In the Cut: Jo Kusy

By: Adam G. & Q.D. Tran

March 17, 2016

For over a decade, Jo Kusy has been crafting dreamy, lo-fi recordings. Since 2009 his output has only increased, but his focus on refining his bedroom sound is fully apparent. While earlier material sounds, at times, like sketches and demos of ideas, on You Break Me, Kusy’s newest effort, he has polished his songs just enough, while still maintaining his homespun charm. And while continually writing for his own project, he has also been part of a pack. Most recently, Kusy has been performing with garage-rock outfit The Whips. Previous to that, he played guitar in the much darker psych-goth group Far-Out Fangtooth; however, when Nicky Kulp left the group to join Creepoid, this gave Kusy more time to focus on his own music, and You Break Me shows off his dexterity - both as a musician and vocalist. It is a fun album evoking Ariel Pink and hazy 80’s new wave, while exploring all the corners of Kusy’s mind. We had a chance to chat with the multi-talented artist about the recording of You Break Me (The Deli Philly’s February Record of the Month), his past and current bands, and a whole bunch more below.



The Deli: What was the inspiration for you to start this solo project and go artistically in the direction that you’ve taken with You Break Me?


Jo Kusy: I’ve been home-recording steadily now for about 13 years. I’ve only recently (for my last few releases) taken a more professional approach, using more control and better recording equipment. “You Break Me” is a collection of songs I started in January of 2016 and finished in about a month’s time. I don’t limit myself to a genre, and just do whatever comes out naturally and how I’m feeling a particular recording session. In terms of being inspired, I feel inspired to make music constantly, so once I have enough songs to equate an album, then I’m ready to share it. Then I start all over again.


It’s hard to pinpoint an exact inspiration for “You Break Me”. It would be more possible to describe it for each particular song. For example, “All Go To Heaven” was inspired rhythmically by “The Name Game” by Shirley Ellis, and I would say it’s about the passionate virtues of a drunken rock ‘n’ roll saint.


I consider “Jo Kusy” primarily a recording project - comparable to a dream journal. My approach is an unfiltered reflection of myself, where anything goes. I believe to get “there”; my subject matter becomes highly subconscious, abstract, varied, or even vague. I try to consolidate this cloud structurally into catchy songs that people can enjoy. If there is narrative to my work, it’s for anyone’s interpretation, but it’s not a concern of mine as I write. Immediacy is an important aspect to my process.


TD: Do you prefer recording solo more or with a band? What are some advantages and disadvantages that you never thought about before recording this LP?


JK: It would be unfair to compare recording solo or with a group, because in my mind they are different animals. If a band were an animal, it would be a sensible one. I would imagine it as a pack, a flock, a herd, etc. with an essential common goal. Benefits of a group can be very rewarding if communication is intact.


In my experience, a band is a democracy and has a longer creative process with checks and balances, and rightly so. In any band I’ve been in, everyone has always had equal say in the direction we take. It’s fun to bounce ideas off each other, and it’s a beautiful thing to create art within a group. 


That being said, it’s definitely easier to record solo since I’m totally free to make any decisions on a whim. A solo recording animal would be a fast, mythical animal soaring free and aimless in the sky.


TD: What was your recording setup?


JK: I recorded “You Break Me” my studio room in my apartment. Vocals, guitars, bass, Casio keyboard are recorded directly into my interface.


Which is your favorite song on the album, and why?


“Only A Night” is a standout for me. I was just really pleased with how the production turned out with a certain moodiness over emphatic percussion. I would have to offer The Cure and Kate Bush as vibe influences for this one. And there is a video HERE.


TD: Did you play all the instruments yourself, or did you get any help from friends?


JK: Yea, I play all of the instruments myself with the exception of the drums, which I build in Ableton Live and/or create from samples. I also include non-drum samples on this album, notably a snippet from The Twilight Zone intro and a 13th Floor Elevators sample on “Roky Reggaeton”. “Here Comes The Light” was arranged around a slowed-down sample I made from “Wonderful Christmas Time” by Paul McCartney.


TD: Any plans to try and find a label to press the album?


JK: Nope, no plans - that would be nice, of course. However, physical copies are on cassette for your tactile pleasure, and can be purchased by getting in contact with me at joekusy@gmail.com.


TD: Is there a follow-up in the works?


JK: My next album is near completion, entitled Wild Violets. It’s acoustic-based, with minimal percussion; it’s dreamy and atmospheric, more ambient and folk-influenced. It will be released in the very near future.


I’m also in the process of releasing a Jo Kusy “Best Of” with Grey Records, which operates out of an amazing record store of the same name in the Netherlands. The store has tons of rare 60s/ 70s records, world music and 50s stuff on LP and 45. I met the owner Marthy while on European tour with Far-Out Fangtooth, and we’ve keep in touch since. Check out the store at https://www.facebook.com/Grey.nl/.


I know that you were working on an album with Far-Out Fangtooth before Nick Kulp joined Creepoid, and continued to work on it after he left for a short stint in Savannah, GA. Will that album ever see the light of day?


JK: We finished a four-song EP at Fancy Time Studios, but we disbanded shortly after our last tour. It’s been two years now, and we don’t have any plans for it since we don’t play anymore. They really are great songs too, so we may end up sharing it eventually; it just got lost in the shuffle along the way. We never really formally decided to stop playing, it just happened naturally, and we all had different paths to explore musically and personally.


TD: You are a member of The Whips now. What’s been going on in that camp?


JK: The Whips recently release our first LP Roots Rock Element on Suicide Bong Tapes, and Burger Records distributed it digitally as well. (You can stream/buy it at https://thewhips.bandcamp.com.)


We held a crazy-fun and successful release show at Boot & Saddle last month for it, with our friends Louie Louie and Wild Jim Banfill opening. Now, we are back at writing towards a sophomore album. Some upcoming shows are April 16 for Repo Records’ Record Store Day, which will be sure to include a slew of other awesome local acts. And we’re opening for Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds on May 13th at Kung Fu Necktie, and really stoked on that.


TD: What made you decide to drop the “e” in your first name?


JK: It helps me to listen to my music more objectively. It represents the fluidity between sound and meaning.


My grandparents were both named Joseph and Josephine, which I always thought was really funny as a kid. They both called each other Joe/Jo, respectively. I view all my music through characters, and my solo artist character just happens to be very close to myself. My other answer is… showbiz! Save the “E” for Entertainment.


TD: What have you been listening to lately?


JK: To answer this, here’s a playlist I made (this is more specifically the influences on the next album “Wild Violets,” and is my zone at the moment.


TD: Any Philly acts that you've been really impressed with recently?


JK: Mike Quinn, Davey And The Chains, Queen of Jeans, Mike Bruno, Travis J and the Rhinestones, Sheer Mag,Wild Jim Banfill, Louie Louie, Point Breeze Country Club, Lunacy, Purling Hiss, and The Whips.


TD: Is there anybody out there that you don't know personally and would really like to play a show or collaborate with?


JK: Cate Le Bon, Ariel Pink, Connan Mockasin, White Fence, Boys Age, Magic Potion.