How Crywolf, Fueled by Creativity, Produced His Debut Album in Isolation

Settling into a small fishing village in Iceland, Crywolf produced his debut album. We chat with the artist and premiere the latest documentary that chronicles his experience.
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Settling into a small fishing village in Iceland, Crywolf produced his debut album. We chat with the artist and premiere the latest documentary that chronicles his experience.

When listening to the music of Crywolf, otherwise known as Justin Taylor Phillips, the emotion is right front and center. It grabs you and doesn't let you go until it's finished revealing it's message. Phillips doesn't aim to do this either, it just happens. His main creative medium is song and like many creative people he just does what comes naturally to him and to the listener it sounds like a beautiful outpouring of emotion. He has a way with blending sounds together with his voice in order to create these ballad like anthems. You can try, but there isn't really a genre you can pin him to, it's just Crywolf.

Over the past couple years we've been graced with a string of quality EPs from Crywolf and now he's approaching the release of his debut album that has an interesting concept behind it. In order to produce the album, Phillips traveled to a small fishing village in Iceland where he spent time in isolation and just let the creativity take over. The finished product is some of his deepest work yet and the listener will definitely feel the soul searching he experienced while producing the material. 

We got a chance to chat with Phillips about why he chose to go on this journey and how it affected his musical output. He also documented the experience in a collection of mini-documentaries which we are premiering below. He discusses how creativity fueled his time spent in isolation and how that translated to his work. Not just anybody can do what Crywolf did and we're excited to hear the finished product, Cataclasm, when it is released on November 20th. 

How would you describe your sound to someone who was listening to your music for the first time?

"I guess I would say it sounds like if the lovechild of Alt-J and Odesza became a producer and enlisted the bastard son of Bon Iver and Dallas Green to do vocals for his new project."

What made you want to isolate yourself to produce this album?

"I feel like change so often sparks creativity. I live in a huge city, with people constantly surrounding me. I knew escaping to somewhere far away, somewhere so different, would really push me out of my comfort zone creatively and cause me to have to reach and find a unique sound." 

Can you describe some feelings and emotions you felt while being in Iceland and how that affected your creative process?

"I wrote the whole album while I was in the middle of a pretty difficult patch in my current relationship. There are a ton of emotions expressed in the album - nostalgia, desire, frustration - there's a lot of stuff I didn't even really know was inside of me. My music absolutely reflects my experiences, my thoughts, my emotions - that's pretty much the entirety of what I write. Writing functions as a sort of catharsis for me - it gets so many things off my chest... I still haven't discovered anything that is nearly as effective at bringing peace to my inner turmoil."

Why did you choose Iceland?

"It's just such a bizarre place, as far as it's landscape and geological makeup goes. It was formed by massive underwater volcanos only 18 million years ago (North America is 550 million years old) so everything there is radically different from what we are used to in the USA. Mountains are giant blocks that haven't had time to wear down into the slopes we are used to, there are beaches of black sand, lava rock fields as far as the eye can see, with bright green moss growing on them. It feels like another planet. It brought up so many fresh themes and motifs that I wasn't used to exploring."

How do you think your sound has evolved through this experience? 

"I think it's become so much more mature. I listen to this album and I think to myself 'Yep, this is what I was trying to do all along, but I just didn't know how.'"

What do you want listeners to take away from this album? 

"I generally don't like having any sort of expectations or qualifiers as far as how other people will interpret my work, but if I had to say something, I 'd say I'd like them to feel like they have been transported to another world."

Would you ever approach an album like this again?

"Definitely. I've been considering doing the next one somewhere completely different, like metropolitan Tokyo, or the jungles of south america."

Watch the documentary below where Crywolf goes deeper into the emotions he felt while in isolation in Iceland producing his debut album Cataclasm.

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