Q+A: 5 Minutes with Highway Superstar
Alex Karlinsky, better known as Highway Superstar, has been steadily making a name for himself in retro and synthwave music circles.
He was tapped by Swedish filmmaker David Sandberg to write an exclusive track for the short-film Kung Fury, the soundtrack to which, was later released by Universal Music. This resulted in the creation of his track ‘Careful Shouting’ – and he’s gone on to leave a trail of success in his wake, including work with labels Aztec, Electronic Purification Records, and NewRetroWave.
He previously released two records, Take My Time and Endgame, on the well-respected US/Canadian Rosso Corsa Records – home of prominent retro acts Miami Nights 1984, Mitch Murder, and Lazerhawk.
He is now about to unveil his latest work, Contraband, which has been two years in the making. The album is set to drop on November 19th via Dive Into Music, and has already seen the release of it’s first single ‘Pangea.’
We caught up with the renowned synthwave producer for a glimpse into the upcoming album, as well as some insight into his creative processes:
Set the tone for us. Why the arts?
Music is what I know, and what I’ve been doing all my life. There’s music in my soul and songs in my head that need to take form. That’s just how it must be!
Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?
Whenever an idea comes, usually it’s backed by a sound I can already hear in my head. When sounds come they’re not necessarily backed by concrete ideas, but if they’re good enough, I try to make an idea encompass them as I build the composition.
Does your material feature any collaborations?
I love collaborations, writing with other people and letting others into my musical world. The new album has a lot of collaborators including Sally Shapiro and Johan Agebjorn, Zoe Polanski, Doubleboy and Sharon who’s been singing vocals on all of my live shows.
What’s on your current playlist?
Allie X, Blood Orange, Samantha Urbani, Sally Shapiro, Shura, Oliver, Steely Dan, Gaspard Augé, Brothertiger
Tell us about the chemistry you have with your fans on stage.
There’s no other feeling like it in the world to have people react to your songs in real-time. It’s an amazing connection that seems to transcend beyond what’s physical, but I’m still learning to be present in the moment and soak it all in, instead of being hyper-focused on performance and everything that goes into the delivery of the song.
What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?
I love all things retro, so I collect old synths which I tend to blend with modern production techniques.
Take us through a day in the recording studio.
I usually start by sitting by the piano or a synth and just play, dial-in sounds I like and just flow with until I get an interesting musical thing going. Alternatively,
Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?
I don’t think there was a specific “eureka” moment. There were little realizations that happened step by step with the process, little realizations as I go along until at one point I found myself being very comfortable in this world where songs flow from the mind to the hands playing them and then onto a recording system.
What do you keep close by while you’re playing a set?
Any emerging artists on your radar?
My friend Sunglasses Kid who’s just a monster of a producer, Duett, his side-project Alpiine, and Zoe Polanski who’s a collaborator on my track “Slow Motion” has an amazing solo project.
What gets your creative juices flowing?
I’m really inspired by simply listening to music. When I get excited over something new it inspires me to create more myself.
Take us through your collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.
Roland Juno 106, Yamaha DX7, Casio CZ-1000, Emu Emax, Korg DW8000, Roland TR707, and a bunch of Rackspace gear that all go into a Cubase based system with heaps of plugins.
Any side projects you’re working on?
I like playing session keyboards for bands and various other productions in bands. Recently, I just hooked up with a bunch of friends that happen to be incredible musicians. We compiled a list of 30 songs and just went into a practice room to jam them all. It’s really important for me to keep myself grounded and finding joy in music even if it’s not purposeful like creating under an artist name, just jam with my friends!
How have you refined your craft since you entered the industry?
The technical aspect of making music is definitely a skill, and I like to learn new things as I go. I’m definitely not the same in terms of the road I’ve been through since I started, and I learned a lot by making this album as well. Sometimes I find myself thinking on how I would approach an element had I not known how to tackle it, and I find that thinking about a challenge in an original way makes you more creative rather than just following what you know in a procedural way. I think it’s important to step outside the process and think about the bigger picture. Sometimes the element itself seems so insignificant comparingly, it can be skipped altogether, making sure I’m not just working on stuff for the sake of working, or for the sake of habit.
Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from you this year?
I’m really excited about Contraband. It’s an album that’s been in the oven for two years and I’ve been working on it nonstop for the last few months. There will be a music video for one song at the very least too, and I hope with all my heart that it would be feasible to do live shows, as it’s a challenge with flights at the moment.
Once things start rolling, an album launch party will absolutely be in the cards.
Famous last words?
Stay healthy, stay curious, and hope to see you in my socials 🙂
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