Pioneering nostalgic new wave/synthwave artist FM Attack is back with new album, Stellar.
Ryan Gosling said it during an interviewing while promoting Drive. It was 2011, and two years since FM Attack released his 1980s-infused debut album, Dreamatic.
It was a relatively early period for a movement whose various elements would come to inflect pop culture increasingly over the years. College and Electric Youth released “A Real Hero,” the romantic theme of the very film Gosling was promoting, around the same time Dreamatic was released. Between the time of Dreamatic and Drive was a period that saw synthwave pioneers like Miami Nights 1984 and Mitch Murder also release debut albums. Popular darkness purveyor Perturbator was still a couple years away from releasing anything. Kavinsky was several EPs into his French Touch 2.0-infused career, with Drive‘s “Nightcall” coming in 2010.
Those were just a few artists who drew inspiration from various levels of nostalgia who were invigorating for the public what had been a largely underground, often MySpace-based genre. Some, like Miami Nights and Mitch Murder, were full-bore synthwavers. Others, like Electric Youth, used elements of the past to create a beautiful shade of modern synth-pop. And even others, like Chromatics and Glass Candy, were drawing from Italo disco, synth-pop, and even post-punk to create something new and resonant.
Regardless, they were all contributing to a vibe that would permeate the film director Nicolas Winding Refn and actor Gosling were making. And it was on Oct. 28, 2011, about a month after Drive was released, that Gosling uttered two very special words during an interview with Stephanie Bunbury of the Sydney Morning Herald: “FM Attack.”
Gosling said that he, Refn, and Refn’s film editor, Matthew Newman, started out discussing how to approach creating Drive by talking about music:
”I was listening to Glass Candy and Nic was listening to Kavinsky and Matt was listening to, like, FM Attack,” Gosling says. ”All this sort of dark disco, this hyper-romantic electronic music with this menacing undertone, so we were just aligned on a lot of levels. And we all sort of wished, when we saw Pretty in Pink, that it could be violent, you know. If it could be violent as well, then it would be everything.”
When FM Attack (AKA Shawn Ward) heard about this high-caliber reference, he was — quite naturally — pretty damn excited. Ward was a big fan of the film and the name-drop added some steam to his project.
“… It opened a lot of doors with blogs and was like a dream to get that kind of PR,” Ward told Vehlinggo recently in an interview. “Ryan definitely gave me some exposure and hype by dropping my name in that interview.”
The outcome of one utterance — more exposure and sales — built a foundation that would allow Ward to keep making music through 2010’s Astrowave EP and 2013’s Deja Vu LP. (As with Dreamatic, those two releases came out via Peter Hecher’s Tonite Records.) Today, Ward releases new album Stellar, digitally, and later on vinyl, via his own Starfield Music label.
FM Attack: From Mexico with Love
In the four years since his last album, Deja Vu, which garnered him attention inside and outside the synthwave scene with dreamy synthesizer beauties like “Runaway” and “Fade Away,” Ward has been busy.
For one thing, the Mexico-based, Vancouver native had a daughter, to whom his new album is dedicated. He’s been doing official remixes for the likes of Tegan and Sara and another of his remixes got placement in Amazon Studios’ 80s country club-themed show Red Oaks. He also spent a bunch of that time working on Stellar, using primarily vintage gear. That can get tricky.
“I… ran into constant technical problems,” Ward says. “Some of the equipment I use is over 40 years old now, so I had a lot of gear breakdown and had to teach myself how to solder, test components, and do repairs. There are no synth techs where I live.”
“[Stellar] was definitely a labor of love,” he says.
But that work was worth it, because a big factor behind the compelling sound of Stellar — the early ’80s new-wave and post-punk vibes that recall the likes of The Cure, New Order and The Human League — is that gear.
He uses a LinnDrum and Oberheim DX, the former a staple of the repertoire of Prince and Pet Shop Boys in the 1980s and the latter a nimble device from 1981 that New Order used on their global smash hit, “Blue Monday,” and which Madonna used on classic like “Holiday” and “Into the Groove.” Stellar also has plenty of beautiful synthscapes and noodling guitar riffs.
“… I wanted to keep it as original as possible, while keeping a nostalgic feeling, using all vintage gear and old-school production techniques,” Ward said.
Ward wasn’t just trying to do a basic genre exercise, though.
“I… worked hard on song structure, lyrics, and vocals to make an album of actual songs and not just DJ ‘tracks,’ ” he says. He also brought in MNYNMS, a purveyor of beautifully dark electronic concoctions, to sing on two songs.
Throughout all of his production twists and turns, Ward was driven. His young daughter, Stella, was a big source of inspiration (and not just for the record’s title). He also drew inspiration from others people and experiences.
“All of my experiences from touring were also a big influence, as well as hanging out with my friends every weekend listening to a lot of old post-punk, disco, and new wave records,” he said.
He hopes fans of FM Attack and just fans of music get something out of Stellar.
“I would say this album is a piece of emotion and nostalgia that hopefully will transcend through the years and be listened to for a long time,” Ward says. “It’s nice knowing that my music can make a connection with people.”
You can get the album in a variety of digital locations, with vinyl pre-orders available now. Bandcamp is the perhaps the best way to achieve any or all of your FM Attack-related goals.
Editor’s Note: Aaron wrote the press release for FM Attack’s Stellar push, elements of which were adapted for this feature.