John Burcham, better known as Psymbionic, has built an empire on his view of production and performance that strays from the beaten path of industry trends. Through the use of non-traditional sound design, infectious melodies, and interwoven dynamics, the artist has established a reputation centered on innovation, while maintaining his history in the downtempo and emotive side of electronic sound. These facts are showcased through his vast discography, as well as his role as label manager for Gravitas Recordings.
Ahead of his forthcoming album, Carbon Based Lifeform, we caught up with Psymbionic to discuss his unique-yet-effective perspective on the industry in light of the release of his brand new single, “Edge Of The Earth.”
Carbon Based Lifeform is an incredibly diverse album featuring a vast array of vibes and elements. What specifically was your creative process in its development?
I think my creative process was a bit different for each song. In some ways, each song represented a mindset I was in when I made it. “Hypnotoad” was the very first one I wrote, and that was almost two years ago. I was coming back from tour with CloZee and felt like I was bursting at the seams since I hadn’t been able to write music in months. The instrumental for “Homesick” was also written around that same time. More recently, I put the finishing touches on the album and wrote the first two songs while doing a solo RV camping trip this past November. It’s amazing to be able to wake up in the wilderness of Colorado/New Mexico, go on a morning hike, then come back and put in a solid 8 hours of work without the distractions of cell reception or the internet.
Did you come across any difficulties in the production of the album?
Definitely. Last spring, I had 11 songs that I thought were going to be the album, but I was a bit derailed by a random tweet. Ekali was talking about the cohesiveness of albums and how it’s easy to tell when a song was kind of thrown in last minute. This one little tweet made me reconsider the songs I had put together at the time, and I ended up cutting out 5 of those and writing 4 new ones which eventually became Carbon Based Lifeform. At the time, my agent/manager teams were frustrated that my album had such a huge setback, and I was honestly kind of shaken by the entire process too. But I’m so so so glad that I took the time to think about it, it helped me evolve as an artist I think.
In your opinion, how does Carbon Based Lifeform differ from your previous releases?
The biggest way it differs is that I believe it’s some of the best music I’ve ever written. I’ve been passively studying arrangement and a bit of jazz theory over the past couple of years, and I feel pretty good about finally having integrated a lot of these things into my songwriting process. I feel my songs flow better over the course of the album and this album is more cohesive and consistent in the quality in comparison to any other EP or album I’ve released prior.
Which tracks were the most fun putting together?
“Cloudchaser” is probably the most fun track of the album in my opinion. That song went through so many variations to get where it is today, I rewrote the drop at least 3 or 4 times from scratch. While it was tedious, it was honestly super exhilarating when I felt like I actually nailed what the song should sound like. “Hypnotoad” was another that was super fun, it’s the type of song that is half goofy doesn’t take itself too seriously. That’s kind of how I like to approach my music in general.
Surely you’ll be touring in support of the release. Any insight as to what attendees can expect from those performances?
Yes! I have a solid tour that kicked off last week and stretches across North America. I have either Thelem or Frequent on almost every date, and both of these guys are super talented. Thelem is a true badman when it comes to the deep dubstep sound and pulls it off without it ever feeling boring or repetitive to me. Frequent is a bit at the other end of the spectrum, he makes some wildly creative and complex neuro type tunes that regularly blow my mind. I’ve been honing my sound in my sets recently and hope to pull off a night of curated music on each stop where every act sets the vibe for the one to follow. Those are my favorite types of shows.
Looking forward, where do you see Gravitas Recordings going as its label manager?
Gravitas is always growing and evolving. Our big picture plans on the label side mainly include working on larger projects where we spend more time on each release. We’ve realized that we do our best work when timelines aren’t rushed and there is space to be creative in the rollout and marketing. We have a weekly singles program called “Infusion” which will be moving to bi-weekly in 2019, giving more room for each drip to breathe. There’s also our producer resource sub-brand called Gravitas Create, where we release sample packs, tutorials, and foster a community through production challenges, feedback groups, and so on. Overall, we’re just coming from a solid year of hard work and we’re taking the time to really set our sights for where we’d like to go in 2019.
Over the years, you’ve made a point to present your craft with the perspective of never visiting the same place twice. Considering that, what can fans expect from you throughout the year?
In my songwriting, I really try not to rely on using formulas for songs that I know people like – even my own songs. I don’t want to be one of those producers who just rehash the same ideas over and over. That feels boring to me. So my goal to keep evolving in my songwriting and continuing to learn new techniques and theories of writing music. I think in 2019, I’m going to focus on singles and collabs for a good bit as a palette cleanser after spending almost 2 years on this album. Further on in the future, I’d love to have the opportunity to try my hand at writing cinematic soundtracks or similar work too. That is something that fascinates me a lot and was a big influence on the album.
Do you have any advice for budding producers or individuals seeking entry into the business side of the music industry?
It might sound cheesy, but the number one piece of advice I can give anyone is not to give up if they are really interested in pursuing music. There will be plenty of times where you feel like quitting, and so many extremely talented people throw in the towel before they ever get where they want to go. For me, I treat it like a job and I’m my own boss. I make sure to show up to work and put in a solid day every single chance I get. No one is going to do the work for you, you have to put in the hours yourself before anyone else will care what you’re doing. Doing it for yourself is the only way that works.