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1 feb. 2020

Interview met Jon Benderr

Jon Benderr is een Amerikaanse synthwave producer uit Cleveland, Ohio. Al jaren in de weer met electronische muziek en, net als ik, een fan van Orbital. Afgelopen jaar bracht hij zijn album Observer uit via Werkstatt Recordings. Tijd voor een interview om meer te weten te komen wat de plannen zijn voor 2020.

Jon Benderr is an American synthwave producer from Cleveland, Ohio. For years busy with electronic music and, like me, a fan of Orbital. Last year he released his Observer album through Werkstatt Recordings. Time for an interview to find out more about his plans for 2020.

Jon Benderr

John, can you please introduce yourself?
Hi! Name is John, artist name Jon Benderr. I am from the Cleveland, OH area. 37 yrs. old and I have been playing/working with synths and drum machines since I was 15. Greatly appreciate you doing this interview! Also hoping to not be long winded in my responses to your questions, but I probably will be.

How do you look back at 2019?
2019 was a really great year all around. Spent a lot of it kind of polishing and finishing up my Observer LP. There were a couple new tunes that I ended up writing for it as well. Ended up with a nice little partnership with Werkstatt Recordings and released back in October! Did a lot of cool little promotional projects for it, which sometimes is just as much fun as actually making the music!

What are your plans for this year?
I already kicked off the year with a couple new tunes I released independently on my own bandcamp page. "2020 Vision" which is a real fun and funky style song. "Heartfeeder" which is kind of an over the top cheesfest/love song. As much as I would like to play "Heartfeeder" off as just an exercise in cheese, it's honestly a bit more meaningful than that and has to do with my wife and our awesome future together! Really hoping to keep some good creative energy going this year and release some more fun stuff!


Talking about your latest album ¨Observer¨, what can you tell us about this album?
I actually started writing and putting this record together back in winter of 2017/2018. I had been experimenting with the style for a bit at this time, and I just kind of got on a roll with it and started to develop my own little take and method.


I had not touched a microphone since I was about 19, so this ended up being a very interesting experience. Recording vocals was brand new. Given my studio setup, I almost kind of had to develop a technique not just in how I processed them, but in how I had to contort my voice in order to make the end product sound somewhat pleasant.

There is also kind of a silly sci-fi concept for the record. It's based around a story of an artificial intelligence experiment being forced to evolve and learn by observing people's interactions on social media. This obviously doesn't end well.

In reality, while I was writing a lot of this music, I had no intentions of doing vocals or writing lyrics. So usually, I had a beer or two in me when I would decide to do those things. In the meantime, leading up to that I would scroll through Facebook or whatever, and I have this really bad habit of diving into comments on somewhat controversial topics. Ultimately, I would end up incredibly disgusted by the way people talk to each other and behave. That's where a lot of these lyrics derived from.

For quite some time I was very apprehensive about releasing this at all due to the content being a bit darker. Even went back and tried to re-write lyrics. It just never made sense or fit though. Most synthwave imagery you see is all sunsets, palm-trees, cool cars and babes! I started to think about a lot of sci-fi from the era though. Robocop, Blade Runner etc. All of it is set in this dystopian world with darker themes. So I ended up feeling like there was some room for this kind of expression.

The last song, "Decimation", is basically the part in the story where this program somehow manages to "push the big red button" thinking it will solve the problems of the world by simply ending it. For me, again in reality, this is the equivalent to waking up the next morning, making a cup of coffee and sitting on my porch with my mind completely clear. So, I sort of push that button in my own life. I think we all do, or we would end up going insane.

Yeah, it's very silly. It's all in fun though.

What equipment do you use in your studio?
Everything I do revolves around Ableton Live. It's an amazing piece of software and it's very intuitive for guys like me who just want to jam and not be stuck staring at an arrangement or tediously drawing notes on a piano roll. You can totally still do that if you want, but I usually wait until the outline of a song is done to get in and work on details.

It also comes with an amazing visual programming environment called "Max for Live", which is actually software Max/MSP integrated into the Ableton Live workflow. Put simply, it enables me to build/program my own instruments, effects and most importantly, sequencers. When I started piecing all of this together and learning, making music became so much more fluid.

Jon Benderr - Studio

I've actually been able to hack/modify some hardware controllers I have in order to feel like I'm working with real hardware like I used to back when I first started in electronic music.

For hardware, I have a Novation Launchpad and Launchcontrol. Arturia Beatstep, and an Arturia Keystep. All this stuff out of box is pretty simple and kind of boring. With some of the things I have developed in Max, they become pretty useful and inspiring.

I also recently acquired a Korg Minilogue, a real analogue synth. I'm absolutely in love with it and actually used this a bit on "2020 Vision" and "Heartfeeder". The built in sequencer was actually a huge inspiration for a Max based sequencer I recently released.

What other musicians do inspire you?
Going back to when I first started getting into electronic music, there were 3 really big ones. Orbital, Skinny Puppy and Depeche Mode. As well as a lot of the usual suspects in industrial music. Those 3 were the reason I would bug my dad to take me to the gear shop so I could goof around on the synths.

I eventually got really into braindance/IDM with artists like Aphex Twin, Autechre, D'Arcangelo, and then some hardcore/breakcore stuff like Krumble, Tech Diff, Xanopticon etc.

Like to dabble a lot in garage sorta styles as well. Burial being one of the more well known artists to really take the sound in a new direction.

I think a lot of this really kind of lead me into a synthwave sort of thing because there is a tendency to reach for these nice warm and fuzzy synth textures and sounds when writing music like all of that. A lot of that analogue "warblyness" as I like to call it.

There were always kind of little tastes of "retro" stuff here and there over the years before I knew that synthwave was a thing. Washed Out kind of had a bit of the vibe going on and I absolutely loved their first EP. Jensen Sportag with the "One Lane Lovers" single had this super funky late ´80s/early ´90s r&b kinda thing. Little Dragon had some retro vibes all over the place.


I hate to say it, but Gunship's first record blew me away and kind of blew open the door on the world of synthwave (a little late to the party, but I at least showed up...ha!). A blog I frequent visited had posted the video for Tech Noir. In the thumbnail, I just saw that it had stop motion animation and mindlessly clicked on it. The first chorus dropped and so did my jaw. I feel like they genuinely just a had a shitload of fun making that record.

From that point on, a lot I listened to in the genre was just absolutely amazing. It's just a fun thing. I think over analyzing it is kind of silly and missing the point.

How is the synthwave scene in Cleveland, Ohio?
As far as I know, there really isn't one? We did have FM-84, The Midnight and I believe Dance with the Dead came through. I was at the FM-84 show and they actually had a really nice turn out. The thing about Cleveland is an artist planning a smaller tour can stop here and easily pull from Detroit, Pittsburgh, Columbus and even Cincinnati. Assuming they have the following to support that, which for sure those guys do.

What do you like most about the ´80s?
Probably video games. I actually don't even play modern games, but ´80s/´90s era stuff is the best. Especially actual arcades.

I actually have a couple cabinets. One is the classic upright style. Was a completely gutted and beat up Asteroids cab that I picked up for 50$. Put a PC in it, built the control panel, custom marquee, carefully curated games list of stuff I remember vividly. Not all ´80s era, but quite a few.

Also have a sit down Daytona USA driving style cabinet. OF COURSE it has Outrun! Also have some flight sticks on a swivel arm that you can pull over to play the classic Star Wars, After Burner, Cobra Command and a lot of others.

Have to give an honorable mention though to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! Of all of the "half hour long toy commercials posing as coherent television", they were quite possibly the biggest, the best and maybe last true behemoth of the genre!

And finally, any last words to the synthwave community?
Keep making amazing music! I'm also seriously interested in working with others in any way, shape or form! Even if it's just a curiosity and someone wants to hear a weird remix!

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