The Future Is So Bright She Has To Wear Shades: An Interview With Nightlights

Nightlights is poised and ready to release her latest record, the Forever EP, but before it hits on August 8th I wanted to talk to her about her musical journey. I have to be honest, I have a bit of a soft spot for Nightlights/Snowkitten. Artists always thank me for their support, but what I don’t think they realize is that without THEIR support I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. She has been around since the beginning days of Echosynthetic, sharing reviews across social media, being supportive of the new artists I covered, and helping to shout out and grow the scene. You can’t buy that kind of grassroots publicity or support and I cannot thank her enough for this kindness. With that, it gives me great pleasure to review Forever and talk to Nightlights about music, M&Ms, and everything in between.

Having already heard the previous Nightlights EP, Shadows, I thought I had an inkling of what Nightlights was going to sound like. I was wrong. She mentions Mono Memory and Timecop1983 in her interview below, and honestly, you can hear both of these influences in the Forever EP. If you’ve read any of my Mono Memory coverage you know this is about as high of a praise I can bestow because I really, really love his stuff. Where Nightlights pulls away from the influences is the “feel.” I know that seems like such a generic term, but as you listen you get it. The music is like a warm, neon soaked blanket that just pulls you in and wants to hold you in synthesized bliss. I know it sounds like lip service, but it really isn’t. There’s a warmth…real feeling that has gone into these tunes and it bleeds through the speakers. The growth between Shadows and Forever is a massive leap…the future here most certainly is a bright one.

If you don’t have your pre-order in yet, what are you waiting for? You can get two tracks early over at Bandcamp when you do! On top of the EP you also get an amazing remix of Night Shadows from JJ.Christie, a remixed Snowkitten track, and the lone surviving song from a computer crash that obliterated the previous attempt at crafting this EP.

Ready to talk to Nightlights?

For new listeners, what can you tell us about Nightlights?

Nightlights is just me all on my British lonesome, my attempt to contribute just a little scribble and a doodle to the synthwave world. I’d been writing music for years under the name, Snowkitten, but it never really found a foothold, maybe because it had no genre to belong to. Once I discovered synthwave, it was a huge wave(!) of inspiration and I just knew I had to write that kind of music, or at least add my own take on it. It felt as if I’d finally found “my” genre, and I haven’t looked back since. At the moment the songs are all instrumentals, but maybe one day I’ll have chance to work with some vocals. (I’m not singing. They’d shut down the internet, trust me.)

I discovered synthwave after my brother recommended Robots With Rayguns, and seeing the video for “Sugarbaby” was like a bolt from the blue. That had me hooked on RWR’s music instantly, and inevitably that led to this huge collection of synthwave bands I never knew existed – bands such as The Midnight, FM-84 and, in particular, Timecop1983 who has probably been the single biggest influence on the kind of sound I’ve been aiming for. Timecop described his sound as dreamwave, and although I absolutely love all kinds of synthwave, that style is probably my favourite. The aim is to create music that will hopefully evoke memories of carefree summer evenings or driving through a neon lit city late at night. That’s the intention anyway!

Your Forever EP is finished and ready to be unleashed on the world! How do you feel about it?

Very relieved that it’s finished at last, after certain technical problems (more about that later!) and a little nervous. But whereas with the debut EP, that was more of a “help, someone hide me!!” nervousness, this time I feel more confident. I had no idea how the debut “Shadows” was going to be received, but it was a huge relief that people were so positive about it. So… I’m really happy with this new EP, and I hope people will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it! It isn’t that long since the debut EP but I do feel that these tracks are a little stronger, and the positive feedback about the first EP definitely helped!

Where do you draw your inspiration from when you’re writing?

Contrary to what some may say, I do not stare at a bag of M&Ms for an hour first. That’s during the final mastering. I get inspiration from lots of places. A lot of it is from other bands, either from the 80s or modern bands, especially within the synthwave community. In the last few years, I’ve really been grabbed by the 80s nostalgia bug, so I’ve been watching goodness knows how many 80s films, particularly the John Hughes ones. There’s something about those especially, which captured a certain atmosphere and moment in time, and that can give me a lot of inspiration. But also, I’ve got collections of 80s books, artwork, fashions, logos – it all helps to drive the creativity.

What’s your studio setup?

Pretty much “in the box” as the cool kids say. I use an older version of FLStudio, mostly because that particular version does the job, and also I know exactly where to find the features I need. I use a lot of VST synths, quite a few of which were freebies from Computer Music magazine, and those are played via a Radium 49 MIDI keyboard. I also have some synthwave sample packs, which have been great for drum sounds, and the outstanding VSDSX, which emulates the legendary Simmons SDSV drum pads. I’ve also been lucky enough to find a MicroKorg synthesizer, which is amazing for analogue style sounds, chimes and leads etc. And a friend very kindly gave me his old X5D synth – it has some extremely nice piano, pad and string sounds.

You’ve been working with JJ.Christie and his Filtersweep Collective. What have those collaborations been like?

Absolutely amazing! It helps that he’s been a great friend over the last few months, and has offered so much advice and suggestions about various things. But also, he’s very easy to work with, and despite me sometimes being a bit of a scatterbrain, he’s been very patient. For instance, I remixed one of his Nebulastica tracks and although I’ve done a few remixes in the past for competitions, this was the first time someone has specifically asked if I wanted to remix their work. So it was new territory for me. JJ Christie’s music is exactly the kind of music I love listening to, so it was honestly a joy to work with and the remix took shape very smoothly. And he’s obviously so passionate about synth music too, and that shows through in his work, which made me want to push my own music that bit more. The remix was for his second Filtersweep Collective release, but he also asked if I wanted to submit a couple of my own songs – again, something that I would never have expected even a year ago, so not surprisingly that was a very easy decision!

What bands did you grow up listening to?

A real mixed bunch. A lot of the bands I grew up with were 80s bands, and although they weren’t all synthpop, many of them featured a lot of synthesizers in their work. I was/am a big fan of British rock bands, Magnum and Marillion, as well as 80s era Foreigner, and John Farnham’s 80s and early 90s albums, which featured a lot of synthesizers. Also the classic bands such as Depeche Mode, Ultravox, Erasure, OMD. But the band that really grabbed me and made me want to make music was Talk Talk. They drifted away from synths after the first few albums (the horror!) but their early synth-based work was outstanding. And I fell head over heels for the way so much of their music was created by collaging lots of improvised recordings from guest musicians, which nobody else was doing in the 80s. Although my own writing method is nowhere near as intricate, I kind of follow the same idea, recording lots of different takes and then collaging the bits I like most. So Talk Talk were probably the band I listened to most, and who had the most influence on me.

What are some modern artists you enjoy?

Omigosh… so many to choose from! I’m a huge fan of Lights, Owl City, Chicane… Most of what I’ve been listening to over the last year or so has been synthwave though. The usual culprits such as The Midnight, FM-84, Timecop1983, Le Cassette. (That voice is so smooth you could skate on it!)  Robots With Rayguns is a very big inspiration as I mentioned earlier. And there are so many artists who I’ve discovered through Twitter, Bandcamp recommendations, or your own website – Vampire Stepdad’s music especially stands out, the “Living The Dream” EP from Mono Memory was an instant favourite, Indighost has some amazing music out already, and there are also really inspiring songs by Duett, Arwelone, Michael Oakley, Nina, FM Attack, Marvel83… I also became utterly hooked on Morgan Willis’ recent “Sophie Teenage Dream” album, and Greyskull’s “Outside My Garage” track. There are just so many incredible acts in synthwave so it’s impossible to remember them all!

You recently lost a great deal of recorded music. What was that experience like and how did you move past it?

Yes, my computer decided to help give me a few more grey hairs by burning out earlier this year. It wiped out almost everything I’d been working on for the new EP. I was convinced I’d done a backup recently but it turned out that, like a bonehead, it had been a month. (Not a mistake I’ll make again!) I was lucky that my dad lent me the money for a replacement and there was one on eBay that was perfect. However, the original plan was to grab the project files for the songs off the old PC’s hard drive. Simple enough, except that the computer crash was so severe, it had trashed the entire drive, and only one project file was salvageable. One song, “Fairground Lights” (which is on the new EP as a bonus track) was almost finished too, and only exists at all because I had a copy on my MP3 player. I didn’t have the heart to start the entire song again, because of the way that most of my music is created from improvised pieces, so it would have been near impossible to recreate it.

So I was left with one song, and only the intro and first verse existed for that. However, several of the lost tracks were songs that I wasn’t all that happy with, and although it was gutting to lose so much work, there was never a question of just giving up. I just love making music, so it was pretty much a case of dusting myself off and starting over, and I like to think that the songs I wrote since are far better than what I originally had. Also, I had a lot of support from friends on Twitter and other places, which definitely helped a lot!

Favorite color M&M?

Whoa… truly a question that would stop even King Solomon in his tracks! I think I’d have to go with red M&Ms, though to be fair they tend to leave the bag and end up being gluttoned so fast that I rarely have chance to see the color.

Anyone you’d like to thank before we go?

Well, first of all I really want to say a big thank you to you at Echosynthetic, for giving me the very first review of my music, and this interview which is also a first for me, not to mention a lot of fun! And also for the vast amount of work and promoting you’ve been doing for the synthwave community, which – believe me – is very much appreciated. I’d also like to thank Watermelon Banzai, who also very kindly reviewed my debut EP and likewise is doing a lot to give extra coverage to synthwave acts, which has been great to see.

There are too many other people to list everyone, but I did also want to thank JJ Christie for all the help and encouragement, the remix he did, and the chance to remix his own track. Big fangs (sorry) to Vampire Stepdad for being so darn cool and resisting nibbling my neck so far. (I haven’t tidied my room yet, but he’ll never know.) Indighost for being a good friend and being so supportive and encouraging, Ethereal Delusions, Unholy Rat King and Mono Memory for the damn fine music and being genuinely inspiring. And friends I’ve known before I joined Twitter, who were always encouraging me with feedback and suggestions about the music even back when I very first started. Their friendship and support has been absolutely invaluable.

I’m really sorry if there are others I haven’t mentioned, but this would have been longer than War And Peace. Really, I’m grateful to anyone who has followed me on Twitter and helped out in any way with the music – thank you, it really does mean the world to me.

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