Crywolf Debuts His Debut Album 'Cataclasm': Exclusive Premiere

Courtesy Photo

“You have to become before you can create.”

Such is the philosophy of Justin Taylor Phillips, aka Crywolf. His whole life has been a journey. His childhood in Hong Kong, his teenage American assimilation, his struggles to find himself as a person, a musician, and an artist all led to this moment and a 10-track album called Cataclasm.

“I feel like this album came exactly at the time it was able to come,” he says. “Finally, my abilities matched my aspirations.”

It's lyrical, powerful, and cinematic, a sweeping composition immediately larger in technical and emotional scope than anything the artist has produced before – and that's the key. With Cataclasm, Crywolf has ceased to be a simple producer and dons the artist cap without shame.

To tap into his inner voice, Phillips extricated himself from the Los Angeles scene and traveled to northern Iceland. He spent a month and a half in almost total seclusion, joined only in short stints by his girlfriend and his little brother.

Listen to Cataclasm below, which Billboard is premiering exclusively.

He lost himself in the process, experiencing what he calls a “weird psychosis,” talking to himself and working feverishly on the task at hand. He incorporated the sounds of the stuff around him; the chirp of Icelandic birds, the crunching of water bottles, the sound of drumming on his wooden ceiling, his table, and his pots and pans. All of it was new yet natural to him, like a snake shedding dull restrictive skin to let fresh colors shine.

He'd visited the country once before with friends when he lived in New York City. They only went because tickets were so cheap, but it was a landscape that spoke to him on some hidden level.

“It just blew my mind when we were there, the entire aesthetic of the place is just incredible,” he says. “(It's) beautiful and soaring, but it has this tinge of alien atmosphere. I only went there for 10 days, but I just knew that was the place I wanted to make my album.”

Growing up a scrawny, red-headed boy in China, alienation is something Phillips can relate to. Even at 10, when he moved to New York his mother kept him on a homeschool education, leaving him even slower to adapt. It wasn't until he dropped out of college, unable to pay the high tuition when scholarships didn't come in, choosing instead to use his money on a motorcycle cross-country couch-surfing trip that shattered his perceptions and altered his worldview.

“So much of my life was spent lusting after this idea of being one of the cool kids,” he says. “On that trip, I finally decided to stop trying to achieve this picture of what's cool or what's the ultimate form of myself and instead just started to -- and this sounds really cheesy now that I say it out loud -- embrace myself. Just going for what I want myself instead of going for what I think is the cool thing.”

Two Dance Music Museums to Open in Germany by 2017

A few years later, he began producing dubstep under the moniker Crywolf. It started as a fun diversion, but his first EP Ghosts found surprise success. As his fanbase grew, his interest in EDM diminished. He tried to be more experimental, tried to apply that sense of self he'd found on the road into his releases, but it all felt a bit half-hearted.

“I was just making it because I liked playing it live, because it was fun to watch people go crazy,” he says. “I was trying to put myself in this scene where people make this heavy shit that I don't like. I don't listen to it. I don't like the fans of it. It sounds so dumb now, but there's a lot of fear that keeps you in those places. You're like, 'I'm established as this sort of artist. If I change, what if people won't like it?'”

By definition, a “cataclasm” is “a breaking asunder; a violent disruption.” Phillips traveled to a frozen island formed by volcanic eruptions to dash the chains of his sonic cycle. It was scary. There were times when he thought it might ruin his career, but he kept going.

Kygo to Headline Barclays Center Concert Next Year

“When you really put in so much work to create something that you're ridiculously proud of, it almost stops mattering if people like it,” he says. “If I just sent this around to my best friends and never even released it, I would be just as happy wth it and just as proud. I don't need it to be validated by the general populace's approval. When it got to that place ... all those fears, they didn't factor in.”

People do like it, though. “I love it already!” fans gush on Facebook, responding to teases and singles as hinting to a “true musical experience.” Phillips would tell them they're right. It's his true self they're experiencing.

“If you're not somebody that you're proud of being, you're not going to make art that you're proud of creating,” he says. “I don't see any place in my life for analyzing what other people think is cool and doing that, analyzing trends, or trying to follow any of that shit … There really is no other option besides doing it 100 percent, authentically, exactly what you want to do.”


The Biz premium subscriber content has moved to

To simplify subscriber access, we have temporarily disabled the password requirement.