March 30, 2020 / musicians

Experiencing music with Kasson Crooker of Symbion Project

Photo by Tim D Coy
Photo by Tim D Coy

Hey Kasson! Can you walk us through your background, and what led you to start Symbion Project?

As a kid, I grew up in a really musical household and took classical piano, cello, and pipe organ lessons, followed by studying music production and synthesis at Berklee College of Music. I’ve spent my career focused on audio technology experiences with 13 years spent creating interactive music/dance video games like Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and Dance Central, and years spent at Microsoft working on spatial audio technology for HoloLens.

For the past 5 years, I’ve been dedicated to composing music, playing shows, and scoring movies. But through all of that Symbion Project has been a constant musical outlet for me, sometimes creating solo instrumental music and sometimes collaborating with different vocalists. It’s been pretty amazing to look back on the breadth of music I’ve made over the years and am excited to keep pushing musical boundaries and expectations!

You have a distinctive style compared to traditional synth-pop genres, what inspired your artistic direction?

I grew up in the 80’s fully immersed in synthpop like Depeche Mode, New Order, NIN, and Information Society. I loved the fusion of drum machines and electronics with unconventional pop songs, especially the darker melancholic ones. This drove me to get my own synths and gear and start composing music. I think it took 10 years before I created anything that I was remotely proud of.

I’ve always been interested in many types of music. The concept that The Beatles' white album could be so diverse and unexpected I think had a profound effect on me. It’s been a driving force throughout my musical career to try new things, branch out into different genres, learn new instruments (like the Japanese koto), and constantly change my electronic gear toolkit, all with the purpose of creating an evolving, unconventional approach to songwriting.

With Symbion Project, I tend to make a more conventional synthpop album like Arcadian and then the next would be experimental and ambient. The only downside to having such diverse and different releases is that it’s been hard to create a hardcore fanbase who wants a specific genre over and over. So the fans I do have are also really adventurous and always interested in what I come up, regardless of genre.

Given your background, if you could change anything about the music industry, what would it be?

Wow, there are so so so many things that I’d like to see changed so that underground artists could focus on being creative and not be forced to do music solely as a hobby in the few spare hours they have. From a financial point of view, it would be amazing if there were more grants available for artists to take the pressure off as well as access to much cheaper health care.

It would also be much better if the giant media corps that run the music industry (Spotify, iTunes, etc...) paid better royalty rates and helped to promote more underground music. I also wish that playing shows was an easier endeavor. With no access to booking agents, I spend an exorbitant amount of time dealing with booking shows, getting paid, and driving around the country. It’d be great if there was a better infrastructure to help bands with setting up tours as it’s really still one of the best ways to build a fanbase.

Lastly, social media sites have placed so many barriers between bands and fans (boosted posts, ads, filtering algorithms) that it’s become too costly to use the sites to reach your existing fanbase, let alone reach new fans. FB and twitter were so great for many years, but in the past 5 it’s gotten worse and worse and I don’t feel comfortable giving those companies hundreds to thousands of dollars to reach new fans.

Whew, ~ rant complete!

Photo of Kasson Crooker

Tell me about the beginning of the whole process. How much exploration and experimentation do you do before you know the path the music will take?

As most artists know, the beginning moments of making new music can be pretty scary. I have found this to be particularly true since each album usually is going to be a different experience rather than a simple continuation of a previous release. For me, one of the most important pieces is getting a general theme that the songs can be aligned with and choosing carefully the musical tools I'll use. For the album "Gishiki", I had been reading the short novel "Hagakure" and was doing a lot of reading about Japanese samurai culture. Musically I was enamored by the many pentatonic scales of Japanese music and so the 2 concepts aligned nicely. So I began composing an instrumental synthesizer album using Bushido and the pentatonic scales as a starting point. That gave me a solid frame of reference to begin composing and that framework also helped keep all the songs stylistically aligned throughout the long compositional process.

The choosing of what gear to use has always been a really important decision and these musical instruments really have such character and personalities that they immediately imprint themselves on what the music will become. The Rocococo album "Versailles" was completely programmed on a Gameboy DS-XL and so I had to work within the limitations of the Korg DSN-12 software. The software capabilities were so limited that I had to learn it inside and out to push it as far as it would go to be able to create something I was proud of. I'm often selling and getting new gear so that I'm constantly being exposed to new sounds and processes that I can incorporate and help define future songs.

What do you do outside music that contributes to rejuvenate your creativity?

I’m a huge film/tv series viewer and now that I’m focusing more on film composing, I’ll watch films solely to take in the score and learn more about that art form. I read a fair amount of books, mostly in the sci-fi genre but not always, and I listen to podcasts like This American Life.

I’m a really visual person so I love finding great innovative artists on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram. Many times I’ve found artists that way, reached out to them to share my respect of their art, and next thing I know they are letting me use their art for my album covers. The most recent Symbion Project release "Backscatter" features this amazing Japanese artist Tomoya Matsuura whose art I found randomly on Instagram. Probably the thing that helps me relax the most is taking naps with my 2 cats Hiro and Enzo (shoutout to Snowcrash!).

There are two types of people in this world. What are the two types?

Lovers and haters. I think buried deep inside all humans is the ability to both love and hate, but somewhere along the lines in our development and upbringing, we start to channel one over the other and it begins to define who we are. I think it’s all of our capacity to focus on all the facets of love, from creativity to acceptance to charity, and become more humbled, more enlightened. The world would be a pretty great place if we all just shed a bit of hate, ignorance, intolerance, and inequity.

Symbion Project

Listen to Kasson Crooker's latest songs on Bandcamp.