An Interview with Psymbionic
Interviewed by Helen Vivas and Danny Smith
Photo by Jamie Seed
John Burcham aka Psymbionic has been turning heads for several years all over the United States. He has performed with music giants such as Bassnectar, STS9, Big Gigantic, ill Gates, Excision and the list continues. He is a producer of electronic, glitch hop, and future bass music. We, at Festival Squad, had the opportunity to interview him on his rise in the music scene and where he sees himself going.
Tell us a little bit about how you got to where you are today? You’ve had the opportunity to play with some giants in your industry and we love to hear about the road artists took to get to where they are.
Well, I guess I’d say that my work ethic is the number one thing I can point to that helped me get to where I am. That said, I certainly still have a long way to go to reach my long term goals. I first started playing out of state shows around 2010, and it’s just been a gradual process — no bandwagon fads, no hype train riding. I’ve just been doing my own thing measuring my growth and success one rung at a time. I’ve been blessed to keep that climb always moving up, and in that process, always trying to make myself better tomorrow than I am today. I don’t want to just remake the same songs that people already heard from me. I feel like I’m always a student, studying composition or sound design or mixing or whatever — I want my music to show a progression of my skills as well as a progression of my tastes. No overbearing genre restrictions, just making the music that I feel.
At what point did you know you would make a career in music?
Looking back, I suppose I feel like I just fell into this career. Calling it a career feels a bit weird, but I also have faith that this thing I’ve carved out will keep going in one form or another. Aside from making music and touring as Psymbionic, I’m also label manager for Gravitas Recordings and brand manager for a new music education sub-project called Gravitas Create. In the past, I’ve also written for blogs and worked on the other side in music publicity. So there wasn’t some calculated move with a 5 or 10-year plan, it’s just the things that we’ve built from the ground up brick by brick. Most of my time is obviously focused on Psymbionic, but I get a lot of satisfaction from helping others get their music out to people or provide resources to grow as an artist.
How did you choose the name ‘Psymbionic’? I know you’ve mentioned it’s a hybrid of a few words that spoke to you, but could you elaborate a little.
When I started this project back in 2008, I thought I was being clever by combining a bunch of words together. The thing that no one tells you when you’re first starting out is that if you choose a name that is hard to spell or search, it can make life difficult when it comes to literally getting your name out there. Originally, I wanted to take influences of the IDM and psychedelic chill-out music I had been listening to (and attempting to write) and combine it with this newer, bass-heavy vibe that was coming to America from Europe (dubstep). This idea of what “my sound” is has evolved over the years, but I like to think that initial intention comes through with my music in various ways.
Speaking of performances, is there any venue, in particular, you haven’t performed at yet, but are looking forward to hitting? For example, I saw Bassnectar in 2015 at Red Rocks and he sampled your song “One Thing” in front of a massive crowd! How did that make you feel and are you looking forward to headlining your own show there?
Red Rocks is definitely high up on my list, but I certainly don’t expect to be headlining anytime soon. Some other big bucket list places would include Electric Forest, Shambhala, Spirit of Suwanee, and The Gorge. But yes, seeing footage of Bassnectar playing “One Thing” to 10,000 people was pretty emotional.
Do you have any crowd pet peeves while performing? For example, Jack White is against cell phones at his concerts and Bassnectar is against glow-in-the-dark sticks. Is there anything that bothers you or that you want fans to know about?
I suppose the biggest thing that I can’t stand when I’m on stage is seeing an attendee disrespecting other fans. There’s been a small handful of times over the years where something happened like a person up front got a little too excited (and perhaps a little too intoxicated) and started smashing into the people around him who clearly weren’t happy. I don’t mind getting on the mic and calling those folks out. I want my shows to be good vibes only — I love it when people can let loose and express themselves during a show, but you have to know that the person beside you deserves respect too. If you’re riding the rail, if you’re moshing, if you’re really trying to break your neck, get after it! Just be aware of your surroundings and know that you can either have a positive effect or a negative effect on someone else’s night.
In the bass scene right now are some names that many of our readers would recognize-Excision, ill.Gates etc. How would you describe your music compared to theirs? Would you categorize yourself with those guys or would you consider future bass a separate scene?
It’s a bit tough to make generalized comparisons because I make quite a few different vibes of music. I feel like some combination of Bassnectar + Gramatik + Tipper would the closest thing to describe my music using bigger acts. Of course, I have a ton of influences from varying styles of music over the years that have helped shape the music I write today.
Last but not least, where do you see yourself in the next few years? Are there any big updates coming or festivals that are a must-see for your fans?
Of course, I’d like to continue to grow as an act where I’m able to play bigger shows and bigger festivals — but I’d say my real goal was this: I want to be able to support myself with music and live comfortably. Beyond that, I hope to be a better composer and producer — I don’t want to get to a place where my creative growth starts to stagnate. I’ll have quite a bit of new music coming out soon — a mixtape, a remix album, a new EP plus a few remixes. Also, we’re in the process of beginning our fall touring plan in the US. For festivals I have Lightning In A Bottle, FarmFest, and SubOctave coming up to list a few.