Straddling synthwave and modern pop, NEW ARCADES have a knack for instrumentals and songs with soaring choruses. Releasing music since 2012, after a series of singles and EPs, the pair issue their debut album ‘Returning Home’ via Outland, the purveyors of fine synthwave theme events which have featured the likes of Dana Jean Phoenix and FM ATTACK.
Carefully sequenced, combining songs and instrumentals for a rousing neon-lit 10 track journey, ‘Returning Home’ is a musical statement of optimism that will appeal to many, especially in the current climate.
Adam Sullivan from NEW ARCADES chatted to The Electricity Club about ‘Returning Home’…
What made you decide to make NEW ARCADES a nucleus of the two of you, as opposed to an actual band?
As we previously have been in a 4-piece band, myself and Dean were on the same page when it came to writing, promoting and the overall production of a track. We both trained in our different areas and when we work together as a team, it seemed the most efficient and productive to be a duo.
We understand each other and there’s less of a “crowd”. Nothing against any former band mates obviously. But it just became a more efficient process naturally. We are just very much on the same page. We both can write songs and produce, Dean can do insane Photoshop and graphic design work and I mix / master.
‘Returning Home’ is your debut album and has a grand sound, does it have a concept or thread?
It does have a concept, it kicks off with a scene setting track ‘In The Movies’ which paves the way for the album itself.
To really wind a long winded story down, it’s about a couple’s progression through space. We don’t want to paint too much of a picture but as you journey ‘Into the Unknown’ then through ‘If Only You Could See’, you hear the subtle “Pi” being recited, this could be in reference to the Challenger space shuttle which blew up (associated with O-Rings and seals of the tanks, hence the numbers in the song)…
Anyway as you progress through the album you realise its full of ups and downs and associated heavily with love, romance, longing, perseverance and overcoming dangers/obstacles together,
Finally when you reach ‘Returning Home’, it’s not only a literal “heading home” epic end to the album, but also as the title track it’s us making a statement about our sound. We’ve been around a while now and we are going back to what we love so much.
‘Afterlight’ and ‘Our Place In The Stars’ from the ‘Nothing Is Lost’ EP proved you are rather adept at instrumentals and this trend continues on ‘Returning Home’ with pieces like ‘If Only You Could See’ and ‘Solace’, do you have a particular compositional approach?
We tend to write in a pop style structure, it gives a healthy amount of time for each section, with a consistent vibe that you get into and is accessible and catchy but unique for each song. We always find our bassline, then build our parts around it, making BPMs different, toplines catchy and memorable, with a usual contrast of a mid-section to relieve tension and allow for us to take it somewhere else, along with a build to a more epic ending or final transition for the end of the song.
You do like your big vintage synthetic drum sounds, where are you sourcing those from?
We blend samples, make them ourselves, using different mix techniques… and different libraries, to make them unique from all the standard patches. Also gives a more natural translation when it comes to us doing live shows, we can use a natural snare on a basic setup, or a triggered sample with it blended.
I think for this album we really wanted to hone in on us being the focus. We love all our featured artists.
We have been working on a couple of features with some great artists, but I think it was intentional from us and the Outland boys to not steer away from it just yet. And bringing other epic artists in will be the next step for us…
So how does one of your instrumental ideas mutate into a song, say like ‘Into The Unknown’?
We’d have a basic bassline and instrumental hook for the intro… then we tend to focus on writing a melody / top line for a song and create lyrics from the story we had in mind. It flows quite naturally for us when we have an idea and a healthy even amount of bars and sections to work with! Naturally of course, you run into hurdles but generally speaking myself and dean will work at a song together and we fill any gaps for the other, we make a great team.
A synthwave act can’t help but fall under the spell of THE MIDNIGHT, ‘Stranger Things’ or the ‘Risky Business’ soundtrack, what had you both been influenced by during the recording?
Yeah, I can imagine a lot of them do! But we’ve been around longer than those boys from THE MIDNIGHT however… We are consistently writing our tunes in such a way that we add something new, don’t use similar samples, no saxophone, and a mix that sounds nothing like these styles, but our own unique sense of the sound!
We definitely aimed deliberately to write ‘Into The Unknown’ as a ‘Stranger Things-inspired piece, and if you see the video we cut, I think it invokes the feelings and the feel that people loved about the series. The rest of the album itself was solely sounds of space, our usual passion for music and being creative and making something memorable.
Have you found that the AOR styled rock vocals which occasionally is a characteristic of some synthwave can be polarising to audiences?
I don’t think so, its arguable anything from the 80s, which was predominately pop or rock can sound “AOR”. But some aspects of synthwave have artists who have come from metal / grunge etc, rock, pop, indie and all these lend themselves to a melodic, well-phrased style of vocal that may be comparable? We’ve never been referred to as AOR before ourselves, but I guess we can see why some ‘synthwave purists’ may feel that way.
We absolutely write our vocals to simply be memorable but fit the phrasing to best compliment the other aspects of the song. Essentially synthwave doesn’t have a coined vocal sound, if you listen to old 80’s records its usually just a pop vocal and reverb – I guess it all depends on what the singer is trying to get across, and what is their personal forte. Many singers can’t belt high like we do, or sing falsetto in a pretty way… each artist in the genre has their own awesome strength in their vocal, and I feel we’ve found what suits us best, for the production and for the songs themselves.
Well, have another listen to ‘If Only You Could See’ again, as there’s a guitar solo right at the end. ‘Returning Home’ also features a guitar “solo” towards the end, where it deliberately builds on the main hook of the chorus line, so when the vocals come in again with the vocoder, it feels more epic and emotional than previously.
The others just developed and grew by themselves, and since we perform live with guitar, I guess it’s something we include subtly in the recordings as well. I for one have been loving working with the Kemper Profiler to create the best guitar sounds for each track, without turning NEW ARCADES into an AOR band of course.
How did you decide the final running order of ‘Returning Home’?
This took a fair bit of deliberation with the Outland guys, but we all had a similar idea: The emphasis was to create a journey out of 10 album tracks, so that the album formed one coherent whole. To adhere to this formula we had to drop a couple songs which will be released as a separate record.
It’s also about the pace of the songs, and the emotion and nostalgia. As you listen through it hot out the blocks with ‘Into The Unknown’ and then comes down slightly for a fatter sounding slower track, which then picks up again for the following two, with ‘Further’ featuring softer and falsetto vocals. ‘Now and Forever’ is a proper epic section with ‘Solace’. Then ‘Clean Break’ and ‘Another Night’ are more poppy accessible songs. Finally we finish with the pace dropping as we return home, with ‘All I See’ and the title track itself.
I think we all love ‘Into The Unknown’ as the banger of the album. ‘Another Night’ would be the more accessible version that we favour for people outside the genre. ‘Returning Home’ or ‘All I See’ captures something special and emotive.
Will NEW ARCADES be taking this album out live? Any views on how some aspects of the synthwave genre are presented in a gig setting and how it might be done differently?
We absolutely will do! We can’t wait to get show-ready and put on some great nights in the future! Hopefully there will be more people eager to see us play! We pride ourselves in being a band who plays instruments live, with all due respect to the more DJ-styled synth acts. We want to bring a live element that gives a degree of risk, realism and actual vocal performance that represents what we are capable of live.
What are your hopes and fears for NEW ARCADES?
Hopes – TOTAL WORLD DOMINATION haha, more shows – perhaps in the States next year, more albums and perhaps one day being able to do this without having to do our full-time jobs – it is exhausting but we love it!
Shows, another album or EP, hopefully work with some of our good friends and artists! Also probably have a cold beer, feel we deserve it! 😉
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to NEW ARCADES
‘Returning Home’ is released on 15th November 2019 by Outland as a magenta pink vinyl LP and download, pre-order from https://outlandrecordings.bandcamp.com/
Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
12th November 2019