NYC-based artist Cody Critcheloe writes and performs music as SSION, a multi-disciplinary creative project involving music, video, art, and live performance. It began as a punk band in his native Kentucky, but grew and evolved alongside Critcheloe into the NYC/LA-based project it is today. That spirit is still evident in SSION’s fearlessly non-conformist aesthetic and sound, which can sometimes harken to dance-punk acts like CSS or The Faint. Though SSION’s releases have typically met positive response, 2012’s Bent most notably garnered widespread international acclaim (particularly for the accompanying videos, all directed by Critcheloe).
He’s been creating visual art, multimedia videos, and elaborate live performances, in addition to music, since 1999. Oftentimes his art and his music inform each other – for example, he designed the flyers for our show together at House of Yes on August 4. However, in addition to his own projects, Critcheloe has offered his creative prowess to numerous other artists and musicians as well. In between recording and releasing records, he’s directed videos for everyone from Kylie Minogue to Liars to Santigold. He also notably designed the iconic album art for Yeah Yeah Yeah’s hallmark 2003 record, Fever To Tell.
Since it is not often that we get the honor of working with an artist whose personal aesthetic has had such a far-reaching touch on the music community in general, we wanted to spotlight Critcheloe’s influence and creations outside the realm of SSION. We’re grateful he was able to take the time to tell us a bit more about what draws him to creative collaborations, the intersection of visual art and music, and how Forrest Gump inspired one of his best-known music videos.
The video for Perfume Genius’ “Queen” was released to wide critical and public acclaim. Can you talk a bit about that collaboration, and the concept behind your work there?
When Mike [Hadreas] and I first started talking about the video, he emailed me some ideas and the one that stuck out to me was a family watching Forrest Gump around a TV. Forrest Gump is definitely one of my favorite movies so I just ran with it … the idea was to base the “Queen” video around that. The thing I always thought was cool/interesting about Forrest Gump is that there is a real gay story there. It’s almost like Jenny is his alter ego, and she gets to live out Forrest’s fantasies regardless of how ‘dark’ they may – she lives out the hippie movement, disco, maybe even dies of AIDS. She lives out all of the radical things, and he sort of vicariously lives through her.
That, combined with Forrest’s attachment to his mother – the town freak who is supported and encouraged by his mother and his best and only friend (a female). There is something really gay about that movie that people don’t think or talk about… I didn’t realize it when I saw it as a kid but I definitely FELT it. In the video I wanted to establish that the girl was Mike’s alter ego. His face occasionally melts into hers and she basically takes him on this surreal trip… you know how Forrest Gump goes through a timeline: 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s… MY favorite scene from Forrest Gump is when Jenny is on the balcony and “Free Bird” is playing and she almost jumps into traffic. I used to re-enact that scene when I was a kid from my second story bedroom. I always wanted to live that, which is so dark and fucked up… it was so nice to get to make that happen in the “Queen” video.
You’ve worked with everyone from major pop stars to lo-fi garage rock bands. What makes you want to make a video for someone? What needs to happen before the cameras start rolling?
I make videos for artists I like… artists who allow me to make something cool with them… who want to get lost in the fantasy… someone who wants to dedicate to a vision and who isn’t primarily concerned with being sexy. I don’t like the idea of pitching a treatment to an artist. It’s a bullshit game and you usually end up making something lame in order to please ‘someone’ but I don’t know or care who that ‘someone’ is. I guess on one hand I’m not totally opposed to that but there needs to be some kind of monetary trade-off to make it worthwhile. I tend to get really emotionally attached to something I’m creating for someone so I don’t wanna waste my time on dribble.
Lots of your music videos, regardless of the song’s vibe or subject matter, are dramatic narratives that revolve around people, tinged with a dark extravagance. Can you talk about this aesthetic a bit?
It’s hard to talk about… I don’t know if I can really talk about it in a broad sense. I’m better with specifics… like, eyelashes, fingernails, the color of key lime pie and how it matches the jukebox… it’s all about the details that are attached to the soul that make the videos and music ‘work.’
What equipment and/or tools do you use in your work?
My hands and my heart, when it’s good.
And we have no doubt it is. For all of Critcheloe’s collaborative creations, he remains a prolific artist in his own right. His live shows are known for their pomp – with costumes, wild visuals, and heavy interaction with the audience – and we have no doubt his August 4 performance will be just as exciting.
– Nina Posner & Mandy Brownholtz