In the ever-shifting musical microcosm of today, the acronym “DIY” is thrown around frequently and liberally. “Do It Yourself” seems like a simple enough concept to wrap one’s mind around, but what does that actually mean in the world of music today?
For twenty-year-old, producer, engineer, songwriter, and artist Huron John, it means a “direct-and-personal” product output. Essentially, this means taking “self-released” to the next level by handling every step of creative curation. Easier said than done, the array of talents this wunderkind possesses is of course very rare, but even more precious than all of these gifts combined is John’s unique perspective, colorful and inquisitive like I’ve never encountered before.
That perspective is the driving force behind the collective project ‘Apocalypse Wow, Vol. 1 & 2.’ Inspired by the highs and lows of coming of age, he likens the scary part of growing up to the “Apocalypse” and the wonder of finding one’s fully formed self to the “Wow.”
Today marks the release of the second installment of ‘Apocalypse Wow,’ self-described by John as the project which shows “the most departure in style” yet. ‘Apocalypse Wow, Vol. 2’ is an inspiring amalgamation of creative freedom and personal insight. Concurrently nostalgic while forward-leaning both sonically and narratively, a full listen through feels like opening a time capsule, a comforting yet curiously mystical experience.
As the Chicago-native navigates through his early twenties and finishes up his musical studies at Belmont University, his genuine DIY approach has earned him accolades from around the world. Utilizing the internet in ways never before possible, from his suburbia childhood home studio, he has somehow garnered over 3.3 million streams worldwide independently. From coveted features on Spotify playlists such as New Music Friday, Lorem, Bedroom Pop, etc. to receiving praise from publications of the likes of Lyrical Lemonade, Ones To Watch, Coup De Main Magazine, & The Line of Best Fit, Huron John is swiftly being a secret force in the new decade of music.
In celebration of ‘Apocalypse Wow, Vol. 2,’ we had a chance to catch up with John. A special human being through and through, read on below for an exclusive peek into Huron John’s kaleidoscopic mind.
How did you first discover your knack for music?
I started playing instruments when I was like 7 or 8. My first love was the guitar. To put it concisely, I wasn’t having too much luck in normal middle-american-suburban activities like little league and stuff. I wanted to quit, my parents granted me that (they are the greatest). But, they said I needed to do something, not just Playstation all day. That “something” was guitar, then piano, then other stuff along the way. To put a super long story short, my guitar teacher helped burst my sheltered musical bubble and got me exposed to some really cool artists and albums.
A few years down the line I coincidentally discovered Tyler, The Creator due to those aforementioned albums my guitar teacher put me on to. When I was 12 I became an absolute super fan of him, I remember standing in line at the Golf Wang 2012 tour pop-up shop in Chicago. I was definitely the youngest looking kid there. My fandom for him grew so intense that when his ‘WOLF’ album came out in 2013, I was instantly obsessed. I loved the production so much that I Googled “how does Tyler, The Creator make his background instrumentals?” I didn’t even know it was called a “beat.” I pirated the program he used for that record, which I’ve used ever since. Started using our family room desktop Mac to produce copycat Mac Miller type beats, and I guess things kind of took their own direction from there.
What’s the creative scene like where you’re from?
Although I’m not exactly here year round, the scene in Chicago is very vibrant. I remember I was a junior in high school when this older guy I was friends with took me to a DIY show. I had never been to anything like it, the concept of bands playing in someone’s house was amazing to me. It was 2 openers, and then a pretty small local band. The opener ended up being Omar Apollo hahahahha. That shit is crazy. That’s the Chicago scene in a nutshell I guess, you’re always stumbling into something cool, even if you don’t know it. I’ve met / known so many fantastic artists from the area.
The creative scene here is very diverse and very envelope-pushing. You have raw and unfiltered more industrial hip-hop from people like LOWERLIPDRIP, to the most beautiful DIY spin folk music by this one dude Joyfriend. I always used to be very intimidated by our scene, I don’t think I’ve made very much effort to be a sizable piece of it. But, from the outside, it’s a beautiful thing. Some of my favorite artists that contribute to the culture of our city are (humor my listing here): Serena Isioma, Cameron Bolden, LOWERLIPDRIP, Joyfriend, ANGRYBLACKMEN, Blake Saint David, there’s lots. In summary, we have a cool scene.
How specifically did your upbringing influence your music?
My upbringing is probably the most influential piece of my stuff I would say. At least the stuff I have out right now. To put it concisely, the environment I was raised in was a very interesting one. The area I’m from is the strangest combination of boredom and enchantment. I love and hate everything about it. A lot of my older catalogue, and the majority of the Apocalypse Wow project, is rooted in the past, and how you view that past. My upbringing was filled with happy moments, and some sad ones too. Without talking your ear off, I can simply say that I am very thankful for everyone that has made their mark on me, good or bad. They have as much stake in this as I do.
Can you describe the exclusive “direct and personal product-output” approach you take toward your career?
I feel that so much of the indie landscape isn’t actually “indie”. There is only a select group of artists that I feel their output comes directly from them. Take “Popstar X”, and look at their product output. It may be shiny as can be, and the music might be great. That’s awesome. But you don’t know who is pulling the strings of “Popstar X” behind the scenes, right? Say what you want about Kanye West. Some call Kanye a dumbass, a crazy person. He’s had his ups and downs in terms of musical quality, I recognize that. But you know who is pulling the strings of Kanye, and it’s Kanye. I want my supporters to know that’s what they’re getting, whether they like it or not, comes from me.
Not to be hyperbolic, but I put my blood, sweat and tears into it. I pulled an all nighter on my birthday to mix the final track on Apocalypse Wow. By noon or so, I was still testing out the mix in different speakers and stuff, and my parents back home kept calling me to say happy birthday. I didn’t want to answer until I knew the mix was right, or else I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the phone call. It’s shit like that that excites me. I need to be passionate about it for others to be passionate about it. I want to create the entire world surrounding the work, and have others step into it. I want my listeners to know that 100% of this stuff is coming from me to them. It’s a direct pipeline. That’s what is so amazing about the internet and the era we live in. A stranger can pull the most intimate parts of their brain and give them directly to me in the form of songs, drawings, videos, or tee shirts. I want to provide my supporters with the most authentic experience they can get.
Where do you draw influence from for your visual art?
Definitely a huge part of the influence for my visual art just comes from stuff that I love. Whether I love it in a past or present tense, you can absorb a lot of stuff in 20 years. Cartoons, video games, movies, painters, trading card games, comic books, anything. I would say a lot of direct influence comes from mid-2000’s Cartoon Network. ‘Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends,’ ‘Code Name,’ ‘Kids Next Door,’ ‘Dexter’s Lab,’ ‘Regular Show,’ that type of stuff. I love video games visuals. Yu-Gi-Oh, Minecraft, Skyrim, all that shit. I used to love comic books and graphic novels. When I was like 10 I used to write these weird-ass letters to the guy who made ‘Diary Of A Wimpy Kid.’ Whether I realized it or not, all that stuff appears in my stuff one way or another.
How did you originally learn to produce and engineer?
As stupid as it sounds, I’ve literally just stumbled my whole way through this shit. I started producing when I was 13 because of the intrigue I mentioned early about Tyler. As for engineering, I didn’t even know what that shit meant until like 2018. My first actual “project” was an alternative-rap album I put out junior year of high-school under a different name. It was my first time ever recording real vocals, and I thought it was just as simple as rapping your lyrics into the microphone over the beat you made and that was it. I had no idea about EQ’ing, compression, panning, stereo-imaging, mastering, any of that shit. The trial and error process was beyond fucked. I guess I started to learn from just throwing dart after dart at the board. I’m still very far from the engineering skills of someone like Kevin Parker, which is where I eventually want to get. It’s a constant work in progress.
You’re studying music production now at Belmont University. In your experience, can the academic world can be conducive to creative growth?
Yeah, the academic world can absolutely enhance creative growth. For sure. But, in ways you might not expect. The school that I go to is a very strange place, it’s own students refer to it as a “summer-camp” instead of an actual college. It’s an interesting dynamic for sure. But, when I think about the stuff I’ve learned, has it grown me creatively? It’s tough to say, but probably not. What has grown me creatively though, is the environment fostered by the school that allowed me to meet my best friends. The best people I’ve ever met on the planet. Shoutout to Sam, Jake, Javin, Max, Cooper, Evan, Matt, Claire, Ben, you all know who you are. The environment that I was able to step into has grown me immensely. I definitely would not have made half the shit I’ve made without those friendships. So, I guess that means the academic world can grow you, but sometimes it might not be directly from the things you learn. If you’re reading this and you’re going to college soon, let it shape you, I guess. It’s a cool thing.
What’s the initial inspiration for creating ‘Apocalypse Wow, Vol. 1 & 2’?
I guess the whole “Volume” thing just felt natural. We wanted a more interesting narrative-based rollout, and I guess the whole process just worked out. The actual inspiration for the entire project though is growing up. The APOCALYPSE WOW title is supposed to reference how your world feels like it’s crumbling around you when you’re exiting childhood (the apocalypse), but it also feels really cool and beautiful to be moving into a new stage of life (the WOW).
Any specific avantgarde production techniques used on Vol. 2?
I’d say yeah. ‘Volume 2’ is definitely the group of tracks off the project (I’d say) that shows the most departure in style from my usual stuff. You have “Andy”, which is what it is, but then the 2 other tracks are for sure very different for me in terms of sound. There’s this track called Death By Flying Saucer that I wanted to sound like a robotic factory, where no humans are involved. There’s mechanical arms and legs flying everywhere, tons of beeps and boops. Everything is shiny and spotless. I wanted that type of feeling, but still with some funk in there. Like it’s this fucking factory of mindless robots all dancing in unison to this one track. You’ll see what I mean. Then, the last song on the Volume is called Why Do People Grow. That one is for sure one of my favorite beats I’ve ever made. It was the first song I made for the entire project. It’s super influenced by The Cure and New Order. I used an old drum machine from 1994 for the actual percussion, used on a very cool record by my favorite band of all time Smashing Pumpkins. I’m really excited for people to hear it.
Are there any thematic, overarching concepts over Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 you can expand on?
I don’t want to say too much because a lot of the message is completed with the entire project upon release, but I definitely do see Volume 1 and Volume 2 as separate stages of growing up. ‘Volume 1’ is for sure much more confusion and disoriented. To me, the version of me singing “Maple Syrup Tears” sounds very confused. His world is changing, and he doesn’t understand it. “Honor Tribe;” maybe he’s resisting that change, and trying to cling to the past. “Foxglove;” he has realized he cannot stop this change and it’s bringing him down. ‘Volume 2’ is much more triumphant. It has a much more “fuck it, what happens is out of my control” feeling. Especially with that ‘New Order’ type track.
Did you predict the apocalypse?
I own a time machine. Wash your hands.
CONNECT WITH HURON JOHN
story / Jessica Thomas