Denver singer and songwriter Jon Shockness, who makes music as Kid Astronaut and is the former frontman of Air Dubai, is best known for his work as an R&B and hip-hop artist. But when Free People Records offered him the chance to record tracks in a markedly different style, he didn’t hesitate. The result is Kenopsia, a three-song collaboration with producer and electronic artist Psychologic.
“It's like an electro sound for me,” says Shockness. “That's definitely something I haven't done in the past, but I was excited to take that project on.”
"Kenopsia" is a new word from The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, a website and YouTube channel that creates neologisms for emotions that don’t already have a formal descriptive term. "Kenopsia" means an eerie, forlorn atmosphere of a place that’s usually bustling with people but is now quiet, like a school hallway at night.
Shockness, who thought up some of the lyrics for Kenopsia while gardening, says he took inspiration for the title track from a movie whose name he’s since forgotten. The film involved a person returning to his home town, which was once vibrant but was now barren and devoid of any people.
“Lyrically, I was going after that mindset of thinking maybe a group of people came back to this town where life once was,” he says. “Now everything is changed; everything is different.”
The second track, “Emotion,” evokes both the rave-like party scene in the underground city of Zion in The Matrix Reloaded and a post-apocalyptic video game he's been playing recently called The Last of Us. He drew ideas from movies in order to paint a lyrical picture of states of being that he has not personally experienced.
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“All together, it kind of created this universe where we could explore having a space that...it’s untouched for a long time, so we see what we can do in it,” Shockness says. “The second song was just about throwing a huge rave — everyone that's been back to this town after not being there for a long time.”
The third track, "Void," concerns a man and woman from the title track having a discussion about what plans they should make now that they live in a mostly empty world of their own. Shockness says he also thought about his own life and the changes he’s gone through — like losing old friends and things falling apart — when he wrote it.
“From a positive angle, that means there’s all this newness that can be created from that empty space,” he explains. “That’s kind of what I wanted to elaborate on.”
While Kenopsia's lyrics are somewhat dark, they're lightened by Psychologic’s mellow beats, which owe more to house music and electronica than they do hip-hop. The sounds are soft and dreamy, soaked in reverb and possessing a distant quality. It's good music to gently nod out to on the couch...until the lyrics soak in, and the chill-out is over.
“I thought a lot of Beatles songs were like that, like ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer,’” Shockness says. “It’s this really upbeat song, but then the content of the lyrics, when you dive into them, are just kind of sad. That’s kind of the space I was in when I was writing.”
He had only met Psychologic in person one time, during a video shoot at his house for a Kid Astronaut song. But the two had no trouble collaborating on the new record.
“It was cool to do something like this,” Shockness says. “Especially now with the quarantine, I think artists are finding new ways to collaborate, so it was a pretty interesting adventure.”
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The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t hindered his creative process all that much, he adds. He misses live shows, but his band, the Nebula, is playing a streaming concert next month, and he has roughly three albums' worth of material to release after collaborating with various producers.
It could definitely be worse.
“One of the things we say on the Kid Astronaut team is ‘Run the audible,’” he says. “It’s kind of like a football play: We like to adjust to what’s happening. Hopefully, soon this will all be over — but we don’t know, so we have to do the best we can.”