Finding the Eighties

Long story short: I completely missed the music of the 80’s. Here’s what I do know: it was a dark time for guitar tone and fashion but an incredibly glorious time for synthesizers. Never before were so many tracks made of that which was synthetic. Except now. Love it or loathe it, pop music has come full-circle, and I’m making up for what I missed.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been up to my ears in 80’s, working on synth tracks for a record coming out later this year. Being a keyboard player, I’ve always been somewhat familiar with the sounds and kit from that golden era, but what began as a mere acquaintance has blossomed into a full-fledged codependency. On other projects, I find myself going back again and again to the DX7 (or in my case the FM7… for now). It was my first synth, and it’s quickly becoming a favourite- so much so I’ve been scouring eBay for the right one.

How do I approach a track that needs that 80’s sound? First, a bit of history… Whilst analogue was well developed, digital was just emerging, and the meeting of the two yielded sound that could simultaneously be dark and bright, warm and cold, smooth and sparkly. Most had Moogs, ARPS, Prophets or Juno’s but the shiny new ALL DIGITAL synths were sexy. Digital was the new cool. It was more stable, less noisy, and didn’t require so much maintenance… But I digress. To take a track back, start at the bottom. Pull up any bass from a DX, play eighth notes, and you’re pretty much there. From there, move to the mids. Forget those soft, warm sine-wave pads. Find an aggressive, fast attack monster. Repeat as desired. Who needs guitars when you have sawtooth waves? Finally, the top. Finish with bells, sparklies, or something gross and metallic, preferably playing some infectious melody in octaves. There you have it: thirty years in three easy steps.

Granted, digital wasn’t the only game in town; the best polysynths were and still are analogue. Digital expanded the range of possibilities, giving keyboard players more ways to overshadow the guitars. Now, those sounds are back. The bottom line: if you have an 80’s synth sitting around, dust it off, tightroll your jeans, and re-discover the sounds that are just as useful now as they were then.

Phil Stacey

Phil Stacey’s new record hits shelves and sites today- give it a listen. Phil’s got a wonderful voice and the record was produced by super-producer Brown Bannister; I did most of the programming and keys. It’s a pop record- I did lots of drum and synth layers and some string work. Drum sounds are from my own samples, Operator, and perhaps something I recorded on the spot to use inside of Impulse. Synths and pads are from Thor, Absynth, Pro53, Ultra Analog, and the MO8. I was working on it right before Live 8 was released, so all but one track was done in version 7. There was a last-minute addition that gave me a chance to use 8; I think it was the first real work I did using 8. I used the Collision instrument and some of the new effects in a song called “Hard To Get”. It turned out wonderfully and Collision has become a go-to source for anything from soft mallets to crazy craziness.