Bon-Psy is the kind of producer who treats his craft with the same kind of attention to detail and precision that's reminiscent of a sculptor, thus ensuring we pick up on something new each time we dive deep into one of his tracks. "Ikigai" was my first introduction to into the eccentric soundscapes of Bon-Psy (aka Gianluca) and ever since I've been giddy with delight in anticipation of what he does next. We (Stereofox Records) had the pleasure of releasing a single with Gianluca called "Elation", a multi-colored track ornamented in a range of influences including Electronica, House-ish, and Nu-Jazz.
But as we got to communicate more and more about the release, I eventually found out that there's more to the music than meets the eye/ear. Behind the florid Electronic tapestry that is Bon-Psy, is an artist who has overcome immense challenges that have tested not only his well-being but his life too. I'm well aware that sounds vague it will all make sense in the interview as Bon-Psy opens up about depression, his studio habits, and more juicy details about his latest track "Elation"
Below is a mix created by Bon-Psy which features tracks which contains a similar sort of electronic bliss found in the new single.
Bon-Psy - Elation
Gold Panda - You
Four Tet - Daughter
Bearson - Get Lost (Ford Remix)
Laxcity - Grateful
Bibio - You
Baths - Extrasolar
Lapalux - We Lost Teebs - Autumn Antique
Somni - The Air Outside (Pt. 1)
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For those who don't know your story, how would you describe your journey with music thus far?
Music has become so intertwined with my life, there have been ups and downs, and music is heavily tied to my experience of living. When I’ve been creating at my best the world around me seems blissful and in contrast, when I can’t write a damn thing, I feel the weight of the world on my shoulders. A journey is definitely an accurate description of what music has been for me, there are low and high points but that’s all part of the process, I love what I do, and continue to push myself further. It’s all very introspective for me, the music is a genuine translation of how I feel, I suppose part of my journey in that sense is slowly making that representation more authentic.
When you first started with music, you were predominantly a guitarist -and then you switched to music production. What initially made you so drawn to Electronic music to the point where you'd rather make Electronica over Rock, Metal, Indie, etc?
The unlimited possibilities of Electronic music are a big thing, I became obsessed with experimenting and there was no end of plug-ins and digital instruments that I could tinker with. I can’t even count the number of hours I must have spent just endlessly messing around with MaxForLive devices trying to find something totally unique that resonates with me, and I’ve loved every minute of it. My music taste is changing all the time, but making Electronic music I’ve just found to be a more enjoyable experience.
I'm curious as to what your family and peers thought when you decided to drop out of Psychology in university and switch to the course you did (Music Technology). And in which ways were your studies in Music Tech beneficial for you?
To my surprise, everyone around me was completely supportive of the decision. At the time, my mum told me that when she was younger,she wanted to be a hairdresser on cruise ships, but her Dad (my Grandad) forbid it,and she was forced to take another career route that she didn’t enjoy as much. She didn’t say it explicitly but what I think she meant was if you really love something, you should go for it, no regrets, and if it doesn’t work out at least you’ll find comfort in knowing you gave it your all. Perhaps the biggest benefit from studying was the sheer amount of time I had to delve further into making music. I only had a few lectures a week and I didn’t have to worry about a full-time job or anything like that. The assignments were a good opportunity to explore different areas of music that I might not have explored otherwise such as creating scores for films, TV show dialogue, recording bands/other artists, music business and lots of other music related subjects. By the time I had finished my undergrad, I knew (having tried pretty much everything else) that making Electronic music as an artist was what I wanted to do. I discovered a fascination with sound design and went on to get a masters in Creative Music Production, which I finished about a year and a half ago.
You've mentioned that the track "Onyx" is one that is very symbolic in your journey. Can you tell us more about why the track carries so much meaning?
Of course, throughout my life I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression, I have an OCD like trait where I overthink and obsess over negative things to the point where I’m completely immobilized by whatever is on my mind. That element of my life had slowly been getting more and more potent throughout the years, completely unaddressed. There were times sat my old job I would be so paralyzed by my anxiety that I couldn’t get up out of my chair to make a cup of tea. Well, I guess you could say that things took a turn for the worse, during the summer of 2019 I spent a few months planning to take my life, and on the 27thof July in that year I attempted suicide. Surprisingly to me, it was a failed attempt. Afterward, I called up some family members and told them what had happened, they came to pick me up and drove me straight to the hospital. I was admitted to the Onyx ward that night and spent roughly 3-4 weeks there. That hospital and the people there saved me. Specifically, I met one of my best friends. He is much older than me, but despite this, we have a unique bond. I love hearing stories from other people’s lives, being a naturally great storyteller is a gift he has (which I don’t possess), and I think that the relationship of storyteller and keen listener is how we formed such a strong connection. Even whilst I’m writing this, I’m smiling thinking of a particular tale he told me that had us both in hysterics for a good half hour. The time I spent in that hospital was filled with companionship and self-discovery. I took up meditation, started reading, and whittled my life down to pursuing the things that would bring me happiness. "Onyx" was dedicated to the staff and people at that hospital and was created at a time of focus and realization that music was, and still is the thing that brings me all the fulfillment of a good life that I need.
I think something that should be understood is the fact that suicide is more complex than just a ‘decision’. At the time what circumstances were you facing that made you feel it was an option for a way out? And how was your life different after you recovered from the hospital?
Well, in the example I gave before, I mentioned being too anxious to make a cup of tea. It might be hard to imagine being in that state of mind, but think about it, if you’re completely crippled at proceeding with such a simple task as making a tea, how can you do other things? That state of mind permeates into other areas of your life, all of the sudden, you’re too anxious to have a conversation with any more than one person, you can’t finish work before deadlines because the pressure is too unbearable, the idea of looking for a job or going for an interview is completely impossible. What would I say? Did I come across the way I wanted? Will I even be able to speak if I’m this nervous? How will I be able to do any of the meaningful things in life I would like if I can’t do this one simple thing? Imagine these questions, racing across your mind all day every day (alongside the relentless migraines that come with it). After a while it all becomes reality, you choke up when having conversations with people and can’t pursue any task or goal without self-doubt creeping in and taking a hold of you. You believe these random thoughts, and you become truly lost. You’re in your own private hell, all in your own brain, and It feels like there is nothing you can do to get out, so, you spiral. Eventually, it feels like there is just no other option, and you get to the point of not even wanting to try and address the underlying issues because you feel that it’s too late, you have plunged too far down the hole and even the idea of feeling “normal” again is a complete pipe dream.
Well, that’s how it feels at the time, my few weeks in hospital and the act of attempting suicide itself brought everything to the forefront. All of the sudden, I was having conversations with family members and doctors about what was on my mind and how I was feeling, something I hadn’t done before. Every day I was opening up a little bit more, and every day (alongside therapy, meditation, reading etc.)I was beginning to forget about the things that had plagued my life. The power of conversation was gradually patching up my damaged self-image, I began to feel more confident, and more in control. I’m completely open about that stuff now, you never know when someone is going through their own private hell, and being open about it can create a bridge for others to start their own journey of healing. Now, with my own unique coping strategies that I’ve worked on in the years since, I’m much more well equipped to handle any dark episodes. When I was in the hospital, one of the head doctors had a routine check-up with me and asked “do you regret what you did?” I think he was expecting me to say yes but even to this day, I’m glad that I went through all of that and did what I did. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to find the resources, and have the belief in myself to get through it. I wouldn’t have met one of my best friends. I’m proud of myself for knocking at death's door, going through it, and coming out the other side. There are two absolute certainties in life, you were born, and you will die. I guess reaching what I thought was the end gave me a new perspective, no matter what, I am in control of my life.
Mental illness in art tends to be very romanticized by virtue of the slew of great artists who struggle with it, and with that being said, what sort of effect do you think your depression has on your craft and your ability to make music?
Perhaps people with mental health issues have unique wiring in their brain that draws them to the arts. It’s difficult to say, because I live with it every day and don’t know any different. Maybe we just view the world differently, and I think that does translate to an extent. There are times when I get incredibly down, and when I realize I’m declining like that, I buckle in and just make as much music as possible until finally, something sticks, and more often than not, it elevates my mood. If I didn’t have those low episodes, would I be able to find the motivation to keep pushing to create music that makes me happy? That’s definitely a hard question, and I don’t think I have the answer just yet.
How does the title "Elation" best capture the theme and sonic direction of the latest track?
Around the time I was making the tune, I had read something along the lines of “in roughly 70 years, you will die. And in roughly 70 years after that, everyone you ever knew will have passed away too”. It reminded me that the little things I am worried about today will be long forgotten in the years to come. A phrase came to mind, “nothing really matters”. It sounds like a depressing notion, something that might make your existence seem bleak and futile. But it brought me a feeling of clarity, something I could remind myself on those dark days to change my perspective and it presented me a sensation of what I could only describe as “Elation”. ‘Elation’,(the song that is)is my attempt of translating that feeling, it’s a burst of joy, soothing yet motivating.
There are like 4/5 different drops we're welcomed to on "Elation" and even though it has an element of controlled chaos, it really feels like a stellar journey! Which part of its creation did you struggle with the most, and which part of the track was your favorite to make?
I had the main sections of the tune all in different projects, that hardest part was bringing them all together so that it captured what I was trying to say in a way that makes sense to me and other people listening. I always spend ages on transitions. Normally the original beat ideas I have are so different, and it’s a challenge to make them work together. I get a lot of satisfaction out of doing it well, but sometimes I’m really banging my head against the wall doing it haha. The last section is definitely my favorite. I'm completely in my element, no judgment, no self-criticism, just me and my DAW in harmonious experimentation.
What are some of your studio habits that you feel generally lead to a productive session?
Having your session set up so that you can get ideas down quickly is key for me. I have a few particular instruments that I start with that I know sound good. If I ever get a spur of creativity, I know I can quickly lay it down before I lose that spark. At the same time, I think it’s good if you can incorporate an element of randomness in your workflow. Normally, I’ll take an instrument or effect and just cycle through randomizing the parameters, there are a few great MaxForLive devices you can use for this. I work in an environment where happy accidents are encouraged and accepted, and most of the tunes I make are a result of my experimentations. I never quite know what I’m going to make, and that’s exciting!
A common misconception about yourself? (Not Bon-Psy but Gianluca)
I honestly couldn’t say. The only thing I can think is that because of my name, I’ve been in quite a few situations where people will start speaking to me in Italian. Unfortunately, I don’t really speak it at all as I was born and raised in the UK and it can be a bit embarrassing sometimes haha.
So... 1) An artist/band you would have a D.M.C (Deep Meaningful Conversion), 2) An artist/band you’d love to party with. 3) Artist/band you would like to be within the studio for a week.
1 - Tool –I would just love to hear their outlooks on life after being such a big fan after all these years. I bet they have some great stories and life experience.
2- Maybe Kanye or Queen, I think Kanye and Freddie Mercury’s larger than life personas would warrant some mental parties
3 - There are literally too many answers for this question, I guess some that come to mind straight away are Radiohead, Iglooghost, Persian Empire, Nine Inch Nails & Death Grips. But that’s just a few I can think of right now. I think if I spent time in the studio with any one of these artists I would learn so much.