Huron John Invites You to Experience the Trauma-Exorcism of ‘cartoon therapy’ [Q&A]

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Photo: Chase Denton

In the world of up-and-coming artists, few names generate as much excitement as Huron John. Last year the indie pop prodigy invited listeners into his technicolor world with his debut LP Apocalypse Wow, and this week sees him returning once more with his long-awaited sophomore project, cartoon therapy.

In 2020, Huron John's debut Apocalypse Wow was met with widespread acclaim with critics praising everything from its production and forward-thinking narrative, to Huron John's whimsically crafted tracks. Both albums are written, engineered, and produced in their entirety by the Chicago native, but while the former is an explosive display of left-field kaleidoscopic narratives and youthful romance, the latter takes a much more introspective approach to its storytelling.

cartoon therapy sheds Huron John's youthful exuberance for something that is much more complex, and at times even vulnerable. Tracks like "Arthur" are just as concerned with the euphoria of new romance as they are with the anxiety of growing old and being insecure in the skin that you're in. Despite its more pensive thematic register, cartoon therapy is a must-listen. The record is filled with 10 high-energy indie pop anthems that will transport your weekly rotation to another world before you can even say "meep."

Prior to the release of cartoon therapy, I was fortunate enough to pick Huron John's brain about his newest record. We discussed the past year, his favorite piece of hardware, and everything in-between.

Ones To Watch: It's been a minute since we last got a full-length project from you. Your debut album, 2020's Apocalypse Wow, focused on themes of disillusionment and dystopia, which was probably appropriate given how insane last year was. On your newest project cartoon therapy, what themes did you try to focus on?

Huron John: This new album is all about healing. It's super symbolic to me personally in the sense of, like, I've been going through some very dark shit, and finally getting this project out kind of lets me see a light at the end of the tunnel in a way. The album is about accepting the individuality of your own journey, and understanding that life is beautiful even through all of the things that bog us down. It's about answering questions but not being afraid to pose new ones. The album is truly like a really volatile version of therapy… it's like 10 fucking tracks back-to-back-to-back with like no space in between (laughs). It's supposed to be just a whirlwind of getting out what is inside so you can move forward. This thing is like a trauma-exorcism but you're on the dancefloor or on a bike. 

How do you feel cartoon therapy extends the world you built on Apocalypse Wow? Did you always anticipate the story going this way, or did things change throughout the creative process?

It's a second half of the "story" of Apocalypse Wow, it completes this like double album-style package. My favorite album of all time is a double album with a loose concept based on the progression from the moment you wake up to the moment you fall asleep. From Apocalypse Wow to cartoon therapy it's this concept about a character - who is lowkey based on myself but shhhh (laughs) - who saves the planet from aliens. Then, in CT, he basically befriends the aliens enough so that they give him a time machine. He goes on this crazy-ass adventure throughout time-and-space visiting all the fucked up moments from his life and like gaining peace with them I guess. The connection kind of unraveled as I made the stuff, I suppose. I just wanted it to be a very clear bookend on the introductory chapter of my discography. 

Which track on cartoon therapy was the biggest challenge to make and why? What track are you most proud of?

A track called "Cosmic Opera (Death Is Not The End)." Basically, I had a whole other song called "We'll Come Out On Top," it was actually the first beat I made for the record. It's this really slow, psychedelic like Some Rap Songs style hip-hop shit. My hard drive broke so I lost the original beat, tried for about three weeks to remake it, but it just didn't work. In the process, a whole new beat "(Cosmic Opera)" was born. I got COVID, strep throat, and a whole bunch of other shit that caused me to have to re-record the vocals like three times. 

How was the creation of cartoon therapy and its creative process different from your last record?

It was beyond fucked. An absolute shit-show. Apocalypse Wow was extremely over-planned (musically), and the process was like so long to make that record. This one I wanted to try a much more rapid-fire like lightning-in-a-bottle approach and make the full album in like three months. That goal was the death of me (laughs). In a nutshell, I made like 15 beats for the whole thing, wrote all the lyrics, recorded all the vocals, then realized I had a faulty microphone so I had to re-record the entire album. It was a nightmare. Then, when I had like four songs left to record, I got COVID, then I lost my voice due to COVID after I recovered, then I found out I had strep throat. A whole bunch of other shit happened but it was the like "I AM FINISHING THIS FUCKING ALBUM IF IT KILLS ME" type shit. Very crazy process. 

It seems like the release of cartoon therapy had a much greater emphasis on visuals than Apocalypse Wow. Was this intentional? 

Oh yeah. It was supposed to really drive home this narrative world, and just expand the whole world of this character Andy - one that spans between the two albums. Two records with a very visual universe, so that was definitely the goal of the whole thing.

How has your understanding of your music and your place in the music industry changed since the release of Apocalypse Wow? How are you feeling about things now?

I honestly don't know. My relationship with music has changed immensely since I created this record, to rolling it out, to now. I have realized a lot of things that I want to take part in, and a lot of things that I do not. My goal is to get this work in the hands of as many people as I can, specifically physical vinyl copies of the music. This record truly taught me that the sole purpose of life is to impact as many people that you can with creative work. To make their lives better. To comfort people and soundtrack their memories. To play an integral part in their lives as your favorite artists do in yours. Impacting people like that doesn't happen through sexy selfies on the internet. Does that make sense?

What do you want listeners to take away from cartoon therapy?

It's okay to feel the way you're feeling right now. Your thoughts are your thoughts and no one can ever take that away from you. No matter what those thoughts are. Life is your movie and you are the main character. Allow your adventure to surprise you.

Every track on the record was produced, written, and engineered by you, which is something that not many artists can claim. As your career grows, do you think you'll be looking to collaborate more with your peers? And if so, who are some artists you'd love to hop in the studio with?

Yes… I am just starting to experiment with a lot of artists and producers. It is fun. I plan on doing one of those producer albums where it's just like a million artists hopping on my project. I definitely feel like these first two albums really hammered home the personal and intimate kind of "one-man show" aspect of my music. Now, it's time to try some other stuff. I want to work with King Krule. 

From your MicroKorg Analog Modeling Synth to your laptop, what's a piece of hardware you couldn't live without?

I just bought a real TR-707 drum machine from the '80s and that thing is my baby!

 What rare interest do you have in something that gets you geeked out? 

I really like traditional Indian music. Also, I have developed an interest in the shortwave analog radio community. 

What's your plan for the rest of 2021? Is there anything fans can look forward to as summer starts to roll around? 

Yes. I will be releasing the Apocalypse Wow/cartoon therapy double album on vinyl within the next couple of weeks. The inside gatefold is a playable board game, and both discs are colored/see-through. I have a 65-page book that is releasing around that time as well. Full of photos, articles, interviews, and other shit. It will be sweet. I'm also putting out a "deluxe edition" album type of thing in the next couple of weeks. Then, I really want to begin a hibernation-style era of music-making and experimentation.

We'll be looking forward to that! Finally, who are your ones to watch?

death's dynamic shroud.wmv, The Frost Children, and  t e l e p a t h テレパシー能力者.

Listen to cartoon therapy below:

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