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Q + A With Black Summer

Dark, lavish and impossibly hypnotic, Australian EDM maverick Black Summer, aka Rhys Toms, unveils an exciting new artistic chapter today via his latest single Cernunnos. A dazzling new track, entirely written, performed and produced by Black Summer, Cernunnos also paves the way for the young artist’s impending new album Channel Horror, with the deliciously macabre-inspired full-length which came out Monday December 12. We caught up with Rhys for a quick Q + A

Hi, thanks for taking the time to chat with Hear 2 Zen, what have you been up to today?

Of course! Today’s been a super busy day preparing and finalizing everything for my album to finally release!

Tell us about yourself, how long have you been performing/creating music for? 

I’ve been musical ever since I can remember. I started making music when I was about 10 years old, just producing beats on my dad’s old laptop,  however, I started taking it seriously when I was around 12 years old after going viral from an interview with an Australian radio station called Triple J Unearthed when I was 11. 

Who are your greatest inspirations?  Why?

My greatest inspirations now are David Bowie, SpaceGhostPurpp and Tool because of how artistically expressive they are in different ways. To me they all represent free thinking and having a disregard for judgment and it’s something I really admire. Their music is so experimental and so, influential and i love the fact that you can feel it in their music when you listen to it

How do you create music?  Are you lyrics/story driven, or does the music/melody come first?  Explain your process.

The way I create music is all over the place, I don’t stick to routine or do what I know will work because I hate feeling comfortable with my music. I want to take risks and create something innovative and a reflection of me so I try to stay out of routines and keep it as natural as possible by constantly changing my workflow up, sometimes recording vocals first and sometimes focusing on the drums first, sometimes starting with imagery first and building sound from what I think one would hear from it.

What has been your greatest challenge so far in performing/creating music?

Being completely me. I was so scared for so long about making music I wanted to and felt so stuck in a rut that I felt I couldn’t do anything but make what I thought people would like. If it wasn’t for me creating KyotoClan (an anonymous artist I went under on the side), I probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to show people what I was really making and enjoying 

Tell us about your new release Cernunnos, how did it come about?

Cernunnos started as a song I released on another anonymous account I had made called KyotoClan. I created this other version of myself so that I could post music without any worry of judgment and do anything I wanted. After a while of releasing music on this side name and growing an audience almost as big as my main name, I started to realize that it was just me stopping myself from doing it as Black Summer and maybe I never had anything to lose showing people this other side of me. This song is a huge step in a new direction and is the beginning of a version of me that I have been refining and experimenting with for years. 

What advice do you have to artists who are just starting out?

Have fun! Experiment and ignore any negative criticism. You’re bound to make stuff that people won’t like when you first start making music so don’t be too hard on yourself and just enjoy being an artist. If you’re always stepping out of your comfort zone and doing things you’ve never done before, you’re doing great.

Tell us your favourite Zen practice.

 My favourite thing to do is to sit down on a field of grass near my house outside and use it to meditate. I become aware of myself, the time passing, and everything around me. I love feeling as conscious and aware as possible before I do anything creative, so this is something I love to do to start and end my day.

More About Black Summer

Innovative, entrancing and a gnarly take on the hip hop realm, Cernunnos oozes with glossy beats, woozy synths and the sharp vocals of Rhys himself, calling to mind the smooth stylings of JPEGMafia, Denzel Curry, Iglooghost and SpaceGhostPurrp. And while the track confidently flows with effortless ease, Cernunnos ultimately marks a significant turning point in the Black Summer creative journey; and also the first time the world has witnessed Rhys’ vocals in full swing, as Rhys reveals, “I felt like it was time to step to a new level, I always wanted to do vocals but never had the confidence, I’ve been working on my voice for a long time because I always saw myself as an all-around artist and not just a producer. The ideas I had were so specific for this album that I felt the only way I could get the vision I had was to step out of my comfort zone and be the vocalist too. This single represents almost a rebirth of myself as an artist, it’s about dealing with problems in my personal life – like toxic relationships, trust issues, and becoming numb to the way I got treated by people. I took all of that and channelled it into something creative. The song itself is named after an ancient Celtic deity called Cernunnos, a god of fertility, life, and resurrection. To me It represents a
neutrality and being in harmony with what’s around you, I felt like it was symbolic of the stage I’m in with my music at the moment with how connected I feel to this new stage of my sound.”

Rhys co-mixed Cernunnos and its parent album with Chris ‘TEK’ O’Ryan in Los Angeles, with TEK also mastering the record. Rhys avidly embraced stepping beyond his comfort zone, with the end result culminating in his upcoming full-length Channel Horror. Wielding eight tracks that channel full-blown 80s VHS horror fused into an electronic coating, including snippets from old school horror films and creepy vibes aplenty, Channel Horror balances fresh sounds with nostalgic samples from the bubbling Don’t Wear Me Down, to the sparse, glitching Taranis, energetic silk pulsations on hatingmissingyou, the humid beats and lustrous soundscapes of Juno and Solace, bouncy twitches on DIVE and the ultimate spooky-yet-glistening textures on closing track creepshow. Equally a forward-thinking collection of songs as much as a celebration of the dedicated scene Black Summer inhabits, Channel Horror ultimately showcases the bold and innovative flavours Rhys has spent years honing. “My main themes for this album are old VHS horror tapes mixed with paganism,” shares Rhys of his upcoming album. “I wanted to
bring a really dark and animated atmosphere. I took a lot of inspiration from SpaceGhostPurpp and the aesthetic of the underground scene I’m in.”

Tasting instant success at the age of 11 when he was Unearthed by triple j, Rhys’ breakout 2017 hit Young Like Me debuted on national television for Channel 9’s Children’s Hospital Telethon, with the track going on to rack up over three million streams across multiple platforms. But while Rhys, under the moniker Black Summer, undeniably proved to be one of the country’s most exciting young producers, he actively didn’t rest on his laurels, creating the unidentifiable project Kyotoclan to explore whether his music could stand up anonymously without the surrounding hype; and it did. Alongside developing his new Black Summer chapter, Rhys also recently co-produced Illy’s current single Like You, a track that was added to Spotify’s New Music Friday editorial playlist and instantly scored commercial radio love. And once again flexing his creative dexterity, Rhys also branched beyond his usual stylistic territory, co-producing the track Habibi by Pakistani singer-songwriter Asim Aznar, which snagged eight million views on YouTube within the first month of release, 300K fan videos made on TikTok and trended at #1 on TikTok (Asia).

While Rhys’ creative pursuits from a very young age has spanned eyewatering highs, the road to his current artistic identity was certainly not without its own unique hurdles; but for Rhys, the journey has helped empower and entice even more creative genius out of this electronic wunderkind, with his Black Summer and Kyotoclan endeavours seamlessly colliding on his new album due out in just under a month. “Getting constant hate after the interview I did with triple j Unearthed when I was a kid was tough, I guess it was just because I was so young,” shares Rhys of his journey that has built towards the release of Channel Horror. “No matter what I did, there seemed to be no convincing this swarm of hating trolls. I made videos showing how I produced the tracks and it didn’t help either. So, I got to the point where, just as an experiment, I started a new artist name and didn’t tell anyone about it. It had no bio or backstory attached to it, just a name and my point was to see if my music could stand on its own without any of the ‘youngest producer’ hype, because honestly, after a few years of constant hate I started to even doubt myself. The name I chose was something completely different from my main name: Kyotoclan. Not long after posting music and collaborating with underground artists, it started to get some love on Soundcloud, more so than my Black Summer name. Songs cracking over
30K listens. Not huge, but I was proud that it happened totally organically, with no promotion or money put into anything, just from people getting excited and sharing. Soon, the problem became about whether I reveal who I am as Kyotoclan or merge the two. After a while I decided to reveal who I am to my Kyotoclan fans. Some of these songs on Channel Horror I had released under Kyotoclan and this new direction was where Kyotoclan was heading, so, in a way, Black Summer has now merged with Kyotoclan.”

“Creatively speaking, I really stepped out of my comfort zone and experimented with not just my production but my vocals too,” Rhys concludes. “I’ve previously had features on releases but on this album all the vocals are mine. This is the start of a new era for me and a new chapter of my life.”

Hear2Zen Magazine
Hear2Zen is a "Non Genre Specific" publication that celebrates all things sensory.

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