This piece is part of the Algorhythms project: artists telling stories about music they discovered from humans. Because where we discover music is an important part of its impact, and not all music is discovered through an algorithm.
Experimental music producer Chris Richards is ready to get back to the music. They’ve been a musician their entire life, writing songs and playing guitar in various bands as a teenager before working as a producer for electronic music projects Resident Anti-Hero and Remember Me Feral. But when Chris founded now-defunct booking agency and management firm Autonomous Music in 2008, they stopped making music to focus on the careers of their 60+ clients.
Quitting music left Chris dissatisfied. They eventually decided to close the firm, merge their roster with The Agency Group’s (now owned by United Talent Agency), and purchase a small farm in the Pacific Northwest. There Chris found the inspiration for CNJR (pronounced kon-jer)—a nomadic solo project comprising elements of post-rock, darkwave, and witch house. “When I accomplished feeling refreshed and ready to figure out what my next phase in music would be,” Chris explained in an interview with Magnetic Magazine, “I knew I needed to include being creative again.”
In 2018, Chris released their debut EP as CNJR, Hive Mind, a moody, synth-heavy record influenced by science fiction film scores. On their sophomore album, I Can See the Church Burning Through the Binoculars, Chris experiments with organic instrumentation and vocals to explore themes of self-censorship, repression, and alienation. Darker and more cathartic than previous releases, Chris’ latest LP reflects their experience as a self-described outsider.
For their Algorhythm, Chris remembers the garage oasis where he discovered Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
Trading music, talking about music, saving each other with music, was pretty much the primary focus of my teenage years. Escaping whatever situation we were in at home, whatever trouble we were in at school, whatever repressive relationships with society that we were often experiencing privately, we lived in music. We often skipped school (until I was ultimately expelled) and went to the university record shop and dug through punk records, listened to the college radio station while sitting on the pavement outside the door, arguing the merits of punk vs. grunge vs. ska-punk vs. whatever else came up. For me, this was the most cherished part of my youth. I would learn how to play anything we were excited about on guitar late at night in my bedroom and rush to school the following day to show my friends. It was mostly Nirvana songs honestly. I found out about new music from friends giving me mix tapes—these were the days of cassette tapes and walkmans—which we played on repeat until the tapes were useless. We lived in our headphones. I found out about music from flyers on poles, and posters in the music shops, and going to local punk shows and talking to everyone.
Those were the days.
All that said, I think to pinpoint a really specific moment that I remember clearly, was in my early 20's. I was in a band at the time and played a lot around Olympia, WA, and it was common to end up talking music with people almost daily. I was at the house of the person I was dating at the time, and a young couple we knew had recently moved into the neighbor’s garage because they got evicted with no money to pay rent. I was in the front yard and he popped his head out and asked me to come over so he could show me something. We squeezed through the boxes and storage in the garage to get to the middle of the room, which was adorned with tapestries and such to seem like a bedroom or something. There was a futon couch that served as their bed, and he had set up this full listening experience as if it was a ritual. Massive speakers pointed directly at the futon, drinks and smoke available to set the mood, dim lights, and a single 23-minute song cued up.
That was my introduction to Godspeed You! Black Emperor. He said no talking during the song, just take it in, and he hit play on the track “Storm.” 23 minutes of something I could not describe. It was a life altering musical experience, opening me up to a really different take on songwriting, on aesthetic, on dynamics. It was incredible, and I will never forget sitting there hearing that song, and that band, for the first time. Since then, I've meticulously collected all of their vinyl, seen them live every chance I have, often driving to see them several nights in a row. Since hearing that song, I've been endlessly chasing music that takes me out of my body and leads me on a journey. I've been chasing making music that takes me out of my body and hoping it does something similar for other people.
That moment definitely lives somewhere inside everything I do as CNJR.
I Can See the Church Burning Through the Binoculars is out now via Future Archive Recordings—an artist-run label and collective headed by Chris and Arms and Sleepers, Sun Glitters, and Little People. Check out CNJR’s latest album and listen to the full Algorhythms playlist here.
Looking for an out-of-body musical experience? Come join CNJR in Grey Matter, the music community where music and people meet. Learn more and join the community here.