Johnny C. and Justin S. are the two members of the American synthwave band MacReady. They create music that reflects a duality of world views. On the one hand, their music has “reverb-soaked” tracks about the utopia of “the joy of holding your best girl’s hand in the rain” and on the other — tracks that talk about the “total moral collapse of society as mega-corporations dominate the everyday person.”
I asked them about how they got started, their creative process and their latest single “Sex Crimes in Shinjuku”.
photo: Jerry Herrera
Karl Magi: How Did MacReady Start up as a Duo?
Justin S: Our history-making music together goes way back actually to freshman year of high school. Around 2005, we started a short-lived comedy band, a la Tenacious D, which eventually morphed into a hardcore-punk band in 2007. We were both parts of that for a few years. It was mostly just for fun — just a group of kids making crazy music and playing mostly local shows.
We reunited in 2017 as a duo because we wanted to do a Gorillaz tribute set. That turned into “Hey let’s make music like Carpenter Brut!” and that turned into “Hey… I don’t know how to sound like Carpenter Brut. Let’s make other stuff.”
Johnny C: Doing that Gorillaz tribute set was seriously hard! We gave up on our second practice, and I showed Justin some random tunes I had written solo that were seriously unpolished. Justin slapped some guitar on them, and we had a decent idea of what we were going to do.
KM: What are the Main Ideas, Musical and Otherwise, That Have Drawn You Towards Making Synthwave?
JC: I grew up listening to a lot of ’80s music. My parents were big into glam rock and New Wave. Something about the cocaine-infused synth riffs always had a piece of my heart and nose captivated. I’ve been drawn to the dual themes that a lot of the synthwave community use to promote their music: utopia and dystopia.
For every reverb-soaked track about the joy of holding your best girl’s hand in the rain, we get one about the total moral collapse of society as mega-corporations to dominate the everyday person. I also really geek the fuck out over electronic instruments and research and fantasize about them 99% of the day.
JS: Man, I just got tired of being in a band dealing with four other egos. It is a lot easier when the only other ego you interact with creatively is your BFF. Also, synthwave is just siiiiiick.
KM: How do You Approach the Creation of New Music?
JS: As far as I know, Johnny watches a lot of anime and paints music notes on his iPad. He does this until something resembling a tune comes out of it. After he has a handful of these ideas saved, we get together, tweak them, and I record guitar riffs over them. We do this until we have enough tracks for an EP or if we are feeling randy, an LP.
photo: Jerry Herrera
JC: It’s not much different than what Justin is saying honestly. I watch a lot of anime, read a lot of comics, and play a lot of games — I use those all as inspirations for starting tracks.
Sometimes it’s something like a self-challenge: “Hey, can I make a track with only one drum part that doesn’t get repetitive?”. But it’s all mostly based around my emotional state when I sit down to get to work.
Justin really does help out on finishing the tracks. I’m scatterbrained, so I start a lot of things all at once without really finishing anything. I’m more of an idea guy than a real musician.
KM: Tell a bit More About “Sex Crimes in Shinjuku”.
Where Did the Idea Come From, and How Did You go About Creating It?
JS: So “Sex Crimes in Shinjuku” is one of the singles we released from our upcoming LP that is inspired by our life-changing trip to Japan. Every song title is a reference to something we either experienced or joked about during our time there. Japan is so fucking cool, you guys!
“Sex Crimes” is a fictionalized storyline about a vigilante taking out, i.e., murdering, sex traffickers in one of Tokyo’s infamous red-light districts. We did nothing close to that during our trip though. To keep it simple and so that our reputations don’t implode: we had a brief run-in with the underbelly of Tokyo, got scared, and ran back to our hotel.
JC: When we started our LP, we initially had 16 idea tracks to work on and zero features. We took a long hard think about that ratio and decided to cut it down to 12 tracks with three features. We framed each of our features around the artist we were going to ask to collaborate with. Street Cleaner is a man, a man we hoped would help bring that signature clean-yet-slightly-dirty Outrun vibe to our music. He brought the heat to the track and now it’s a slamming good time!
KM: What are Your Future Musical Goals as a Band?
JC: We want to get into scoring work. Movies, games, erotic premium Snapchats. All of it. Once our LP comes out, we have the starting points for a few other projects ready to go. If anything, we are looking to grow our fanbase and reach as many people as we can. We want to make a solid go of this whole music thing.
JS: We are just trying to get this motherf***ing bread, spiritually, and literally.
KM: Talk About the Current State of Synthwave and Its Related Genres.
What are the Pros and Cons in the Scene Right Now?
JS: There are lots of Spotify playlists going viral right now. It’s pretty crazy. But like any other genre, it is oversaturated. Everybody and their grandma have a synthwave project — and I guess that can be good and bad.
Good, because there are lots of potential friends and contacts to be made with this common love for retro synth sounds.
Bad, because it makes it especially hard to get noticed. It’s literally like that video of the woman crying because she can’t hold and pet every cat. You don’t have the time to listen to every synth artist!
photo: Jerry Herrera
JC: I think we’re still at the start of synthwave becoming a widespread genre. I’ve met more interesting, and kind people in this music scene than in any others I’ve dabbled in and I want to take a moment to give a shout out to Scott of Elevate the Sky. He is so damn supportive, and it’s infectious!
I would agree with Justin on the oversaturation of synth projects at the moment. I see a lot of releases that could be great, but everyone seems to be fighting over each other to be the next release. Speaking of which we have a new single coming out on August 6th! The people you meet in this community make it more than just a loose collection of related synth riffs, and I can dig it!
Karl Magi is a freelance writer based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has an Applied Degree in Communications with a specialization in Journalism from Mount Royal University. And he’s passionate about writing on music!