Pop Freak SSION Puts On A Really Great Show, Just Ask Him.
In 1996, Cody Critcheloe, a jack-of-all-music-trades songwriter, performer and music video director, formed his music project SSION (pronounced “shun”) in Kansas City. Since then, he's moved to Brooklyn, put out 10 releases and toured with bands such as Fischerspooner, CSS and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.
His last self-release as SSION, called Bent, is an electro-pop album ready for the dance floor. Its standout track “Earthquake” will quickly draw you in with its sultry chorus and pulsing rhythm.
But the project, best known for its “gay-disco-meets-punk-rock” music stylings, sexually aggressive live performances and campy music videos, is just one of many creative outlets for Critcheloe. Not only does he direct his own videos, but he's directed videos for bands such as Santigold, CSS, Peaches, Gossip and Tilly and the Wall. He also created the cover artwork for the Yeah Yeah Yeah's 2003 release, Fever To Tell.
Before SSION's sure-to-be fantastic show on Saturday night at Dada with Class Actress and House of Ladosha, we spoke to Critcheloe about compromising his aesthetics, plans for his upcoming music video releases and the origin of his project's name.
First thing's first: How's the tour going?
So far, it's been great. The crowds have been really good. I think it's one of the best tours we've done. I've really, really loved it actually.
What's making it one of the best?
Well, I really like headlining the shows. That's nice. And playing for an audience that's specifically there to see us for the most part. They're really responsive and really fun. Things get crazy every night, so it's good.
What's your favorite part of touring?
Oh, playing the shows. I love performing more than anything. I mean, it's always really hard for me, like, after a tour, to come home. I love playing. And it's nice, too. You're traveling with a group of people and you sort of become like this family. You get really good. You have a band on this tour and you play every night and you get better and better. I love it. I'm a gypsy at heart. I wish I could do this all the time. And having unexpected things happen. Like, sometimes you play the most amazing show in Dallas or, like, Iowa. Who'd guess that you'd play such an amazing show in Iowa, y'know? That's really cool.
I saw a video of your performance at the MoMA PS1 in New York. How do you even begin to envision a show like that?
Well, that's not the kind of show we're touring right now. We would have to have an insane budget for a tour of that size. MoMA was able to provide the budget to do something really elaborate. And they had the space to do it. It took about two months to put that show together. What we're doing now is more of a smaller version of that basically. It's been good. It's mostly reliant on playing the new record live. If you're playing a show with 250 capacity, you can't really bring in all that shit, y'know? I mean, I love doing shows that size.
For someone who hasn't seen you live, what can they expect?
[Laughs and audibily asks a nearby friend what they're like live.] Um, it's a band playing really good pop music. I'm a good performer. It's good. I don't know. There's no props. There's no videos. I'm not in full drag, y'know? It's probably not exactly like what you've read. But it's a great show. We're a really good band.
How would you describe your music in general?
Pop music with like a bit extra to it. It's always mutating and always changing. I would describe this record as a pop music collage. That's what we're playing.
Parade of Flesh, the company that booked this show at Dada, says on their site that fans in Dallas have been requesting you to play here for a while now. When was the last time you were here?
We were opening for Fischerspooner and that show was amazing. It was so much fun. I loved playing in Dallas. That was in 2009.
What are your plans after the tour?
We're gonna make some more music videos. We're gonna do a European tour. Just keep on keepin' on. Make a new record. Stuff like that, y'know?
Are the music videos going to be for you? I know you make videos for other artists, too.
I'm not making music videos for anyone else anytime soon. I'm sick of watering down my aesthetic for other people right now. I just want to focus on myself.
What do you mean by that?
Well, that's what you have to do when you work for other people. You have to compromise on things, y'know? They hire you out to do this very specific sort of style and you don't really get a lot of freedom to change it up. They want a very specific aesthetic from you and you have to give that to them. A lot of the people I've worked with have a much larger audience that they have to appeal to on some level, so it's like there's a whole slew of shit you have to watch out for or be careful about. I love doing videos. I think they're fun and great and I'm happy with all the videos I've done for other people. But I think they pale in comparison to stuff I make for myself because I'm able do exactly what I want to do.
What's the inspiration or creative process for creating “My Love Grows in the Dark” or some other videos of yours?
I guess it would be the song? [Laughs.] We spent a month making it and, when you write a song, you sort of have an idea of what you want to create visually. It's just this ongoing process of just finding the right people to be in it, finding the environment to do the stuff in. I'm bored with performance music videos. I just want it to be something that's more cinematic and weird — something you have to watch over and over to get it. Multi-layered. In order to achieve that, you have to, like, really plan out everything beforehand. Coming down to writing a treatment and story boarding everything out. All the videos for this record all link together like one big narrative, so we have two videos that are coming out. One's probably going to come out while we're on tour, then another one right after tour.
Are you going to do another feature film like you did with the videos from the last album?
Possibly. I don't really know. I'm not thinking about it in that way like I did the last time because that was oddly sort of limiting. I'm just trying to make something that's a little more cinematic than anything I've made for the last record. So we'll see, but they all tie together in their narrative. I'm not sure exactly what sort of format it should go in because it's definitely not like a typical movie format by any means.
Do you go through the same creative process for your music?
It's just whatever I'm listening to at the moment. It's like, each record is different. This record, I was listening to a lot of Top 40 music at the time because I didn't have an iPod or CD player in my car. And I was living in Kansas City at the time so I had to drive everywhere. I was listening to pop, like, 24-7. That was the biggest influence for me. I was really setting out to make a pop record, so I can't say the next one will be like that.
Last question: Explain the name SSION and where that came from.
The name came from when I was a teenager and I was looking at a Mission of Burma record and the “ssion” in mission was cool and funny, and I loved the way it looked in all caps. And I like that it's hard to pronounce. I just think it's a great band name. Visually, I love the way it looks. I've never gotten tired of it.
SSION performs Saturday, November 3, at Dada.