Jon Thomson, an Oregon based musician who performs under the stage name of Ethereal Delusions, is a prime example of an artist who is constantly honing their craft and is therefore always moving slightly away from the pack in the process in order to forge their own sound in a genre that too often rides the wave. Jon is just simply not afraid to mix things up, try something new, and experiment with his sound on each subsequent release. This makes each album not only unique in their own way but in turn it leaves the listener wondering what’s going to come next and Jon’s latest offering, The Descent, is by far his darkest departure.
However, to fully appreciate where he is now we must understand where he started, who he is exactly, and what brought him to this point; so who or what exactly is Ethereal Delusions? “Sometimes it’s my wife Rhonda, who will help, other times it’s my dog Boo who will lend an ear but really it all starts and ends with me” Jon explained, “and I have been doing music in some form my whole life. I started singing in my church choir when I was young and then began playing clarinet in the school orchestra while in middle school. I moved on to guitar and mandolin after that, but came to synthwave with the help of my brother-in-law KiLoSo. He introduced me to Carpenter Brut and after I heard “Paradise Warfare” it was over. I wanted to figure out what that music was and how I could make it. That was in 2013, so I started making synthwave around then and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
In fact, when going back and listening to the earliest material that Jon released on his Bandcamp account, you can certainly get a sense of those Carpenter Brut influences but this isn’t to say that his music is entirely dictated by one artist or genre. “I have an extremely eclectic taste in music,” Jon stated, “really there isn’t any kind that I don’t like. By far though, prog bands like Rush, Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, Opeth and the ilk are what really informed my taste and really my style as a musician. I started getting into prog metal and rock as a teenager as I learned to play the guitar as I’ve always love the dynamic nature of prog music because It’s never the same thing. My past work has been very prog heavy, but with this album [The Descent], I wanted to draw from my love of metal. I really love doom metal like Katatonia and blacker stuff like Dimmu Borgir, Carach Angren and Wolves in the Throne Room. The Descent started as a fun way to make some horror movie style music, but along the way the stuff I was writing was much darker. Most dark synth stuff I have heard was very house like so I wanted to write this album drawing very heavily from the black metal side, especially the drumming, so I embraced the beast and let the evil flow into my keys.”
Speaking of his keys, or more specifically the keys in which he uses, Jon utilizes a variety of synths both on the soft and hard side to create his music which have evolved as much as he has as an artist from album to album. “When I started writing and releasing, I was 100% digital, partly out of necessity since I couldn’t afford hardware and partly out of ignorance because I didn’t know anything about synthesizers” Jon admitted. “As I’ve gotten more into music, beyond just the theory and construction of music, I’ve becoming more and more interested in the construction of sound. Over the last year I’ve gotten a couple synthesizers such as an Arturia Microbrute and a Korg M1. Shutter Shades was 100% digital, Ascension utilized the microbrute and The Descent has both the M1 and the microbrute.” With such a drastic change in gear over a short amount of time, and each album therefore benefiting from a different level of production as a result, one has to wonder how it has overall affected Jon in terms of a tonal shift with each subsequent release especially in regards to the more heavier sound on The Descent. Jon clarified by saying that “going from light to dark for me has been fun, especially since I love the bombastic and theatrical sounding stuff. Ever since I started I’ve loved the Korg M1’s sounds, especially with it’s voice choir samples. So now to actually have a real one is amazing and it has lent a very full sound to my music. The biggest difference really between the light and dark material is just the style of sound I use. All my instruments are capable of the harder stuff, but now I’m just fully realizing it.”
Of course, in many cases, with gear comes the opportunity to play shows live and Jon has certainly hit the ground running in this case like he’s running a marathon by going up and down the west coast. “I really LOVE touring!” Jon exclaimed when the topic was brought up. “I was terrified when I went on my first one, and thought that I was going to hate it, but it was the complete opposite; I had an amazing time! Honestly, the pace of it all, the get up, travel, play music, rinse and repeat is really the way for me. I really started to feel like not just an artist but a musician. There’s nothing like the experience of performing live and as a result I feel really good about how I’ve progressed as an artist. It took me a while to become confident as a performer, for sure, with the first dozen or so times being so focused on just playing everything correctly. Now that I’ve got a good year of performing under my belt, I’m confident in my own ability to play my songs as written, so I can improvise while I play as well so as not to be stiff as a board, haha. Now I just need to get lights and a fog machine!”
When asked what’s next, in terms of touring, Jon stated that “right now I don’t have any shows booked because, as you can imagine, writing for a project is all consuming but it’s been great to have the time to focus. Now that The Descent is complete I’m just going to be back to normal writing for the rest of the year. I want to seriously start booking more shows. I’d love to play some more shows with Shades-Triangle and Pleasure Curses. I toured with Shades, played a show with Pleasure Curses, and both are extremely talented groups. I’ve done the northwest tour, I’ve played Portland three times, once opening for Anoraak and twice on tour I’ve played Seattle. My next goal is Vancouver, BC and California. Ideally I’d love to tour down the coast all the way to San Diego.”
As has been alluded to enough times at this point, Jon’s latest release in the form of The Descent is indeed a bit of a darker turn as it’s unsettling, unrelenting, and unforgiving in it’s execution. The Descent showcases Ethereal Delusions with their darkest, heaviest, and rawest sound yet, but for Jon himself it’s not so much something entirely new but an extensive part of his overall creative process that is finally coming more to the forefront. “I seem to go in these cycles where in the summer I write very dark and the winter very light and happy” Jon explained, “two of the tracks on this release (“Draguluin” and “Battle Mode: Engaged”) I wrote leading up to the release of my last album, Ascension. I really liked them and thought they had legs, so I revisited them. Once I completed them I kind of felt this turn happening, that what I was writing was very dark and much heavier than I had done before. It really came out of a sense of wanting to explore my darker side and that love of heavy music. I’m not sure what the future will bring for my writing after this, but more than likely I’ll be more ready and willing to embrace my dark side.”
In fact, there has been quite an embracement of said dark side within a lot of synthwave producers as of late, with those who were previously known for more lighthearted fare now giving into that dark side of the synth as well. When asked why he thought this was the case, Jon answered that “it’s so common really that it’s become a bit of a meme. I’m sure you’ve see the meme with Kurt Russell? I can’t speak for the whole scene, but again I’ve always been drawn to heavy and dark music. When I was very little I loved darker sounding music like Bach and Beethoven. I have a deep love of metal, so it was really cool to draw on that for this stuff. For me too I think it has something to do with the synthesis. Dark and heavy bass has a way with me. Way more than light and twinkly. I also really love horror films. When I started this project, I wanted to just do a couple classic horror film inspired songs for Halloween, but then it became darker. I decided to embrace it and really went with it even though I’m a pretty happy person and seem normal, but really I have a very dark mind. I think my love of dark things like horror and other such things comes from my night terrors. From what I understand it’s very common in children but fairly rare in adults. I’ve suffered from night terrors my entire life and still do to this day. I’ll go through bouts of night terrors and sleep paralysis. My song “Night Terror” on my album Ascension is based off my experiences with them. It’s gnarly, but I’m able to harness it in my creative process, which is nice.”
Much like how Jon isn’t the only one in the scene lately to go dark, he’s not alone on this album either as there are a few other producers who are featured on a number of tracks. As someone who is no stranger to collaborating, having done so with a number of different acts for quite a few songs on his prior albums, the query was nonetheless inquired about those he worked with on The Descent due to it’s darker nature. “The two collaborations on this album, “Chamber of the Beast” and “Draguluin,” were all done with close friends” Jon stated about the process. “I wrote most of “Draguluin” and then sent it to my good friend Luna aka The Powerwalker who proceeded to go to town with it and then, when I got it back from them, I got my friend TONEDEAF in on it to scream. That track turned into something special. “Chamber of the Beast” I wrote with the intention of having some shredding guitar on it and luckily my friend Luke aka Lyoko is a really great progressive metal guitarist. He and I have experimented on making some house music before, therefore I knew that he could play, so I sent it to him and he just went absolutely nuts. His solos are so good and so precise. He’s a real talent.”
Perhaps the greatest partnership to come out of The Descent is the one that Jon has struck with Scott Forte, and his label RetroSynth Records, of which Ethereal Delusions is now an official member. When asked how this came about, Jon related the story: “I met Scott Forte through a friend of mine, Flammen, who is also on the label. Scott had initially offered to release The Descent and, once we started seriously talking, we hit it off and decided to make the arrangement permanent. This will be my first official release with RetroSynth and I’m really excited about the partnership overall and of what we can build on going forward.” With all the tools and talent that Jon has at his disposal, and the powerhouse of a label that RetroSynth Records has already become, there seems to be no shadow of a doubt that this is a match made in heaven. As for raising a little hell, much thanks to Jon and Scott for allowing Heavy Blog to share an early listen to The Descent which will officially release on October 31st care of RetroSynth Records and can be pre-purchased over on Ethereal Delusion’s Bandcamp.
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
We can’t end this without asking: what goes on your perfect pizza and inside your ideal burrito?
“FINALLY!” Jon exclaimed, “the one question in any interview that I’ve been more prepared for than you will ever know! I’m quite passionate about pizza. With my family being Italian, this is something that’s very important to me. I frequent all the pizza places around Corvallis, Oregon to the point where I’m known by my friends as the expert on where to go. I think sometimes I overwhelm people when they ask me where they should go and then I come back asking about unnecessarily specific advice about who has the best crust, toppings, sauce, etc. I’m like the “Report of The Week” about Corvallis, Oregon pizza! I tend to like any kind of pizza, but really my favorite is a very simple one: just pepperoni with pesto. No tomato sauce, just pesto, pepperoni and cheese. The crust though has to be good. My mom, nanni, and family have always made big thick Focaccia like crust with spices and garlic. It’s so good. I really miss my mom’s pizza. I haven’t had it in several years.”
“As for burritos, I love them too. Mexican food is my favorite food that I have no cultural affiliation with. The different regions of Mexico have such wonderful and diverse food traditions, very much akin to Italian culture. I am 100% serious when I say, before I met my wife Rhonda, I considered learning Spanish and moving to Mexico solely for the food. I firmly believe that the burrito is nature’s perfect food. Filling, nutritious, and deliciousness all in a compact and easily handled package. There is a local Mexican restaurant called La Rokita that makes my favorite burritos. All burritos are better than no burritos, but the best in my opinion is chorizo, egg and potato with queso fresco and the spiciest mole roja you can muster!” Hmm, that does sound pretty good…