When he returns to Toronto to perform at the July 3 Vazaleen party at Wrongbar, 30-year-old Kentucky-born artist/musician Cody Critcheloe won’t have as far to travel.
The frontman for queer punk-disco outfit Ssion (as in “passion”) has leaped from DJing in New York City to moving there for good.
“I sold all of my possessions in Kansas City and moved here with one suitcase,” he says. He now lives the dream of many a Midwest artist, but he quickly adds, “I’m not delusional… I’ve spent enough time here to know what I’ll have to do to stay afloat. I definitely don’t live a life of luxury, but I consider being an artist full-time pretty awesome.”
When it comes to making his finances work, it probably won’t help that he’s giving away his latest album free.
Bent will be available to download from the Ssion website starting June 28.
The last album “sold okay” on iTunes, Critcheloe says, “even though it’s all over the internet… so with this one, we’ll give it away for free for a month. It seemed like a punk thing to do,” he laughs.
Ssion has a solid discography of punk songs, notably the raucous “Day Job” but went disco with the previous album, Fool’s Gold, in 2008.
“It’s the same thing,” Critcheloe shrugs. “It’s three chords and a hook, you know? The only real difference is the production on it. Even though it’s a pop-disco record, the attitude and the aesthetic is still very punk rock, still very do-it-yourself.”
But while Critcheloe insists that Ssion’s sound “morphs and changes depending on what kind of music I want to make and what kind of visuals I want to go with it,” he admits that it wasn’t completely a coincidence when the critics at Pitchfork compared Fool’s Gold to the Scissor Sisters.
“I had sort of detached myself from dance music and gay culture in general,” Critcheloe says. “I didn’t feel like I belonged. I feel like it’s a rite of passage in a weird way, that if you’re thinking at all outside the box, you go through that phase where you’re like, ‘Well, I’m gay, but I’m not like that.’ But there came a point at which I realized I was denying myself the right to like what I want. The best thing about being gay — the most empowering thing — is that you can do whatever you want, like whatever you want.”
Critcheloe laughs as he throws aside his street cred: “If I like a Kelly Clarkson song, I should fucking like it! Who gives a shit? Just like it!”
Making Fool’s Gold, Critcheloe says, “was really a liberating experience for me, and [the song “Clown”] in particular really echoes that sentiment.” If you’re going to make any kind of music or any art, he insists, “you have to embrace who you are, your flaws, all of that shit. I’m not Glenn Danzig; I’m not Kylie Minogue. I’m not going to make music in that vein. It’s not my experience.”
Critcheloe gets the occasional comparison to Prince — there’s a drizzle of purple rain in his vocals — but says his biggest influence is Courtney Love, “a really iconic female figure in pop with the aggression of punk rock.” He also cites Sonic Youth, Pet Shop Boys, Patti Smith and Deee-Lite as huge influences. But, he says, in music as in life, “I feel like it’s impossible to categorize people, unless they want to be categorized.”
Anyone coming to see Ssion play will know, he says, that “anything is possible, depending on what I want to make.”