Michael Oakley - True 'Devotion' | An Interview
Lauded as one of the best new talents to emerge on the Synth scene three years back he's more than solidified his position now given that his fans and Synthwave contemporaries call him "The Prince of Keytar" and it's fairly easy to understand why.
Having turned heads and hearts back in 2017 with the strongest debut E.P I've heard in many a year in 'California' the Scottish born musician has gone on to create some absolute anthems in tracks such as 'Left Behind' 'Control' and the more recent 'Queen of Hearts' & collaborated with some of the best on the scene including the formidable Ollie Wride who had formed part of FM84 and has gone on to carve an amazing solo career of his own.
Forged sat down with the man himself to talk about his career and inspirations..take a look!
Those who are into Synthwave in even a small way would sense your presence on the scene which such brilliant tracks as Rabbit in the Headlights and the more recent Queen of Hearts, where you ever tempted to not use your actual name and use a stage name?
At first I did actually lean more towards going under a moniker and even considered using my old band name, but I realized that was only because I felt insecure about going under my real name if I encountered criticism or negativity. Which is silly because you’re always going to get people who don’t like what you do. In the end I realized that if I was REALLY going to put myself out there and tell my story in songs then I had to do it under my real name. It also keeps the pressure on to never get complacent in my writing and production because if I do it falls back on me. There’s no band name to hide behind! Ha!
Fans of yours would know that you had been interested in music as a youngster, was being in the music industry always a goal you had?
Definitely. When I was a kid I desperately wanted to be on Top Of The Pops and write music that would get in the mainstream charts. Sadly the music I wanted to write was 10 years too late. In the 1990's no one wanted to know about 80's music except me and a few other misfits I was friends with at school. Then later I was in a band that didn’t go anywhere and before the Synthwave scene came around I had given up on being a part of the music industry.
That said, I feel like the whole game has changed for current indie artists. You have to do everything for yourself now. Making good music isn’t enough. You have to be your own PR, you have to work on styling your own image/branding and then invest in the right people to work with to help you. Even for me having a label behind me (New Retro Wave) I’m still actively involved in every single aspect of Michael Oakley. It’s a lot of work but incredibly rewarding and I like to think it adds a more personal touch in everything I’m trying to do.
Who are the bands/Artists that have inspired you over time?
So many.... The most noteworthy ones who have had a significant impact on me in my writing are Pet Shop Boys, Ulrich Schnauss, Depeche Mode, Pink Floyd, Phil Collins, Elton John, Jimmy Webb and Sting. More recent artists that I love and admire from the scene are Ollie Wride, The New Division, The Midnight, Brothertiger, Dana Jean Phoenix, Kalax and Mecha Maiko.
What is your creative process like? On average how long would it take to lay down a track?
I’ve had songs that I was able to lay down the framework for in a day and everything was flowing really easy, then others that took weeks to develop. Not all songs reveal themselves as easily as others. There’s many times where I have the chorus of a song written because that came to me first loud and clear and then it’s like a jigsaw slowly trying to find the right words in the verse to tell the story I want to tell.
One thing I do for all my songs is develop the music first and then the melody and words in that order. I also finish ideas and leave them for weeks and come back to them so that on my first listen I know immediately if I feel the same excitement about the idea. That first listen also tells me what’s working and not working. It could be a mixing issue or it could be a sound that maybe needs a different type of processing or maybe a melodic rhythmic part isn’t right against all the other rhythms and clashes. So many things that you have to balance and get working in tandem but it’s the most wonderful feeling in the world when you get everything right and it feels good.
How do you feel the Synthwave movement has evolved over time?
That’s a good question because I really feel like we are at a crossroads in Synthwave. There’s so much of the same sounding music consistently coming out and it’s over saturating the scene and not healthy. You wouldn’t have the same thing for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day or you’d get sick of it and not enjoy it. The same applies to music and anything in life. Variety truly is the spice of life and I can see more early to mid 1990's styles coming into the scene to offer something fresh and interesting. I feel like the 1980's aspect of Synthwave is done and way overplayed now.
Are there any artists on the scene currently you’re enjoying that you’d love to collaborate with? Who?
Well I’ve already collaborated with Dana Jean Phoenix, Ollie Wride and Missing Words who I’m honoured to have worked with. I have a couple of collaborations in the works, but to answer your original question of who I would like to collaborate with... Timecop1983 and Kalax. I think both our sounds combined with my vocals could be really awesome.
Putting you on the spot with this one, but is there any one track out of your entire discography that you are super proud of and why?
Haha! Well I feel like 'Rabbit In The Headlights' was most definitely a life changing experience for me and the reaction to that gave me a new found confidence and belief in myself that I didn’t have before. It was the death of the old insecure me that talked about writing music and made excuses for why things weren’t working out for me. And the forging of a new me who was actually writing music which has continued on to this day thankfully.
I was lucky to catch you live at a couple of points last year which was great! Any plans to tour in 2021?
Yes. All going to plan I do plan to tour in 2021. We shall see how the current world situation plays out...
If you could open a show for any band or artist who would it be? Why?
The Midnight. They have the exact audience that my music is suited to and they are really nice guys too.
What has been the stand out memory of your career to date?
Playing Outland in Toronto was such a special night and the biggest crowd I’ve played to. Although it was the hottest day of the year in Canada and believe me we ALL felt that on stage!
If there was one thing you’d change about the music industry what would it be?
To give fairer royalty payments to artists on digital platforms (looking at you Spotify) so they have a more sustainable income to do what they love and shift the focus of those platforms more to helping musicians rather than offering consumers cheaper music. It’s literally killing smaller, independent music scenes with that business model.
How do you like to relax when you’re not working on music?
I love video games. Currently playing Control, FIFA 19, Far Cry 3 Classic and GTA 4 on my Xbox One.
What’s your favourite film?
Scarface. It’s the ultimate film with the best memorable quotes!
Following on from the brilliant new track Queen of Hearts released a short while ago, can we expect another full album anytime soon? Any word on its concept? Will you be changing a little in direction?
Definitely. I’m almost finished my new album which is scheduled for release 2021 through New Retro Wave and I’ve taken longer over this one. It’s definitely a more evolved sound but most importantly it’s a Michael Oakley sounding album. I never approach an album from the perspective of trying to make it sound Synthwave or anything genre specific. Everything I do starts out experimentally and sometimes from the most unexpected places or influences. There’s elements of 90's sounding electronic music, modern Progressive House and I’ve been using a lot of 90's Workstation rompler sounds. It’s a very dreamy sounding album so far that delves into my childhood experiences.
What can we expect from you in 2021?
New album, new tour, NEW ME!
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