Image: S. Lun
Interview by Maya-Rose Torrão
Producer, singer and songwriter Jian Liew is the Australian-born musician creating gorgeous abstract electro-folk sounds under the moniker Kyson. Kyson began his career when he unexpectedly won an official Bon Iver remix competition with a remix of ‘Holocene’. Such lauded early recognition of his work encouraged him to pursue his music making more seriously. Two album releases later – via Friends Of Friends, the LA electronic label affiliated with notable such acts as Shlohmo and Tomas Barfod – and with album number three on the horizon, Kyson has returned with a series of single releases, each track individually released via B3SCI / Majestic Casual Records. The third single in this series that Kyson has released with the world is titled ‘Have My Back‘, a dreamy indie-infused track about trust, which you can buy here.
Jian left Australia over a decade ago to go soak up the music scene in Europe, drawing inspiration from the creativity, art and life of Berlin and Vienna. Now spending his time between both Germany and Australia, this talented musician explains that “I always took stuff from Berlin … I went there, consumed its creativity, got immersed in its beautiful art scene and then stored it. Then moved it all to a quiet place, like Adelaide and let it free there. I’m very grateful for that.”
Having spent the best part of a decade collaborating with other artists – In the past, he’s with with a range of artists, including SHIGETO, singer-songwriter Merryn Jeann and blues singer Alice Phoebe Lou – Jian’s Kyson music project has allowed him to really settle into his own solo sound. Freed from set studio slots and writing sessions, Kyson has given Jian the space to burrow deep into his own creativity, and show the world what he finds there.
Listen to the new single from Kyson, ‘Have My Back’, below.
We caught up with Jian Liew, of Kyson, and chatted about going into the studio with an open mind, solitude and growing up surrounded by a great record collection.
Set the tone for us. Why the arts? You grew up in a creative household, did it just come naturally for you to go towards the arts?
For me making music is a very cathartic and meditative process. I can’t really imagine not making art. Its place and meaning in my life has definitely expanded and changed over the years, however the core of my practice is absolutely rooted in what I took from and the experiences I had as child growing up around my parents. There was always a great record on or something being designed in the next room.
Which comes first when you’re producing – the sound or the idea?
It’s varied, a lot of the time it’s just guitar and the voice, and other times I will spend three hours manipulating a sound to find a starting point. I don’t have a set of boundaries or rules I follow when making music, I think that’s one of my favourite things about it.
Tell us about the three albums that influenced your sound the most.
Well I’m not sure if I could list three albums that influenced my sound so directly, however three of a long list of albums that I feel influenced my life and thinking in a significant way would be…
Arthur Russel – ‘World of Echo’
Four Tet – ‘There is Love in You’
Radiohead – ‘Kid A’
What’s on your current playlist?
Cat Power, Ted Lucas, Hush Moss, Snail Mail, Big Thief, Earl Sweatshirt, Westerman.
What techniques do you experiment with to get your original sound?
I’d like to think a lot of these moments where something special is created in the studio are unexplainable and unexpected and that’s why I love them. I keep it simple, I know the equipment I’m using very well. For me, I see the best results when I’m just going into the studio with an open mind and seeing what happens. I play around with my voice a lot as it is obviously one of the most versatile instruments we know. In regards to sounds, if they are not coming from a guitar or a synth then I like to send most sounds out of the computer in some way, perhaps sending the drum or vocals through guitar pedals or on to tape on the Tascam.
Take us through a day in the studio.
It’s extremely varied. I try to spend at least 8 hours in there on a normal day. Right now I’m working on my album so I’m between my studio in Vienna writing and in a studio in Berlin. My space in Vienna is somewhat of a sacred place for me. I definitely tried to give it a sense of calm and peacefulness. It just has the bare essentials. I read a lot and spend time thinking in there as well. I truly feel the time I spend in the studio not making music and how I treat that is just as, if not more, important as the time I do spend making music.
Was there a specific moment in your life where you thought, “this is what I want to do”?
Not really, I just always liked being creative and experimenting when I was growing up in High School etc. I was quite a hyperactive child, (still am a little bit) and things like music or painting really calm me down. I don’t know if I will be a musician until I’m 60 but I will always be creating something. I’d like to think in the more general term of “ this is what I want to do now”
You recently brought out a beautiful video for your single ‘Every High’ – how did you find the experience of being in front of the camera and putting visuals to your song?
Thank you, I enjoyed it a lot. I love working with the crew that made this video, they are good friends of mine so it was just a fun atmosphere. They are really professional and serious but at the same time none of us took it too seriously. I really love how it turned out.
You also just recently released your single ‘Clear Air’. The track has such an ethereal mood – tell us more about the process of writing the track and how it came about.
This track was written between Berlin and Vienna like a lot of my songs from the last few years. It started off as an acoustic song, but then I felt I wanted to bring out the deeper and moodier side of the lyrics into the sound and production.
If you could collaborate with any artist, living or not, who would you choose and why?
It would be between Arthur Russel or Edmund de Waal. I feel I can relate to the concept of repetition and solitude that both of them reveal heavily in their practice. I like to collaborate with artists using other mediums as well as music and somehow I see Arthur Russell compositions like a beautiful abstract painting.
Any emerging/upcoming/unknown artists on your radar?
What gets you in the mood to create music? Whether it be art, film, other musician’s work, nature etc…
Reading and photography definitely help, but I guess the main two are travelling and just being in nature, or by the sea.
Breakdown the news for us: what can we expect from Kyson this year?
Just finishing up my third album and seeing where it takes us.
Listen to ‘Have My Back’ via Majestic Casual, below.