In a dimly lit studio, Denver artist Jon Shockness is searching among tables full of recording equipment, laptops and headphones. “Where did that palo santo go?” he asks. He finds it, and after burning the fragrant stick in the recording room and making a few adjustments to his headphones, Shockness stretches over to touch his toes, then opens his arms wide and smiles to himself as he speaks into the microphone: “Let’s have some fun.”
Over the years, Shockness has allowed his musical pursuits to ebb and flow, starting out in high school as a member of Air Dubai, then moving on to his current solo endeavor, Kid Astronaut, and his latest collaborative project, HVN (pronounced “heaven”). Each of these projects has been forged through raw connections with people, and each has allowed his sound and perspective to evolve as he grows as a human being. When Air Dubai’s performances began to wane in frequency in 2015, Shockness began to assess all areas of his life.
“I was looking for something more in myself and looking for who I wanted to be as a person [and an] artist and was realizing that I wasn’t really happy,” he says. “It wasn’t that I wasn’t happy in Air Dubai, specifically, or with this or that; it was a global ‘I want all of my life to be happy.’ And I thought, ‘I think I can.’”
Kid Astronaut, his solo acoustic project, came out of that desire. Its foundation is rooted in a childlike sense of wonder and exploration and is influenced by his fascination with space and space travel.
Shockness explains that there is an element of fearlessness to his music as Kid Astronaut, like “when you think of dragons and fighting them with a sword.”
With the transition from being part of a six-member band to performing, writing and producing alone, Kid Astronaut was all about personal breakthroughs.
“[This project] was all about learning self-confidence and self-love,” Shockness says. “I tend to be a social butterfly at times, and although I need people, I also realized I needed myself. We all have our strengths, and Kid Astronaut was about finding mine.”
While creating music on his own demonstrated the strength and creativity he possessed as an individual, Shockness missed the collaborative elements of working with a team.
“I like being able to work with other people,” he says. “Community and collaboration make everyone stronger. But I did, at the time, have to do the solo thing to learn myself. That was part of my growth, too.”
His friendship with Daniel Iyere led to the new project, HVN. Iyere, producer, songwriter and vocalist in HVN, was introduced to Shockness after moving to Denver from Brooklyn. Shockness still produces music as Kid Astronaut while working on HVN, and he describes the intertwining projects as “Kid Astronaut in heaven.”
“The concept of a heaven is one shared by every human universally,” Iyere says. “It symbolizes hope and is generally viewed as an external place, location or reward. I feel we can all find or create heaven within ourselves, a state of mind. As a band, we aspire to provide the music and sonicscapes for that space.”
For both Iyere and Shockness, staying authentic is the ultimate goal. They keep the studio environment relaxed, even playing PS3 games during downtime. Spending time outside, riding his bike around the city and practicing yoga are other ways that Shockness ensures that he remains grounded within his creative process. Allowing ideas for music and lyrics to flow freely, without force, is crucial.
“I try to ask myself, after I finish writing or listening back to what I recorded, if it feels genuine,” Shockness explains. “It’s a vibration thing for me, so if the vibe feels off on a section, I’ll go back in and redo it. I think of my songs as lasting forever, so I really do want to be as genuine as possible in the moment, though I know my life and perspective will change over time.”
With both Kid Astronaut and HVN, Shockness hopes to make a cultural impact, striving to touch listeners with sound in a way that motivates them toward movement, passion or inspiration.
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Although HVN does not have any upcoming shows scheduled, the band has performed five times over the past few months. The most recent gig was opening for Miguel at the Boulder Theater. Shockness, a Miguel fan himself, says performing for a large crowd was a cool experience that just propelled the band’s motivation to be bigger and better.
In October, HVN hosted an unofficial private listening party for its EP with about fifty people, a sneak peek at the nine-track album the act intends to release in early 2017. The EP reflects the diverse musical backgrounds of Iyere and Shockness, its smooth, mellow beats complemented by dynamic, relatable lyrics.
For Iyere, HVN is like an open canvas. He explains that some of the pair’s songs evolve from beatsmithing, some from lyrics and melody-riffing sessions, and others from a piano vocal. Regardless of how each song is born, Iyere and Shockness focus on the story they’re telling and on communicating it in a creative and stimulating fashion. As Shockness continues to produce music with these developing projects, his intention is to remain a Denver artist and to feel as rooted and authentic in his art as possible. He’s noticed that a lot of artists are moving out of Denver because they don’t think Denver has “it,” but he feels that their moving away is more a reflection of their own struggles and goals rather than a problem with the Mile High City.
“I think my challenge now, as opposed to the younger me, is finding more of a personal and spiritual truth rather than a record deal or a tour bus,” Shockness says. “I want both, but I’m not feeling incomplete without those things anymore. You are the shit, no matter where you are. You have to believe in that so no matter where God or the universe plants you, you have the exact seed so that you can grow. I’m here for a reason. I was born here for a reason, and I want to [make music] from Denver.”