‘Miami On My Mind’ – Morgan Willis on Miami Vice, the State of Synth, and Performing with Prince

It’s fair to say French synth impresario, Morgan Willis, has been a busy man this year. Not content with releasing a new LP – Damier Club – and playing live at shows in Paris and New York, he’s about to drop a much anticipated vinyl edition of his opus, ‘Miami Calling’. 

If that wasn’t enough, he’s got live shows in Los Angeles and London this month and travels to Italy later in the Summer for another live performance.

It’s a hectic schedule that shatters the myth that the Synthwave scene might be dying. And if it is slowing down, then he certainly isn’t. 

We caught up with Morgan Willis ahead of the vinyl release of ‘Miami Calling’; an open love letter to Anthony Yerkovich and Michael Mann’s TV series Miami Vice, and perhaps even more pointedly, to Jan Hammer’s much loved score.

Originally self-released in 2016, Morgan’s re-interpretation of that infamous soundtrack is as close as you could get to an authentic counterpart to the original and it’s clearly a body of work that he’s proud of. 

“Michael Mann did such an amazing job creating the aesthetics and atmosphere of the show and it’s definitely inspired me since my teenage years.

“When I started working on ‘Miami Calling’ I was in a very creative phase, so much so that I could’ve written a song every day if I put my mind to it.”

The new edition, released today on TimeSlave Recordings, is a double LP – made necessary by the sheer scale of the project – and it comes with a stunning redesign of the artwork, by MikaeliFX.

“To be honest, it could have easily ended up being 100 songs, it was just so personal to me. But I don’t think I realised just how big an impact the concept would end up having. I guess that’s why it’s taken me so long to release physicals for the album, because for many years it was only available digitally.

“I still enjoy listening to it today. Some artists have even told me that the album inspired them in their music, which makes me feel immensely proud.”

Whilst Miami Calling leans heavily into a very specific concept and aesthetic of the 1980s, it’s always clear from Morgan’s discography that nostalgia plays a big part in his creative process. You can obviously feel its presence in the sound, and the visual presentation of his albums, but I sense an authentic emotional connection to the decade as well.

“Oh yeah, it’s definitely all three. 

“Like most people who were born around the same time, I have a lot of memories which are magical for me and which always inspire me. Working on new projects allows me to dive back into these memories and this nostalgia that I love. I’m also heavily inspired by the cinema of the time.

“Visuals are very important in my creative process too, and the 80s were so rich in creation and freedom, and this legacy will leave an imprint forever in my music.”

You can also hear a quintessentially ‘French’ touch (pun intended) to his work.

“Yeah, there’s no question that here in France we are spoiled for choice where electronic music is concerned, so I could name many acts and artists who have inspired me. But it has to be Daft Punk first and foremost. 

“I don’t think it’s any secret that they have played an important role in my musical universe – whether that’s in terms of composition or playing live. Other artists, as well, like Justice are an influence, but Daft Punk is Daft Punk!”

The Morgan Willis project started during his teenage years, composing his earliest tracks as a bedroom producer, whilst still living with his parents. It’s a concept that he’s refined over time, especially since becoming one of the Synthwave scene’s most in demand live performers. 

In fact, he’s performing at our show in London next month, the aptly named ‘Miami 89’. [Tickets Available Here]

I ask him what fans should expect from a Morgan Willis gig. 

“I don’t play any characters. I’ve always been myself and that will never change. 

“Morgan willis and I are one, I’m the same everyday as the one you’ll see on stage on June 17th”.

A lot has been said about the health of the Synthwave scene, having been going strong for well over a decade, but Morgan Willis is an artist who remains fortunate enough to play regular shows across the world – whilst continuing to release new albums at a prolific rate.

He firmly believes that the scene can continue to grow, so long as producers are willing to experiment and push the boundaries of the genre.

“Of course it can, but you have to evolve with time and make sure you don’t repeat the same waves that have been surfed a thousand times over.

“You have to evolve. You have to explore new horizons while staying true to the Synthwave ‘imprint’ and nostalgia. The possibilities are immense, so I always believe that you cannot be afraid to take risks, no matter what the haters think.

“Synthwave is not dead for me. It’s still an underground scene and there are so many good artists making the music that I discover everyday. That’s a real treat.”

Our time is running out. He’s a busy man, about to head off for a show next week in Los Angeles. 

It’s a glamorous lifestyle.

With time for one more question, I ask him for his dream collaboration; he can work with any artist, dead or alive…

“That’s a very difficult question! It’s hard to choose one, but I would have to say PRINCE I think… For me he was a genius. I love his musical work, his style, everything. 

“PRINCE & MORGAN WILLIS. Damn it, that would be amazing!”

I can’t help but agree. 

‘Miami Calling’ is available from 5pm UK this Friday 2nd June and will be available on 2xLP vinyl and digital. HERE

You can also pick up tickets for his gig at Miami 89 on the 17th June in London HERE. The lineup also features Futurecop!, New Arcades and IVERSEN.

Written by Enzo Van Baelen

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