Bent Gaze: an interview with SSION

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Usually when you hear something described as “pop performance art”, you think “mediocre music that hinges heavily on a visual element”, but such is not the case with SSION, the multimedia project that Cody Critcheloe has been masterminding for over a decade now. In fact, SSION’s latest album Bent not only holds up on its own; I’d say it’s the best damn dance-pop album of the year, for two years in a row. How’s that? After self-releasing it as a free download in summer 2010, it got picked up for a CD/LP re-release this fall, bolstered with new tracks as well as remixes from the likes of Physical Therapy and Nightfeelings (AKA Nick Weiss from Teengirl Fantasy). But even amidst the aural bliss, you shan’t forget to suck on his eye candy—for the world is Cody’s coloring book, and he colors outside the lines…with highlighters, and eye shadow, and bits of wrapping paper, and sprinkles. Following his recent massive US tour, he and I had a chat about videos, grrrls, parties and other heavy themes.

 

So far you’ve released three amazing videos from your latest record (“My Love Grows in the Dark”, “Earthquake” and “Psy-Chic”) that made the internet’s nipples go hard. With the previous album, each song had a video, and they were strung together for a kind of feature-length story. Can we be hopeful for something similar now with Bent?

Probably. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. So far, the videos are making sense together, and that’s intentional. There is a story, but honestly I’m not sure what the outcome should be at this point. Depends on what feels right. I will know when I get there.

You know about the play and film Bent, right? About the Nazi persecution of gays, with Ian McKellan?

Yeah, but I’ve never seen it.

Nor I, but I figured you would have. Anyway, I love your whole album, but the opener “Listen to the Grrrls” particularly struck me because it infuses a touch of radical politics into Kyliesque dance-pop. In Berlin I’m frustrated because it seems like most of the gay men live in a big leather bubble of privilege, blinded by their overgrown beards. To what extent is New York’s party scene, or scenes, politically queer?

I’m not sure. I don’t really go out a lot in New York. I like to walk around a lot during the day, but that’s about it. Every now and then I go to a party, but I usually leave after twenty minutes.

Do you expect something from a party experience and then leave unfulfilled? Or are such social gatherings simply not what you’re into in general?

I guess for me, I just like smaller social gatherings most of the time. It seems like the conversation is better. Maybe this sounds really bougie, but I love dinner parties. Every now and then it’s nice to go to some big party and get completely smashed, but most of the time I’m really chill. I think being able to perform, go on tour and create as a living fulfills that side of me. I think if I couldn’t tour or make videos I would probably spend more time at the club trying to draw attention to myself—by the way, that’s not a diss to party people.

My buddy Alexander Geist says you moved into his old room. Did he leave behind any notable odors or auras?

Not that I know of. We painted the room pink.

Which grrrls in NYC are you listening to right now? And I don’t necessarily mean music.

Hmm, well, I’m really inspired by my friends who do Chez Deep. It’s like a drag performance troupe. Maybe that’s the wrong way to describe it. I also spend a lot of time talking over ideas with Raul de Nieves, and I talk a lot on the phone with my close-friends outside of NYC. And I talk the most with myself. I’m listening to myself more than anyone.

 

 

For those of us outside the USA, can you fill us in on what we missed with your tour?

It was awesome. It was a full band playing the songs live. No props or videos. It was liberating, and it felt great to be able to strip it down and still have people respond so positively. I hate the idea of people only going to a SSION show because of the costumes, props, videos, et cetera. I wanted people to focus on the music and me as a performer. It felt right, and it translated well. I was happy.

I’d love to hear stripped down versions of your songs. Any chance for a Euro tour? Or did you take some decent live footage while on tour?

I don’t know if it sounds totally stripped down – It’s more like the performance vibe, or what a lot of people expect from a SSION show has been mutated into something more direct. I’m sure we will tour Europe in 2013; I just don’t know when.

The support act for this tour was House of LaDosha. Was that your choice? Is it a lot of work to cart an entire house across the country?

I love House of LaDosha. It was just Dosha Devastation and Cunty Crawford on this tour. From what I know their house is full, but it’s really only the two of them as live performers: Dosha the raptress and Cunty the MC.

What’s the difference between a raptress and an MC? Or do you mean a female raptor?

OK, I guess that’s the wrong way to describe Dosha and Cunty. I guess Cunty is more of a hype woman maybe? I’m not totally sure. I would never describe Dosha as a raptor. She’s more like a very beautiful lion, and sometimes if you’re really lucky, late at night she turns into a kitty that you can pet. I miss them so much now that the tour is over.

For the official CD and LP release of Bent, your label Dovecote had you make some adjustments to your pop culture-referencing songs because of intellectual copyright blah blah. How does that leave you feeling? Is it a compromise?

At first I was bummed, but then I woke up the next day and didn’t really care. The original versions still exist and are easy to find. Also, I’m staying true to those versions for the videos, so it’s not a big deal to me.

Outside of SSION, you’ve directed music videos for The Gossip, Peaches, Santigold and MNDR. Whose music these days inspires moving pictures inside your head?

Right now, Neil Young, and my own music: present and future.

 

As well as writing, Joey Hansom also crafts music under various guises. Download his exclusive remix of SSION’s “Nothing Happens At Nite” below!

 

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