Featuring a Q&A with FM Attack and Details on the Re-Release
Ten years is a long time, but it can also feel like yesterday. It was in August 2009 that FM Attack released his debut album, Dreamatic, which helped pioneer what would later be called “synthwave” or “retrowave” or whatever anyone calls it these days. Time flies — we’re a bit in a period now in which we have nostalgia for this music inspired by nostalgia. In short: Nostalgia for nostalgia.
Where were you when you first heard “Yesterday,” “Disco Attack,” or “Hot Girlz in Love” or — one of my all-time favorite songs — “Dreamer”? Or any other of the nine cuts on the release? The album’s dreamy guitars, gorgeous and kinetic synthscapes, and engaging dance beats were a revelation.
Not long after, FM Attack (AKA Shawn Ward) would release the equally stunning Astrowave EP, and not long after that, Drive star Ryan Gosling name-dropped FM Attack in an interview with one of Australia’s largest newspapers.
Nevertheless, the release of Dreamatic in 2009 was where it all began as we know FM Attack today, and it came out during a crucial time for synth-drenched music. That was the year Phoenix layered on the colorful synths on their crucial album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. College and Electric Youth would release “A Real Hero” and Desire’s self-titled debut album, featuring “Under Your Spell” made its mark. Empire of the Sun’s Walking on a Dream was a year into changing the landscape, Neon Indian’s Psychic Chasms bent and molded our minds, and Passion Pit’s Manners would shift the gears of electro-pop with beautiful ease. Those are just some of the releases that FM Attack joined when he made his pioneering mark. It was a great time for music — and would yield several years of great music.
With that in mind, I’m very pleased to say that FM Attack has re-released Dreamatic in a special 10th anniversary edition. In an email exchange recently with Vehlinggo — fresh off a performance at Outland Toronto — Ward discussed the re-release on vinyl and cassette, the making of the album, and its enduring legacy, among other things. Buy it here right now. It’s the first time the album is available in either vinyl or cassette form and this time the delectable pre-existing cover art was touched up by Phono Ghosts (AKA Neil Scrivin). Scrivin also did the layout for each medium.
This commemoration comes at a time when Dreamatic still has momentum for Ward. Recently, Fendi licensed “Sleepless Nights” for an advertising campaign for a clothing line.
“It worked out great,” Ward says. “I was lucky to get a break with the song 10 years later and it may have helped give my music some more exposure.”
Vehlinggo: You were making house music before FM Attack, right? What made you go down the Dreamatic route? It had French house, disco, and 1980s synth-pop DNA, but it was also something new and different for the time.
Shawn Ward: I released a bunch of EPs from 2001-2006. My first record deal was getting signed to Turbo Recordings by Tiga. It was a pretty big deal for me at the time, as he was massive and producing great music. I was mostly doing deep, jazzy, and tech house, but I did an EP on Turbo’s sub-label Faberge that had a lot of ’80s electronic disco vibes. I was also a big fan of the French Touch era — Alan Braxe, Fred Falke, and Lifelike — so this definitely influenced my sound on Dreamatic.
When you were recording the album, what were some cool moments? What were any challenges you faced?
The album was recorded in winter/spring of 2009 and it was quite an easy and fun inspirational work flow. It just kind of made itself in a sense. I remember having so much fun programming the beats and messing with my synths to get big dreamy sounds. I was listening to a lot of 1980s records at the time — of course — that kept me inspired. Records like Visage, The Cars’ Heartbeat City, [and] lots of OMD and Pet Shop Boys.
Where did you record the album and what equipment did you use?
I recorded most of it while living between Vancouver and also my dad’s house in Nelson, British Columbia. I used Logic to record with a Motu sound card and a Yamaha digital mixer. For synths I used a Roland Jupiter 8 and a Juno 106, and a Minimoog Yoyager for a lot of the bass.
On Dreamatic, what was the easiest song to write and what was the hardest? Likewise, what was the easiest and what was the hardest song to record? And why?
I can’t recall exactly, but I think that I wrote “Sleepless Nights” in a couple days. It just all came together really fast and I messed with my vocoder to get the vocal hook on the fly. I think “Dreamer” took longest, I remember struggling to re-do the drums a few different times and added some flanger to the snare for the finishing touch.
How have you changed as a musician since 2009? How have you changed as a person since then?
I think that as a musician I’m the same; I’m rusty technically compared to 10 years ago, as I don’t practice much these days. (Programming has made me lazy — hehe.) As a person I might appreciate the smaller things more, and worry less about the wrong things :-).
In some ways, New World is the closest you’ve sounded to Dreamatic since Dreamatic. Do you agree?
There may be some similar vibes in there, for sure. I like to think my production and songwriting is better and more advanced with New World, but it’s still me and I use the same gear, mostly.
What do you want people to get out of the 10th anniversary release of Dreamatic?
Hopefully, it will be discovered by people who haven’t heard it and it will be re-visited by listeners who haven’t heard it for a while.
They will have the chance to finally have the full album on vinyl or cassette for the first time!
When you look back on 10 years of Dreamatic, what do you think is its legacy? (Especially given the trajectory of the scene you helped create?)
I wasn’t really thinking about how much the genre would grow and gain popularity over the last 10 years. It’s really cool to hear how it connected with so many people and it’s still being discovered today! I think I encapsulated some nostalgia with it.
And now for the cliche question: What does the future hold for FM Attack?
I’m working on building my new label, Starfield Music. I have a great album due for release from the legendary Betamaxx, who is incredibly talented and one of the synthwave OGs. His new release is amazing and I’m very excited about it. I am also working with Vandal Moon to release his next full-length album.