After a decade of lurking around blog posts and soundtracks, synthwave is having a moment. As evidenced by the crossover success of the Stranger Things score and the presence of cult duo Magic Sword in the trailer for Thor: Ragnarok, the genre — built upon a fondness for '80s-era analog synths and prominent bass lines — is no longer confined to niche, extremely online audiences. It has broken through to the mainstream.
Seth Haley, better known by his artist moniker Com Truise, is one of synthwave’s largest looming artists. His debut EP, 2010’s Cyanide Sisters, remains a touchstone, popular among practitioners of the genre and newcomers alike. Haley’s music occupies a weird space between atmospheric and forceful, with cymbal crashes meeting woozy, drunken synths to produce a sound that’s both funky and intoxicating.
But even after helping to define synthwave’s aesthetics visually and sonically, Haley is reluctant to pigeonhole his work.
“I think my music is a slight departure from [synthwave] these days. I mean, it's still synthy, but I just never thought I really fit in that category,” Haley says of the grandiose shift in sound accompanying his latest record, June’s Iteration. “I definitely consider my music synthwave as like a subgenre of electronic music, but in the end, it's all electronic music.”
Haley will perform his specific brand of electronic music tomorrow at Floyd, where he will be joined by producer Nosaj Thing and Australian singer-songwriter Cleopold. It’s the latest in a series of tours that have allowed him to both continually refine his live visuals and gauge how audiences are responding to his work.
“I think a lot of people are still... formulating their own opinions of the record. I think it's too new still almost; a lot of people just expect the old stuff,” Haley says. Given Iteration’s expanded definition of what Com Truise songs can sound like, Haley believes it might take a while for audiences to get used to hearing the album’s songs alongside favorites such as “VHS Sex” and “Slow Peels.” But Haley is confident his audience will adjust. “I've thought that since I started; everybody likes the older stuff, and as the years go by, they gravitate towards the most recent [material]. And it's been interesting to see."
Applying perfectionism honed during a career in advertising to his music and performances, Haley produces visuals that he triggers and manipulates during his set. It would be easy for him to rest on his laurels and allow the visuals to be set in stone, but instead, he leaves room for improvisation and experimentation.
“I have a couple LED panels that go behind me, and I just play content that I've created and I adjust it on the fly,” he says, adding he “really likes how it’s looking so far."
“I still put new stuff in all the time, but it's definitely a work in progress. Some of the stuff is programmed across the tracks, but some of it's triggered as well."
Haley looks forward returning to Miami because it’s one of the few tour destinations that allow him to relax and absorb what he’s up to instead of being trapped in a mode of “rush, rush, rush.”
“When I came to play at Bardot, they put me up at the Standard,” he recalls. “I was just sitting outside watching the little lizards run around in the hotel. It was a really relaxing experience.”
Given how intensely he has toured as of late, Haley hopes to rejuvenate his creative energy before setting to the task of writing new Com Truise songs. Looking ahead, he plans to simplify the process and avoid the pitfalls of perfectionist tendencies.
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“I think too many options kind of obstruct creativity,” he says, reflecting on the sheer amount of gear, software, and plug-ins he has used to generate new sounds. “You can kind of get lost, and you know what they say: Keep it simple. And that's kind of what I'm trying to do.”
When he does return, Haley intends to continue to follow his creative inclinations, unencumbered by genre trappings and expectations.
“I'll always love '80s synths and stuff, but I want to keep trying to turn those things into something that doesn't feel like the '80s, you know? I mean, the '80s were a very interesting time — a lot happened — but I don't really want to sound '80s. I just want to write electronic music using that equipment and shape it my own weird way.”