An Interview with David Grellier of College
David Grellier on “Shanghai” and the Future of The Valerie Collective
Recently DRIVE had the honor of speaking with a synthwave legend, David Grellier, aka “College.” Among many other sonic accomplishments, his contributions to the Drive soundtrack helped greatly to catapult synthwave into the public spotlight and creating a modern revival of the genre. Many artists directly credit him as their inspiration.
We began by speaking about his newest album – the ambient work “Shanghai” – which was released in April. He explained the details behind his concept for the album came directly from his travels and the history behind those locations.
“This album is like my previous album, Northern Council because it is a concept album based on my souvenirs – my memories of my first trip in China, in Shanghai. The idea behind it was to express the first feelings we can have when we imagine a destination like Shanghai,” he said.
“For me, what I had in mind before I started the composition of this album was the beginning of this century in Shanghai and that very important century in the history of Shanghai during the Colonial period….It was not a great time. I think it was very awful for a lot of people…with the opium war in Shanghai, and everything else… but all the architectures, costumes and fashions, it was at the beginning of many things special to the arts.”
In spite of the new ambient sound we’ve heard this year – Grellier related that this doesn’t represent a fundamental change to College. Instead, his ambient works are simply him coming up with new ideas and expressing them – an effort to change up the tone and not remain stagnant.
“My goal was to not to change the direction of the College style. Just doing and express what I had in mind, my ideas. For this album, I used ambient style of composition with different things. Maybe more 90’s synths. Yes, my goal was never to, with College, to create something very new. My main idea is to do and to express what I had in mind,” he spoke. “I think like most of my influences came from the cinema on the TV. If you look into the 90’s sound, in cinema or in TV, they used more what I call “Cold” synths, I think, more dream sounds. We see that in the composition of the great artists like Mark Snow for the TV series X Files, Angelo Badalamenti from Twin Peaks, obviously, but also there are some Japanese composers like Joe Isaishi who works with Takeshi Kitano. Yes with that it’s more cold, it’s more ambient but what I want to find, and that’s what I want to do also for just this this album, not College, but “Shanghai.” Those were my references.”
When it came to the actual creation of the album, the synth king Grellier explained through sporadic laughter he uses Fruity Loops and VST’s for almost all of his production. He also explained that, for him, the most difficult part of the song isn’t the start, but the end.
“I am not a technical guy at all,” he says with a laugh. “I use the same software – fruity loops – for this album to compose and I changed just the VST. I used some Korg VST this times but the way I create my songs was, is actually the same. I never sequence my tracks. I compose the melody, and everything is very simple. When I record the track, I record live and I yes, I mute some parts of the tracks to compose the warm tracks but I never wrote the complete tracks before, but it was not only for this album, since the beginning of College. That’s my specific way of doing. Also, because I’m frustrated to know when a track will be ended and or it will end. I prefer to starting the recording session and see what happens.”
As the interview winds down, we ask about the status of the Valerie Collective. The hugely influential project has been increasingly silent over recent years, and some have begun to worry that Valerie was coming to an end.
Grellier explained the importance of Alexander Burkart to the project, and related that Valerie is not over. Rather, their lives have changed with the addition of children, and they simply have less time to create new art. Importantly, because synthwave and its tropes have become so popular, it is harder and harder to create something new, as Grellier strives to imbue his music with creativity. However, new “College” is coming… eventually.
“I think we started 10 years ago now. Running a blog and searching for new things in terms of arts – it’s really important for Valerie the artworks. We developed the design of my album covers and all the Valerie universe with the help of Alexander Burkart…10 years it’s a long time, so we’ve explored many parts of what we think it was interesting to explore.”
“Of course, we still have new ideas with Alexander, he’s my friend of Valerie, but our lives change also. Most of my friend and I have kids now. Things takes more times more than back then. We always want to create new music and find new ideas, artwork, et cetera, but I think now we are just exploring many places to find new.”
“It’s not more difficult…but I think we need more time, if we don’t want to stay in the same mood. When you look at all the new synthwave artists…sometimes there is, for me, a lack of creativity. Of course, I don’t speak for all the projects, but a great many of the projects use only the same visuals. “
“…Yes, it’s difficult to find a new creation inside to say, “Okay, it’s influenced by the 80’s,” which is a great thing to be influenced by the 90’s and 80’s or the 70’s….But to find a new idea inside to explore, it’s the main important thing, I think. That’s what we try to do with Valerie since 10 years. We still have many ideas to explore but we are too searching for ideas. Sometimes it takes time to create.”
“I thought I will have started a new album but I’m not in a rush. I released two albums this year, so now I want to take times to produce the next one. Yes, I have many ideas in mind. I’m really excited to start doing the new composition.”