Ace Buchannon Interview
Who is Ace Buchannon and where do you hail from?
I'm a Finnish guy, in my 30s, a software developer during day and Synthwave producer Ace Buchannon at night. I live and work in Helsinki, Finland.
Music makes me emotional and gives me goosebumps. I can always make the arm hair check to see whether something works. That helps!
My mission with Ace Buchannon project is to create melodies that give shivers to the listener or make him/her cry. When a melody has an emotive impact it gets to stay on the track. I draw inspiration from stories and aesthetics that appeal to me. Also, being this old there’s a lot of personal past that I can draw themes from. Struggles and victories. My life has been an ‘80s training montage in many ways. I was in a bad place in the past but now it’s just Rock IV for me. “Adriaaaaan!”. I hit the gym a few times every week, I meditate, enjoy music and visual art, play guitar and try to produce music in my spare time.
How did you come up with the name Ace Buchannon?
I’m a huge Mitch Murder fan and the name Mitch reminds me of the Baywatch character Mitch Buchannon, so I thought that last name might work great in this context. It also sounds cool. Then I had to come up with a first name and Ace is the coolest and the most ‘80s name I could come up with. People tend to search for my music with search term “Ace Buchanan”, which fortunately still seems to find the right results.
What is your background? – have you always been a performer?
I played classical piano from the age 5 to around 13 and got some formal musical training. As a teen I became more interested in playing guitar, especially metal - the usual story. I wish I took piano classes for a longer period of time but I think piano and guitar offer different angles on harmonics and melodic expression, so, no regrets I guess.
I've made music on and off starting all the way back in the ‘90s as I bought my first soundcard Sound Blaster 16, which enabled me to make music with these DOS tracker programs such as Scream Tracker 3 and Impulse Tracker, but I never really was up to the challenge of seriously making music and releasing it.
For a decade or two I mostly just noodled around with guitar and made some humorous bits of music and I kind of gave up on my dream on making music seriously let alone releasing an album. So all in all I really don’t have a strong background in “producing electronic music”, so I’m quite unfamiliar with all of these concepts like risers and drops, so my song-writing is somewhat traditional. It’s like I’m writing music for a synth pop / fusion band. There’s not a lot of four-on-the-floor kick drums etc. There’s something that sounds like an ‘80s electronic drum kit. It’s not loop-based but there are rather verses, pre-choruses, choruses, bridges, etc. I’m not saying I might not try those styles as well in the future.
How this project came to be?
I found this amazing Synthwave community in the Facebook groups and quickly started to make new friends there.
I had given up music for a while, focusing on my professional career and studies before that, until early 2016, as I had listened to Synthwave for some three years and really liked it, I decided to give making music one more try, one last shot at it. I dusted my MIDI keyboard, learned what the kids these days use to make music and buckled up. It was time to lay down some beats. It’s now or never!
I found this amazing Synthwave community in the Facebook groups and quickly started to make new friends there. Some of them have become pretty close and important people in my life. I really like that community. A lot of people there were in the same situation as I was and we would share ideas, knowledge, help each other out, give feedback, encouragement etc. I'm sure part of me being able to finish this was because of the support by those people. I'm trying to give that back to the people still struggling with their first album. Excited for a couple of friends there just about to release theirs!
So, my first effort as Ace Buchannon was the track Mano A Mano. Pretty generic Synthwave in many ways, but I think there's a hint of my flavor in it. I sent it to this YouTube channel NewRetroWave, they uploaded it and things started kind of slowly roll from there. After that I made Buns of Steel and the darker track Face Me, all of which ended up on that same channel and the project got some traction.
After a while I was concentrating on finding my own sound. That sort of made things mentally difficult for some months, because I had to make the realest music I could. So if it sucks, I suck, or so I thought. I had to do some growing up mentally during these two years. Get my ego out of it, just let the music come out and only I have to like it, but I HAVE TO like it. If someone else likes it, then good, if not, then at least I made the music I like to hear and went through with it. That philosophy along with forcing myself to sit down and work on the music, sometimes inspired, sometimes not, sometimes just trying to learn some mixing, mastering and sound design, whistling down ideas to my phone's recording app and writing inspiring themes and keywords on Google Keep app. All this slowly started to transform into this album, Magenta Nights.
Commenting the album:
The album doesn't have a strict storyline as in, “here's the plot and this happens to that character” and so on, but it kind of has a loose, thematic storyline in my mind, which I haven't published. I want people to create their own details in their own fantasy as they enter and explore the Magenta Nights world, which ultimately gets populated by their own imagination with the help of the music.
The tracks aim to lock into human emotions and connections with an underlying theme of artificial intelligence. The lyrics of the song Timelines focus on these themes.
I loved the Black Mirror episode San Junipero and that inspired some of the world-building. Things like, is this story occurring in a simulation or not or somewhere in between is up to the listener. I don't want to dictate the imaginary trip of the listener too much. I give these themes and emotional impact through the songs and the listener can apply their own memories and imagination onto them.
Of course it's not the only way to experience the album :) It is completely OK for me if someone dislikes every other track and just picks up Buns of Steel from there because it just works for them. That's what, for me, is the most successful aspect of the album - the sounds are cohesive but people have different favorite tracks off it. If I remember correctly, every single one of the Bandcamp comments on the album have different favorite track on them. That makes me happy.
Magenta Nights Track by Track commentary:
1) The opener Rebirth is sort of an intro sequence, for those who listen to whole albums, it is about painting the landscape a bit, leading you into the world. Probably triggering some emotions in some listeners and setting the tone.
2) The second one, Buns of Steel is then full steam ahead. It is a two years old track that has gone through a lot of mixing and mastering until reaching its final form here. It is just straight-forward, juicy, fast and punchy Synthwave, bringing what was good in the 2014 and older Synthwave for me. Heavy Mitch Murder influences here and on a couple of other tracks as Mitch was and still is one of my major influences when it comes to Synthwave.
3) Timelines is then something that could be thought of as the character in the cover could sing. It's about love, longing, artificial intelligence, simulations, memories, human emotions etc.
4) Mano A Mano is more on the "oldschool Synthwave" side of flavors again like Buns of Steel. It is the first track ever I made as Ace Buchannon in early 2016 and I still like it, it's sort of an action scene in the world if you will. Picking up the pace after Timelines, continuing where Buns of Steel left off.
5) Forbidden Dream is one of my personal favorites. One of those tracks that came out without so much effort. Mainly the saxophone lead. It kind of wrote itself out. The theme here is about dreaming of something that you are not allowed to dream of. For example a cyborg who could be the character in the album cover, or the listener, it entangled or restricted in some way and has a passionate dream about something currently outside of his / her grasp. Or someone restricted by religion or some ideology etc. The track is intended to be a bit dreamy and hazy and utterly romantic.
6) Breakout is also one my favorites and it is about then breaking out, escaping from that said confinement. Taking control of your situation and making a break for it. It has more pace. I intended it to have this soaring feeling of flight which sort of grows during the track and in the end there is this moment of breaking through, breaking the chains (with some sound FX lol) and a powerful ending. It is also a bit personal in the way that I struggled to power through the self-doubt and other things in the process of finally making music seriously and getting it done and released.
7) Call Me is then a bit lighter, happier and groovier track. It is about the feeling of freedom. There's a bit of flirty, care-free and curious air about it. It's like enjoying the colors and feelings of the outside world after breaking out in the track before it, and just connecting with everyone and everything. It is just love and joy and the synth leads were fun to make. Mostly just improvising without so many takes. Smiling while playing them in.
8) High Vibrations is then kind of a sensual, intimate, erotic sequence. It is the natural repercussion of being free and filled with curiosity. The consummation of all those forbidden dreams :D whatever that may be for the listener.
9) Promise. After the steam has cleared, the tremors of High Vibrations settled down a bit and the ultimate connection has been made. There's a lot of vulnerable emotions in the air, and it's time to declare those big feelings. The track Promise is an over the top romantic piece of love music and my current personal favorite on the album. It is definitely homage to those pieces of music that made you cry, be it games, drama, movies, animation or whatever. In the context of the album it is the declaration of love between the characters. Be it the listener himself / herself or some characters in a story that the listener has made up during the album. But it comes after those pieces of longing (Forbidden Dream), escaping some sort of imprisonment (Breakout), some steamy scenes of intimacy (High Vibration). It is the climax, the flowing of tears of fulfillment, the final embrace. It could be also a heart-breaking scene of loving goodbyes. Before the unwinding, the end of the album.
10) The final track, Magenta Nights, is sort of a closure with a bit longer duration, it has saxophone, a lot of guitar, a lot of variation and a long intro which kind of winds down the album, sort of a... the sounds of the world fade away, there are distant pads and ocean waves. The idea is like, the listeners wakes up from the Magenta Nights experience ideally having gone through a variety of emotions, imaginary experiences, own memories and hopefully enjoyed the musical content too. The listener can always return to that world by listening to the album again.
Some facts on the album:
- I'm overwhelmed with the positive reception to the point of shedding a few tears lol yeah sounds cheesy I know.
- I found more and more my own sound towards the end.
- I like most people having different favorite song off the album.
- I like the album not having one hit song, but no fillers either.
- Took two years to finish it. Actually 2,5 years because Mano A Mano was made in early 2016.
On the artwork:
What became the cover art for the album, got started by mutual inspiration with the artist Atomcyber. I saw his work on another producer's album and contacted him immediately. It was just the style I was looking for. Once I contacted him, he told me he had already heard my music and liked it. So we were on the same page immediately with where we want to go with the artwork and we bonded brilliantly on the art and on the music.
As we started to talk about the art I said it should have a lot of Magenta on it, it should have a futuristic yet romantic feel. Incorporating Cyberpunk themes. It should look like the music. Dreamy, romantic but still synth-heavy and retro-futuristic. But other than that Atomcyber just took it from there and exceeded my expectations ten-fold.
I made the last few tracks, Rebirth, Breakout and High Vibrations inspired by his artwork and he told me he likes Rebirth the most on the album. We're working on some sort a video too, probably published closer to the vinyl release but it's still in really early stages of planning.
Mastering was done by a local mastering studio CBH Recordings which also exceeded my high expectations and we came up with a bit more silent and more dynamic master, which fits this sort of an album perfectly. This is probably not the kind of dance music for the DJs and for the clubs. This is something you hopefully listen to with time and focus and the softer, fuller range of dynamics give it a bit more deeper feel.
The guy who has always made my logo and single covers, Futurodrive, made a brilliant promotional video and logo animations etc. which really caught people's attention in the social media. It showcased all the tracks with short snippets of them and it had some visual material that fits the songs as well as possible. That, along with the cover artwork, were big factors in the successful release. Having all those professionals aboard of course cost some real money but I didn’t make the album to make money. If I can cover the expenses somewhere along the road, then great.
Tell us a little about your musical influences throughout the years …
On Synthwave the influences are definitely Mitch Murder, Morgan Willis, Droid Bishop, Phaserland, Satellite Young, Pengus, iamMANOLIS (No one ever mentions him. His stuff is amazing) and all those that I forgot to mention. On the darker side, obviously Carpenter Brut and Nightstalker who is actually close to releasing an album as well. Can’t wait to hear that one. But yeah, I like any flavor or shade of music as long as it has an impact on me. Paint with all the colors of the synth...wind. What. I love the soundtrack in Pocahontas too.
Outside of Synthwave it’s '80s pop and ‘80s rock music. Blade Runner, Vangelis, George Michael, Billy Ocean, Whitesnake, Michael McDonald, Movie soundtracks in general, smooth Jazz, some power metal,
a lot of Japanese music; from animation, movies, drama and game music, such as the Miyazaki / Ghibli movies, Ghost In The Shell anime movie, '80s Japanese pop music, City pop.
I got into that vintage Japanese stuff the moment I heard Matsuda Seiko around 2004, it is kind of cool that people have found those gems during the last five years or so. Vaporwave especially is full of sampled Japanese music.
I've been playing computer and console games a lot of my life so I've always enjoyed those emotional moments in games accompanied by a powerful piece of music. Definitely influenced by some game soundtracks like Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Silent Hill, Nier series etc.
Who do you enjoy listening to now?
Lately I’ve been enjoying 2814. It’s a British ambient + vaporwave project. Today I was listening to a great song Empty Streets by Late Night Alumni recommended by a friend and Did you see me coming? by Pet Shop Boys. What else… Junko Ohashi. Lovely voice and uplifting compositions.
What sort of hardware/software do you use? Do you have a preference?
I’m a software guy at the moment. It’s just Ableton Live + drum samples + plugins on the album. My favourites currently are Arturia DX7 V, U-He Diva, U-He Repro-5 and Synapse Audio The Legend. I just bought the Crystal Clarity Synthwave Drums from The Patchbay! You’ll hear those on the next release. Punchy, thick, solid, tight. Love em!
I do use a MIDI-keyboard and a MIDI-keytar. The latter will have a central role in my upcoming live shows!
What sort of advice would you give someone starting out in the Synthwave Genre?
I can’t stress enough that being as honest as you can be and exploring your own musical path is rewarding in so many ways.
After getting the hang of it by imitating your favourite artists, start finding your own thing. Let the music dictate your direction 100%. Don’t think what would be popular right now or what musical choices you should make to become popular. The genre is so saturated that it’s critical to make your own sound and go all in with that. It feels good when you make completely honest music and people like it. Think of what you would like to hear. Think of your favourite music and if you could bring some influences in way outside of the genre. If your music is about to evolve into something other than Synthwave, then let it. Don’t confine it.
You also have to put the music out there for people to find it. I personally don’t like that marketing and spamming part too much but I have to do it. You have to reach the right audience somehow.
I can’t stress enough that being as honest as you can be and exploring your own musical path is rewarding in so many ways. Making an album that way is a journey. It’s also a difficult one, but once you get it done, it is the best feeling ever.
What’s next on the Ace Buchannon Horizon for the remainder of 2018?
Currently working on cassette and vinyl. Two different labels. Cassette side of things will be handled by Luxury City Records and vinyl by another label, the name of which I’m not allowed to announce just yet. Pretty soon I will. Both of those labels have some brilliant stuff coming up.
At the moment I'm super motivated and inspired to make more music and I'm already in the process of it. The very first thing I'm doing, however, is not just writing new songs but imitating some of my favorites from the '80s, such as Junko Ohashi and a song from the movie Miracles of Namiya General Store. I like to learn and practice making the rhythm section more detailed and interesting for the listener. More groove, more fills, variation, imagination. My strength has been evoking emotion with melodies and harmonies but I want to work on the rhythm so the next EP or album will have some fresh takes on it.
I also landed a surprising gig. It’s my first live show as Ace Buchannon. In Helsinki, November 16th. The event is Flashback Future 5V and there’s Robert Parker, Waveshaper, Dance With The Dead and some names that are yet to be announced. I share the 2nd stage with a few local, awesome producers: Turbo Knight, Megahammer and Levinsky. I have to plan, perfect and practice my set like mad for the next three months. I’m scared but also excited! It will be a great night for sure.
If you could collaborate with anyone else on the scene who would it be? And why?
Mitch Murder. We could make a track called Mitch Buchannon haha!
Satellite Young would be another and of course the list goes on. Phaserland and all my other friends in the scene.
If you couldn’t make the great music you do now what would you be doing?
Probably game design. I’d be the guy responsible for making the player cry. Tear-jerk director.
What do you like to do to relax?
I play (too much) games on my PC. That’s exactly the same time slot that I should be using for making music! I play PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS almost daily. I have to mention a great single player game called Tier: Automata. The soundtrack is stunning. The game made me cry. In a good way.
What do you think is your biggest challenge related to the Genre?
The genre is super saturated. So you have to carve your own path while still keeping it Synthwave. I’m not the best in mixing and mastering either, so I’ve been working on that really hard during the last year or so.
Do you have a day job? How do you balance this with your passion for creating the great music that you do?
Yes I do. I’m a software developer. Basically Saturday and Sunday mornings are the best time to work on new ideas. I can do mixing and some minor stuff during work week evenings. Sometimes I wish I had more time for music but I can manage. Whistling and humming ideas into my phone anytime anywhere helps. And that Google Keep app for notes.
When you’re having a bad day what do you do to make yourself feel better?
I think there’s a lot we don’t know about in spreading positive social energy. Things start to happen once you do that on a daily basis.
I meditate. I’m big into Eckhart Tolle, Ram Dass etc.
Suppressing your ego helps in making music too. Get your ego out of the way. Let the music come through you. I know that sounds like mumbo jumbo but it works for me. Letting go of or being able to observe your ego saves you from a lot of social media headache too haha! It’s like watching your thinking mind and saying “Okay, so you got jealous because that other producer was able to wrap his brilliant album up while you are struggling.” And following that observation instead of writing “Not ‘80s enough!” or “Synthwave is dead!” I can tap into the awareness and compliment the great work. It feels good when you do that, so it’s a win-win. I think there’s a lot we don’t know about in spreading positive social energy. Things start to happen once you do that on a daily basis. It’s part of keeping my heavy depression at bay, which I have been able to control for the last decade or so. I don’t even know if I have it anymore.
What sound do you love the most?
I don’t know if I should say this but I really like ASMR videos. Those are videos that give some people tingles. I’m one of those people. They can be sounds of turning pages of a book or someone whispering close to your ear. Look it up! I sometimes fall asleep to them as I have problems falling asleep.
If this was about music and I embarrassed myself with the ASMR confession, then I’d say I love THAT DX7 factory epiano sound. You can hear a lot of it in late ‘80s music.
Tell your fans the 3 best things about you?
1) I cry very easily when watching movies, series, even playing games. I cried in the airplane last time, watching the movie Miracles of Namiya General Store, hand over my mouth and all, and I actually just made a remix of a song from that movie. Give me a distantly romantic / dramatic scene from anything and I’ll probably start blinking fast.
2) I try to be supportive and helpful to everyone I encounter. Not always successfully though.
3) I’m living proof that you can make a solid debut album in your thirties :D Don’t give up, kids! Synthwave is not dead!
Cover art artist: https://www.facebook.com/atomcyber/