On December 1st, the debut full-length from Sunset Neon – the nostalgia pop music project from multi-genre musician and producer Bret Autrey – will be released. His intention with this project was to hone in on 80’s inspired pop sound, a far cry from his work as Blue Stahli. In honor of the release of his new lyric video for “You Are The Sun” – which makes us wish it were about to be summer instead of winter – we spent a few minutes with the artist to get the low down on his process and the eighties.
What is the first song or album you ever remember hearing, and who introduced it to you?
There’s two that stick out. Once was the small window of time that my mom had a record player and would put the soundtrack to Top Gun on. I’d get so amped up on stuff like Dangerzone, I’d just bounce around the entire living room. The other was visiting family on a farm in Oregon and I was running around in a Max Headroom mask. My cousin had just started driving, so she would drive me into town and play Front 242 extremely loud. I’ve been in love with drum machines, synths and samplers ever since.
Was there a moment that it struck you and you realized you were going to pursue music, or did it kind of slowly evolve?
This is really the only thing I know how to do. I’m just lucky enough that I can make a living doing it. The first recording I ever made was when I got ahold of a tape player and blank tape and recorded myself humming the theme to the A-Team. We had a piano in the house that was saved from being taken to the dump by some church. I would plink around and work out melodies on that beat up old thing. Later on I discovered programming music and sequencing chopped up one-shot samples in DOS in the glorious mono 8bit of Scream Tracker. After getting better sound quality in Impulse Tracker I started sampling that old piano, and loading in synth loops I sequenced on a Roland keyboard to warp and twist in weird ways. I absolutely lived for the times I could be messing with programming music in hexadecimal in a DOS tracker or chopping out atmospheres and sound FX recorded in from VHS movies. It’s what I lived for then, and what I have to do now.
Historically, you’ve been a rock musician. When you chose to go into this 80s music project, did you already have an idea for what you were doing or did it kind of develop organically?
With my main project, Blue Stahli, I genre-hop all the way from upbeat funky breakbeat stuff to purely electronic sound design to riff-heavy electronic rock. While doing all this genre-flailing, I would kick out a few nu disco-esque tracks or start leaning towards a more indie pop type of sound. Once the itch for this started lining up even more, it became clear that a lot of these tracks that didn’t really have a home before could all exist under a dedicated project for exploring all the more colorful lo-fi 80s influenced stuff. So I’d say it all reached a point where Sunset Neon *had* to exist.
You were quoted saying “I’m freakishly excited to create some weirdo VHS music.” Could you elaborate on what “weirdo VHS music” is, at least in your opinion?
Some of my favorite things are lost movies or straight to video fare on VHS. The memories of a room lit only by the small screen (in this case, I was watching everything on one of those small portable TV’s hooked up to a clunker of a VCR), and the feeling of the synth scores and lesser known songs that would accompany some of these movies just washed over me. I see the “weirdo VHS music” as Sunset Neonbeing part of the soundtrack to a strange forgotten VHS from 1986 who’s music you love so much you record it to cassette and listen to it until the tape snaps. You’ll hear bits of these songs warp and glitch, sometimes like you’re hearing the process of them being sampled from VHS to an old sampler while the power is flickering.
How was the writing/production process different this time around, creating this “weirdo VHS music?”
This was really all about going back to my roots with tracker music. So just destroying the audio and one shot synth sounds (some of which were made by stacking single cycle waveforms on top of each other and getting all wonky with the layers and filters) and exploring warping stuff with the effects you have to enter in hexadecimal and revel in the fact that all those little bits of information are coming together to form a beat that makes you want to move and evokes emotions. It’s a more stripped down approach, while somehow also being a bit more complicated in other ways.
Everything we’ve heard from your debut album feels like it could be used in a kitchy 80s “throwback” movie (a la Hot Rod) or a fun musical. If you could create anything with this music, what would it be and who would you collaborate with?
Oh hell yes, that is absolutely the intent. It *should* feel like a pure fun jolt of video haze from a guilty pleasure movie you’ve seen 87 times. I would love for this to show up in a movie or tv show (even something animated!) built on the same love for that glow. Stranger Things, Ready Player One, anything that is fully in love with this atmosphere. I have a feeling there are some astounding people who will be creating in this realm that we still have yet to see, and I can’t wait for all of it.
If you could be any character in an 80s movie, who would you choose and why?
A cross between Wolff from Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone for the way he always seemed to know what to do, and Fletch or Axel Foley for always having the perfect string of jokes to accompany getting out of situations in the most hilariously badass way possible.
What are you most looking forward to about this release?
I’m really just excited for this to be out there and connect with people. I do this because I adore it and try to create songs that have an atmosphere you can get lost in, so I hope that these songs serve their emotional purpose for someone out there whether they’re connecting with the more dance-oriented fun material, or the dreamy lo-fi love songs.