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Semi-Cycle Finds Beauty In The Unknown

Written by on November 7, 2022

Kris Hansen’s solo project is semi-cycle, a culmination of the sounds of Chicago and New Orleans: soul, house, jazz, hip-hop, funk, lo-fi and more…

Drawing musical influences from the two cities he loves most, Kris Hansen holds the reins to New Orleans-based project semi-cycle. 

The Chicago-rooted multi-instrumentalist finds inspiration in the music he was surrounded by during his time in each city: from drum and bass to jazz. Hansen describes New Orleans and Chicago as having a “yin-yang” relationship when it comes to musical perspective.

“New Orleans has an artistic creed oriented around preserving its musical heritage and tradition,” Hansen explained, “whereas Chicago is invested in pushing creative and artistic boundaries.”

His work in semi-cycle embodies this sense of duality. Whether it’s the integration of electronic and live instrumentation or the perfect melding of percussive groove and chill lo-fi vocals, Hansen manages to preserve this sense of balance in his own discography.

Photo courtesy semi-cycle, by @trevorjayprickett.

When Hansen isn’t working on a semi-cycle record or producing tracks for other artists, he is also a multi-instrumentalist who contributes his skills to live sets — collaborating with big names like Kweku Collins and The Walters — and can be found playing anything from trumpet to keyboard. 

semi-cycle’s newest single “KMCB” was featured on Vocalo’s “In Rotation” playlist for October and provides a glimpse into what the groove-driven artist is all about. Produced and composed by Hansen, the track provides listeners with a smooth fusion of funk, soul and R&B sounds exploring the narrative of love that comes with infatuation. “KMCB” is the first single off semi-cycle’s upcoming EP MOMENTUM.

We heard from semi-cycle on “KMCB,” the nuanced differences between the Chicago and New Orleans music scenes and the story behind his name: a reminder that not everything must be complete.

You’re not only a musician, but a writer and producer as well. Tell us your musical origin story! When and how did you find yourself gravitating toward music?

So my musical origins are kinda in two parts, the first part being just how life happened and the second part what I sought out for myself. Both of my parents are professional singers and teachers in the world of classical music and academia, so I was surrounded by a lot of that music during childhood. They cared about giving me an education in music, so I started taking piano when I was 4. A lot of those early years was a hodgepodge of music that came into my life — I remember dancing to The Beatles and Gypsy Kings in my basement, listening to Radiohead covers from pianist Christopher O’Riely to fall asleep, freaking out the first time I heard The Backstreet Boys and sneakily buying my first CD from Borders Bookstore because it had “Roses” by Outkast on it. I knew there was a world of music that I caught glimpses of through MTV and at the pool during summer that I didn’t get at home, and wanted more of.

Photo courtesy semi-cycle, by @carlossanchez.

In eighth grade, I started writing songs with my now long-time homie and collaborator Jameson Brenner. We got into our high school’s variety show as freshmen, which was a “huge deal.” That was the first time I felt like being on stage performing music was the most important thing in the world. Like I had done it plenty of times before through school choir and band but to be on a big stage performing music I wrote for a crowd of people was something entirely different. We had an electronic music lab in my high school that I would spend hours in, messing around on Logic, trying to sound like Flying Lotus and Daft Punk — but usually just ending up with cringey hip-hop adjacent beats. 

I was learning about music theory, too, and would lock myself in a practice room during lunch hours and play piano. Then Zaramela happened, my first serious band and what I thought would be the rest of my life. That band was everything to me for a while — I chose to stay in Chicago for college just so that we could keep it together. That’s a whole other story in [and] of itself, though. I guess no matter how far away from music I’ve gotten, I know there’s something in me that always brings me back. This is just what my life is now, and I’m grateful to be living it.

After living in both New Orleans and Chicago, in what ways do the two cities differ? In what ways do you feel they’re similar? How do the music scenes compare?

I’ve had this half-baked theory for a while now on New Orleans and Chicago being sort of like yin and yang to each other. Nola is small, curvy and values going with the flow, while Chicago is metropolitan, structured and values consistency. Music in New Orleans is just happening everywhere, all the time — from the street corners of the French Quarter to impromptu block parties and jam sessions, it doesn’t stop; it spills out across the city like watercolors. In Chicago, you gotta know where to go to find the good s**t, but when you do, it’s clear how abundant it is — and with such an insane degree of talent and innovation. 

This is one way in which the two cities differ culturally: New Orleans has an artistic creed oriented around preserving its musical heritage and tradition, whereas Chicago is invested in pushing creative and artistic boundaries. These are both generalizations, though; I met some amazingly innovative artists in Nola, and know old jazz heads in Chicago who are committed to keeping the traditions born out of be-bop alive. It’s kinda hard to sum up the spirit of a city in that way, it’s more of a feeling than anything else. I would say the music scene in New Orleans is a bit more open off the bat, given you can turn up to a show on Frenchmen as an unknown and ask to sit in with a band almost any night of the week. In Chicago, you go to see a band play at a venue and there are jam nights separate from that, a little less bleed between the two. Both scenes are incredibly rich and diverse, with some of the best musicians in the world. That is no exaggeration.

What types of sounds inspire your artistry? Are there any artists that stand out as pivotal to your musical journey?

I find myself most drawn to sounds centered in soul and groove that also incorporate elements of simple pop writing, psychedelic flavors and orchestral textures. It’s hard to narrow down the list of artists that have inspired me over the years, but I’ll try to break it down. Dilla, James Brown, Questlove and 9th Wonder have been big influences on the way I feel rhythm. Marvin Gaye, Frank Ocean, Aretha Franklin, D’Angelo and Reggie Watts have all been huge influences on me as a vocalist and performer. Robert Glasper, Bill Evans, Kiefer, Chick Corea, James Poyser and Stevie Wonder have taught me so much about playing keys. Chaz Bear (Toro y Moi, Les Sins) is one of my favorite artists of all time. His music is just super comforting to me. I love how you can feel how genuine he is through his music, so wide-ranging genre-wise and yet completely cohesive. Also I just have a feeling like we would be homies. I’ll meetcha someday, buddy.

Do your surroundings influence your songwriting at all? Have your recent travels to Italy brought any bursts of inspiration?

Hell yeah, I did a lot of writing while I was in Europe. I think it’s more about the energy and feelings my surroundings bring out from within me, rather than, “Oh wow, that mountain is beautiful, I’m gonna write a song about it.” 

I would, however, write a poem about that mountain. I find it very freeing to write poetry. I’m waiting on receiving my travel journal back from a friend in Amsterdam — because I’m a dingus and leave my stuff everywhere — but once I do, I’m excited to start using that material for songs. I think it’s important to shake things up, but also there’s a profundity to digging into what you’re normally around. There are some days I feel like I could stay inspired being cozy in my home all day long; there are some days I need to not spend over an hour in my apartment. I try to listen to my intuition when it comes to all that; every day is different.

Photo courtesy semi-cycle, by @trevorjayprickett.

How did you come to work with Kweku Collins? Tell us a little bit about your experience working together!

I met Kweku through my homie Jameson, who knew him through skating back in the day. They started working together on music maybe three years ago, and Jamo became the musical director for his live show. 

He assembled the amazing squad that we have today, and I’m proud to be a part of it. Kweku has such a beautiful soul and a brilliant mind — a true artist, and one of the realest poets I know. I’ve had such an awesome time getting to know him over the years through talking about art and life, working together on his album — that just got completed and is dropping very soon — and playing music together. He’s just one of those dudes, you can just see the star power glowing all around him. Hyped I get to be a part of that ride with him and those dudes.

Do you produce your own music? How does your work as a producer differ when you’re producing someone else’s work compared to your own?

I do write and produce for myself, the past three years have especially been focused on honing in those skills and refining my workflow. So much of my time in New Orleans was spent working on ideas and learning more about engineering and production. I would say the main difference in working with someone else is having another person to bounce ideas off of. 

It’s also a matter of what energy they’re bringing to the table. For example, with my friend Manasseh  — an amazing singer and artist who y’all have shown love to on-air as well — he’ll either give me an idea to go off of, like a melody or a groove, or I’ll start with something I’m hearing, and the song will organically come to life in that process. Regardless of working alone or with others, creating a sense of momentum and riding that wave is what helps keep me inspired.

RELATED POST: Manasseh Embraces the Light Within On ‘Monochromatic Dream’

Is semi-cycle your first solo project? If not, can you tell us about your past musical endeavors?

semi-cycle has been a couple years in the making. I was going by the name amlgmtn, “amalgamation,” when I released my first single “Neptune,” but changed it because most people had no idea how to say it. I’m happy ‘bout it, though. semi-cycle feels very representative of me. As far as releasing my own music — yes, this is my first solo project. I’ve been a part of a couple different groups over the years, some that still exist and some that are now defunct, but last year was the first time I felt confident enough to start releasing my own music. It took me time to develop my artistic voice, and I’m glad I did.

Where did the name semi-cycle come from?

So I basically sat myself down one night last November, took a micro-dose of mushrooms, and told myself by the end of the brainstorming session, I would have a new name. I was thinking a lot about patterns and cycles at the time, and in particular observing in myself and other people that there can be a tendency to want some sense of completion and closure from life — like the feeling of wanting a start and end to something and being able to understand it fully. 

But there’s a profound beauty to not knowing what’s going on, to embrace life as it’s happening right now. Life is a cycle, we’re in the middle of it, and that’s kinda the best part. Not everything has to be complete, and we don’t have to get it all the time. We just have to remember that we’re here. A nice lil’ reminder for myself! Also, it just kinda rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? “Semi-cycle.” Feels good to say.

Do you see yourself dedicating all your time to semi-cycle, or do you like the collaboration factor of working with other artists?

Photo courtesy semi-cycle, by @trevorjayprickett.

At this point in time, I want to invest a lot of time into getting my music off the ground. I have a clearer vision on how I want to develop it for myself, and a part of that is bringing other people into it. 

Zach Lyda, amazing producer and engineer who goes by Halfspeed, did the mixing and mastering on “KMCB” and will be a crucial part of semi-cycle moving forward. Some of the songs I plan on releasing next will feature some local artists I’m very excited to work with. That said, I don’t see semi-cycle as me alone in a studio anymore. It’s going to involve the right people so that it can grow into something bigger than me. I just hope to be a good captain of this ship.

Tell us about “KMCB,” featured on Vocalo’s “In Rotation” playlist this month! What’s the story behind that song? Did you create all the instrumentals on that track?

“KMCB” is just a chill little song! It was fun for me to make, I just kinda let it happen — the words, melody and structure all naturally fell into place pretty quickly. It’s about having a crush on someone and how it’s easy to create a narrative of love around that initial spark of attraction. My internal process around starting to like someone has been like this many times in the past. I look at it like poking fun at myself in a healthy way. 

And yeah, I played all the instruments on the track — the drums, bass, keys, pretty much everything except for trumpet, voice and some synths were all played out on my MIDI keyboard. Ideally, I want to upgrade my setup so that I can record a real upright and drum kit, etc. but it’s still pretty amazing we just have the ability to do it all from the computer nowadays. 

How many instruments do you play? What was your first instrument you picked up, and do you have a favorite?

I play keyboard, trumpet, some drums, some bass and can figure stuff out on a guitar on a case-to-case basis. Piano was my first instrument, but it’s hard to choose favorites. Some days I’m in a piano mood, some days the trumpet speaks to me more. It really depends on the day and how I feel. If I only had one instrument for the rest of my life, though, I would have to go with piano. Could write pretty much everything I’d want to with just a piano and my voice.

What inspired the fun, retro music video for “KMCB”?

I’ve just always vibed with handheld DV tape camera aesthetic. It reminds me of watching old home movies or skate videos as a kid — there’s an immediate sense of nostalgia and familiarity that I find really comforting. The video itself was just me “playing the game of love,” and failing. I took inspiration from Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite with the character I was trying to play. To be honest, though, I thought I was doing way more of a caricature of myself during filming but while editing, it came out way more wholesome than weird. I’m just a sweetie, what can I say?

What can listeners expect from semi-cycle next?

More. Music. Live. Shows. I have a show at Cole’s Bar on the 10th of November opening for Lasa — would love to see y’all there!

Keep in touch with semi-cycle on his Instagram and stream his music below!

Introduction and interview by Makenzie Creden

Edited for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

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