Looking around Aaron Gum’s workspace, the walls of synthesizers make for a striking background. One might call it the workshop of a mad scientist. Out of this space, he creates delicate soundscapes and revives nostalgia.
Gum had worked with singer and lyricist Lawrence Deal for a few years on music videos for other bands, including Cannonista and Jump the Tiger. Eventually, Deal had a different idea for a band—what if there was no guitar?
With Gum’s expansive palette of synths and Deal’s haunting lyrics, their shared vision for dark, experimental imagery came to life.
Their first release was a cassette single split with synth-pop duo Vital Organs five years ago. Over the next few years, they released a few music videos on YouTube and singles on Spotify. Visuals have always been a key part of their creative output.
In their early days, Glow in the Dark played shows around Omaha’s goth, industrial, and electronic scenes (which often overlap). The setting makes sense for their musical influences.
“There’s so much out there that ends in wave,” Deal explained. “Synth wave, dark wave, new wave. I love a lot of that stuff that’s an homage to the past.”
Deal infuses literature and philosophy into his lyrics—but “without it being so overwrought that you can’t stand yourself,” he joked. “Anything that has depth and meaning has always been really important to me.” He cites Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus” as an example of this. Danceable, but with depth.
Listeners sometimes say that Glow in the Dark sounds like Stranger Things.
“That show, and AHS 1984… [have] introduced synth wave sound to the masses,” Deal said. “[We’re] at this amazing time right now where old becomes new again.”
When Gum was a kid, everyone else was listening to Def Leppard and Motley Crue. He was listening to movie soundtracks and Weird Al Yankovic. The Transformers soundtrack was where he first experienced synthesizers as a textural element in music.
Gum noted there are not a lot of synthesizer-based bands. For him, the instruments shape his sound more than any particular decade or style. “I don’t really deal in genres,” he said. “Generic terms like new wave. Do we have these elements? I don’t know. I don’t want to keep track of specific requirements of sound.”
“It sounds like a clinical diagnosis,” Deal added.
Now, they are embarking on their full-length debut album—and making it double. “Teenline” is the album they would have released in 2020 before the world shut down, and “Neurotica” is a collection of b-sides and deep tracks.
Currently, they are planning to release on compact disc, as well as a USB drive with songs that would not fit on the other formats. They are also hoping to put out an accompanying VHS to include all of their music videos and some concert photography, and eventually, maybe even vinyl.
As we are in a place where vintage formats are seeing a resurgence, the boundary starts to blur between retro and modern ways of listening to music. Some local artists have released their music on cassette tape.
The first half, “Teenline,” is musically and conceptually born from the synth. Deal views it as more linear pop songs, with “Neurotica” as its jagged, oddball counterpart. With track names like “Netscape and Chill,” they nod to the relationship between old and new eras.
Each track crafts a different soundscape. “Fast Fashion” feels like driving in an 80s movie at night. They recommend headphones for “Moonlight Drive,” a tune about the pulse of the nightlife. With the vocal distortion, it’s reminiscent of early Muse, another band that brought back vintage sounds.
Several songs are reminiscent of their cited musical influences: the fast-paced danceable rhythms of New Order and Depeche Mode, or the darkness of Eurythmics.
The lyrics sometimes slip into a gravitas that contrasts with the pulsing rhythms, like on “Dionysus”: “We fall asleep where we’re at, we calmly take this for that, to the rhythm of the ticking clock… I want you to be my god.”
“The Devil” originated as a self-reflective homage to Paradise Lost. Its outro is reminiscent of a church choir, with voices drenched in reverb.
Deal sees it as a way to bridge emotions. “It’s kind of a look at myself—at times dealing with depression, dealing with internalized shame… [it’s] my confessional.”
Moving into the second half, “Neurotica,” the lyrics and soundscapes become darker. Deal describes existing “in a castle made of glass” in “Reaction.” A sense of nihilism surfaces in “Play RC”—reminiscent of Radiohead as he sings that “nothing real ever happens”—with a hint of voyeurism as he calls out to the listener.
Altogether, the songs create a soundscape that is easy to disappear into. Highly recommend listening on a late-night drive.
Outside of Glow in the Dark, Deal is involved in a horror punk band called Graveyard Smash. Gum keeps very busy—right before the pandemic started, his project InDreama was recording an album at Another Recording Company, with Omaha music scene mainstays Dereck Higgins, Nik Fackler, and Cubby Philips. He also had a project with Chelsea Balzer from Vital Organs called Betty Rubble.
Glow in the Dark’s Album Release Event will be September 30 at The Sydney, with opening acts Corporate Merger and a DJ set by Plack Blague.