(Editor’s Note: Guest writer Andrew B. White’s latest piece for Vehlinggo is both a review and interview centered on London-based Roxi Drive and her debut Strangers of the Night.)
After a couple of EP and single releases in a relatively short timeframe, London’s Roxi Drive recently delivered her debut album, Strangers of the Night. The album features a combination of new songs, previously released material, and a cover.
Drive is one of a growing number of synthwave artists hailing from the UK, including Sunglasses Kid, NINA, Le Flex, Ollie Wride, and Le Cassette, who gravitate towards a 1980s vocal pop sound.
Like these fellow UK artists — despite living in a country that is known to be rainy and grey — her music evokes the unavoidable sunny utopias of California and Miami. Of course, this is standard fare in synthwave and not easy to break away from unless you intend to sing about factories in Sheffield: the darker stylistic domain of modern European synth-pop. Logically, the album’s lyrical content compliments the musical aesthetics, covering romance in all its stages — falling in and out of love and back again.
Strangers of the Night takes a similar tack to albums from artists like Dana Jean Phoenix, working with several producers across a number of tracks. While this approach sometimes leads to uneven results, all the songs here work together to form a relatively cohesive album experience.
Kevin Montgomery brings his now classic LA Dreams touch to “Run All Night” and “See It in Your Eyes.” Neon Black introduces a darker palette with the pulsing “Behind The Mask” and my personal fave, “All Night Long,” with its synth snappy synth-brass riff.
Italian synthwave artist Adam Ford contributes the College-influenced “Falling” (which ironically has Drive channeling a little of Julee Cruise) with Norway’s TAKTA on vocal editing duties. TAKTA then moves into the producer’s chair with the sublime Italo-disco of “Walking Out Of Love.” “Call Me Tomorrow,” produced by Fantom ’87, is your classic John Hughes montage material and the title track, produced by Doomroar, is awash with a pretty FM synth riff, complemented by the astute ’80s guitars of Dave Maverick.
Marvel ’83 lends production duties on the closing track “Stay With Me,” and like many synthwave tracks borrows heavily from “A Real Hero,” somewhat unavoidable for this genre when using a pulsing synth bass riff. Again, despite the variety of producers, all of the tracks seem to gel together giving the album a natural flow.
The previously released tracks here — the debut single “Run All Night,” “See It in Your Eyes (Remix),” and “Stay With Me” — seem to be unchanged from the original versions. If you have these already, there’s nothing new to be had apart from having them all together in one place.
Strangers of the Night also includes a cover version of SSQ’s 1983 single “Synthicide.” Placing a cover alongside a set of strong originals can often be a distraction, but this lesser known cut from Stacy Q’s band was a smart choice. It will be entirely fresh to people who are unfamiliar with the original and fits on to the album more naturally than a well-known song might.
As far as Drive’s vocals are concerned, she covers a lot of ground: the previously-mentioned dreaminess of Julee Cruise, some sultry Madonna, and while no one could ever compete with her vocally brings the sentiment of the late, great Laura Branigan to the upbeat tracks.
Overall, Roxi Drive sounds like Roxi Drive — and that is what this album is all about. Strangers of the Night is catchy, has thoughtful song arrangements and production, and demands repeat listening. It also continues the run of great vocal pop albums released in 2018, including those from Dana Jean Phoenix, Let ‘Em Riot, and The Bad Dreamers. Drive on!
An Interview with Roxi Drive
Andrew B. White, for Vehlinggo: You’re a relatively “new” artist in the synthwave scene, but in a short space of time have dropped a number of singles and now a full-length album. Your first single “Run All Night (Chase This Dream)” was produced by the veritable SelloRekT/LA Dreams. Had you been following the synthwave scene for a while and knew what producer you’d like to work with, to make a good impact first time out?
Roxi Drive: To be honest, I think I got extremely lucky with that one. The lovely James Secker, who runs Synthwave TV, sent Kevin Montgomerymy demo and he listened to it and immediately responded positively, and said he wanted to work with me.
It was pretty awesome to have such a prolific synthwave artist wanting to work with me on my debut single. It also just so happened that we work so well together and have very similar ideas and visions of what we want to achieve.
We have the same taste in music and artists that we both admire and aspire to. I love working with Kevin, because he sees my potential and knows exactly how to work with my vocals in producing a song. He knows what style will suit me and we sync nicely. His music has that ’80s movie soundtrack vibe, which I adore.
In addition to LA Dreams, you worked with a number of other producers on Strangers of the Night, including TAKTA, Neon Black, Marvel ’83, Doomroar, and Fantom ’87. How did you form those relationships and were you conscious of maintaining a uniform sound throughout the album?
Yes, I had already worked with TAKTA on “Girl on the TV.” He’s a very talented producer and his music stands out to me, as he pushes the envelope and creates a very quirky edge on many of his songs — which I like a lot. We both wanted to work on an Italo Disco track and that’s how “Walking Out of Love” came about.
All of the people I’ve worked with have been either because they contacted me or I contacted them through listening to their music — often, when I’m having a browse through Soundcloud.
I wanted an album that told a story; like going to see a film. With different emotions, different genres. I wanted it to be fun and nostalgic but also that displayed the roller coaster of emotions that we all go through as part of the human experience. I do like the idea of movie soundtracks, as music is so integral to film, and all those amazing ’80s movies I grew up on — the music throughout was always such a large part of the experience.
Roxi Drive delivers an authentic ’80s experience. Have you always been interested in ’80s music and who are some of your musical influences for this project?
Yes, from sitting cross-legged on my living room floor as a little girl watching a UK chart show called Top of the Pops and being completely entranced by The Bangles, Tiffany, Madonna, and the Pet Shop Boys. Yes, I’m an ’80s fan through and through: Not just the music, but the fashion/ film/TV, and the whole interior design and aesthetics. I’m influenced by so many ’80s artists, but to name a few: SSQ, Tears for Fears, A Flock of Seagulls, The Go-Gos, The Bangles, Pat Benatar, Kim Wilde, [and] Laura Branigan.
There are a number of female artists making headway in synthwave, such as NINA, Dana Jean Phoenix, Kristine, and JJ Mist. Do you feel like you’re on a parallel with these artists?
I think, being female synth singers, we are all similar in that respect, but I think we all have our own unique sounds and styles. I greatly admire all of these artists and love listening to their music. I’m still hoping we can form a kick-ass synthwave girl band. That’s the goal! Haha. Seriously though, I’m just enjoying doing my thing and so happy that others seem to like it, too.
You’re also a talented actress and have appeared in many TV shows and films. Does your acting background have an influence on the Roxi Drive persona — is it a way to become another character, this time in a musical setting?
Haha, good question. Maybe in a sense. Many artists cross over from singing to acting and vice versa or also combine both. I began in musical theatre and I’ve performed in bands before.
My last being a 1940s pin up band called The Morellas, where we performed up and down the country, so music and performing has always been a large part of my life. I’m really having an amazing time working with so many talented people in the synth movement. In a very cheesy way it is like having a childhood dream come true. I also get to act and play characters in my music videos, which is always fun. That’s another area where musicians get to play a role and take on a persona.
What’s next for Roxi Drive? Do you plan to keep releasing music? Any plans for live shows?
So I’ve just begun working on a new EP which I’m very excited about. It’s a collaboration with Mr. LA Dreams. It has a real Nu Shooz vibe to it: very upbeat, funky, fresh pop sounds, and yes, very ’80s!
A track we recorded a few months ago will be shortly released as the title track of a synthwave soundtrack for a horror novel. The novel is called Night Waves, written by David Irons, so look out for that.
Live performing: Yes, I can’t wait. I’m beginning rehearsals shortly, so watch this space.
(Editor’s Note: The interview was edited for clarity and house style.)
Andrew B. White performs as Diamond Field and has recently shot photos of the NEON Festival and the FM-84/The Bad Dreamers show for Vehlinggo.