In Session: Cully

SCOTIA – On August 8th, artist Cully, who dubs his craft as “beach-hop,” blending elements of surf, hip-hop, and more, is set to release his latest effort, Aquafina. The album, which will be available on vinyl, as well as on digital platforms the following week, is unique: the record will consist entirely of one song interpreted in a variety of ways.

I had the chance to sit down with the artist prior to release, incidentally on the same day the music video debuts (August 5th). To catch our discussion, continue reading below.

Lucas Garrett: Thank you, Eric, for sitting down to talk about your album, Aquafina. It’s a very unique concept. Why don’t you tell us about it?

Eric Cullen: Yeah! I guess the concept, if there is one, is omnipresence. A lot of my music is stream of consciousness. There’s always a bit of what my brothers call “dead-pan absurdism.” I like to infuse dry humor… slip it in. The concept, at the end of the day, is about omnipresence. It ended up being a melodically driven tune. I love music where the listener provides their own meaning. I don’t think songs are always meant to be taken literally.

LG: If a song, in my opinion, is too literal, it can weaken the art form.

EC: Yeah.

LG: I always like things that are more abstract than right in your face with their meaning. More to that point, the album consists of remixes?

EC: Yeah!

LG: I think it’s a cool idea: not only are you making it interpretative with the lyrics, the remixes also have their unique flavors to them. Where did that idea come from?

EC: Part of it was intent and part of it was getting lucky. It’ll be coming out on vinyl, so I had the classic vinyl idea of treating it as a single, in a way, but with the content span of an album. The A-side of the vinyl is going to have the remastered version, a radio edit, and then the instrumental and a cappella versions. The B-side has those four awesome remixes. That was just luck.

I had four friends that I said, “Hey, do you want to do a remix?” And, they all had these different flavors. None of them are dedicated remix artists. Some of them DJ; some of them engineer for a living; some produce. None of them heard one another’s stuff. Some are more deep-house kind of thing.

LG: I’ve never heard an album, or a concept for an album, that has that. It was a really refreshing, in my opinion, way of delivering music.

EC: Thank you!

LG: Let’s talk about your influences. What are they?

EC: It’s a lot. As much as I’ve grown away from it in some ways, I’m rooted deeply in hip-hop. My first instrument, per se, was me freestyling on the black top of my elementary school. I didn’t get into any sort of formal producing or playing anything until college or high school. It’s funny, my parents didn’t want me listening to rap. I was shielded from it. Still, music is like water. It goes through any crack or surface and finds a way.

But the earlier stuff I remember listening to was Linkin Park, The Killers, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. In that poppy, alternative route. Linkin Park has some hip-hop influences. With The Killers and Red Hot Chili Peppers there’s funk and beautiful songwriting. The Killers, their Hot Fuzz album is one of my favorites. Later on, I got into Biggie and 90’s hip-hop, and Nas. I always liked the West Coast a little bit better. It was funky: you had Dr. Dre sampling the funk, and different artists out there… Snoop Dogg, he had just a flow. It was cool to have that division – even though it led to horrible things – of coasts as a listener to serve different geographies of it.

The first artist I ever bought tickets to – I hesitate to even say this – was Mac Miller at Upstate Concert Hall. I feel white rappers used to get a bad rep. They were all grouped as one thing, and that sort of faded away, fortunately. Later 2000’s and 2010’s hip-hop was influential as well. I don’t listen to music by genre, too, too much anymore. It just needs to be funky and groovy, but also chill and laid back. I like that.

LG: When did you start writing, releasing, and performing music.

EC: It started so long ago! When I was in school, something I did to de-stress in the class – me and teachers didn’t get along – was write little poems. This was maybe even as early as second or third grade. Then, as I started freestyling, that was when I was around ten-ish years old… I didn’t go to a proper middle school, so I don’t have that delineating thing. I got expelled from a Catholic school, hahaha, so I transferred to a public school. At that time, I started recording with the most absurd setup.

I had this little laptop that was my buddy’s dad’s. We recorded using a microphone from the video-game “Rock Band.” It was a USB mic, and we recorded on Audacity: the most simple, free software. I used to work as a recording engineer at a private studio in the Catskills. Watching the come-up and looking back at that blew my mind. Then, I was working on these beautiful consoles with Neumann mics, and thought, “Wow, how far we’ve come.” It’s been a journey. I started in late middle school, and have been progressively learning things along the way. It all cross-pollinates.

LG: What instruments do you play?

EC: I have absurdly high standards. I dabble in a few things. My best is probably keys, and a little bit of drums or guitar. I don’t say I’m a guitarist, I say I’m a musician. I’m good at what I’m good at. I’m not one of those session guys that can listen to something once and play it back. That’s never been my skillset, it’s a very personal process for me.

LG: So, the album is coming out on vinyl on August 8th, and everywhere else on August 15th, correct?

EC: Correct!

LG: What are you doing to promote it?

EC: So, of course, I’m doing interviews like this. I did a podcast a little while back. We shot an awesome music video for it, which is out today. I love film. That is a piece of art. It’s a quasi-marketing tool and also a piece of art that took over two years of my life to do. I’m real excited for that to be out. I went to SUNY Oneonta, so I’m going to reach out. I’m at a point where it makes sense for me hire an intern. They may be able to help with mailing lists, sending out press copies of the vinyl to college radio, meeting with program directors and DJs…

I have a small, but tight fanbase on social media. I will sell the vinyl on Bandcamp but that’s not always in my fans’ wheelhouse, so sometimes they’ll just directly message me for one.

LG: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about that I may have missed?

EC: I’m working on a follow-up project that is about 50% done.

LG: When is that coming out?

EC: My hope is Fall or Winter, but it’s a matter of getting finances together.

LG: You’re all independent, right?

EC: Yeah, I’m independent of a label so it just takes a minute.

LG: I know how that goes!

EC: Yeah, for the video, I worked two full-time jobs for six months to afford that. I put a lot of thought and pride and joy and work… I realize I’m not a master at everything so I send it off to someone to mix that just mixes, and so on.

LG: Do you have a name for that project?

EC: Yeah! It’s called Sad Boy Nites. It’s a little more of a melancholy project. It’s not a “breakup” album, it’s a “getting dumped” album.

LG: Hahaha.

EC: That’s about halfway done. It’s fully recorded, and half the songs are mixed and mastered; just slight production changes.

LG: Awesome. Well, Eric, it was good to talk to you tonight!

EC: Likewise, Lucas, thanks so much!

LG: Good luck with your upcoming release!

EC: Thank you, man!

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