At 18 tracks, SKUNKWORKS is a sprawling release which does well to contradict prevailing trends catering to receding attention spans. This isn’t to say HU$H is remotely ignorant to the musical landscape around him, but only that he incorporates it into a mode which best reconciles with his own creative identity. Having already released a series of singles and a collaborative EP with Tech N9ne, SKUNKWORKS is HU$H’s full-length debut on Strange Music, and serves not only as a culmination of several years of work, but also as a personal time capsule documenting a series of life-altering obstacles.
During its creation, HU$H experienced a car accident (which influenced the track “Faith is Lost”), the passing of his father, and a transition to Kansas City, where he found a group of like-minded individuals to work with amid a period of time that otherwise drew so many into a spiral of social isolation. That this is such a vulnerable and, at times, revealing collection of songs becomes all the more interesting when recognizing that the name HU$H, itself, was originally meant to represent a sense of safety, or a tendency to seek protection through silence. Throughout our discussion we connected on a few other points surrounding the album’s development, including its wide reach across several genres, but began by digging into HU$H’s personal history with music, both as a creator and as a fan.
villin: One of the things I personally find interesting is tracing artists’ roots back, to look at their current work as a continuation of a broader path, rather than a destination. More specifically, what I mean is that SKUNKWORKS isn’t an end point, but a moment along a much more extensive creative path for you. You’ve been creating music since childhood, and I was hoping you’d be open to reflecting on how some of the major musical points on your timeline helped guide you to this moment and this album. SUB MILITIA, in particular, jumps out at me because of how the sound directly relates to some of what I’m hearing on SKUNKWORKS. How did you get connected there, what was your role, and how do you think that experience continues to inform your creative process?
HU$H: Oh, man, you dug deep for that one. That was actually an incredible experience and a lot of fun. I had been working with my friends Travis and Kalani (HACKR) in Vegas on that project while I was living in Los Angeles, so I’d go back and forth and we’d work and kick it. Eventually I was back in Iowa handling some things and Kalani hit me up. He said, “I worked my ass off loading airplanes for 13 years, and I’ve decided to quit and pull out my 401k and take all my best friends on the road and live my childhood dream as a recording/touring musician.” We hit the road and went to see this saint—Amma from India—in San Ramon, California; hit San Jose to see his homies Persevere and Dave Dun; then to see Hawaiian Lyon in Tahoe. That’s when shit got crazy.
All the sudden we’re chillin with Lyon’s boy Bobby Wobbles and A Plus from Souls of Mischief and Hieroglyphics. Then we set a date to record and hit the road to Los Angeles to meet up with Myka 9. Myka is a great dude and truly a lyrical god; he took us to some of his spots and we had a great time. Then Lyon linked us up with another friend of his: the one and only Dave Arron (engineer for Snoop, 2Pac, Sublime, Death Row—Dave’s a legend). We rented Dave’s studio and met up with Myka to record his verse, then headed back to Nevada City where we had rented a cabin and we met up with Adam (A Plus) and recorded his verse. Both those dudes have such a strong connection to their spirituality, it was really mind blowing to meet two legends who were such solid people.
After that we set up a small tour. Myka joined us all the way to the end and Adam [joined] just for Reno and Nevada CIty. It was an amazing experience ’cause everyone involved were legends from my childhood.
villin: Reading your Volatile Weekly interview, it’s clear that coding plays a key role in your life. To quote you from that article, you said you’re interested in everything from c++ to building websites to developing Web3 technologies. Creatively speaking, does that provide something different for you than creating music does, or is it all one and the same when you get right down to it?
HU$H: A little bit of both, really. It’s all creative work to me. They often intertwine, too, like, I build VST plugins I can use in Ableton/Logic/[FL Studio]. Recently I built a stable diffusion system for creating AI videos [and] started remixing all my videos from the album. It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve also been working on a MIDI controller I prototyped with an Arduino that’s still in development. I’m currently working on a Discord bot that can generate AI images, use AI to convert audio to MIDI, and hopefully generative MIDI soon. [I’ve] been really into the audio AI stuff lately and finding ways to enhance production as opposed to replacing it.
villin: When connecting with Bloody News, you mentioned a few interests and influences that hit particularly close to home for me. When I was in high school I religiously wore a green Soulfly jacket I had, and seeing you shout out that band out was interesting because of how their first two albums tried to cross over genres in ways that Soulfly’s predecessor, Sepultura, never really could. There was thrash and rap-metal and then even this hard rock hybrid song with Sean Lennon, all aimed at a fanbase that had come to know the group’s frontman traditionally for much more of an unbending metal sound. What sort of influence did they have on your mindset when thinking about creating something as genre-bending as SKUNKWORKS, which moves between EDM, rap, metal, punk, and alt-rock without reservation.
HU$H: Wow, that’s a great question. They actually have been a big influence on me. I love how they mixed drums [in a way] that makes you jump with real heavy and earthy riffs. Perfect example is “Jumpdafuckup” [with Corey Taylor of Slipknot] or the more vibey earthy shit like “Back to the Primitive.” It’s funny when I was working on the BLIGHT album with Tech N9ne. I invited Jehry [Robinson] over to my house in KC to check out the studio and listen to some tunes. I remember being really excited and trying to explain what I wanted to do with the album, and showed him “Back to the Primitive,” saying it was gonna “Be like this, but absolutely nothing like this.” After the song was over I remember telling myself “No one will ever understand what you just said.” Anyways, I love that bouncy metal vibe and love mixing it into other genres and trying new shit. The new tracks I’ve been working on lean a lot more into the heavy guitars and screaming with a lot of beats.
villin: You also mentioned a few other personal favorites like Goldie and NOFX. When I think of those acts, my mind goes to something far more purist, in terms of their musical output. Goldie doesn’t make drum & bass, for example, drum & bass pretty much is Goldie. And NOFX is a very particular strain of punk that might seem a little antiquated through today’s lens, but one that connects with me personally in a way that few other bands can. NOFX doesn’t make punk music, they are punk. Thinking about a song like “Go Away Plz II,” there’s a branch between the electronic and punk worlds, and I’m wondering if you’re ever slowed down by consideration for what a “purist” might think about the music you’re creating?
HU$H: I don’t really kick it with purists so I don’t know how they think, so [it] would be tough to do, I guess. I always found the fight to be “the most punk” or “the most metal” was more of a competition than a contribution, and didn’t seem to end anywhere meaningful for many people. So, like, in your example, if NOFX is punk, then if you want to make purist punk music you technically just want to rip off NOFX. I’d rather watch influences from NOFX and Goldie mix together into something new like “Go Away Plz II.” Hence the name, SKUNKWORKS.
HU$H will be performing at this weekend’s Balance Music and Art Festival in Libertyville, Iowa. For more, stream SKUNKWORKS via Apple Music, Spotify, or YouTube, and follow HU$H via Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok.