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Huron John on Finding His Sound and a True Following

This article was originally published on Ampersand


John Conradi, better known by his alias, Huron John, exemplifies postmodern genre fluidity. At 22, he grew up with the internet and the luxury of unlimited access to a myriad of music, influencing how he shaped his sound. During his formative years, he experimented with his sonic identity until establishing the Huron John his fans know and love today, constantly working toward diversifying his sound.


“I don’t reject the idea of genre; it works really well for a lot of artists,” Conradi said. He is a product of the internet and all its treasures ­— proficient in digital but seduced by analog. This contrast is part of the reason he insists on releasing his music on vinyl while also embracing the convenience of modern technology. “I tried working with Bedroom Pop for a bit … but the second I even started thinking within that box, the stuff I was coming up with sounded nothing like it!” Conradi said he felt suffocated by compartmentalizing himself, and he has since brought together generations of sound as his contribution to the music timeline. “It’s really about how I feel when I wake up,” he said. “I’m lucky because the people who listen [to my music] don’t expect just one thing.”

Conradi lives and breathes music. With three released albums to date, he has a lot more music scheduled for the coming year. All of this has been done independently. He is unsure if signing to a label is in his best interest, considering he has been able to leave a mark on the Nashville scene on his own terms. There, he is completing his final year at Belmont University, studying music business and law. After he graduates, he plans on devoting all his time to his music career. That’s not to say he isn’t already giving it his all.


“I’m a full-time student and a full-time musician,” he said. For Conradi, it has been a challenge finding a balance between academia and his creative output. In mid-November, he played two nights at the Lincoln Hall in Chicago, a venue he went to growing up. “It was the craziest feeling to be on stage and have a sold-out crowd in front of you ’cause … that used to be me down there!” The rush of performing led Conradi to commit to a schedule that rarely gives him room to breathe. On his drive back to Nashville, he attended an online class while sitting in the passenger seat.


Born in Chicago, eight-year-old Conradi began guitar lessons at the Old Town School of Folk Music, which is where his musical creativity evolved from. From there, he began flirting with the keys and various types of percussion, and that eventually led to him becoming a self-sufficient recording artist. In 2013, he started making beats and familiarizing himself with digital audio workstations (namely, a brand called Reason) that took his ideas to the next level. At the time, most of his work was hip-hop themed since that is what he was listening to. In 2017, he released an experimental album under the name “Wavehouse” — a loosely assembled project that explored psychedelic themes. Just as he was about to start working on another Wavehouse project, Conradi decided to go “back to the drawing board” since his music wasn’t getting the attention he was hoping for on streaming platforms. His friends and their friends were giving him a minor boost, but Conradi felt unfulfilled knowing that he hadn’t yet reached a stage where listeners were recommending his music to others.


“I don’t want any of this to be charitable,” he said. “You could tell from the numbers I was doing on streaming [platforms] that I didn’t have a real base … like I don’t think people were really coming back to it.”

[Courtesy: Chase Denton]

He realized then that his singles were far too long, and in the process of recontextualizing the elements of his music-making process, he cut the average length of his songs to about half. Though his sound is polished and very studio-oriented, he remains enamored with hardware gear. He uses several boutique pedals; his Roland Cloud TR-707 is his favorite (and rarest) piece among all his toys. As he grounded himself with an earthier approach to songwriting, his impulsive, galactic sound was laid to rest.


In his transition from Wavehouse, Conradi decided to rebrand himself. Having grown up around the great lakes, he decided to combine his name with his childhood memories of spending time at Lake Huron — “Huron John sounds like a comic book character, y’know?” With this, he still aimed to “keep the weirdness” while focusing on how listeners would respond and interact with his music. “I want people to play my music,” he said, referring not only to pressing the play button, but actually picking up an instrument and covering his songs. That is the main difference between Huron John and his earlier work — it’s more accessible.


In early December, Conradi received several messages and tags on social media from people who had him on their “Spotify Wrapped” lists. He was on “top five” charts and also the “number-one artist” for several fans. His stock has clearly risen — Conradi has moved past being “good enough” for his friends, now he is a thought that crosses people’s minds when they’re in the mood to listen to music.

In concert, Conradi adds a more human touch to his music, ensuring that his audiences don’t feel alienated by his otherwise-polished studio sound. On stage, he plays guitar and has a drummer to help transform his songs into acoustic renditions. The tempo of his songs also becomes faster, which, he has noticed, keeps spectators engaged. Even as a serious musician, he doesn’t shy away from emphasizing entertainment value in his performances, making him a compelling act to see live.


Conradi’s drummer, Rick West, plays an important role in this — they share a telepathy wherein Conradi’s tempo is a little temperamental under improvisation, but West is able to predict his next move without missing a beat. All of this is very visible and perhaps even a little stressful to witness, but the two seem comfortable with the tension.


Born and raised in Nashville, West studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston and moved back to his hometown after graduating. Though he works on a solo project as well, performing with Huron John is how he gets most of his recognition. The two met through mutual friends at a skatepark in Nashville less than a year ago, and even though West was aware of Conradi, he didn’t recognize him at first. As the two bonded over their interest in music, they decided to link up and start playing together live.


“I was already a fan of his music, so it’s always great to work with someone you share a taste with,” said West. “And yeah, we just kinda got along really well!”

[Courtesy: Chase Denton]

Conradi is a fan of Death Grips, who is known for their stimulating live performances, largely due to Zach Hill’s drumming, which is exhausting even to watch. That’s the energy the two want to bring to their shows (though they sound nothing like Death Grips). As their friendship grew, they moved past rigid rehearsals and began jamming more. In the few months since they’ve worked together, their chemistry has matured, and both musicians have a better understanding of each other. Hence, spontaneity is a key factor in the richness of their live sound. The two are now considering collaborating on a record by offering their own specialties — Conradi is an excellent producer, whereas West is a better instrumentalist.


Conradi will play more live shows and issue new music at a higher frequency upon leaving college next year. What the future holds for him is uncertain, but he believes Los Angeles is the city for him and his talent. It is certainly a city that will accommodate his sound, and he has already had a taste from the few shows he’s played here, though only as an opening act so far.


“There’s a lot of cool stuff going on in Nashville, and I definitely think I fit in here,” he said with a smile. “But I think my next move is to take it to LA.”


An exciting new chapter lies ahead in Huron John’s career. Chicago raised him and Nashville sharpened him; if things go as planned, LA is where he will truly come into his own.

 

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