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Checking in with Robots With Rayguns

Photo Credit: Robots With Rayguns and Reno Msad.
Photo Credit: Robots With Rayguns and Reno Msad.

It’s been more than six months since Phoenix, Arizona-based Robots With Rayguns released the eminently fun Fresh As It Gets — and almost three months since SoundCloud banned him — so I decided to see what he was up to these days. It turns out he’s been busy with a number of things, including making more of that hard-to-define retrosynth.

That lack of genre-certainty is what makes RWR one of the more interesting retrosynthers out there. He’s often lumped into the synthwave genre, but he’s one of those artists who is tough to pin to a distinct electronic subgenre.

I recall, as recently as December, committing the sin of assigning him solely to the synthwave movement. However, at the time, I also described his latest album, Fresh As It Gets, as a “dance party at The Max from Saved By The Bell with [garage pioneer] Todd Edwards as a guest DJ and Technique-era New Order filling in during bathroom breaks, all with an EDM rinse.” So perhaps that’s as good as at least 15 Hail Marys.

In a recent interview with Vehlinggo, among the things Lucas “RWR” Smith addressed was this relationship to the rather tight-knit synthwave/retrowave scene. Where does he fit?

“I’ve been wondering that myself lately,” he said. “I do feel a bit like I have one foot in that scene and another foot in the more mainstream pop world. I’d like to think I belong to both, instead of neither. I think there’s so much variety out there and there’s room for all kinds of combinations of genres.”

When people ask him about what genre of music he makes, he usually says “synthpop” or “dance music” because “that’s what it boils down to in its simplest form,” Smith said.

Based on what I know about how synthwave producers see themselves, it seems to me that Smith’s inclusion of early 90s house, hip-hop, and garage would be seen as a sacrilege by some in the scene.

However, he seems to do just fine. Maybe the forums in which I’m spending my time are the synthwave version of the Opus Dei, because that acceptance runs counter to the reactions of the syntherati when Power Glove unleashed their cyberpunk-infused, Wedidit-inspired EPII. Most of those people unleashed a ton of ink excoriating the Aussie duo for not being “80s enough.”

Betty Who, The Voice, and New Music
As some of us have obsessed over, or tried to avoid discussions of, what is 80s enough, Smith has been busy working on new material and getting Swifted.

“I feel like the time since the album came out has gone by in a flash,” he said.

He’s been promoting Fresh a lot on social media since the album’s fall release, interacting with his fans and overall engaging in a marketing push. One medium in which he can’t promote the album is on SoundCloud, which banned him after he posted one too many unauthorized remixes.

A screenshot of the error message that comes up when you try to find Robots With Rayguns on Soundcloud.
A screenshot of the error message that comes up when you try to find Robots With Rayguns on SoundCloud.

“The SoundCloud thing was a surprise to me, but at the same time it wasn’t,” Smith said. “I had had issues before with them sending me notices and taking down remixes I’d done and threatening to delete my account — but after years of that I honestly didn’t even take it seriously anymore.”

Smith’s Wild Wild West lifestyle came to a halt when he posted a remix of Taylor Swift’s excellent “Style” single, which at its core is a fairly 80s-infused track.

“All of a sudden it was ‘lights out’… It’s very possible that it’s pure coincidence, but I’m not ruling out that the remix did it,” he said. “I understand that SoundCloud has been feeling a lot of pressure from major labels, but I just find it unfortunate.”

Smith’s not letting SoundCloud’s digital rights management practices distract him, though. He’s been experimenting with new sounds and making new music, and he’s fielding some possible collaborations, he said.

“I’ve also had some great and talented people reach out to me to collaborate — from YouTubers to former The Voice contestants and the like,” he said. “Right now I’m still focused on promoting Fresh As It Gets, but when the inspiration hits I’m excited to see where those paths lead.”

Among the people he’d wish would come calling is the fabulous Betty Who, a woman whose work spans synthpop, electro house and nu-disco, among other things.

“I love her style, and her songs are so catchy and fun,” Smith said, “and I think it would be a pretty good fit. I’ve got my fingers crossed on that one.”

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