Interview: A Q&A with Detroit’s Phaserland

Phaserland is a fairly mysterious yet emerging, Detroit-based retro-futuristic synth pop project. Started back in 2013, the project’s sound generally blends rich saturated synth tones, lush, interwoven melodies and scorching guitar licks with the hopes to invoke wonder, nostalgia, future love and as he says on his Facebook fan page, “a booty wiggle or two.”

The Detroit-based artist’s latest single is the  brooding and remarkably cinematic instrumental track “Flip The Switch.” Centered around twinkling and glistening synth arpeggios, thumping beats and a motorik groove, “Flip The Switch” recalls Kraftwerk and John Carpenter soundtracks — with a remarkably slick, studio polish.  The recently released DYNMC-directed and -produced accompanying video is an aptly retro-futuristic visual reminiscent of Weird Science, TRONStranger Things, and Back to the Future among other things.

I recently chatted with the emerging Detroit-based artist about the new single, its accompanying visual and more. Check out the interview — and the video below.


WRH: How did you get into music?

Phaserland: My father played classical guitar growing up and I have early memories sitting in his fuzzy rust colored guitar case, learning how the fretboard made “low” and “high” sounds.

It wasn’t long until I picked up my own axe and started learning bar chords, jazz improvisation, and Smashing Pumpkins riffs. At the same time, I was also getting into midi computer programs and listening to the ps1 title WIPEOUT on my discman… you know, back in the 90s, you could put the game right in the CD player and listen away.  I recall taking the game, just for the music to my 7th grade Niagara Falls trip. My Dad and I soon picked up an SQ-1 Ensoniq and I stared to learn how to sequence.

WRH: Who are your influences?

Phaserland: Early influences were Herbie Hancock, WIPEOUT – Playstation 1 soundtrack, Rush and Alex Lifeson, Yes and ‘80s late night pop and smooth jazz that my parents had on the radio- so those super slick produced 80s ballads . . . Just picture songs like “If Ever You’re In My Arms Again” by Peabo Bryson and songs like “[The] Sweetest Taboo” from Sade and “Starlight Express” — the studio version with DeBarge!  Also, shoutout to Mitch Murder, Highway Superstar and Le Cassette who got me hooked on the synthwave scene back in 2013. Now I like to divulge in jazz artists like Pat Metheny, ‘80s and ‘90s Rippingtons, ‘80s library music from Bruton Music and Vaporwave playlists.

WRH: How would you describe your sound?

Phaserland: It’s a rainbow grid, a funky ride through space — yet still you might feel a touch [of] melancholy as you remember your childhood in front of old computer monitors, as geometric shapes and 8bit tones whizz by. It’s 80s inspired synthwave music with a smattering of guitar, jazz halls, and a melodic sword that might stab you in all the right spots. Some people describe it as traveling through a hazy neon city at night with electric palm trees.

 “Flip The Switch” is an incredibly cinematic track that to my ears brings classic synth-based John Carpenter soundtracks, Umberto and others to mind: it’s slick but has a soulful and thoughtful craft to it, that reveals something new on repeated listens. So how does your creative process work? And when do you know you have a finished track?   

Phaserland: Ah thank you! Carpenter is one of my favorite directors, and I’m sure I have been shaped by those early VHS rentals.  On another note, one of my favorite movies of all time is Blade Runner, so perhaps I have layered on some of that Vangelis sauce when I have been in the proverbial musical kitchen.  I find it important now than ever to really be aware of the technical/feeling aspect of song writing.  I must say having prog rock as a technical bar to hit in high school as led me to better places beyond the horizon today.  I could make tracks with crazy time signature and wailing solos in every song, but honestly, I would hate it.  I’d rather nowadays listen to Washed OutFeel It All Around” than most any prog influence from the past, but I am grateful to have some of the chops and music theory in my back pocket when need be.  Music is an art form, and I still feel the need for mystery and excitement in my tracks.  Sometimes the layering is subtle… sometimes not at all!  As for when it’s done – it’s just a feeling. like when the rolls look good to take out of the oven.  Texture is fantastic, but I have to remind myself not to overcook!

WRH: The soon-to-be released video for “Flip The Switch” has a decidedly retro feel – as though it were inspired by Weird ScienceTronBack to the FutureStranger Things and the like. Hell, the video made me miss spending way too much of my money at arcades. So, as a child of the 80s, it brings back a lot of memories for me. How did you and the director come up with the concept? 

Phaserland: I have to say I owe most of the concept, production and art direction to the imaginative duo of Brad and Vic over at DYNMC.  They are LA based company that worked with me in and around the Detroit area.  They are making some of the best, if not THE best synthwave music videos in the business, with big names from the scene being added every month or so.  They proposed this idea of me traveling through some kind of internet with these homemade switches, and that I would be handing them off to operatives for some kind of communal giant hack.  I had a local friend help with some incredible video mapping and effects, and we rented this mint condition ‘88 white Fiero as my choice of transportation from the Michigan Fiero club.  The whole project was green lit only 10 days before production started, and I must say it all came together so well!

WRH: I’m based in NYC and as you can imagine, sometimes we can become so focused on our hometown’s scene that we can put blinders on to anyplace else’s scene. Curiously, are they any Detroit-based acts that the rest of the world should know that we haven’t gotten a chance to know yet?

Phaserland: Detroit has a vibrant music scene, and there is a huge techno and house following, but not a huge synthwave or vaporwave following.  The numbers are however growing steadily, thanks to barcades, pop culture, and the shift to more musical freedom in the industry. I know how bubbles go.  The scene I am in now is super global with hot spots in LA, Sweden, New York and pretty much anywhere with an internet connection – haha!

Some of the local talent to check out –   Architecture in Tokyo, VespreAndroid Automatic, Voy3ger, King Quartz, Von Kaiser, Jonah Baseball and more!

 WRH: What’s next for you?

Phaserland: After this music video and album release, most likely more shows early next year and an EP with more synthy pop undertones. I am getting back on the lyric train!