Update, Jan. 1, 2017: For those who are new to FM-84, check out this review of his latest (and so far greatest) work, Atlas. For more information on the artist, check out this bio page. The Vehlinggo interview from 2015 — perhaps his first — is below.
Synthwave fans out there had probably never heard of FM-84 until a couple weeks ago, when all they did was hear about FM-84. The San Francisco-based, Scotland-born retrosynther did one of the most honorable things a talented artist can do — he waited to release his songs until they were ready.
His Los Angeles EP, with all its gorgeous sunniness and promise of a new Morning in America, has been all over blogs and YouTube channels since its release about two weeks ago. New cut “Mainframe” will likely be everywhere as well, as it should be. It’s his best one yet.
Colin Bennett, the graphic designer behind the outfit, recently shared with Vehlinggo his thoughts about this brave new adventure on which he’s embarked. Life is interesting when you make retrosynth that exceeds the false confines of the genre.
“The last few weeks have been a little crazy,” he said. “I posted two tracks to SoundCloud and everything just took off. It has been amazing and I’ve been humbled by the kind words of support I’ve received via messages and emails.”
Amid all of that have come offers from labels and potential collaborative opportunities with the likes of Astronaut Arcade and Timecop1983, schedules permitting. Bennett said he’d also like to partner up with Droid Bishop, if Droid was down for it.
As with all overnight successes, it’s not as if the native Glaswegian woke up one day and could write great tunes like “Outatime” out of the blue.
“I’ve been making music as a hobby for a long time, but I haven’t released anything until now,” Bennett said.
He grew up in the 1980s and went to the movie theatre to take in classics such as The Goonies, Back to the Future and Flight of the Navigator. But his parents didn’t just bring him to great films, they also exposed him to some pretty influential artists.
“I was also raised on a diet of Fleetwood Mac, Tangerine Dream, Jan Hammer, and Tears for Fears,” he said.
In the 1990s, he was heavily into progressive house and electronica: “The sound of Sasha, John Digweed, and Dave Seamen got me through my teens. Combine all of these influences with my love of 80s synth pop and movie soundtracks, and you have FM-84.”
The Los Angeles EP did happen rather quickly, though. He said he wrote all four of those tracks in about three weeks, except for bonus cut, “Max,” which was written in early 2014. Although Bennett is the main force behind FM-84, his wife, Lorna, a lawyer with a lawyer’s crazy schedule, has been a huge part of the FM-84 project — as an inspiration and a motivator.
“She works a lot of evenings and weekends and said I should ‘keep myself busy.’ Haha. I did,” he said.
Bennett ended up in California three years ago. He left Glasgow to join Apple’s design team and after what he said was “an incredible experience” he moved on to work at Nest Labs, that company that makes the stylish, intelligent thermostats. Tony Fadell, the father of the iPod, started the firm.
“I have to pinch myself on a daily basis to remind myself that I live in San Francisco,” Bennett said. “It’s a million miles away from the beautiful, but grey and cloudy, Scotland I left behind.”
But anyone who’s been to San Francisco knows that it’s also in some ways a world away from Los Angeles. Luckily, the Bennetts would take the drive down to LA on occasion, or FM-84 might sound very different.
“I fell in love with Los Angeles around a year ago during a weekend break with my wife and some friends,” he said. “It was a combination of a few things. We walked to the peak of Runyon Canyon, just off Mulholland, which was breathtaking. We also got caught in traffic during ‘golden hour,’ which was surprisingly beautiful.”
He’s also taken advantage of his West Coast life in other ways. So far, he’s visited locations where crews filmed Back to the Future in California and The Goonies in Astoria, Oregon.
Going forward, Bennett has a bunch of stuff lined up. As I mentioned, “Mainframe” just came out. He says it’s a little darker and deeper than the LA EP, which is true. I’d also say it’s the best of anything he’s released so far. There are also the potential collaborations coming up, as I mentioned earlier.
But he’s also just trying to make a plan for releasing and performing his work.
“I need to figure out if I want to focus on an album or just release individual tracks and small EPs,” he said. “I also want to start thinking about performing live. I’d love to do that someday.”