It’s never easy to take your music in a new direction. The daunting workload of differentiating yourself from yourself coupled with the potential of disappointing your fans is usually grounds to stay rooted in your musical safe zone, but every now and then, an artist comes along and pulls off reinvention like it was his damn 40 hour a week day job.
Crywolf is one of those. The L.A. producer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist has existed in his self-made world of his own success for the past four years, gaining notoriety with his intimate, melodic and avante-garde brand electronic music. His infinitely-listenable discography has earned him both commercial success and the support from international acts such as Ellie Goulding, Skrillex, Adventure Club, Dada Life, Arty, The Crystal Method, Fedde Le Grande and more.
But now, he’s taking things in a new direction, a move inspired by a life-changing journey he took to Iceland, land of supermodels and geothermal heating. Earlier this year, Crywolf spent 45 days in a small fishing village there where he isolated himself, built himself a studio, and recorded Cataclasm, his first full album and his debut attempt at a new sound. Since it was such an influential experience for him, Crywolf wanted all his fans and viewers to experience it as well … so he documented the whole thing for your ocular pleasure.
The resulting documentary, “The Making of Cataclasm,” captures a handful of remarkable moments throughout his Icelandic inhabitancy, providing a rich story for viewers and imbuing a sense of context and personality into the music he made there.
Today, we’re pretty hyped to have snagged the premiere of “Draumstafir,” the second episode of the documentary. In it, Crywolf describes what draws him to Iceland as you witness the beginnings of his self-made studio construction and his recording process.
Check it out below, then scroll down to read our brief interview with Crywolf about the documentary and why he decided to go the Icelandic-isolation route in creating his new sound.
IHC: How did the Icelandic landscape and culture influence you and your sound for this project?
Crywolf: The landscape of Iceland is just completely different from everything than I’m used to. The landmass of Iceland is 25x younger than the North American land mass, and it was created by geothermic activity, so it’s just a very strange place – huge fields of volcanic boulders, beaches of black sand, geysers everywhere. Almost like being on another planet. As someone who is heavily affected creatively by my surroundings, it definitely brought some very foreign themes and motifs out.
You used Icelandic instruments and other special, bizarre music contraptions to make this LP. Can you tell us how you sourced those, how you decided which ones to use, and what kind of mood you wanted to create with them?
When I arrive in Iceland, I stayed in the capital, Reykjavik, for a week to source equipment. Monitors, instruments, etc. I needed it all. While hunting around in Icelandic music stores I kept finding all kinds of weird instruments I had never seen before. I just listened to everything, heard which sounds I liked, and bought everything I could afford. I had a pretty good understanding of the sonic palette I was going to go for with the album, so that helped. There was also this super old Icelandic organ at a house near where I was staying, so I used that a bit too, which was awesome.
You’re stepping outside the box of what you’re known for with this LP. What’s it like to put yourself out there like that?
It’s pretty terrifying. I mean, thankfully the first single did really well – tons of support from really big names in the industry that I have never talked to before – so I have more confidence now. But initially, *whew.* Man, there were definitely times when I thought “Justin, what if this is your big downfall? What if everyone a year from now goes ‘Remember Crywolf? Oh yeah, he put out that weird album and just completely fell off.”
How would you describe your new sound?
Hmm… Well, I guess I would describe it in terms of my musical inspirations. Lyrically and vocally I would say Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Dallas Green (City And Colour) are my biggest influences. As far as the instrumental/production side my biggest influences (for this album) were Alt-J, Baths, and a little Odesza.
So I guess it’s like, lots of soaring melodies with introspective lyrics washing over organic percussive-based production. Also, each song evolves a lot. Very few of the songs have a traditional verse-chorus structure… It’s more like verse1-verse2-bridge-verse3 or something weird like that. I like to think of structure in more of a classical music sense… my goal is to have movements, not verses and choruses.
As an artist, how do you know you’re going in the right direction with your music?
I think it’s all about refusing to try to let your left brain control your creative output. It’s easy to see other stuff that is successful, and think “Oh, let me make something like that,” and then you sort of emulate it … but I feel like that sort of thing is never going to fulfill you. On the other hand, when you finish a song and think to yourself “Wow, I have legitimately never heard anything else like this.” I think that definitely tells you you are on the right track.
Can you tell us about a particularly salient experience you had in Iceland that inspired you?
I think the most inspiring experience was actually traveling to the little fishing village I was staying in, Bildudalur. It was a six hour drive from the capital where I flew in, and only three hours of the drive was on paved roads. The rest was on tiny little dirt and gravel roads over these huge treacherous mountains. I didn’t see another car for hours. It really put in perspective how far I was from civilization. That’s one of my favorite feelings – discovering a new place, hundreds of miles from any city, feeling like I’m truly free. Los Angeles, where I live, is such a huge metropolis so it’s very rare that I get to feel that feeling. I was brimming with excitement the whole time. I’d like to think you can hear it in the music.
Can you give us a pro-tip for traveling to Iceland or being there?
Eat. The. Hot dogs. God, Icelandic Hot Dogs are just incredible. I’m serious, that is the one thing I have told everyone I know that goes to Iceland. Get a hot dog. Every time I tell a friend that, I get an email from them a week later going “Holy shit man I have eaten four hot dogs a day since I got here thank you so much for telling me about this.” They are totally different than hot dogs here … They have some weird shit on them.
Check out Episode 1 of “The Making of Cataclasm” here, and listen to “Rising, Rising,” the first single off the album below.