for their support/assistance! We don’t take it for granted!