Features Interviews

A Q&A with Synthwave Artist Tokyo Rose

Although it’s been knocked down a rung by heavy dark synth and metal synth, outrun — synthwave based on car culture — was once one of the most popular types of 1980-inspired synth music.

Kavinsky is the most mainstream of artists who’ve created work in the outrun style — notably, his 2013 album OutRun. However, the enigmatic, US-based Tokyo Rose has been a long-time purveyor of this kinetic subgenre inspired by ’80s car-based video games. He’s done this with some great success.

Most recently, in December, NRW Records released The Chase: Last Run, a darker-edged outrun record that represents a substantial beefing up of the releases Tokyo Rose has put out independently or with a smaller label since 2014.

Here, in an email exchange with Vehlinggo, Tokyo Rose talks about the new album, his inspirations, his collaborators (such as ALEX and Roxi Drive), his plans for live shows, and his inclination to potentially leave outrun behind.

Vehlinggo: Tell me about your latest release, The Chase: Last Run.

Tokyo Rose: The Chase: Last Run is definitely a culmination of my previous releases rebooted under the NRW moniker.

My first EP was released early on when I first came into the scene back in 2014, but I wasn’t with a label at the time, so it didn’t grab that much attention. My second EP was released with another label, but they didn’t promote it and there were some business issues with them that led me to have to drop that label.

I revamped some of the older tracks and the artwork and released both EPs, along with a few new tracks, with NRW Records. Ten from NewRetroWave has been a great help to me since my first release “Midnight Chase,” so it only felt natural to release The Chase: Last Run with NRW.

tokyo rose - the chase
Artwork by Sam Todhunter.

What inspired your collaborations with ALEX, Ultraboss, and the others? Who would you love to collaborate with in the future?

ALEX is my closest friend in the scene, so of course I wanted to include him in my album. He’s one of the coolest and most talented guys out there. Definitely keep an eye out for him! [Editor’s Note: Check out ALEX cut “Youth” on this list.]

Ultraboss is also a friend of mine who is a crazy talented guitarist. I wanted some shredding on a few of my tracks and he’s my go-to guy for that. The dude is passionate about what he does. LeBrock are also some really cool guys and I love what they do. I wanted some strong, rocker-like vocals for a track of mine, and ALEX referred me to them. 

I was also in search for a female vocalist last-minute and Ten referred Roxi Drive to me. Roxi really came through for me and brought that ’80s flair that the track “Calling” needed.

Turboslash have a unique hard outrun style, so a remix from them was a must. I love what they did for “The Getaway.”

Some artists I would love to collaborate with in the future would definitely have to be Danger, Power Glove, Kavinsky, Lorn, and NERO. They are some of the reasons I got into music and collaborating with any of those artists would be rad.

What sort of classic ’80s acts or films are you inspired by when creating your work?

Back when I first started producing synthwave, I drew a lot of inspiration from Harold Faltermeyer. His movie scores are the best in my opinion. He’s probably the only ’80s act I could say inspired me in the beginning of my music career. Now, I’m inspired by all genres and I try to be unique with my music.

My tracks “Sacrifice” and “Yakuza” are some examples of myself exploring a new sound and moving towards a more darker style.

When are the best and worst times for you to try and write music, and why?

I usually make my best tracks when I least expect it. There’s really no best or worst time for me to try and write music. I work great under pressure, though. Sometimes when I’m having writer’s block, I seem to always spring up with something sick last minute.

What’s your back story? What sparked you in 2014 to start releasing synthwave/outrun? 

I always wanted to produce music, but I started when I was 17. I began producing different genres like trap, hip-hop, chiptune, seapunk, Nintendocore, dubstep, and big room house to name a few. I was born in the ’90s, but my dad introduced me to a lot of ’80s songs when I was a kid.

I loved the nostalgia and aesthetics, which got me to explore deeper into the ’80s and ’90s culture. One day I ran into the music video for Kavinsky’s “Testarossa Autodrive” and I instantly fell in love with the sound and visuals. That’s when it hit me: This is the music I want to create. I had no idea what genre it was until I started exploring deeper and ran into other songs by Miami Nights 1984, FM Attack, Power Glove, and then the NewRetroWave YouTube channel. For the hell of it, I created my first track, “Midnight Chase,” sent it over to NewRetroWave and the rest is history.

Is your name from the World War II-era propagandists or the excellent 1985 Idle Eyes song, “Tokyo Rose”? Or something else? Why did you choose this name?

Not at all. I was playing Call of Duty: Black Ops with my little brother one day back when I was in high school and I got the name “Tokyo Rose” from the zombie game “Kino der Toten,” which is [an in-game game]. There’s a gun (PM63) in the game you can upgrade and then turns into-dual wielded guns called “Tokyo & Rose.” I thought it would be a cool stage name — no real meaning behind the name, to be honest. I wish I would’ve googled the name before choosing it as a stage name, though, since there are so many bands/artists with the same moniker.

“I want to branch out from the synthwave/’80s sound, and evolve, so I’m hoping my fans are supportive of that.”

What’s next for Tokyo Rose?

Live shows, for the first time ever. I’m very stoked to perform my first gig, which I have to keep a secret for now. I’m hoping to book some more shows soon, too.

I also have a few projects coming out this year that I can’t say too much about, but expect a lot of heaviness and darkness coming from Tokyo Rose. I want to branch out from the synthwave/’80s sound, and evolve my sound, so I’m hoping my fans are supportive of that.

The album is available in digital form and vinyl via NRW Records’ Bandcamp page and in digital form via other outlets.