QSC Aspiring Interview: VHS Celebs on new album and '80s throwbacks

Believe and sixtyhertz from electronica collective VHS Celebs, an unlikely duo that crossed paths chasing tornadoes across the midwest, join Headliner for a chat to discuss all things music, including their recently released ‘80s tinged debut album, Multiplex

Despite being a relatively new project, VHS Celebs – made up of talented musicians Believe and sixtyhertz – have been making waves in the synthwave scene with their blend of ‘80s pop culture, futuristic house and electronica. Each immersed in their respective music worlds from a young age, the pair came together to create a nostalgic, innovative sound that seeks to push the boundaries of contemporary electronic music, and have not looked back since.

Sixty cut his chops in Tony Maserati’s studio in L.A, and soon found himself working with artists directly as a monitor engineer and stage tech. That transpired into working for Live Nation, managing tours out on the road. In contrast, the young Believe would lay vocal chops over hip-hop instrumentals to make tapes for his school friends, eventually finding himself signed to Sugar Hill Records and Sylvia Robinson’s label as a rapper.

“I did a string of hip-hop albums in my mid 20s,” Believe recalls. “I’m a fan of a lot of different types of music, and wanted to experiment, so I bought a guitar and toured all the big festivals with my band. We did everything ourselves, so I’ve been on the DIY side of things for a while.

“It turned out me and Justin (sixty) had a mutual friend named Jeremy Dawson, who's in a band called Shiny Toy Guns, and we were actually both chasing tornadoes with Jeremy when we met. We figured out that we had a similar taste in music and we started a relationship from there, making songs and finding a groove that became our signature.”

How does one get into chasing tornadoes, Headliner asks…

“You have a crazy friend from Oklahoma that chases tornadoes for his birthday every year,” sixty replies with a chuckle. “And he throws you in the truck and says look at this computer; tell me which way to go!”

As far as VHS Celebs is concerned, sixty produces the music, Believe writes and records the lyrics, and then both mix and master it together themselves: “I think we have an idea of how we want to sound more so than anyone else,” Believe asserts, “and it's a lot easier to just do it ourselves rather than trying to explain that.

“I feel like the music should almost dictate the lyrics. So sixty will send me a track and it'll have a name, and I'll usually just try and go off whatever he named it in the mood of the music and try to come up with lyrics from there. It was really organic how that all started.”

If their name wasn’t half a giveaway, VHS Celebs love movies, especially those they grew up with in the ‘80s. Paying homage to their favourite films, each of their music videos for their new album, Multiplex, parodies an iconic flick from the era – starring themselves of course.

“I wanted something that felt ‘80s but still felt future..."

“From a production standpoint, I wanted to make something that sounded cinematic,” explains sixty. “I do have a couple of analogue pieces of gear, but I'm producing most of this stuff in the box. I try to create a real ‘80s sounding synth melody, and then build the drums around that to lay down the tempo and vibe of the track. Then I’ll add a baseline and some elements like vocal samples and snippets, whether they're chops or layers, just to fill out the sound and add atmosphere to the chorus.

“One of my favourite plugins that we used a lot on this record was Super VHS by Baby Audio. It’s a distortion plugin where you can apply different settings to the filters to really eighties-fy a MIDI riff or sample. That's kind of been a secret weapon for me on Multiplex. I also love the U-He Diva; a lot of baselines that I made on this record were made with that soft synth.”

Around the time they met chasing tornadoes, sixty sent Believe a track that would eventually become Don’t Cry, from the duo’s new record. It was a sound that Believe had been seeking for a long time.

“I had talked to several producers about doing a project that was more in the vein of Gary Numan, Two Way Army, Prince; more avantgarde, experimental stuff,” he says. “So when he (sixty) sent me the track it was just perfect. It sounds like it could have been made in the ‘80s, or it could have been made yesterday. And that's what I wanted - something that felt ‘80s but still felt future.”

Deciding they needed to collaborate further and grow their sound, the pair made a few more tracks together and discovered their shared love of film. And so the idea for their concept album, Multiplex, was born.

“Sixty went to film school, and I've always been a film buff,” Believe adds. “And so it gave us the opportunity to play around with trying to condense these movies into three minute stories that we could tell, with limited cast and limited resources. But we felt like the result would be hilarious either way. We did all the directing, filming and casting, and our friends helped us out a lot.”

As a musical pairing who clearly have a flair for the dramatic, both Believe and sixty are excited to head out on the road for the entire month of April, playing Multiplex to some iconic venues on both the east and west coasts.

“We’ll also be doing a listening party for our new single that’s in the works - it’s called Hell Of A Guy,” Believe reveals. “We recorded it with the ‘80s group the System and we'll be releasing that in April while we're on the road. Then we'll be ending the tour at Neotropolis, a cyberpunk festival in California which is a totally amazing event.”

“Shout out QSC; they make great speakers and I’m using their PAs all the time on tours that I'm on,” sixty chimes in. “Play Out Loud, to me, means express yourself, and harness your own creativity. I made music for a long time but kind of kept it a secret, and didn't share it with anybody. I wasn't very confident at that time that it was very good. I think the way that I was exposed to audio engineering and music production – I saw it from some of the best in the business – made me develop a harsh perfectionism about some of the stuff that I do.

“I've since evolved and grown up from that, so to me Play Out Loud means expressing myself and my own creativity. I'm super proud to have done this project by ourselves completely, working directly with Believe, and I think it's an important part of the human experience in life.”