SSION is Not Your Traditional American Pop Hero
With an upcoming album set to be delivered early May, Ssion is creating music for the apoca-lypstick.
With an upcoming album set to be delivered early May, Ssion is creating music for the apoca-lypstick.
Cody Critcheloe, frontman of SSION, is the punk master-mind ready to make a violent statement with the arrival of his new record O. The album, filled with cameos from his homies like Sky Ferreira and Ariel Pink, plays like it was designed by a charming small-town alien-villain who has come to earth to shatter the wall separating us from the next dimension. Like the icons that influenced him, the outsiders who need to find SSION and feed on the fruits of his twisted hallucinations in 2018 will learn that the most provocative rock ’n’ roll thing you can do in this wretched world is to be true to yourself.
Days before the blue moon on one of his last stops on the West Coast leg of his tour with Beth Ditto, VMAN caught up with Cody to talk Courtney Love, the realities of social media, and his thoughts on the current state of pop culture.
What books do you have in your suitcase?
I have this book that’s like quotes from Keith Richards or something? It’s called Stone Me. I hate it. I’ve read his autobiography and that kind of sucked too.
Do you feel sexier now in your 30s than you did in your 20s?
I do. I really do. I think out of all my friends I have a real fetish about getting old. It excites me. I always think about when I’m going to be 70, the kind of house I’ll have and all the things I’ve done. Aging does not bother me. Did you know that I love tanning? Everyone’s always like “Cody, you’re going to look crazy in 10 years if you keep tanning.” I’m like, “Um? I’m not concerned.” I mean, isn’t being like Iggy Pop always the goal?
What would you do when you were younger to access: feeling sexy?
I’ve always been way more into presenting something asexual to the world. I never wore chokers or harnesses. I’m always trying to be desexualized. Looking back, I think I felt most sexy when I felt alien. These days I feel like I’m in more drag than ever, with this beard and being more butch.
Does it ever get insulting to see yourself and many other artists reduced to their sexual identity, in marketing, like “Gay Artist SSION?” Have you grown out of caring?
I don’t care as much anymore. When I put out my last album, I got so much of that kind of thing and it drove me crazy. I just wanted people to view me as an artist. I don’t know why people want me to be that person. The truth is I’m always going to let people down. I’m not smart about those kind of things. I’m not thinking about my sexuality when I’m making music, or doing my idea of drag, and that infuriates people.
If music is alchemy, was there a red-feeling you can remember where you were like “Fuck all of you, I’m making a record…” ?
It was on tour a couple years ago. I saw the crowd respond and was reminded people were invested in me and how much I loved being on stage and I was like “I guess I should make more music.” The first song we did for the album was with this guy Sam Mehran, that “Comeback” song. I got really excited about it. I played it for Nick Weiss and he was into it. Then Nick and I started to fuck with the production of it and in the process of making something crazy, and then I decided it’s time to do a full record. It was fun working with Sam, who is such a rock ’n’ roll purist, and going back and forth between the worlds and going with Nick to fuck up the form and be more experimental. I had a lot of fun making this album. For once, I could meld the in-between-ness that SSION has always represented, my love for punk rock, alternative music and big pop and dance production. It’s important to retain a sense of humor and a fuck-it attitude, which is something this world is thoroughly lacking.
Did you know you were going to have so many pals and icons be a part of this album?
Everything that happened was organic. Sam, Nick and I would have conversations about the record and discuss the visual presence, something I can’t stop doing when the song is going to form. Making a record is sometimes like casting a movie. That’s what we would do with these features. The song has been already written but it’s like “Do you know who we should get on this who’d be really cool?” It’s kind of like a Broadway musical.
What was the moment like when you said to yourself, “Heaven Is My Thing Again…”?
I’m always keeping a list of song-titles in my phone notes, when they come to me. In 2012, I tweeted that and I was telling Nick we have to write that song. We started working on it in 2015. There are 8 versions. It took me so long to find the chorus melody. I think it’s going to be the next single.
The lyric “I ripped it off before you ripped it off, so don’t rip me off or I’ll rip you off” on “1980-99” sums up in a weird way what it is like existing in today’s world. Am I crazy or is that line, like, the world? It reminds me of living in these creative-filter bubbles where everyone is scribing from the same source and how everyone is so obsessed with claiming ownership….
That line is totally the world. It is from one of my songs from 2003 that I resurrected. I’ve had many conversations in life with people who are, how do I say this, delusional. You can be hanging out with someone and they are like “It sucks. She’s ripping me off because I was the one who had a band before she did! That was my idea…” It’s like girrrrl, bands have existed for a very long time! There’s so many girls who are like “Green hair and Black Lipstick is my thing!” It’s no one’s thing. It’s not your thing. That was one of the moments I realized I had grown up, when I understood that you own nothing.
People always say “You can tell when someone’s authentic. You can just feel it.” But I also love fake people. Does it even matter?
It doesn’t matter to me. Honestly, I don’t think people can tell and I don’t think most people care. People are not interested in authenticity or where things come from. I can say something is “authentic” but to what I think is “authentic” to another person is “fake.” No one can win.
Are you the star you want to see in the world? Is this the music you want to be listening to?
I just make the things that I want to hear and that I want to see. I just do what I think is good and I do want people to like it. The reason I like making pop is because I want to connect with people desperately. The pop in me wants to connect to people. SSION should be played at the mall. Nick used to think pop was something that was sort of less than until working on this album where he realized that it’s the hardest music to make.
What disturbs you about the current state of pop-culture?
The PC police. It’s so out of hand. That’s it. Aren’t we legit living in a John Waters movie at this point? Trump being president, everyone’s hyper-sensitive reactions to everything. It’s hysterical.
Do you think Instagram is an anesthetic?
I don’t have any conspiracy theories about Instagram. I don’t think about it. I think this is a narcissism thing? I just love my own Instagram because I treat it like a sketch-book doubled as a scrapbook. I spend more time looking at my own Instagram more then other people. I stalk my crushes, occasionally. Maybe I am a slave to Instagram and I don’t realize it yet. Scary!
Do you use Grindr on the road? Do you block your friends so they can’t see your profile?
I don’t use any sex apps on the road. I haven’t had Grindr or Scruff in a while but when I did I would block people that I knew. I think everyone does that because we are presenting and marketing a fake version of ourselves. It’s all a fantasy. You see a friend on there who has this masculine image and you look at it all like, “WTF? You are so not like that!” I’m not any better. I was doing the same thing. It’s so embarrassing.
If you could be the equivalent of a drag mother to a current pop-star, who would it be?
I don’t want to have a collection of barbies. I’m not trying to play Barbie with pop stars.
I would never want to be in that position. I would never want to be the creative director behind a pop star. That would be so soul sucking and dark. I would be down to collaborate on a song with Paris Hilton or something. I would never want to dedicate my life to make a pop star interesting. I just wish more of the gays behind the scenes would just go and do their own thing. Gay men are taught that they’ll only amount to being behind the scenes in the arts and working for some pop star. You’re taught “that’s when you made it”. It’s so exhausted. Everyone ever shouldn’t aspire to be less. You should want to be more then the gay guy who is like “Girl, that would look major on you..”
What do you think about Taylor Swift’s reputation era?
Oh my god! This is such an important era for her, this is so important for her. I hope she realizes that. She is a pop monster, pop god - and it’s a seriously major time for Taylor.
As a Hole fan: Celebrity Skin vs Live Through This. Go off…
Live Through This is my favorite Hole album, but I always go to bat with Live Through This purists about why Celebrity Skin is such a great record and why it’s so important. For Courtney, it’s such a cool thing to have had happened for her career - can you imagine how crazy it drove Courtney when the world wouldn’t let her reclaim her narrative and break the archetype of being this “teenage whore, punk junkie” - I feel like a lot of my gay friends who are influenced by Live Through This loved Celebrity Skin. We loved that “rise from the ashes”, “you can come out of it” inspiration. How cool is it that Courtney Love became a legitimate movie star and took over Hollywood, and was able to put a rock album that was in sync with the new narrative she finally controlled.
For this season of Drag Race - Are you team Aquaria or Mz Cracker?
I don’t know yet. I’m full of assumptions. It’s very early for this feud. I think there is something about Mz Cracker that I respond to more, like something sad and heartbroken, like the world has broke her heart and she seems funnier to me. Aquaria is gorgeous but there’s something about her that seems so perfect and I personally can’t identify with that. I will say this: I don’t think Aquaria is a mean girl.
Any messages for the youth of America?
Oh god….Are you fucking kidding me right now?
O by SSION is available on May 11, 2018 via Dero Records
(pre-order available: https://ssion.bandcamp.com/album/o)