LIGHTWAVES is Jan Rosenfeld's newest DJ project, consisting of infectiously catchy synth hooks, thumping beats, and smooth talkbox robot vocals. Jan formerly sang for Yes Giantess, the 80s nostalgic synth pop band that would make even Prince jealous of with their rich analog sound. Lightwaves has recently released his first two singles (as heard above) and two dance remixes of Savoir Adore and Freelance Whales. When he isn't producing his next big single, he's filling the dance floors in clubs around DC and NYC. I caught up with Jan about where his sound comes from, his synth gear, and what's coming next for Lightwaves...
TSS: Hey Jan! Thanks for doing this interview. Where are you based out of right now, and what music are you working on?
JR: For most of 2011 I was based in Brooklyn, NY. But when summer came around I moved to DC to do the Lightwaves album and DJ around the district. Right now, I'm working on a five song Lightwaves EP. This week, though, I'm actually doing a remix for a group in LA called Liberty.
You are in a band called Yes Giantess and you've toured with La Roux. This seemed like a very natural pairing as you're both very much part of an 80s revival. How did this collaboration happen?
At first, La Roux crew contacted our management to play one show in Boston (the city where YG was formed.) Elly had to cancel that show because of illness, so when she rescheduled the tour, she asked that we just come along and do all the dates!
What were some techniques you used for the 80s feel in YG? Who inspired the sound of YG?
That 80's feel really comes from three things - ancient analog synths, electronic drum programming that mimics a live drummer, and Prince/MJ eighties influenced vocals.
I've never heard of mimicking a live drummer with drum machines as a technique these days. Was most of the record programmed or drummed live?
Back when we first started playing in YG, we didn't know how to program drums. We just assumed you wanted to make it sound as real as possible. Also - we were playing with a live drummer (Joey Sulkowski) so everything was geared towards a more real sound. There are some elements of "programmed" drum sounds on that record, but it's closer to 80's arena than it is to electro house.
Your new project, Lightwaves, has tracks that are much more dance floor friendly. What's an important part of getting the groove right to you?
For me it's all about power and enthusiasm. I never set out to make the "menacing" dance floor sound. I wanted something catchy and uplifting, more like French house and J-Pop. I'm a pretty positive guy, I think. One thing that a track always has to start with for the dancefloor is pounding, pounding drums. Like an 80's metal drummer pounding. Super loud.
Darker house music seems to be the mainstream in the US, with people like Swedish House Mafia and Deadmau5 being the most popular right now. I've always enjoyed the more upbeat, less intense type. Do you think we'll see a rise of happier dance in the states?
I hope so! With big producers coming out like Madeon, hopefully there will be more room for more melody/chord based dance music. It's certainly present in pop/top 40 - so I don't see why it couldn't break out in the electro scene as well.
Who inspired the dance feel of Lightwaves?
When I was on tour for almost two years, I met/got into a lot of music from around the world. I was very influenced by Capsule (from Japan) and, obviously, Daft Punk. I spent a lot of time listening to French and Japanese dance music trying to understand what made it unique!
Are your sets as lightwaves mostly your tracks, or a mix of others' as well?
A good mix of both. As I finish the album, I'd like to make it more of my own tracks. But I've always loved playing other people's tracks. Especially remixing on the fly, adding new chords, beats, and vocal lines to songs while I DJ.
What is your current synth collection, and what was your first? What is your favorite?
I've used so many over the years. DX7, Microkorg, Jupi 6, Jupi 8, Phatty, Juno 106 and Juno 60, OBX, tons of analog emulating VSTs like Sylenth, Massive, Gforce Mellotron, TAL stuff... the list goes on... My favorite ever is probably the Phatty or the Juno 60, although I have a special place in my heart for the DX. I had two and they went to hell and back with me.
Your DX7 comes to mind when thinking of tracks like "Tuff n Stuff",whereas I associate the Phatty with the sound of Lightwaves. I think I hear more Phatty in general in Lightwaves. Is that close, or is there more mixing and matching of synths than I'm perceiving?
The DX, with those sort of FM-y bell type sounds and electric keyboard imitators was definitely more present in the YG stuff. It was all over Tuff n Stuff. For Lightwaves, everything is a little more electro house. I only used the Phatty on Everybody Rock, actually. It's very thick and has a really great basic sawtooth. Moog stuff in general is awesome for that. A lot of what you're haring on Lightwaves is Sylenth and Gforce, actually... I'm really into using mellotron samples to make synth sounds. They sounds weirder and more unique in that way!
How would you typically start a track, and what methods do you use for programming your patches?
I usually start with the drums. It's just something I've gotten used to. Sometimes a track will be just drums, a melody, and simple, repeating vocal. I'll just build it from there. As far as programming, everything is just trial and error. I understand how synth sounds are made fairly well, so I just experiment and stack sounds until I get what I want.
Do you have any tips for producers and writers new to dance music?
Melody comes first! It's not about sounds - people respond to a great melody. That's why people like Calvin Harris are so great - instantly catchy, super simple melodies that endure over time. Learn what a good melody is, start from there.
What is your current production setup? Do you have any favorite plugins?
Right now I use Logic 8 (need to upgrade...) and Ableton 8. My favorite plug ins are the FET Compressor by Softube, and anything made by Soundtoys. They just always sound good. I recently got some CLA stuff and didn't really love any of it.
What are your top five pieces of dream gear?
That's tough. Probably like... an API 7600 or UA 6176... something that makes vocals sound insanely good. I'm all about vocal gear. And mics. I want all the best mics. And a vocal booth.
What can you tell us about your upcoming album, Spirit Gun. What can we expect?
Spirit Gun is going to be a dance record, but I'm hoping to try out some weir stuff on the later tracks. My first two singles were very robotic, but I'd like to get more housey, and maybe even have some R&B sounding stuff on there... who knows.
Is much completed now, or is most focus on the EP?
Only two songs are done - with a third about halfway there. I'm really hoping to dig in soon and have it done before summer ends!
Thanks for taking time with us Jan.