Interview

Deep Dive with Huron John [Q&A]

Perry Avgerinos
Chase Denton

Multidisciplinary artist Huron John sat down with me over Zoom from his Nashville apartment, where he’s currently changing the landscape for independent artists alike. The humbled, creative-wunderkind opened up about his new single “Arthur" (off his upcoming album Cartoon Therapy), the social media covid-era we live in, music production, and the deeper meanings behind his storytelling in today’s Deep Dive.

What’s going on man! Big fan of your music here at Sheesh. Let’s take it from the beginning briefly, how did you first get into music, were your parents musicians or any other musical influences in your life?

What’s going on dude! Honestly, nobody in my extended family plays music. As a little kid playing different sports and trying different things, I didn’t really have anything to sink my teeth into, ya know? So I got really obsessed with Guitar Hero, basically, and that put me on to a ton of music, just kind of a bunch of dad rock. I started bumping Led Zeppelin, and stuff like that, then basically I was like "mom, dad, I’d be interested in taking guitar lessons." That’s when I was like 7 years old, then I got kinda trained in jazz guitar and a lot of different things, and started picking up the drums and the keys, and all that stuff kind of along the way.

I coincidentally discovered the Wolf album by Tyler, The Creator in 2013 on the day it came out and became insanely obsessed with that record and then pretty much I became really perplexed by the sound of it in the sense of my understanding of all recorded music. I knew really nothing about music production or recording or anything. And my understanding was that all music is people going into the studio with instruments, ya know, like I didn’t know that you could just sit on the computer and just like make a beat by yourself or anything like that. I just went on Google and was like “how did Tyler make the Wolf album” like what is this, it sounds like real instruments sometimes, and other times it doesn't. Then yea man the top result was a little piece of software called “Reason” which is what I’ve been using to make beats since I was 13, and things kind of progressed from there. I didn’t start songwriting though until like age 17. I was purely just kinda making Mac type beats until then. I started experimenting with my voice a little bit, and now here I am talking to you bro (laughs).

(Laughs) Crazy how far you’ve come since then. Your music ranges in genres, who are your biggest musical inspirations would you say?

My favorite artist of all time since I was 8 years old, has been the band The Smashing Pumpkins. They’ve always been my shit. I feel like everyone has that one artist that’s been there for you your whole life, and they’re mine for sure. So I draw a lot from them, and I really like King Krule, I really love Daft Punk, I draw a lot from them in terms of sampling, kind of even though it may not show itself on the surface. I love Stereolab, I love Yung Lean, Standing On The Corner, big fan of the genre “vapor wave” as of late. My influence definitely comes more from what i’m listening to in the moment if that makes sense. Like this fall I got into that Standing On The Corner wave, and sample based hip-hop, New York shit like MIKE, and Navy Blue - it’s pretty production, but it’s kind of coming through in a more lo-fidelity way, so that kind of shows up on my next album, but they really kinda come and go like the flavor of the day for me.

I feel that. In “Arthur,” to me it sounds like a more mature yet still quirky/fun version of your sound, definitely straying from the “bedroom pop” label some people like to give you. Is this more of the direction we can expect on the album?

I think people have gotten better about labeling me as "bedroom pop," but it doesn't sit right with me sometimes, because it’s gotten so inconsistent, like is “Tyler bedroom pop,” “is any artist making pop music in their own private space bedroom pop too?” It’s like such a weird term that’s only given to certain people, and I think definitely it’s just not a great thing in my opinion to be classified as, because I think it kind of limits you, since people tend to think “goofy, kinda quirky, oh I like this girl, she doesn’t like me back,” type of sound and there’s still those fun little themes in my music today, because that shit is always fun to incorporate. 

It's like yea those foundational elements of my music are still ever present, just because I don't want to completely alienate the people who have been listening to me for a while, like if you came to me in 2019 when not many people were bumping my shit, I still want you to get something from this, and keep what brought people to me in the first place, while also growing in maturity, and subject matter, and growing in production quality. So in terms of growth and quality, it’s an upward trending graph, my listeners are going to grow older, not younger. I don’t want to keep that same level of maturity and have it be a flat line, and just a lot of that comes with me getting older as well and getting into newer types of music and styles, themes, and all that.

Definitely. What story are you trying to tell in your upcoming album Cartoon Therapy?

Well I’ve always really loved concept albums that follow narrative storylines, so I’m kind of presenting Apocalypse Wow and Cartoon Therapy as sort of a double LP of sorts. l’m going to be releasing the vinyl this year and that’ll be like the two albums in one package, so I wanted to present it that way to keep it thematically cohesive. But across the Apocalypse Wow album, there’s this kind of comic book style story that I wrote about this kid named Andy, which basically the album is about this big sci-fi adventure that he goes on, it’s very videogamey, Super Mario Galaxy-esque, ya know shit like that. Then in Cartoon Therapy the story continues and then eventually concludes, but I try to keep it like both ways, where there's this culty concept story you can dive into if you want that, but then of course it’s just an album that has themes, and the themes and tone are (and this sounds lame), but born out of the covid era in the sense of how beat down I felt, constantly seeing the news cycle, and political world, it seems like it’s just bad shit and everyone’s mad at each other all the time with no breather from it.

So every album that I make I try and start it around a phrase, and for Cartoon Therapy, the phrase I came up with was “reaching for the sun” so like lately we’ve felt we’ve been trapped inside such a negative societal climate, and just wanting a break from that – a carefree, warm sunny kind of feel, wanting some kind of relief from this seemingly infinite steam of negativity that we’re constantly enduring, and the album is about wanting a spiritual break from all of that. I just want to spread love and happiness, and enjoy life for the beauties of life, rather than be drowning in this pool of bad shit.

I think a lot of people can relate to that theme right now, I know I sure can. I noticed you add personal recordings and other “ear candy” in your music. In “Arthur” one of the adlibs you added says "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." Were you hinting at anything deeper there when you put that in?

Totally. So this type of thing kind of developed with my first album, where I kind of wanted little certain sound effects to keep every album distinct. So for Apocalypse Wow, if you really listen to the whole thing front to back, there’s this little sound clip of like this anime girl laughing “hu ha” and it plays probably like 3 or 4 times every track as an element of the beat. I wanted to take that to another level with Cartoon Therapy, in wanting little phrases and ideas that keep shooting out at you, that keep going through the whole album. So that phrase shows up three times I think throughout the album, and there’s some other little phrases like that, so years from now you’ll be like “oh this is off Cartoon Therapy,” to keep every project unique. I wanted phrases that capture the theme of the music almost, and obviously it’s a super famous proverb/quote, and sort of that concept of like “man if you’re yelling at me and I’m yelling at you, we aren’t hearing shit that each other is saying," because a lot of my favorite albums of all time have similar little beat tags almost. It’s like a beat tag but for indie music, which isn’t really applied outside of hip-hop.

The producer in me loves that. Has your creation process changed at all from this pandemic? How have you been staying creative and productive?

It definitely was really tough – May through August. I was trying really hard to make stuff but I kinda just gave up. I talked to a lot of other musicians about this concept and they all kind of said the same thing. To people outside of the music world, it seems like it’s great having all this time at your house to write and make music and it must be awesome, but really it’s not. It’s not as easy to be making stuff unless I’m living life and having experiences, personally. All of my music from both albums are both about pretty specific eras of my life and stuff that went on, and if nothing’s happening right now then what am I supposed to write about? Like I’m sitting on my couch watching Breaking Bad for the 4th time, like “oh great song bro, like that’s so interesting.” 

(Laughs) Right.

But definitely during the earlier months I wasn’t making anything. I was tying to make a like Daft Punk dance album, which was supposed to be my second album, but then it’s just like I’m trying to force out this happy, groovy, funky, disco-tinge dance project – but I’m sad as fuck. So it just wasn’t working, but once I got back to Nashville in August for school again, I made the Cartoon Therapy project basically in two months and then mixed/mastered it in another month and a half. I sort of had all this energy pent up and then it all just came out at one little time.

You clearly care about your fans, sending out custom postcards, your discord channel, how important is it to you to build your fanbase from the ground up as an independent artist?

It’s super important to me, because I think about the artists that I love so much and I wish I could have a closer dialogue with them, so that’s kind of the main root of it. Like I wish I could DM King Krule and be like “man this song really got me through the day bro” and like if he responded like “hey what’s your address, let me send you a postcard,” I’d be like “holy f–k.” And of course no shade to King Krule at all because most artists don’t do that and that expectation especially once you get up to that size becomes unattainable at some point, but for right now it’s still really tough, like I was only able to get postcards out to maybe half the people who requested them and we probably sent out like 250 of them. Way tougher now than in 2019, but it’s still really important to me to build that sense of community and have it feel like “ok you’re growing with me as an artist,” rather than having it be like “I’m the artist up here and you’re the listener down here.” I guess I’m trying to build it as level –  sharing this experience together, and I wish more artists approached it that way.

If you had to describe your music to someone who’s never heard you before in one word, what would it be? 

Immersive.

Sounds accurate. Are there any dream collaborations you have?

Honestly Kanye.. I love Kanye. Definitely King Krule, Kid Cudi would be crazy. I don’t know, I love Yung Lean, Earl, HOMESHAKE, but if I ever got the opportunity to work with Kanye and Cudi though, I’d just be like “you’re so awesome” it wouldn’t even be a collab (laughs).

20 years from now, what is Huron John doing?

I of course want to grow my music career as big as I can for as long as possible, that's been the dream since I was a young kid, but I want to start my own record label. I’ve had this dream where I own some sort of platform that not only elevates DIY artists and gives them the resources to succeed without being money fiends, but I want to be a force in music technology and music charity. Imagine if some company out there made an all-in-one recording studio for an affordable price, or what if some group out there made a Google doc-style music production software, or an after school program for kids to teach them to make beats (which might already be a thing) but future forward-thinking stuff like that, beyond just making my own material.

You can watch the music video for "Arthur" out now below.

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