29 Oct 2020
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PolarisRadio - Interview with PolarisRadio

29 Dec 2019 // An interview by Mike Alexander

PolarisRadio has been transmitting music for the past five years under various guises. The man behind the moniker is Dean Moroney, from Napier in the Hawke’s Bay and his speciality is synthwave. He recently completed a trilogy of albums with the release of Virtual Paradise. Mike Alexander from Muzic.net.nz asked Dean some questions; here's what he had to say:

Who is PolarisRadio and where does he hang out?

PolarisRadio is sort of a multimedia "experience" driven by me - Dean Moroney. I'm based in Napier and come from a background in illustration and design. I've always had an interest in producing content and concepts, and this lends itself to making artwork and music. Nostalgia plays a big role in what I make - even seeing that late 80's logo for DEKA or seeing pink and blue neon lights bring to mind expansive pastel coloured malls and paved walkways of yesteryear and makes me think of the music you'd hear in such a place. PolarisRadio is my take on what would've happened if this retro world stuck around and was given a few thousand years to keep developing and grew into a palm adorned megacity. Don't worry if none of that interests you... it's mainly just a stage name for my music, but all that other stuff is there if you want to look for it!

What got you interested in music?

Initially, I'd say sheer, constant exposure to it. Music has this amazing way of just transporting to you back in time to when you first heard it, and music is really important to my family. So, we listened to a lot of it. And to this day we still go around in circles deciding what to play at a family BBQ!

I have vivid memories of my older sisters playing me their music while I was very young - ranging from cranking a cassette tape of the synth-pop beats of The Pet Shop Boys, to listening to R.E.M. on the radio and being captivated by Peter Buck's strikingly crisp guitar tones. And I'd always want to play the VHS tape that Mum and Dad recorded back in 1985 of the television broadcast of Live Aid - to this day I am still blown away by The Cars performance of Heartbeat City.

Music just embedded itself somewhere in me, and now it's coming back out in a somewhat distorted form of the 80's sounds that got me interested in the first place.

What made you choose that particular stage name?  Does it have anything to do with the North Star or Pole Star?

Actually, yes – kind of. As much as I enjoy the retro-sound, I try to make music sound sort of futuristic... and borderline intergalactic. If you venture far enough out into space and tune into the radio (because obviously your spacecraft has an FM radio...), you might just accidentally stumble onto PolarisRadio. As far as why I chose Polaris... well, I hope this doesn’t sound too superficial... but it was really the only star name that I thought sounded any good! Then again, ‘BetelgeuseAudio’ might’ve been cool... a bit tricky to spell though.

In saying that, I gather you have gone through a few name changes.  Can you tell us a little bit about the origins of PolarisRadio?

To me, PolarisRadio is like coming full circle. I've definitely explored a range of creative outlets, each with different stage names. PolarisRadio is a little bit of all of them... and to be honest with you, it's the only name so far that I don't feel embarrassed to say out loud when introducing my music!

In saying that, I have to give a mention to my first real stage 'Become The Mantis' from nearly a decade ago... this was my first foray into electronic music (So naturally, I decided to go with an insectoid theme. It was unusual.) I had a brief stint as 'Defendr' (the dropped 'e' is deliberate) where I made some more contemporary sounds (Drum and Bass, etc) but I felt this to be a bit limiting (though I did learn a thing or two about sound design though which I still utilise). This led to 'Race to Polaris' - which is essentially who I am now, as PolarisRadio... except I've rearranged some letters (and added some more) to make it catchier. I think I've finally settled on this one.

You have been quite prolific with your music output.  Your latest album Virtual Paradise is the final instalment in a trilogy of albums. Was there a theme behind these albums?

Definitely - I'm glad you picked up on it. You'll notice on the artwork for each one that there's a brightly colour city - one very industrial (Infinity), one very monolithic (Breakneck City) and one very idyllic (Virtual Paradise). Each of them address a different "issue" in the world - respectively: climate change, oppression, and wealth. Musically, the albums act as a sort of 'tour-guide' to each city - but thematically they talk about a distant future where the world is dying, the powers that be don't care (so long as they remain in power) and the rich remain comfortable regardless. But it doesn't seem so far off in the future, does it? I don't want to get too political about it though - there is still much beauty left in the world. I just think it's good to get people thinking when they dig a bit deeper into what the albums mean.

Your music is self-described as "synthwave", a genre I'm not that familiar with?  How would you describe it to the uninitiated?

I’m not surprised, it's only really come to prominence in the last decade or so, and even then it has quite a small following in New Zealand. Small but mighty, though! I think the best way to describe it would be to say that it's the soundtrack to a future envisioned in the 1980's, but that never actually happened. So, it's not exactly 80's music... but it's what you'd imagine hearing in an action sci-fi movie created in 1982 but based in the future. Except it's created with modern techniques, and takes some pretty heavy cues from rock, electronic dance music and even metal. Imagine mixing those massive echoing Phil Collins-esque drums with deep, sweeping synthesiser tones and dramatic guitar licks, working in tandem to create music with so much forward momentum you feel like you're in a training montage. It's lots of fun... and a little bit cheesy. Or maybe a lot cheesy.

Aside, from your own music, who would you recommend as a starting point to curious listeners?

One of the most widely heralded artists in this realm is Kavinsky - his album OutRun brought this sound right out into the open. There's some real classics on that album - including the stunning Nightcall. I'd also recommend Power Glove - they're an Australian duo who have brought on board a very gritty (yet crystal clear) sound that I adore. Their new album Playback is a very well refined masterpiece. And I think Carpenter Brut is one of the most creative producers in this genre - his album Trilogy is a dark synthwave masterpiece, and Leather Teeth paves the way to a great 80's metal sound. Lastly, if you want to go back in time a bit... you can't go past John Carpenter, Jan Hammer and Giorgio Moroder.

Are there "synthwave" raves or gatherings in New Zealand or do you just rock up to a gig and do your own thing?

Wellington is great for this - there's a dedicated scene there. It was only a few months ago that I was lucky enough to play there alongside two of my Wellington-based contemporaries Straylight and Bzzrkr. It was one of the most fun gigs you could imagine - complete with a video-game console set up near the stage for attendees to play, giving the entire night the vibe of being in an underground arcade. I've also played locally, in Hawke's Bay (an opening slot for Otium) - while there may not be a scene here specifically for synthwave music, the audience enjoyed it for what it was. At the end of the day, I don't think the genre label matters too much - as long as people can dance to it and enjoy rocking out, then that's perfectly fine by me.

What's on the agenda for the next six months or, as a musician, do you just play things by ear?

Musically - I'm writing new stuff constantly. I'm getting an itch to put some vocals down and release some songs that aren't just instrumentals - either my own vocals or enlisting the help of others. I'll see what feels and sounds right... play it by ear indeed! I'm hoping to plan out some more gigs soon too. And - on the personal side of things, I'm a proud Dad now to a beautiful little girl. I've got a recording on my phone of her heartbeat that I intend to work into a track as a little theme for her. There's a lot going on and I'm excited about all of it. Somewhere in amongst all this, I need to work in some sleep... but I'll cross that bridge when I need to sleep on it.

 

About PolarisRadio

PolarisRadio produces a blend of instrumental rock and pounding dance beats, with a healthy dose of soaring synthesisers reminiscent of 1980's era movie soundtracks and synthpop anthems.

PolarisRadio’s live shows are a mix of loud guitar, synths and drum triggers, guided by DJ style dance sequences which allow him to seamlessly transition between instruments and tracks with the intention of delivering a hefty dose of energetic dance-rock.

In addition, aesthetics are a notable part of the retro-infused music he produces. PolarisRadio considers a strong visual presence to be vital to his performances, stemming from his background in graphic design and motion graphics. As such, he compliments his music and performances with bright and eye catching imagery, in addition to creating his own album artwork and other media.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for PolarisRadio

Releases

Deadline
Year: 2020
Type: Album
Virtual Paradise
Year: 2019
Type: Album
Labyrinthine
Year: 2019
Type: EP
Breakneck City
Year: 2017
Type: Album
4909: Infinity
Year: 2017
Type: Album

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