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Middleburg music group Cryface hopes to make it big

Cryface is hoping to make it big on the national scene with their soulful sound. Times-Mirror/Doug Stroud
It’s not quite like anything you’ve heard before.

Sultry, smooth, haunting vocals curl into your ears, wrapped around expertly intricate and new electronic sounds with underlying beats that make you want to dance.

It comes from Cryface – a music project made of local musicians, putting together a new sound in their home studio in Middleburg. They want to make it big with music that is fresh and new, but also commercially viable.

The project orbits the vocal talent of Mary Simmons, a young singer with an impressive natural range. While their goal is to create a fusion of dark, dance, hip-hop and R&B sounds, the project is constantly evolving and changing.

“I want to put together this new genre of music that’s different, that’s going to be a for-profit record,” said Cryface producer Luke Johnson. “It’s going to be a cohesive sound and it’s going to break a lot of rules as far as what’s acceptable to do in indie and commercial music.”

Johnson grew up on his parent’s farm in Middleburg. He has traveled and lived around the country, and came back home after spending seven years working on a doctorate in philosophy in Athens, Ga. While in Athens, he produced three records for a music collective called, Emergent Heart, in which all proceeds went to a suicide prevention center.

Johnson was working on his third Emergent Heart record when he met Simmons through a Craigslist add for a roommate.

“I thought that she was the most phenomenal vocal talent that I’d ever heard,” said Johnson. “I don’t even think that diamond in the rough does her justice. She’s a far more rarefied mineral. I knew that I had found something incredibly special.”

Simmons was equally impressed and drawn to Johnson’s musical talents.

“I met Luke and I was like, ‘Man, this guy is really special,’” she said. “The way that he listens to music is the way that I listen to music.”

Simmons doesn’t have any formal training, aside from a few voice lessons that she took as a child. She says that her singing style comes from the gospel music that she grew up listening to.

“Every morning my mom would play gospel music over the intercom in our house,” she said. “So when I’d wake up, I was already kinda shaking my shoulders to the beat and there was always a song in my head for the rest of the day. I picked up different techniques from that music and I idolized those singers. I always end up singing with soul because of that music that I listened to when I was young.”

Johnson let Simmons sing certain hooks and back up on the “Emergent Heart” album and was extremely impressed with the work that she put forward. He decided to make her a co-producer of the record.

When the record was complete, Johnson determined that he would make a new project that would showcase Simmons’ talents and would have potential to make it to a mainstream label.

Johnson moved back to Middleburg and sought the help of local artists. He eventually got Simmons to move as well and set her up with a place to stay and helped her to get a full-time job.

Cryface put together three original songs and three remixes on a blue vinyl album that they intend to send to record labels and industry professionals.

“My thinking is that when I reach out to strangers and send this immaculate, meticulously produced material pressed onto beautiful blue vinyl with incredible artwork, I don’t think that they’re going to dismiss it,” said Johnson. “I think it’s going to be too beautiful both as a physical product and as a sonic product for it to just be tossed aside and thrown away.”

Jason Rose, Johnson’s cousin and a Loudoun County native, helped to produce the beats and music on the record. He has worked as a recording engineer since 2005 and landed a record contract with Man Bites Dog Records. He has worked with major artists such as Freeway and members of the Wu-Tang Clan.

He explained that the group uses all kinds of unconventional instruments to get the sounds that they want.

“We use anything that makes noise pretty much,” he said. “We use synthesizers, guitar, base, percussion and even a saw for one song.”

Jon “JD” DeLuca plays guitar for Cryface. He went to high school with Johnson and reconnected with him over social media. DeLuca recorded an album with Johnson in Athens and contributed to the “Emergent Heart” record as well. He knew immediately that he wanted to be a part of Cryface.

“As soon as I heard Mary sing and I knew Luke was going to be involved, I was down,” he said. “She’s got this sultry voice and it gets into the blues and R&B a lot. There’s this element of pop music that reaches out to everybody.”

DeLuca is confident that Cryface has the capacity to reach the masses.

“I think that we have potential to get a record deal, or at least to make enough money hopefully to the point where we don’t have to make money doing other stuff,” he said.

Johnson said that he considers Cryface’s potential market to be national, not local. While they could be playing rock covers at local bars, he would rather focus his creativity and talent on making something special; something that just might make it big.

“I think we have elements with this dark dance R&B music that has some precedents proven to be financially viable for a lot of the larger record labels out there,” he said. “I could see a Columbia or a Sony taking a chance on us, because of the ace that I have up my sleeve with Mary Simmons.”


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