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Getting ‘Bent’ with SSION: an interview with Cody Critcheloe

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Last Friday I posted the new video from the band SSION called “My Love Grows in The Dark.” If you haven’t watched it yet, then go and do so right now. It’s a little bizarre and rather brilliant. The album that song is taken from, Bent, was available as a free download release for one month only last year, and it was one of my favorites. This year too in fact, as it is being given a physical re-release soon by the Dovecote label.

SSION, which has existed in various forms over the years, is essentially the brainchild of Cody Critcheloe. Cody is a visual artist and video director by day (he has directed clips for Peaches and Santigold) but by night he transforms into a gender-and-preconception bending performer whose live shows have been picking up a lot of acclaim. I spoke to Cody a short while back about SSION, and his decision to release such an excellent album for free:


You put so much work into both the music and the visual aspects of music - but what I want to know first of all is: what does “SSION” [pronounced “shun”] mean?

There really isn’t a meaning! I just thought it looked cool visually, and it’s confusing to people who don’t know how to pronounce it. If you “shun” something, well that’s basically the meaning (if there is any meaning!) But mostly it was a visual thing, I just liked the way it looked.

SSION is essentially you, but it is also a collective-type band. How does that work?

It varies, depending on who’s available. We go between a drummer in NY or a drummer in Chicago, or musicians in Kansas City, or whoever’s available to do the tour. I always like to incorporate a live element, especially live drums, synth and bass, with a little bit of backing track so it sounds like the record. It depends on what kind of show we’re doing - if we’re doing a show at a museum and they have a larger budget we bring more people in, but if we’re playing at a punk club for 200 people, obviously we downsize the whole thing.

Bent is a great pop album. In fact, I’d say it is surprisingly great for a free download release. How did the idea to release it for free first come about?

I have always worked outside of labels, and the way it goes I’ll put out a record every four years. I’ll take a while to develop it and work out what I wanna do with it. At the time there’s wasn’t anyone anxious to put it out, so it seemed like the right thing to do. I thought if a label really wants to be a part of this they’ll figure out a way to go about this, because SSION is such a different kind of project. It seemed like a big FU to put it out and let people get it and listen to it., and I like the idea of people being able to get it, so people who aren’t even your fans can still get into it.

What has your fans’ reaction been to the download release?

It’s crazy ‘cos I think in the long term it’s gonna pay off. The shows we’ve played in New York have all been really amazing, and everyone knows the words to the songs already. It’s been instant, like this has already had an effect, an effect outside of any label being behind it to pump it up or publicize it. Everything that has happened to SSION is because of people who are genuinely interested and really into the music. I love the fact that there’s gonna be a physical release cos I put a lot of work into the art work, but I could also take it or leave it. If it doesn’t work out I can still have a life. I still somehow survive off doing these things and other projects. I’m just into it as a very punk way of going about things.

But what about an effect on sales?

The thing about it is, the last record we had you can find it online for free, so why not make it available for everyone? And it’s crazy too because our other records are on iTunes and we still make money of them every month, even though people could easily get them for free.

Bent is a fully realized album, all killer no filler, which seems like a dying art form nowadays. How do you think the concept of “the album” stands in the new digital-download music market?

I think the single is so much more important now, people are way more into songs than they are into records. When they buy, it’s all about having “the song” which is popular for a week. I think that’s what it has turned into - having that track that blows up for three days, then it’s on to something else. Which is sort of a bummer in some ways because I really love albums, like those records where every song is great and they change that year for you. You know, that record that you put in your player in your car on your way to work and it got you through it.

Bent sounds very professional (again slightly surprising for a free album) - how did you get people involved in the project?

It was like the first time I had anything professionally mixed and mastered, which makes a huge difference, but I knew the record was good so we put a lot of work into it. It was crazy to me, ‘cos this was the first record where I worked with a lot of different people and I was surprised by how willing people were to work on this project for free, basically. They did because they believed in this project, which was awesome. There was no label behind it throwing money at it to try and make it work. The two guys who mixed and mastered it, they took like a month out of their schedule, opened the studio up to me and just did it. Which is really amazing, you know? It’s just lucky that people were willing to help out. I just wanna make sure the label are gonna where I want to go, but it looks like they are.

Tell me a bit about the upcoming re-release of Bent...

We’re gonna re-release this album with some tracks that didn’t make it on and some packaging that’s cooler. We’ve already started producing the videos for each song, which is another big part of the project - I always feel like that’s what gets people excited: the really strong visual component that goes along with the music. This record works in a very narrative-way. It’s why it takes me so long to finish album, because there is this whole visual component that goes with it. And to get ten songs you really like on a record you have to write 40 or 50, you know?

What does the future hold for SSION?

I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I imagine it will be more of the same thing. It always seems to get better and better, so I always have a clear vision. My only objective is to continue making music, in whatever format, and just go with it. I can’t say it’s always gonna be pop music, ‘cos SSION has existed in a lot of different ways, like before it was a punk band. But that’s basically it: continue making the music and visuals and just keep believing in it. I fell like as long as I am really into it and believe in it, finding an audience for it is not that difficult. it sort of finds itself as long as you love it and are willing to work it.


Thanks Cody, and thanks SSION for making great music with videos to match. Here’s one of my favorites (NOT from Bent), in which Cody gives his “mother” a particularly icky makeover:
 
SSION “Ah Ma”
 

 
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘My Love Grows In The Dark’: SSION’s springtime pop perfection
Get SSION’s new album ‘Bent’ free for a month

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
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03.06.2012
12:07 pm
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