Tag: Michael Oakley (Page 2 of 3)


Although best known as the voice for FM-84, Ollie Wride has ventured solo with his recently released debut album ‘Thanks In Advance’, co-produced by Michael Oakley.

And while songs like ‘Running In The Night’ and ‘Wild Ones’ with FM-84 made him more widely known within Synthwave circles, ‘Thanks In Advance’ explores more dynamic synth-led territory with an FM rock flavour, particularly in songs like ‘The Driver’, ‘Miracle Mile’ and ‘Never Live Without You’, although there are more balladic numbers too like ‘Luna’.

A very immediate pop album with a suave presence and that classic MTV friendly feel, the positive acclaim for ‘Thanks In Advance’ has led to Wride announcing his first solo concert in London at Camden Assembly on Saturday 16th November 2019.

With only a few tickets remaining for the Outland hosted show, Ollie Wride talked about his career to date, both with FM-84 and solo, plus his future plans.

What led you to depart the UK for the USA, was it purely musical or was it more romantic, inspired by the films and TV shows of your youth?

Firstly, thank you so much for having me Chi and for your unwavering support. Just to clarify I am still a UK resident! I do however spend a large portion of my time stateside, predominantly due to work as well as some of my closest friends and colleagues are based there. You’ve got to go where the action is! As for being inspired by pop culture into taking the leap – doesn’t everyone at some point in their youth fantasise about getting on a Jumbo Jet and making for the West Coast to go and carve a career in Rock n Roll… or “tech” nowadays?

Who are your key musical influences? ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK can’t help hearing Lindsey Buckingham in your voice but we mean that as a compliment 😉

That’s a heavy compliment to drop, one that I shan’t take lightly. You’ve hit the nail on the head with Buckingham, we’re talking that kind of pedigree generally here. I’m transparent as far as the term “influence” goes, I wear them on my sleeve, I’m sure it would come as no surprise to some reeling off David Bowie, Bryan Ferry / Roxy, Peter Gabriel and QUEEN as key players. I could go on…

You’re best known as the voice of FM-84, the project of San Francisco-based Scotsman Col Bennett, how did that association come about?

The genesis stemmed from when I was first made aware of the retro wave genre by my long time friend and collaborator Josh Dally back in 2015. I don’t recall the precise ins and outs, but he was working with Jordy aka TIMECOP1983 on the ‘Reflections’ record which would later become ‘Let’s Talk’ and suggested I got involved.

I had just come out of a deal in LA, and being candid I was pretty jaded and burnt out… my only real concern was how was I going to make the next rent cheque, let alone get back in the saddle musically! However, Josh twisted my arm and Jordy and I quickly hit it off. ‘Wild Love’ was the result and reignited my enthusiasm.

Shortly after, I started to familiarise myself with the up and coming producers in the scene, one of whom happened to be Col (FM-84) and the ‘Los Angeles EP’, I quickly developed a large affinity with it. So much so, I paired one of my ideas to his instrumental ‘Out Of Time’ before we ever even spoke. The serendipity came when Col approached me to work on the record that would later be called ‘Atlas’, having heard ‘Wild Love’. It was only by chance that we were huge fans of one another’s work! The rest they say, is history…

So how would FM-84 tracks like ‘Running In The Night’ and ‘Wild Ones’ have evolved in the studio, and at which stage would you have been asked to get involved?

‘Running In The Night’ was the first song we wrote together, believe it or not! In that particular instance, Col had a pretty defined template that he had initially worked on with another writer, but to no avail. I took the instrumental and sat with it, reworking at the piano for about two weeks I recall.

Using the verse progression as a springboard, I had the chorus locked in pretty quickly after re-harmonising the chord structure to give it that sense of tension and urgency – it breathed a new lease of life into it I felt, although I was still unsure whether he’d go for it. Still, from there the verse lyric and melody soon emerged soon after. I handed the reins back to Col and he brought his production finesse, we’re lucky to have that song.

A similar scenario with ‘Wild Ones’, an instrumental bed was already established to work from and I was given freedom to rearrange / change the chord structure so I could develop into the song – this dynamic has continued throughout the majority of our work together.

The success of FM-84 and the album ‘Atlas’ had led to you touring the world with them, but what inspired you to do a solo album, has that always been on the cards?

Well, it’s important to highlight that I’m very fortunate to be a part of something that enjoys even a semblance of ’success’ or should I say gives enjoyment to lots of people, particularly in what is still widely considered as a niche market. So honestly, I had no aspirations to deviate from something that I had already invested so much of myself into…

I give 110% of myself to whatever project I am involved with at the time – when ‘Atlas’ took off and the response was so overwhelming, the only desire I had was to continue to build upon the work we had accomplished, making music that we love and inspires us first and foremost.

However, I am a workaholic and I detest prolonged periods of inactivity. I’ve been both marred by bad luck and great fortune, but managed to earn my crust as a writer and performer since I was 19, therefore I am always looking for the next song. Having pitched a few ideas for the next FM-84 record, it quickly became apparent that another thread was emerging, and one that was more in line with my direct influences, I wanted to pursue a concept I had in my head for many years, that occasionally seeps through in the FM-84 world but ultimately this required its own store front.

For ‘Thanks In Advance’, you’ve been working with another Scot in Michael Oakley… a coincidence or do you feel a spiritual affinity? Is there a secret stash of RUNRIG albums in your collection? 😉

Purely owing to Michael’s wonderful nature and sharpened skill set! Well, aside from us developing a great friendship, we share a commonality in that we love melody, sincerity and well-made records. We’ve been working pretty closely for the past year and a half on one another’s records. A sort of services trade if you will… he polished my productions / mixes and I gave him lyrics and melodies where he required. I feel we’ve developed a great understanding of what the other is searching for in our respective fields. Never treading on one another, but enhancing each other’s vision. If that makes sense?

Your solo work has a more synth rock edge compared with the smooth atmospherics of FM-84, especially on songs like ‘Never Live Without You’ and ‘Driver’, please take us through how those two songs came together?

This relates to what I mentioned earlier in that this is a solo record through and through. Turning the lens towards my direct influences and the records that I fell in love with as a kid having raided and studied my Dad’s record collection – like so many others did I’m sure. It’s not a conscious decision, more a natural environment for me.

’Never Live Without You’ was the second song I wrote for the record that was a clear front runner from the outset. I worked through 4 different versions before landing on what you can now hear… I wanted to channel the sentiment of Springsteen and Jeff Lynne, this pulsing rhythm combined with soaring vocal line.

’The Driver’ was the last track I wrote for the record, which emerged from a 32 bar guitar pluck that Chris Huggett sent me in passing. So simple, yet oozing with menace, glam and swagger. I felt so inspired by the riff, I frantically mocked up a demo comprised of verse and chorus, both lyrical concepts are referring to rediscovering or maintaining sense of self / vision. I seldom write that fast, generally that’s a pretty good barometer for a great succinct song.

How involved do you get in the instrumentation process?

Perhaps a common misconception about singers in general? But I’m involved from the ground upwards, I write, produce and arrange all of the material you hear on the record, as well as a lot of instrumentation and arrangement in FM-84, the majority of this I work on in my studio at home. I’m a total perfectionist and proud to be.

‘Miracle Mile’ sounds like it might have been inspired by a moonlit convertible drive? Was it?

That sounds wonderful, but I hate to disappoint, I gave up my car when the lease was up… 😉

I actually wrote the makings of it, when I was hard up, in LA living in an Extended Stay dive, between Ventura Blvd and the 101 for 5 months as part of the accommodation plan my then-label put me in.

Despite the musty marijuana that pervaded the air, cops turning up every other night to address domestic disturbances and an air conditioning unit that hadn’t been serviced since 1997, I didn’t mind it all that much, I convinced myself that I was living ’The American Dream’ or a rendition. The song is loosely a true story about the lengths we go to, in an attempt to find what we seek.

‘I’m A Believer’ embraces the influence of Hollywood-era Giorgio Moroder, do you have any favourite films of that period? 

Thank you! It was certainly a modest attempt to evoke a sense of nightclubbing in that era. I assume you’re referring to ‘Scarface’ with the Moroder connection? I’m a sucker for a Gangster picture for sure. ‘Goodfellas’, ‘Casino’, ‘The Godfather’… however specifically the early – mid 80s? ‘Bladerunner’, ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, ‘Raging Bull’ spring to mind.

Any hopes and fears about how ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ might turn out?

I have a heck of a lot of time for Tom Cruise, simply irrepressible, I have every faith in ‘Top Gun’: Maverick’.

You do love a power ballad, as ‘The Rising Tide’, ‘Hold On’ and ‘Luna’ show but you largely manage to keep the AOR thing in check? There’s a flavour but not too much of it? Any thoughts?

I meant to take you to task on this! Haha! Do I? You can’t have light without shade in my view! I can see why to an extent, slow burners / lower tempo numbers seem to default into that category – however it is not intentionally so… I feel ‘Luna’ is the only true embodiment on the LP.

Simply as it was intended as an open letter about two lovers who meet over the internet on opposite sides of the world with contrasting lifestyles, in the face of adversity and external pressures they reconcile their feelings to try and realise a future.

As far as AOR goes… well, I don’t consciously steer towards or veer from anything stylistically. I approach each song from the stand point of, what is the message? Does it make me feel anything? Is it truthful? If those ingredients aren’t present then I think labels are irrelevant, the song will invariably not make the grade!

Which have been your own personal favourites from the album and why?

That’s like trying to select your favourite child? Perhaps it’s unspoken? 😉

Well, ‘The Driver’, ‘Miracle Mile’ are stand outs for me, but ’The Rising Tide’ is much more of a luscious contrast for me, untethering myself, a ROXY MUSIC homage come blue eyed gospel moment in the spirit of Peter Gabriel.

Without dissecting the message here, all I will say is lyrically the pen is turned directly on myself, an acknowledgement of the pitfalls and facing them with a grin come what may – vocally I went to town, it’s definitely not a “sit back and relax” moment, I’m giving everything I’ve got in the tank which is both liberating and a real challenge I put to myself, I’m really pleased with the result.

‘Thanks In Advance’ is almost made to be performed live, was that something that had been a consideration during its production?

That’s an excellent observation. Honestly it’s never a conscious decision until after the fact… Songwriting and the studio is the factory, the stage is the test track and I adore that environment, it’s a fight or walking a tight rope I feel to an extent. It’s a privilege to be able to do and have the responsibility to ensure you have it nailed. Although, initially at least, I seldom consider the challenges of delivering half of my songs live! They’re certainly a work out, but I do a huge amount of prep and rehearsal.

So how will your solo show in London this November differ from when people saw you fronting FM-84?

Well, it’s imperative to highlight that I am always myself… authentic and sincere, what you see is what you get up there – it is my job to entertain you for an hour and a half for the price of admission. Aside from the glossy veneer, I’m looking forward to showing more of my chops as far as playing live goes.

I teased this on the recent FM tour we just wrapped with rolling out the Keytar during our cover of TEARS FOR FEARS, this will be an extension – yes you’ll get the synths but it will be a live show, with real musicianship from real musicians, something that I am a huge advocate of and feel is lacking in the scene at least.

Synthwave, synthpop, popwave… do these terms and classifications matter, surely it’s all pop music? 😉

I am by no means an arbiter of other people’s tastes / views etc. I’m well aware, labels go with the territory, whilst I don’t shirk away from them and I’m grateful to be even considered a member of any ‘movement’ – it is my personal view that rather than rush to create so many different sub genres and factions – why don’t folks simply concentrate on the meat and potatoes here… creating the best possible music they can muster in the first place?

What’s next for you musically, either solo or with FM-84 or anything else?

It’s still early days for my debut LP, having only been released last week, the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, exceeding my expectations… far more receptive than I expected truth be told. It’s a pretty daunting prospect stepping out of the spotlight of an entity that so many people love and may associate you with – so first things first, I am likely going to be performing a few select shows starting in the UK and US subject to the album’s trajectory of course! I already have tracks lined up for a possible second record… where they eventually land, we shall see.

FM-84 has been the main focus since I became a part, however it requires a huge team effort to see the second record across the line, so when the time is right and Col is ready, I will be there to play my part – if I’m still needed! In other news, I’m due to begin work with Michael Oakley on his follow up to ‘Introspect’ shortly, as well as working with a few of peers within the scene with a possibility of the long awaited duet on the cards! 😉

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Ollie Wride

Special thanks to Stuart McLaren at Outland

‘Thanks In Advance’ is released by New Retro Wave, available in vinyl LP, cassette and digital formats direct from https://newretrowave.bandcamp.com/

OLLIE WRIDE plays London Camden Assembly on Saturday 16th November 2019 and Glasgow Classic Grand on Friday 10th April 2020







Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Portrait Photos by Randy Jacob
Live Photo by Electric Brixton
31st July 2019, updated 26th October 2019

OLLIE WRIDE Thanks In Advance

The stylish figure of Ollie Wride could become popwave’s own Bryan Ferry.

Just as Ferry had a parallel solo career alongside ROXY MUSIC, the suave lead vocalist for FM-84 on songs like ‘Wild Ones’ has been partying like it’s 1985 on his enjoyable debut long player ‘Thanks In Advance’. Co-produced by the Toronto based Scot Michael Oakley with guitars by Chris Huggett, Los Angeles based Englishman Wride uses the opportunity to channel his inner Lindsey Buckingham.

There are certainly flashes of FLEETWOOD MAC’s synth assisted ‘Tango In The Night’ album within opening song ‘Never Live Without You’, a number fashioned with a fine balance of synths, guitars and MTV friendly vocals that is better than anything which THE KILLERS have fashioned in the last ten years.

Rhythmically swung, ‘Overcome’ is rocky but avoids the dreaded AOR indulgences often found within synthwave circles. Meanwhile the muted funk guitar and sparking synthlines of ‘Back To Life’ offer sunny soulful pop, with Wride’s voice superbly anthemic and likely to induce swooning. Plus there’s even an unexpected key change and sax thrown in!

With gently percussive World Music overtones, ‘The Rising Tide’ offers a colourful ballad in the vein of Tom Lord-Alge’s work with Steve Winwood but with the threat of MR MISTER looming, this won’t necessarily be for everyone.

Offering some big love, it all gets back on track with ‘Miracle Mile’, the pulsing triplet providing the backbone to a wonderful open top driving number. The imagery conjured may be a cliché but the fact that the song produces pictures for the listener at all is a fine achievement for any artist.

Coming over like Richard Marx, Wride dons his balladeer hat again on the appropriately moonlit ‘Luna’, before the sun rises for the filmic bass synth laden cascade of ‘I’m A Believer’, which embraces the hypnotic Hollywood influence of Giorgio Moroder as well as utilising some rousing layers of vocals.

‘Hold On’ reimagines what a slowie for the soundtrack of ‘About Last Night’ would be like in the 21st Century, but ending ‘Thanks In Advance’ is ‘The Driver’.

Putting into dynamic realisation as to what SIMPLE MINDS might have sounded like had Moroder-graduate Keith Forsey produced the 1985 ‘Once Upon A Time’ album instead of Jimmy Iovine and Bob Clearmountain, the superb grouchy FM synth rock of ‘The Driver’ see Wride successfully cross Jim Kerr with Billy Idol!

So is this a synthwave album? Well no! Is it good accessible pop record with a melodic synth aesthetic that invokes memories of Brat Pack movies, aviator sunglasses and designer stubble? YES!

Ollie Wride has proved with ‘Thanks In Advance’ that he can cut it on his own outside of the FM-84 nest. While there might be too many power ballads for some listeners, this is an impressive debut long player that will be likely to gain further momentum once it is carried into the live arena by Wride’s charismatic stage presence.

‘Thanks In Advance’ is released by New Retro Wave, available in vinyl LP, cassette and digital formats direct from https://newretrowave.bandcamp.com/






Text by Chi Ming Lai
Portrait Photos by Randy Jacob
22nd July 2019, updated 20th March 2020


Toronto based Glaswegian MICHAEL OAKLEY rode the Synthwave with his debut solo EP ‘California’ in late 2016.

Admittedly more synthpop than Synthwave, Oakley’s songcraft was what set him apart from much of that Trans-Atlantic influenced movement, with an emotional centre capturing the youthful angst of Brat Pack rom-coms and the coming-of-age movies of John Hughes.

Following the positive reception for ‘California’, his debut full-length offering ‘Introspect’ sees MICHAEL OAKLEY re-exploring the music of his teenage years.

In particular, Oakley has studied that era’s now retrospectively unique sound design. The Scot told ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “I deliberately used Yamaha DX sounds and Fairlight sounds to capture more of that mid 1980s Trevor Horn sound and cut back using too many analogue sounds. Especially on bass.”

The opening instrumental title theme echoes David Foster’s soundtrack work on ‘St Elmo’s Fire’, but the album starts proper with the mighty Italo Disco statement of ‘Left Behind’. Complete with obligatory orchestra stabs and a rousing chorus, it gleefully fuses SAVAGE, RAF, PET SHOP BOYS and BEE GEES within a big Trevor Horn styled kitchen sink!

But despite the fun laden octave shift frenzy on ‘Left Behind’, the lyrics contain an early midlife reflection, something which Oakley confessed: “the song is about me feeling like everyone around me was getting settled in their career, getting married and taking out a mortgage. Yet I was still living in my parents’ house, chasing a dream of being a musician that wasn’t working out.”

Meanwhile, ‘Crystal Ships’ is not a cover of THE DOORS, but a delightful synth AOR number that apes John Waite, the one-time front man of THE BABYS who found Trans-Atlantic fame and fortune with ‘Missing You’.

Its biggest surprise is a synthetic panpipe sound which is cheesy as hell but works perfectly in the context of the track; guilty pleasure ahoy!

With some superb digital percussive manipulation akin to Trevor Horn’s work on the fifth variation of ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ from the album of the same name, ‘Control’ is Oakley at his most darkest and aggressive yet, gloomier but not so lovelorn. But to put that into perspective, despite the more serious overtones, this is not NIRVANA.

‘Rain’ takes a PET SHOP BOYS bassline lead and references Glasgow as Oakley dreams of escaping his hometown in another reflective midlife number that conceptually could be THE BLUE NILE gone disco.

With an opening Fender Rhodes, the ballad ‘Now I’m Alive’ with Synthwave Queen DANA JEAN PHOENIX and an air of the 1985 film drama ‘White Nights’ which Phil Collins and Lionel Ritchie contributed recordings for. However, once the heat rises between Phoenix and Oakley, it conjures images of Demi Moore and Rob Lowe in romantic fornication!

The rhythmic ‘Push It To The Limit’ is something of a maniac, complete with a blistering FM rock guitar solo; listeners will cry out “MONTAGE” but this is one to dust off the lycra leotards to and get physical!

While Oakley pushes the boundaries of AOR within his rock assisted popwave and enjoyably gets away with it for most of ‘Introspect’, the closing ‘American Dream’ takes it too far. A big but short piano ballad, it’s a bit over sentimental and wet, yet it potentially could end up as an audition staple on TV talent shows.

A worthy follow-up to his debut EP ‘California’, Oakley once again proves his songwriting talent but adds experience to his production knowhow. Now happily settled in Canada, he is comfortable in his own skin to mix influences that ultimately make for great pop music.

‘Introspect’ is released as a vinyl LP, cassette and download album by NewRetroWave direct from https://newretrowave.bandcamp.com/album/introspect

MICHAEL OAKLEY plays Outland Toronto 2019 on Saturday 6th July at the Mod Club Theatre alongside DANA JEAN PHOENIX, PARALLELS, MECHA MAIKO, TIMECOP1983, FM ATTACK + KALAX – ticket available in advance from https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/outland-toronto-2019-retrowave-festival-tickets-57180793292





Text by Chi Ming Lai
8th March 2019


Synthilicious ditties aren’t usually the thing of the colder climates of Toronto, but as far Dana Jean Phoenix is concerned, the Atari worthy tracks flow like liquid candy; pink and glossy, sweet and retro.

Bringing back that elusive feel of youth, first loves and first disappointments, Dana Jean Phoenix offers feel good music that doesn’t have to be too serious and too complicated, recalling a world when things were simpler and exciting.

With a European tour approaching and including an Outland hosted event in London at Easter, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK had the pleasure to chat with the Alternative Ice Maiden and check out her super poppy world.

Sheridan College provided your first musical education, what was it in the form of?

After I studied Jazz at Humber College, I attended Sheridan for Musical Theatre. The two experiences really helped me in understanding songwriting, song structure, and putting on a more theatrical show experience.

When did you start writing your own music?

When I was on tour as a singer for Canadian R&B Queen JULLY BLACK, I was inspired to write my own music. Then when I became a lead singer for the Canadian funk band, GOD MADE ME FUNKY, I got to hone those skills while writing more electrofunk and disco.

What attracted you to using synths?

My parents had a stacked record collection growing up. I would root through them and always come back to the albums that were heavily synth and funk inspired! Then I moved on to my brother’s electronica collection and fell in love with the warm, melancholic and nostalgia inducing synth sounds of BOARDS OF CANADA.

With influences from?

The greats like MJ, PRINCE, MADONNA and HOWARD JONES are always influences, but my love for synth funk in groups such as CHANGE, D-TRAIN, SHALAMAR, THE TIME, S.O.S BAND and ZAPP & ROGER are a major source of inspiration.

2013 saw you performing in musical theatre…

Right out of theatre school, I was fortunate to land a lead role in a show called The Musical of Musicals of Musicals at an indie theatre festival, which then got picked up by Mirvish (Canada’s equivalent to Broadway or the West End in London). I got to explore musical comedy in that time, which really inspired me to be fearless to try new things in front of an audience.

‘Drrty Shooz’ was your first long player. It was well received. That must have been a dream come true? How do you look back on it now?

I was experimenting in styles and stretching my voice in new ways on the album. Looking back, it was my stepping-stone into immersing myself in the synthwave genre, as it was the first time I had collaborated with synthwave artists such as SUNGLASSES KID and ROBOTS WITH RAYGUNS. It was an organic transition, merging my previous forays in songwriting to fully fledged synthpop and retrowave.

And then your music started featuring in motion pictures…

TIMECOP1983 sent me the music for what would become ‘Dreams’ and I got chills as I was writing the vocals because I knew it was special. Just as awesome as having that song featured in two Netflix original films and the PS4 game ‘Crossing Souls’ though, was getting to perform the song live with Jody in Stockholm last year!

For the stage adaptation of ‘The Wedding Singer’ in 2015, you were nominated for ‘Best Supporting Actress In A Musical’…

That was a totally rad experience! I played the role of ‘Holly’ played by Christine Taylor in the movie, so all of my costumes were MADONNA inspired and I got to dance and sing my heart out every night over super 80s pop music! I got doused with a bucket of water every show a la the famous ‘Flashdance’ scene. It was great example of how the retro aesthetic and nostalgia really resonates with people of all ages and backgrounds.

You’re known for your collaborations, which one would you say you’re the most proud of?

It’s always dope working with MECHA MAIKO – she produced ‘Be Alright’ on my new album ‘PixelDust’ and it felt great to collaborate with a fellow female synth artist from Toronto.

She also inspired me to start producing more of my own music, like my song ‘Funky Fly Free’ – my first fully self-produced song.

MECHA MAIKO also worked with you on ‘Cold’, which featured on her debut album ‘Mad But Soft’, and she was thrilled working with an icon like you…

I really dug her work with DEAD ASTRONAUTS, so it was hella cool finding out she was also a Torontonian in the scene. We’ve since performed ‘Cold’ live together in Toronto, Philadelphia, and at the inaugural NEON RetroFest in Rhode Island.

You’ve also collaborated with Michael Oakley on a track called ‘Now I’m Alive’ for his new album ‘Introspect’… ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK can picture Demi Moore and Rob Lowe making out to that one!!

Right?! We created a powerhouse retro ballad. It’s so fun to write and perform harmonies with an amazing singer and songwriter like Michael.

You describe yourself as a “Retro Synthwave Singer”. Could you expand on that?

A consistent theme in my music is self-empowerment and the courage to be in control of your own destiny. Retro music brings you back to a time when possibilities seemed endless and inspires those moments of boldness and courage. I combine these elements into pure synth jams that will make people wanna shake their ass on the dance floor and feel empowered while doing it!

‘PixelDust’ is girly and fluffy, fully reminiscent of the good old times; would you say you changed how you make your records much?

Since touring Europe and the US and Canada last year, my writing has become more focused to making songs that will rock in a live setting, keep you dancing, and make you wanna blast it in your headphones!

You’ve moved away slightly from pure Synthwave styles and have adopted other branches of electronic pop, which are your own favourite songs on ‘PixelDust’ and why?

I love rocking out with my keytar, Jareth, onstage, so it was great to add my first keytar solo to the Darkwave inspired ‘Red Line’ produced by Favorit89, and ‘Only One For One Night’ produced by Powernerd and ‘Iron Fist’ produced by Straplocked have made for awesome music videos.

But of course, you were born towards the end of the synthpop era, do you wish you were born earlier so that you could have experienced the real thing?

I’m actually so glad to be here and now. As awesome as the 80s were, there were huge barriers of entry for artists who weren’t willing to have record companies dictate their sound and image.

Today, we have the technology to binge watch ‘Top of The Pops’ and ‘Miami Vice’ and fully immerse ourselves in the era, but we also have the ability as independent artists to reach a broader audiences than before and have more creative control over our music and career.

The synth revival still continues, with the latest addition of ‘Stranger Things’, and the renaissance of the era’s clothing, gaming and music…

Proof that the world needs Synthwave! Anyone who resists is a total mouth breather.

Last year saw you touring Europe extensively, how did that go? Any favourite places?

I toured Vienna, London, Warsaw, and Stockholm and every show was special! I was overwhelmed by the turnout and the passion the European audiences brought.

Any plans to return and include the UK?

I’ll be playing London at Zigfrid von Underbelly Hoxton with Outland Presents on Thursday April 18th alongside KALAX and LEBROCK! Brett and Stu run a tight ship and know how to put together an epic retro party. I’m excited to come back and shred some more keytar solos.

What’s next for you?

I’ll be releasing a Deluxe Edition of my album ‘PixelDust’ with some darkwave remixes by Tommy ’86, Gregorio Franco, FacexHugger, The Rain Within, Dredd, and Oceanside85!! I’m super geeked to come back out to Europe in April for my ‘PixelDust’ Tour!!

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its sincerest thanks to Dana Jean Phoenix

‘PixelDust’ is released by New EmPire Entertainment, available from https://danajeanphoenix.bandcamp.com/album/pixeldust

Dana Jean Phoenix appears at Zigfrid von Underbelly of Hoxton in London on Thursday 18th April 2019. Presented by Outland, the event also features KALAX + LEBROCK – tickets available from https://www.wegottickets.com/event/462089





Text and Interview by Monika Izabela Trigwell
Additional questions by Chi Ming Lai
Portrait Photos by Hayley Stewart
23rd February 2019

A Short Conversation with MICHAEL OAKLEY

Canadian based Glaswegian Michael Oakley rode the Synthwave with his debut solo EP ‘California’ in late 2017.

Admittedly more synthpop than Synthwave, Michael Oakley’s songcraft is what sets him apart from much of the music emerging from that Trans-Atlantic influenced movement.

With a similar emotional centre that is at the core of the best synth-based pop from the last 40 years, songs such as ‘Turn Back Time’ and ‘Rabbit In The Headlights’ managed to capture the youthful angst of Brat Pack rom-coms and the coming-of-age movies of John Hughes. For his upcoming debut full-length offering ‘Introspect’, Michael Oakley has been re-exploring the music of teenage years.

Michael Oakley kindly spoke about the critical reception of ‘California’, producing other artists and how his new record was coming along…

How do you look back on the ‘California’ EP and its various offshoots?

Wow, I mean honestly I had no idea just how big the reaction to ‘California’ was going to be. I’ve never had that kind of a reaction before or I guess what you would call success prior to releasing that. So it’s been a wonderful new experience for me which thankfully I’m staying grounded about.

I initially set out to write an album that was about my crazy love life to help me understand it and get through it, like a kind of therapy. I didn’t intend to let anyone else hear it because the story behind those songs was so personal to me. All my songs are true stories and I’m immensely proud of ‘California’ and the impact it’s had on so many people.

You appear to have drifted slightly away from Synthwave for your debut album ‘Introspect’?

You know it’s funny because although my music is known within the Synthwave scene, I’ve always felt like my music is way more in the synthpop category. Not that I’m at all complaining! I think the Synthwave scene has kind of branched out into all these other sub-categories to give names to the changing faces of Synthwave and allow for different extensions of the sound to be embraced.

On ‘California’, I have a very romantic John Hughes movie sound which is quite atmospheric and cinematic but also euphoric. The lyrics are sad but the music is uplifting. On my new album ‘Introspect’, I wanted to move into a slightly different realm and not just write ‘California Part Two’.

As a producer, I like to feel challenged and write music which moves and excites me. A big part of that is charting new territory within my sound. I try and make sure none of my songs sound like each other and I deliberately avoid using the same sounds twice, except for Fairlight Orchestra Hits! Those are amazing!

I was listening to a lot of the music I grew up listening to like NEW ORDER, PET SHOP BOYS and Italo Disco which I have taken a big inspiration from in the sound of Introspect.

Was there any frustration that there was a demand for instrumental versions of the tracks on ‘California’ from some quarters of the movement, like they had no interest in your actual songcraft?

It’s funny because I would have never ever considered releasing an instrumental version of my album if it wasn’t for Andrew Zistler of NewRetroWave suggesting it to me.

So I thought you know, what the heck. All I have to do is go back into the sessions and mute my vocals, bounce them out and get them mastered.

For me, it was more a curious experiment to see what the response would be, which was really positive. Whenever I’m writing or working, I personally like listening to instrumental music because I can get immersed in the world of what I’m doing, but a lot of the time with vocals I get distracted. I’d like to think my instrumental album will appeal to people appreciating my production and arrangement skills!

One thing about Synthwave that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK does struggle with is its fixation with AOR… having lived on both sides of the Atlantic, do you have any thoughts?

AOR is a double edged sword. On one hand it’s catchy, accessible and radio friendly. On the other hand, it breeds WAY too many copycat, same sounding artists which I do believe the scene is a bit saturated with. My philosophy is always about pushing for something different and there is definitely a generic, safe, default sound within the scene which does get tedious after a while.

There’s a lot of really great new artists coming out in the scene who are not afraid to take that sound and do something fresh with it like Ollie Wride and THE BAD DREAMERS who also add great songwriting in the mix too.

The Scots have always had more of an affinity with America musically, even during post-punk?

Well post-punk there was that wonderful British invasion where America were listening to predominantly British music and synthpop grew. I know SIMPLE MINDS always get mentioned in the Scottish canon of successful Scots abroad, but for me I feel like THE BLUE NILE are Scotland’s real diamond when it comes to synthpop.

As with any scene that gains traction, more people hop on board the train and the music produced can vary in quality?

Absolutely, however the gap in quality is closing in. I think two or three years ago there was a lot of music which had a bedroom produced feel to it, in the sense that the mixes felt rough and didn’t have proper mastering. More and more now the quality has increased and people who maybe don’t have the best songs or music have had their stuff professionally mixed and mastered which makes all the difference.

I think if the scene wants to keep growing and appeal to a broader, mainstream audience then producers need to overcome their shortcomings by getting help from other more skilled producers to lift them up to match the quality levels coming into the scene over the past year.

What’s your take on how things have developed sonically in the last two years, good and bad?

Sonically I’m hearing music lately that I could easily hear on the radio. I feel like the scene is only one or two steps away from breaking mainstream. There’s highly skilled producers matched up with equally talented singer / songwriters, which has brought back the ‘Fire and Ice’ groups you used to see in the 80s like ERASURE and YAZOO. People like THE MIDNIGHT, FM84, THE NEW DIVISION and THE BAD DREAMERS are setting new standards and benchmarks for quality.

Synthpop has been rebranded under the term Popwave. The ‘good’ is that we are getting better and better music coming out and the ‘bad’ is that producers with little skill can pick up a laptop with minimal plugins and churn out a copied, watered down but less satisfying version of all the good stuff.

Is the new single ‘Control’ is an extension of the ‘California’ EP?

‘Control’ is darker than anything on ‘California’ for sure and my production on it is more aggressive too.

It’s the first single from ‘Introspect’ and I wanted to make a statement with it because it’s so different to anything I’ve done. It’s my way of planting a flag in the sand to say I’m charting new territory I hope.

So what has been your approach for ‘Introspect’?

I wanted to do something different that was a more pop sounding extension of what I had done before. I deliberately used Yamaha DX sounds and Fairlight sounds to capture more of that mid 1980s Trevor Horn sound and cut back using too many analogue sounds. Especially on bass.

After I finished ‘California’, I immediately felt anxious about how I was going to follow it up after such a great reaction, so I took some time out to work out what direction I was going in and set some limitations to work within. A lot of the stylistic choices I made on ‘California’ I deliberately avoided on ‘Introspect’. Also all the songs on ‘California’ are love songs, so for ‘Introspect’ I focussed on other aspects of myself and things which deeply affect me and also there’s a large part of the songs being about me living in Glasgow and how unhappy I had become with that.

‘Left Behind’ is one mighty Italo Disco statement, how did that one come together?

Haha yeah ‘Left Behind’ is absolutely my tribute to Trevor Horn, PET SHOP BOYS and Italo Disco. I’ve never done anything like that track before. I know some people have done Italo Disco in the scene but it’s always sounded authentically retro, whereas I wanted to give it a modern take. I actually wrote that song 14 years ago when I was in a band and the song is about me feeling like everyone around me was getting settled in their career, getting married and taking out a mortgage. Yet I was still living in my parents’ house, chasing a dream of being a musician that wasn’t working out.

Those orchestra stabs!!!! Although Italo Disco was vilified back in the day, the best of it has stood the test of time… discuss! 😉

Oh man I LOVE Orchestra Hits! Those are the staple of Italo. The best of Italo Disco for me is stuff like MODERN TALKING, BAD BOYS BLUE and the early PET SHOP BOYS records.

I’m very surprised no one has come out with any songs or albums that adopt parts of that sound within the scene. On my new album, I definitely have and really hope people like it.

What’s ‘Rain’ about, you sing of how to “find my way back home”, is this a reference to Glasgow at all?

Yes absolutely. ‘Rain’ is about me feeling trapped in a life I no longer had the heart or desire to continue living. I was working in a job I felt no connection with, I felt like a lot of the relationships I had with friends had changed and diminished into acquaintances. I think I reached an age where I was looking at my life and thinking “Who the hell am I?”.

For sure I fell out of love with living in Scotland and more so after I went to California and recorded my album. Over there I met similar minded people who were all like me and I met my wife there too. So coming back home to Glasgow was a real downer after such a high and I also wanted to be with my wife permanently. The reference to finding a way back home is more about me feeling lost and being desperate to find my happy place and enjoy life again.

You duet with Dana Jean Phoenix on ‘Now I’m Alive’? What was that like?

I absolutely LOVE Dana Jean Phoenix. For me she is up there with the most talented musicians in the scene. She’s just an unbelievable singer. Such an amazing talent and a great person. I originally had the idea of doing one of those 80s duet ballads like George Michael and Whitney Houston or STARSHIP. There was really only one person I would ever do a duet with and in my mind it was always going to be Dana.

If she had said no, I definitely wouldn’t have continued with it. So I came up with the track, made a rough demo and sent it over to Dana and said “You have total freedom to write whatever you want to do with it”. I’m super happy with how it turned out and it’s definitely ticked off one of my bucket list things getting to sing with her.

You’ve also been working with Ollie Wride, vocalist with FM-84, is it important for you to branch out and work with other artists?

I have to confess there was a time in my life when I wasn’t open to collaboration and was very territorial about my work. However over the past couple of years, I’ve been better at it and realised that all my best work involves other people contributing in some way.

I got introduced to Ollie Wride through a friend and we were both in the right place at the right time. He wanted to work with a producer on his solo album and I was working on my solo album and wanted to work with another writer who would help me to push out my comfort zones and help me to say what I wanted to say.

I knew what the songs were about but was struggling to write all the lyrics and would do these therapy sessions with him where I would talk about what the song was about and then send him lyrics I had. Sometimes it was just a verse or a chorus and he would take what I had said and work his magic. I really couldn’t have finished this album without him.

I think it’s crucial to work with other people in order to grow as an artist. You have to keep yourself opening up to new ideas and new ways of working or you end up making watered down versions of your previous work. It’s important to learn how to play off someone else’s strengths and to use your strengths to lift them without focussing too much on you and how good you look. Team work being the sentiment I’m trying to make there.

So what are your hopes and fears for ‘Introspect’?

My hope is that the same people who really loved ‘California’ have the same reaction with ‘Introspect’. I hope they can appreciate my progression from ‘California’ and share the same vision I had while making it.

In terms of fears… I’m not sure, I mean I guess it’s my worst fear that people don’t get the creative direction I’ve gone in but we shall see what the reaction is. Ask me in 6 months *laughs*

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Michael Oakley

‘Control’ is released as a digital single by NewRetroWave, available via the usual outlets and direct from https://newretrowave.bandcamp.com/track/control

‘California’ is still available as a download EP in song, remix and instrumental formats from https://michaeloakleysynthwave.bandcamp.com





Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
10th January 2019

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