Justin Taylor Phillips grew up in Raleigh, N.C, then went to school in New York where he studied Economics. Today, we know him as the mesmerizing yet personable “Crywolf,” the tall, freckled redhead who is going on his first big tour this fall with plenty of dates across the United States and Canada, as direct support for an artist whom he says he is not allowed to name yet.
2014 has been a great year for Crywolf, headlining shows for the first time and introducing plenty of new fans to “indie electronica,” a hybrid of sorts in the EDM world. In most relative terms, we're talking about beautiful lyrics and vocals over melodic dubstep, drum and bass, and whatever else fits his intentions to make “weird” stuff that sounds like something you would hear on terrestrial pop radio stations, with a little edge.
His debut EP “Ghosts” was a very popular release on Le Castle Vania's Always Never Label, and his most recent release, “Angels, “a masterpiece on its own with “beautiful, chill” tracks like “Eyes Half Closed” and “Whisper” just topped it, reaching #3 on iTunes electronic, and #24 on Billboard's electronic charts. Crywolf is also featured on Le Castle Vania's recently released EP, “Feels Like Fire.”
He's made equally soothing and unique tracks with up and coming Canadian producer “Ianborg” and after spending time in his cabin studio in B.C., they're looking to release another EP together soon as well as his own, with some other collabs.
First and foremost, I had to ask him about his potential Irish heritage.
“My parents don't have red hair, my sister doesn't have red hair. The only people in my family that have red hair are my two brothers, and their hair is not as red as mine so it's a weird thing. Whenever someone asks my parents about it…they both have dark brown hair… it was a joke that I never got…he'd be like “our mailman has red hair” and adults would always laugh at it…it was seriously not until two years ago I sat and thought about that again and was like, “Oh, dad.”
It's interesting to find out how someone came up with their name as well. Crywolf is an homage to a childhood friend.
“When I was younger, my family lived near an indian reservation, so I had a lot of friends who were Cherokee, or mixed, and some even lived on the reservation. One of my best friends, who I called “TJ” because his given name was way too hard for me to pronounce, lived on the indian reservation. His first cherokee name that his Dad had given him translated in English to “Weeping Wolf.” I remember a couple years after I met him, my mom read us the story of the Boy Who Cried Wolf, and TJ just loved it. Long story short, I used to call him Cry Wolf sometimes, and a bunch of the kids on the reservation called him that too. We were best friends until I was 14 and moved away. We fell out of touch because he doesn't have a phone or many ways of contacting anyone. I'm not sure what happened to him, but when I started producing music, I decided to call myself Cry Wolf.”
He talked about his upbringing and introduction to music in his family.
“I pretty much played everything growing up… I was self-taught. Now my whole family plays a lot of instruments so I came from a musical family… I have three biological siblings and two adopted siblings, so six total. I'm the second oldest.”
Crywolf's profile page on Facebook says in all caps, “EASY IS OVERDONE.” I asked him what that meant, and he gave some great insight into its meaning.
“I got it from this XXYXX song which I think it's called Overdone, it just repeats that over and over again. I thought, that's cool…I remember that being stuck in my head. It started integrating itself with a lot of other things that come along with Crywolf.”
Along with the song, he felt the quote shed a lot of light on a distorted EDM phenomena that he now defends and embraces.
“Artists see music that's really popular…they make that…It's easy. but what you're doing is cultivating a fan base of people that like you for the type of music that you make, not for you as an artist. Any fan that likes you because of a type of music you make…as soon as you break out of that music, they have no reason to like you anymore.
It's the superhighway, you get big really fast. But then if you want to express even the tiniest bit of artistic license with your music, suddenly people are like “whatever, man.” But it's your fault, it's not the fans fault. The fans are just doing what they do, they find similar music to what they like.”
When Phillips decided to steer away from his heavier electronic tunes that got him discovered, he was afraid he'd lose some of his fans. And he did. But the risk paid off with “Angels,” which captured what he wanted to express as his own.
“The thing that was really cool about Angels doing so well was that ‘Angels' was sort of me throwing up my arms… I was so uninspired trying to create things that other people would like, and I just decided to stop thinking about what other people liked. I decided to make what I would want to hear in an electronic album.”
“I started making weirder, like ‘my' music. Of course some people fell off, but then people start slowly adding on. When those people add on, they're on for life. The fact that I released Angels and it did so well was like, ‘whoa… this is awesome.' They're not liking just my attempt to make pop music, they're liking me. Just what I do. I could release an acoustic album, all this weird shit, and people would be like, well that's Crywolf. It's not sustainable to do the easy thing. It's super overdone, everyone's doing it, and it's boring.”
But out of the EDM explosion, fans are starting to evolve and that excites Phillips.
“I feel like electronic music is moving towards a great place because people are starting to disregard what's similar. People like Dillon Francis are huge because his drops are unique. They're interesting, they're weird. The whole scene from Australia…Flume, Taku, Chet Faker… weird, it doesn't really have a genre. People really like that.
The inner circle of EDM fans are being cultivated, refined. More artistic people are starting to like EDM because there's weirder shit in EDM. I feel like it's going in a great direction right now.”
Thanks for the time, Justin. Check out “Angels” below and his new track with Le Castle Vania with Alyssa Palmer called “Part of Me”: