Sight and Sound
There’s a particular look that comes to mind whenever I think of Ssion frontman Cody Critcheloe: glossy black fringe sculpted into an inverted triangle, the point ending at his dark, Frida Kahlo unibrow, nose blacked out, handlebar moustache. Featured most prominently in the band’s video for “Clown,” it’s a look the Kansas City native says he doesn’t really do anymore, but it’s still oddly compelling, the way those sideshow people who grow hair all over their faces are compelling. It’s strange and discomforting, a genuine oddity in a world where tan moms and undead-inspired drag queens have become almost blasé.
“That whole look just sort of developed from just playing in front of the mirror,” Critcheloe says. “I always thought it looked like a Sesame Street character, or Klaus Nomi. This sort of Mickey Mouse, accidental thing. It just sort of stuck.”
Critcheloe’s style is one of the most distinctive things about Ssion, whose 2011 self-release album, Bent, is being reissued this month on Dovecote Records. At various moments he looks like he’s referencing Kahlo, ’90s color blocking, pop art, urban streetwear. There are lots of patterns, lots of color, occasional hairpieces and trucker caps. “It’s just a lot of play. It’s sort of messing around with stuff until I can look in the mirror and say ‘Oh, this works. I like the way this looks.’”
It’s a tossed salad of camp, kitsch and punk rock messiness that extends into every aspect of Critcheloe’s work. From what he wears on stage to album artwork and promo art to Ssion’s music videos, his aesthetic saturates everything.
“When you do something for a while you develop this kind of stamp that becomes your thing,” says Critcheloe. “My aesthetic is pulled from everything that I love and everything that I hate. I think the main thing is it’s my hand. I draw everything, or I design everything. All the merch, all the website stuff, all the flyers that are made, all the album art. That’s my hand doing it, so ultimately that’s something that I can’t really change. I draw the way I draw.”
Critcheloe’s stamp is also all over Ssion’s videos for a very obvious reason: he directs all of them. “I don’t like to follow the format of a typical music video. I always try to incorporate some kind of narrative, something that’s a little bit different, because I consider these videos that I’m making to be a really significant form of visual art,” he says. But Critcheloe is also realistic about a video’s role in selling a song. He wants his videos to give each song perspective, to expand the scope of the recorded version. “I still ultimately see it as a means to make the song bigger and more interesting to people. The music that I’m making is pop, so I feel like being able to combine the kind of visuals that I have in my head makes people think about traditional pop songs in a different way.”
For Bent, Critcheloe plans to release videos for each of the album’s 12 tracks. Since Bent’s initial release as a free download last year, videos for “Earthquake,” “My Love Grows in the Dark,” and “Feelz Good (4-Evr)” have appeared on the Internet via Ssion’s website and YouTube channel. The video for “Psy-Chic” is due later this month, with “Luvvbazaar” scheduled for October. Ssion heads out on tour in October, and after wrapping up those live dates, Critcheloe plans to get back to work on videos for the album’s remaining tracks.
“I’m a visual artist before being a musician,” he says, before quickly correcting himself. “It’s really hard for me to create visually without the music. They feed off of each other. They’re both of equal importance.”