L.A. Streethawk - Soaring Synths | An Interview
Synthronicity: I must admit the name 'LA Streethawk' invokes a certain imagery for me of a Saturday night sit waiting in front of the TV in a decade where you'd actually want to watch TV, the trope sodden 30 min romp that was 'Streethawk' and that Tangerine Dream track that strapped you in for the ride of your life as a kid in the 80's. When I happened upon these guys the name alone made me want to delve more and delve I did. Ever since I first discovered them on The Prime Thanatos Channel with the soaring synth vocal melody of 'Something Better' back in 2019 followed closely by another favourite of mine 'Kiss me at the Black Hole'. This interview was a done deal..read on!
Tell us a little about you, where you’re from and how you got started in Music?
- Hi, we are Peter and Simon from the Ruhr Metropolitan Area in Germany and you may or may not know us as L.A. STREETHAWK. Simon and I have been working on music together for almost ten years now, and before that both him and I have played in a bunch of different bands that were pretty hard-edged compared to what we’re doing in L.A. STREETHAWK. I’m coming from an Industrial Electro background and got into synths and programming in the
early 1990s. Simon is a classically trained musician and released several albums as a singer and songwriter of a quite popular industrial rock outfit called JESUS ON EXTASY in the 00s, and quit that in 2011 to form a new band called FTANNG!. I joined him the same year and we have been producing music together ever since, and we have just released the FTANNG! debut album … and no one seemed to care. While we were producing that album, we started L.A. STREETHAWK to be able to musically expand into more 80s-influenced styles
that just wouldn’t fit into what we were doing in FTANNG!. Since then we have released an EP called SOMETHING BETTER and we’re currently in the middle of producing our first album as L.A. STREETHAWK which is going to be called RAW DEAL.
How would you describe the music you make?
- It’s pretty retro in as much as it is mostly inspired by 1980s movie and TV soundtracks, but also fueled by the possibilities of present-day music production. You could call it 80's infused cinematic synthwave or maybe 1980s film music packaged as pop songs. The sound design owes a lot to synth-based film soundtracks of the late 1970s and early 80s, while the song structures stem from 80s pop music. The best way to describe our music would
probably be how Simon and I describe it to each other. Over the course of almost ten years of producing music together, we have developed kind of our own language to communicate musical ideas to each other, which is very much informed by the media we’re consuming. So if one would say sad cyborg cop grieving for his dead partner in the rain, both of us would exactly know what that sounds like. I think a certain sense of sadness and melancholy is
the common thread of what we’re doing musically, but it’s also about dealing with that sadness and realizing you sill have a pulse, even if it’s going slow.
How has your sound developed over the years? & has the current market been of any influence in that?
It hasn’t been so many years with L.A. STREETHAWK, but what I can say is that our upcoming album RAW DEAL will cover a wider range of styles than we could previously display. The E.P was mostly about restraint, simplicity, following your intuition, not overthinking things. Create fast, pull through with your idea, outline the entire
arrangement in a day. Don’t stack layer on layer. Don’t spend two weeks on a drum fill. Stick to the idea and finish the track fast. Some of the upcoming songs stick to that idea, others grew way more complex, with much more attention paid to detail and a much more sophisticated production, but also way more back and forth over the course of weeks or even months, different versions, revisiting and rearranging. While the early stuff is really
analog-heavy, you’ll find much more of the beauty of mid-80s digital on RAW DEAL. More importantly, when we started playing live, we knew from the very beginning that we had to gear up to be able to put on an interesting show. Performing electronic music live in a way that is interesting to the eye can be tricky. No doubt there are people who put on a hell of a show on their Ableton Push, but that’s just not us. That’s why Simon became a
Keytar player while I managed to acquire a vintage Simmons digital drum kit from the late 1980s and started practicing. But that step forward also resulted in finding a more definite sound and has become a driving force for writing new songs since we always have to ask ourselves now, what does this one need to be able to work on stage, and that is a whole different approach to creating music. And this really shows on RAW DEAL.
As for market influence, you could say that we maybe wouldn’t be releasing music as L.A. STREETHAWK if it wasn’t for knowing of the existence of a certain dedicated scene who seems to deeply care about this kind of music, but that’s about it. If we did care about what sells, we probably wouldn’t stick to a mostly DIY-based niche genre.
Before we even thought of L.A. STREETHAWK, Simon and I spent almost a decade on producing a very personal album that we unconditionally believed in artistically, but thought of as unmarketable otherwise. We listen a lot to what other people in the scene are doing because we enjoy their music a lot. But at the same time we very much
know that if you’re desperately trying to come up with something that will sell on the market, artistically pretending to be someone you’re not, you’re most likely setting yourself up for disappointment and failure. People can tell if you’re being honest with what you’re putting out or if you’re faking it. So for us it’s more like, if they can do their thing, so can we, so we keep sticking to what we like and what we believe we’re good at and what sounds
cool to us. A lot of what we’re doing is about trying to keep ourselves entertained, and that makes it nearly impossible for us to put serious creative effort into something we’re not inherently enjoying, and I think that not uncommon for anyone who is serious about the music they’re creating. What actually has helped develop our sound that is kind of market-related was Black Friday. For SOMETHING BETTER, we used the gear that we already
had in our studios, but for RAW DEAL we went all in and got everything that we thought we might eventually need. It was an insane, irresponsible shopping binge, but it really made a difference in sound and production quality.
Who are your influences in music today? Who did you listen to when you were growing up?
I grew up in Germany in the 1980s when New Wave, New Romantic and Neue Deutsche Welle took off, the synthesizer started dominating pop music, MTV Europe got on air and Tangerine Dream appeared on a movie or television score about once a week.
My Dad owned piles of records by Jean Michel Jarre and Klaus Schulze which sparked my lasting interest in mostly all kinds of electronic music, but who I was really into when I started buyingmy own records were British artists and band such as New Order, Nik Kershaw, Howard Jones, Duran Duran, ABC or Heaven 17, as well as a lot of soundtrack albums from that time. Following a relatively short-lived interest in Hard Rock, Heavy Metal, Punk and Goth in the late 80s, I turned to all those different electronic genres that emerged during the 1990s, from industrial electro to big beats and back. With Synthwave, it has kind of come to a
full circle, I’m back in the 80s, and that’s probably still my biggest influence.
I try to keep up with all the great stuff that hits Bandcamp each and every week, but that has become something of a day job in itself. The high frequency in which various participants in the Synthwave scene release quality music makes me dizzy sometimes, yet a lot of
it makes it into my playlists. As a producer, if I discover a great production, I will listen and find out what exactly makes it great to my ears, and learn from that. But besides that technical aspect I’m trying to not get too influenced by what our contemporaries are doing but find inspiration elsewhere. It’s more about watching them doing their thing and becoming even more sure about doing ours. For RAW DEAL, the main influence has been
hours and hours of straight-to-video 80s action movies, not the polished ones that you may still catch on prime time TV twice a year, but the cheap shots that constitute the margins of the genre. Some of them were hard to watch, but even then most of the time their soundtracks are real gems, and there were a few ideas that stuck and resulted in something else.
Tell us your best and worse gig experience?
I think both Simon and I have played great some great shows in our past lives but also experienced an impressive spectrum of bad gig experiences even before we entered the stage together as L.A. STREETHAWK for the first time. Every imaginable technical failure on stage, audiences not caring or outright hating you, five minute line-checks at
festival gigs, band members collapsing during the show, stuff getting stolen, getting cheated out of your money. You name it, we’ve been there. We haven’t been able to come to a conclusion who of us has played the worst show, but as far as I remember, I have never been held at gunpoint by a local promoter. Compared to that, each of the shows we played as L.A. STREETHAWK in 2019 was pure delight. We’ve been sitting on chairs next to each
other staring on screens for almost ten years but had never played a show together before that, so it was really exciting to finally be able to do that. There is a huge learning curve involved, and there were things that didn’t work out on stage the way they worked at rehearsals, but none of these shows would remotely qualify as bad. The
opposite is true, each of the handful of shows we’ve been able to play made us grow as a band. For our EP release show at a local bar that was supposed to be a close-friends/family-event slash public rehearsal, about a hundred people showed up on a Friday night to watch us, two guys with a funny name that appeared out of nowhere to zero fanfare, play the only five songs we had, and we can’t help but considering this a huge success. At the end of
the day it’s always about entertaining an audience that may or may not have come to see you, and with L.A. STREETHAWK we’ve been able to do that so far. What more can you want?
How has your 2020 been? With the Gig situation how have you managed to stay reasonably sane?
It’s bad. Last year in December we got invited by KMFDM to join them on their two week European tour during the second half of May - that’s now. It was a teenage dream come true, a once in a lifetime opportunity, hitting the road with a band that had such a huge musical influence on both of us. We put a lot of time, money and effort into preparations, while we were working desperately to have our album out in time. Then the COVID-19 situation got
increasingly worse with travel bans, venues closing, our rehearsal space under lockdown, and bit by bit we could watch the whole thing fall apart in slow motion. There were a couple of weeks when we were really devastated and everything came to a full stop. We’re still bummed out it didn’t happen, but we got over the mourning and decided to focus on making the best album we can instead of trying to meet deadlines, and maybe that’s a good
thing. If anything, the current situation has made us improve our workflow a lot. Simon and I are living in neighbored cities and have been working remotely ever since, but the magic usually happens when we’re in the same room together. Both him and are taking the social distancing measures serious and have been avoiding people for the last couple of months. During that time, video conferencing has become an important part not only of our lives but also our workflow. It’s not the same as being in the same room, but close. It helps sharing ideas in real time, just as much as it helps to see you’re not the only one who’s looking increasingly scruffy with each new day.
I’m looking forward to the socially distanced mixing sessions though.
Is there anything new you’re working on currently that you’d like to share a little bit about?
As I mentioned, we’re currently in the middle of producing our debut album. We have 18 tracks fleshed out and are in the process of going through them one by one and whipping them into shape. That also includes reaching out to people who would be willing to work with us, depending on what each track needs. About a third of the tracks we are working on right now were conceived with an imaginary vocal performance in mind or could use
additional instrumental performances that we can neither provide nor substitute. Our two latest efforts, the single KISS ME AT THE BLACK HOLE and a remix we did for KMDFM’s 'Piggy' which just got released on their Bandcamp http://kmfdm243.bandcamp.com
point at the direction the album is going. There are still plenty of slow motion instrumental tracks, but also some high energy upbeat stuff and a lot in between. We don’t know yet how
long this will take us, but we are probably going to drop a single or two ahead of the album release.
Favourite Movie and why?
It’s hard to pick a favorite. I’ve been a movie collector since I was 14 and I am hoarding piles of movies in different formats. Favorites change over the years, but as I am answering this I am looking at a framed poster of William Friedkin’s TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A., a movie which I own on VHS, DVD and two different Blu-ray editions. It’s a great movie on so many layers, every aspect of it represents the highest level of the craft, and the soundtrack (by WANG
CHUNG, which I own on three different formats) has become so iconic. But I could say nearly the same of Brian de Palma’s BODY DOUBLE, John Landis’ INTO THE NIGHT, or Michael Mann’s THIEF. But since you’ve asked, we’ve used the lockdown to frequently post short reviews of 80's movies that you may or may not have seen on our Instagram.
Who or what got you into the Synth scene initially?
I started toying around with music trackers and 8-bit samples in the 1980s home computer era and upgraded to hardware synthesizers, programming and producing in the early 1990s, when the last things you wanted was to sound like the 80s. I never stopped loving 80s music since I grew up with it, just as much as I still love the movie soundtracks from that era, especially those by John Carpenter, Moroder, Mike Post, Wendy Carlos, Jan Hammer,
Harold Faltermeyer, early Hans Zimmer and the countless works of TANGERINE DREAM. But creatively, the 1990s were a time to look forward, not backwards, so I avoided sounding anything like that. Fast forward to 2011, when TRON: LEGACY and DRIVE came out, both Simon and I were pretty blown away by their respective soundtracks, and since then we have basically watched the phenomenon unfold.
At that time we were in the beginning of producing the songs that would become the FTANNG! album, which is a completely different beast musically and which had us in a headspace that left no room for palm trees, neon grids, sports cars and prom nights. But then again, if you take a close listen to the album, you can really hear those 80s influences sneaking in already. I found myself more and more intrigued watching this growing scene of independent artists, bands and producers that were setting out to recreate a musical era that I always felt connected to and that made me want to engage with electronic music production in the first place, but that really couldn’t be touched anymore when I was geared up to
do so in the early 1990s. And suddenly people everywhere were breaking out the cheesy, reverb-drenched synth hooks, the gated Simmons toms, the saxophone solos, and they were getting away with it! At some point when we were already mixing the FTANNG! album, we started sending each other these little unfinished demos and snippets that wouldn’t fit into anything we were doing before.
Little, simple, 80's influenced, cinematic mood pieces, mostly named after characters from 80's movies, that were radically different from the grim, artsy hybrid rock – if you may – we were just coming from. In retrospect, we might have been testing waters trying to find a new sound for us after we kind of felt we exhausted ourselves in the genre we’ve spent ten years in. It’s almost ironic that it still took a life-threatening event in 2017 that dragged along until 2018 to make us realize we should take this more seriously and create an outlet for this kind of music we have been making lately. So we sat down over the Christmas holidays and took what we had to produce an EP that we were going to self-release, and that’s how L.A. STREETHAWK suddenly started to become very real for us.
How do you feel about the popularity of the Synth Genre as a whole and the new Generation of Producers who keep evolving?
Since we got late to the party ourselves, we don’t believe in gate keeping. Both Simon and I have been working in different parts of the music industry in the past and had a chance to witness its workings from different angles. Coming from that background it was an epiphany to see the synth scene with all its different styles operating on such a high level on a mostly DIY basis, with some of them backed by a small independent record company, but most of them selling tapes out of their bedroom studios. That kind of freedom from traditional music industry structures, that kind of neon-soaked punk spirit intrigued us just as much as the music itself. That freedom should be available to anyone and everyone, just as any artist should be allowed to evolve. In the analog days you usually made a couple of demo tapes that you sold to your friends or at shows before you spent money on a studio to cut
your first record. Nowadays the technical entry barrier is as low as ever with so much great free software, affordable emulations of formerly unaffordable classic gear. Almost nothing holds you back from putting your toe in the water and putting what might have been considered a demo tape 30 years ago out there and declaring it your album.
Since the entry barrier is so low, a lot of music will get released that might not meet your quality standards, but then just don’t listen to it and focus on all the talent the meets your tastes and that you wouldn’t have had a chance to find without the endless possibilities of digitally produced and distributed music. And even if you don’t like that first song that kid put up on YouTube, if they keep learning they will eventually come up with something great. Musicians used to grow hidden in their rehearsal rooms, now they are growing up in the public eye for everyone to witness, and there has to be room for failure and improvement. But in the end it’s all about freedom of choice. If you don’t like it for whatever reason, that’s cool, but leave others alone for liking it (or not hating it). There really is enough room for everyone, and as much as this scene is about nostalgia, there has to be room to musically evolve.
At the same time it’s awesome to see artists that have been working hard for years and years in the shadows playing to huge crowds now and having gained a giant following worldwide without any major record company pumping loads and loads of money into PR. There are some incredibly talented, hard working producers out there that should get much more recognition and I am hoping for each single one who works that hard to live off their
music to be able to achieve that. And even though were pretty low-level compared to others that have been releasing much more music for much longer, we feel like our debut EP has been off to a good start thanks to a vivid scene that is hungry for new music - the local music scene that made our live shows possible as well as well as the Synthwave communities with all the activity going on.
We honestly didn’t know what to expect when we put SOMETHING BETTER on Bandcamp and signed up with the streaming services. With so much great music frequently coming out as it is with the synth scene, it’s easy to get overlooked, and yet, a year later, we’re still amazed at the amount of people we have been able to reach with only a handful of songs, coming out of the blue with no PR budget, no social media following, zero standing, and no contacts. That’s the ultimate beauty of the synth scene, fans and producers connected by their shared love of music supporting each other.
Peter Vignold – drums, keyboards, programming
Simon Rahm – keytar, keyboards, programming
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