This interview originally appeared in the print edition of RAIN magazine in the spring of 2018.
Interview by Simon Haas. Photography by Renata Raksha. Styling by John Tan. Hair by Fernando Torrent at L’Atelier NYC. Makeup by Shannon Rodriguez for Kreative Kommune. Special thanks to Ryan McKnight at Kreative Kommune.
SSION /shu ̆ n/ n 1. Cerebral, recalcitrant, uplifting, and oddly satisfying, like scratching an itch you didn’t know you had. An artist’s artist, no doubt, Cody Critcheloe has been the mastermind behind the audiovisual project known as SSION since, well, as long as anyone can remember. Six years after the album Bent was released, SSION is releasing O into the world this spring. The SSION experience, from YouTube to in-concert, is an unforgettable sensation. Simon Haas, of the equally intriguing design duo the Haas Brothers, known for their surrealist, psychedelic, and titillating, imaginative objects, catches up with Critcheloe on the heels of the album’s release.
SIMON HAAS: The last time we spoke
was years ago over sushi with your friend Niko Karamyan, who stars in your video for “Comeback.” How important are your friends in your creative process? Do you prefer to work with people you know?
CODY CRITCHELOE: It’s kinda just the way it is. But yes, it is important. I have a tight crew of people I love to work with who I’ve been working with for more than 10 years, who know me and have a good idea of what I’m after, so it makes communicating an idea way easier. That being said, I also like bringing new people into the fold. It creates a new dynamic and prevents things from getting stale or repetitive. When making this album, I was bringing in a lot of people I’d never worked with before and I guess I’m doing the same thing with the videos, but there is usually a core group of people who I feel the most comfortable working with, especially when it comes to videos.
SH: Speaking of “Comeback,” the song is awesome on its own and the video is equally captivating, but together I feel like I have to watch it on repeat because it feels so good. It made me wonder, do you conceive the visuals and the music at the same time?
CC: Somewhat, but when I’m writing a song, it’s actually just about
“I still want a lot and I feel like anything is possible, but I know that this is what I’m gonna do, no matter what. The die is cast. This is what keeps me going. I’m not a good person without this” that—writing a song. The visual doesn’t really show itself until after the song is there, and that doesn’t necessarily mean the song is done, but there has to be a center to it. I have to feel something with it and I always look for a hook. I’m a pop writer, whether I like it or not. I’ll write a lot of really mediocre songs that I don’t want to see the light of day and definitely don’t deserve a visual treatment, but somewhere in those bad songs are germs for something great—a good lyric or a melody that will carry over into a better song. It feels like making a collage to me, especially with this album.
For “Comeback,” once we did the demo, I started casually collecting images in a folder on my desktop that would eventually become a mood board when we were fleshing out the production and then, eventually, a video treatment. I’m really into the details of it and making sure it’s got a lot of weight. I mean, everything is so referential now, but most people never take the time to put their stamp on it or make it personal, so then they get really pissed off when someone “rips it off.” Like, you know, some chick on the internet calling out Rihanna for having green hair. It’s, like, who cares? Having green hair and black lipstick wasn’t original in the first place. I think it’s all about the nuances and telling a story that belongs to you. You can still play with references and steal things—just make sure it’s done right.
SH: If you had to describe what “Comeback” is about to a five-year-old, what do you think you would you say?
CC: Inspiration. Find the thing that makes you tingle, run in circles. Showbiz. Lights, camera, action. I dunno if I would even try to explain it to a five-year-old, honestly. I would just show them the video. Kids will get it. They will definitely feel it. I think it’s perfect for a five-year-old. They know what’s up.
SH: When you’re creating video for other people, is the process the same as when you create for yourself?
CC: Somewhat—I just have to justify my ideas a bit more, which is hard. Sometimes it’s hard for me to articulate why something is good. I just know it and feel it. I’ve been lucky, though, because the majority of the artists I’ve worked with understand that. It’s usually the other people swarming around who can be a distraction.
SH: It’s clear you’re adept at hopping between audio and visual art—what is a talent that readers might be surprised to hear about?
CC: I’m really good at cake decorating. I taught myself how to do it in high school. I’m the OG buttercream kinda decorator. I hate this trend of rustic cakes. I like that white buttercream tackiness. I also love painting and drawing and playing Frisbee.
SH: When I first got into you, I would put you on repeat on the drive to Palm Springs. Do you imagine an ideal setting where someone might go into a SSION hole?
CC: Awwww, I love that! We actually recorded a lot of the album in Palm Springs at my friend Nick Weiss’s dad’s house there. It was a super-magical place to make music. And as you now know, I also recorded
the song “Big As I Can Dream” in your studio, which was rad. That’s actually the nicest place we recorded anything for the entire record. Almost everything else was recorded in a basement in LA or makeshift studios in NYC. We actually recorded some stuff in Nick’s car after a party—a sad little song that surprisingly stuck around.
SH: What’s the first thing you can remember noticing about LA?
CC: The sky. The blue sky. Blue is the aura of this album… Electric VHS-tape blue. That’s the vibe.
SH: Besides yourself, what’s your favorite SSION—compaSsion? PremoniSsion? EducaSsion? MasturbaSsion? Or make your own. And why?
CC: PaSsion or miSsion.
SH: Non-musicians who have influenced your work?
CC: Pedro Almodovar, Andy Kaufman, Bob Fosse, Franco Moschino, Dali, and a long list I can’t remember right now.
SH: Tom of Finland once said, “If I don’t have an erection when I’m doing a drawing, I know it’s no good.” Do you have a physiological, emotional, or other marker that lets you know you’re hitting a good creative stride?
CC: I guess I pace a lot. Just an electricity… tears sometimes.
SH: Your lyric “I shaved my head, what else is new?” kept running through my head when
I shaved my head a few months ago. How does it make you feel that little bits of your creativity live on in so many people’s heads?
CC: I love it. So much. Maybe it’s cheesy, but I’m grateful.
SH: If you could control how your lyrics stick with people, what message would you want stuck in the whole world’s head?
CC: I honestly don’t know… I would rather it be a feeling than a message. A good, uplifting feeling that hurts a bit, but it’s hopeful and it’s electric blue.
SH: How have you changed personally between your first album and now?
CC: I’m more calm. And I don’t have insane expectations. I still want a lot and I feel like anything is possible, but I know that this is what I’m gonna do, no matter what. The die is cast. This is what keeps me going, you know? You must know what I mean? It’s like, I’m not a good person without this. I love connecting with people and I love making music and visuals and collaborating.
I just have this fantasy of being, like, 80 years old and being just such a badass, you know? Like no one can even fuck with it. I’m 80 years old and making the coolest shit ever and I’m tanned and I go running every day and I have really great parties at my house at Christmas. And I make the best shit—like, it’s not about being better than someone else. It’s just I know I’m killing it and I know everyone and I’ve collaborated with everyone and I still listen to music really fucking loud and I eat really great food and, yeah, I’ve got a few Grammys somewhere
in storage and I’ve made some really great movies that no one even saw coming and, wow, I’m just smiling even thinking about all this! Hah, yeah, like I said, I’m more calm!
SH: How has your music changed?
CC: It’s better.
SH: When you’re alone, who is your go-to musician to listen to?
CC: I will get obsessed with one song and listen to it on repeat for, like, two weeks straight, so it’s always kinda different. I guess if I’m cleaning I listen to something from my childhood that motivates me. I dunno, it depends. I guess ever since I moved to NYC, I only listen to music when I’m working out and then it’s, like, the
worst music. I really like going to Barry’s Bootcamp, so it’s the worst remixes of every Top 40 song you can imagine. Actually, I spend a lot of time just walking around, thinking, so I guess there is definitely a song playing on my phone. It just varies.
SH: If you had to put one of your own songs on a mix tape you’re making for a crush, which one would it be?
CC: “At Least the Sky Is Blue” or “Let Me Down Like U.” Or I’d probably do something weirder/funny. Really see if they’ve got what it takes to get with me, you know? Hah.
SH: What is your favorite way to cut loose?
CC: Snorkeling in an ocean that is clear, where I can see the fish swimming. That’s definitely it.