BY ANDREW KIM
Huron John is definitely one of the most creative rising stars in the indie-pop scene in recent years and there’s no sign of him stopping his ascent. The 20-year old Chicago native has a robust artillery of musical talents, being the songwriter, producer, and visual artist for all of his projects. With the newest release of his debut full-length project Apocalypse Wow, John has taken the abstract nature of an independent creative to the maximum. Expanding from youthful anthems of freedom and heartbreak to a heart wrenching, intimate view into his mental psyche, Apocalypse Wow presents John at his most vulnerable and victorious state yet.
I was lucky enough to catch an interview with John to talk about this new release, his upcoming project Spirit Gangster, and discuss his journey as a musical visionary. With a notebook bursting with impending questions in my hand and a newly-punched Capri-Sun juice pouch in his, we were able to share a lax conversation about his come-up as an artist, his newly released project Apocalypse Wow, and all of the background motions that occur when releasing a debut project. Throughout the interview, John spoke in an almost sporadic way, but his intellect and passion for his craft definitely pierced through his whirlwind of dialogue and spoke of his sincerity and musical talent.
[This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity]
“Wow” is the right word to describe your project Apocalypse Wow. How does it feel to release your first full-length project?
It feels very good, it’s been a feeling of relief. I’ve always wanted to become an album artist, because in this whole DIY indie music scene, there aren’t many people that are project-orientated. When you go on someone’s Spotify site and you look at their catalog, there’s like 25 singles stretching on. Of course, there’s value in any type of music that is released, but I’ve always been attracted to album artists. While I love my old music, I got to commit to the message that I wanted to deliver when working on this project. With this album, I felt like I was taking a step towards where I want to be at the end, compared to continuing to deliver singles.
Before Apocalypse Wow, you’ve released EP after EP. How was the creative direction and making of this album different compared to your previous work?
I’m in my junior year of college and during the second semester of my freshman year, I released a song called “Friendzone.” It was the first song that got me on editorials, streaming media playlists, and all that good stuff. It was the first moment that I felt gratification. It didn’t blow up to astronomical heights or anything, but it was my first taste of being the fisherman who finally caught something after casting a line.
But after that, there was a lot of anxiety and insecurities. I was just really confused in the sense that I put out a song and found some success. But what now? Am I supposed to make more songs that sound like this? Am I supposed to try something completely different? If I try something completely different, would people not like it? Should I make another EP? Should I make a longer project? All of this questioning happened in January 2019, and the answer that I finally settled on was to make a long-form project.
I started working very hard on this project, and originally, I had seven songs and it was titled “Sleeping With My Socks On” [laughs]. Yeah, I was working on this project all throughout February and March, and it was coming out really shitty. It was inauthentic and it wasn’t flowing right, so I was very frustrated and in a very confusing time. Usually, I come up with the title of a project before I start making music, and I conform the music around the title. So, when I started working on the “Sleeping With My Socks On” project, one of the songs was called ”Apocalypse Wow,” and I really liked that title. I thought it sounded really cool on paper and while it didn’t have any meaning behind it at the time, I just liked how it looked in a visual sense.
I scrapped that entire project and took that song title and carried it over to a new project, a four-song EP called Apocalypse Wow. This project would complete my trilogy of four-song EPs; it would be Never Inside, Final Fantasy, and Apocalypse Wow, and the series would be done sp I could move on to something else.
I made the single “Golden Arches“ and the song “Seafoam” when I got home for summer break. Those songs were cool and I really enjoyed making them, but I was making them with sort of foggy lenses. I finally got home around late April feeling uninspired, and so I decided I would take a break. Maybe a single or two would come out, but nothing too serious. I unpacked all of my equipment, set it all up, and started making a beat. Surprisingly, it came very naturally and that beat ended up becoming the song “Why Do People Grow” off of the album. I started thinking, “Oh, maybe I will make another four-song EP” and made four songs: “Maple Syrup Tears“, “Why Do People Grow“, “Andy“, and one more that I can’t remember. Those four songs came naturally but I started making more songs. The EP soon became four songs, five songs, six songs, and eventually nine songs.
That’s quite a history! Okay, shifting gears towards the music specifically, were there any sonical or lyrical themes you incorporated into this album?
Throughout the album, we focus on the kid named Andy and a giant robot that comes to Earth. There are aliens too and all this other shit that beamed him up and he’s trying to convince them why they shouldn’t destroy the planet. It goes all over the fucking place. It was that kind of comic-book type of thing but I also wanted to take it from a realistic perspective. Something that if you’re not into a story about aliens, robots, shit like that, I could still give space for you on this album.
Definitely, the theme of this album is growing up and the transition from childhood to adulthood. In the internet age, in the area that you and I are living in, it can be very difficult as we’re being thrown social media outlets, advertisements: all these forces that are telling us how to think and appear. So, that’s kind of the main theme. I try to make it so that the album can be digested as a break-up album, but not as a typical break-up between two lovers, but rather the breaking up between your younger self and now your grown-up adult self.
What were the recording sessions like?
They were all very organic, sporadic shit. I never sit down and write lyrics, it kind of ebbs and flows for me. In terms of the recording sessions specifically, I didn’t make any of this music at school. I started as a producer first, so I always make the beats first. In terms of my writing process, I have a large document on my phone or laptop and I don’t write lyrics for specific songs in those documents, but I instead write complete unrelated lines. After I finish a beer and I want to write the song, I’ll go into the document and pluck lines Frankenstein-style to piece it all together.
In one part, I did all of the production, all of the beats, all of the actual sounds during the summer in Chicago, and in the other, I wrote the entire album and recorded vocals at school in Nashville.I had broken up the album into two segments and was already dead set on releasing the album on Black Friday of 2019 because I had finished it in October. But I ended up getting hooked up with management and a lot of back-door industry people who told me to rethink this project more strategically and to have a more expansive roll-out.
Nice. There also seems to be a very colorful cohesion between all of your cover arts. Where do you start creatively when making the art for a project?
Ooh, I’ve never really thought about that. I would say it’s similar to my process of making beats. I start making the cover art very naturally and never really plan out when or how I make the art. I usually make the cover art based on how I think the project sounds. In the case of all three of the Apocalypse Wow singles, it’s pretty cohesive color-wise and thematically. I never planned out my album art but with this Apocalypse shit, that was an exception. If you look at all of the three singles, I’ve put a globe in the top left in each of the album covers. As I went along and discovered the message of this project, I was able to make cohesive covers for each release.
For the artwork of the entire project, I took a photo at this fireworks show that’s super big in the area where I grew up. It’s at a high school football field that can fit at least a couple thousand people, and I went there with my family every year throughout my childhood. It’s a super iconic spot to me, so I chose a photo that I took from this event in 2008 of this kid who’s bouncing a ball in front of his face. I thought it would be cool to make his ball into a glowing globe with flames coming from the bottom to symbolize the fleeting nature of youth. Sometimes my album art is completely random and sometimes it’s thematic to match the music.
How has it been releasing your debut full-length project in the COVID-19 era?
it’s been weird because I made this entire project in October when none of the shit was going on. If you told me in October that my school year is going to be cut short because of a global pandemic and I was going to have to move back home and sit in my house for seven weeks, probably more, I would have called you a nut job. I’d be like, “What the fuck are you talking about?“
I also got a lot of messages and outrage from listeners asking if the title was on purpose in relation to the pandemic. It was all pure coincidence, which almost kind of makes me feel like I was meant to release it at this time. Given the circumstances that we’re in, it was kind of a perfect storm to drop a project because it has given people a lot of time to sit with the music.
Because I had already released six of the nine songs on the album, I was worried that people weren’t going to fuck with the album as it didn’t have a lot of new material. I thought the album would lose its “full-length” aspect. It’s been really shocking to me because 75 to 80 percent of all the outreach that I received have been people saying that they’ve listened to the entire project from start to finish, that it’s very thematic, the transitions are nice, that sort of shit. That’s been really cool, and it means a lot to me because it was really important that I kept the traditional album concept with this project.
That’s amazing. Now that the project’s finally out, what’s next for Huron John? Are there any upcoming projects that we can look forward to or will there be the given musical hiatus after such a major release?
I just started working on music, actually. I haven’t been making music since December 2019, because the way that I usually work is I make a shit ton of music within four or five months and then I don’t make anything at all for another four or five months. I need a concentrated time period to focus on one project, and now that that time period for Apocalypse Wow is over, I’ve started to work on my next era of music.
I’m not gonna say anything about when you can expect new material, but kind of how I said I always come up with titles first, I will say that I like the title for my next project. I’ve actually already been telling it to some people because I want to get the name out before anything happens so that the people can sit with it. The next project is called Spirit Gangster and it’s gonna be a whole different sound and style from what I’ve released so far.
I’m also shooting for a pretty big merch drop at the end of June, and I made a magazine to go along with that. All of this will be revolving around the project still, but yeah, I’m just taking all of the next steps after the project release and I’m excited to see where this goes.