In a low-key corridor that sits alongside the Mississippi river in Minneapolis is a hotbed of talent. “People hop in and out of every studio, creating together, and I think it’s beautiful,” Psymun tells me, before providing a laundry list of collaborators that have helped make the Twin Cities so captivating. “There’s a lot of good shit coming out from down the hallway here. This fucking hallway, it’s festering creativity.”
In just over five years, Simon Christensen (professionally known as Psymun) went from working in a restaurant to rubbing shoulders with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver). He might not be the one to admit it, but he’s become a key part of the Twin Cities’ vibrant music scene, with a rotating cast of collaborators dropping by his studio situated in a tightly packed corridor. Joined by the likes of Frankie Bash, SinGrinch, and DroDro, who occupy the rest of the hallway, Psymun and his cohorts are the backbone of an ever-evolving movement. As a producer, he’s helped foster some of the most promising talent Minneapolis has to offer, but his voice is also the melodic centerpiece of Young Thug’s “Chanel.” Psymun says he “doesn’t have a ton of civic pride,” but he’s still in love with where he grew up even as opportunities across the country call his name.
“It was never a conscious decision,” he explains, when asked why he’s kept most of his collaborations local. “The artists I work with here are my favorite artists. It would be smart for me to move to Los Angeles if I wanted to make a bunch of money, and I do go to L.A. and make some money out there based on the opportunities. But it just so happens that the people I love to work with are here in Minneapolis. I am proud of this place. I’ve said this before but it’s just so much cooler that we have Prince rather than Tom Petty, then we have Bon Iver rather than Mumford and Sons. It’s always something cool, even like Atmosphere rather than Macklemore. Something about it is tight, something about the scene here.”
"it just so happens that the people I love to work with are here in minneapolis. I am proud of this place." - psymun
Shortly after he got booked for his first tour with thestand4rd alongside fellow Minnesotans Bobby Raps, Allan Kingdom, and the elusive Corbin, Psymun quit his job. “It was a job I started when I was 14, and I stayed working there until I was 23. It was nine years of working at this restaurant, and I didn’t really have a bigger picture in my mind,” he admits. Ever since then he’s helped amplify the diverse scene surrounding him, but he’s also appeared in the credits for a song by Future and Juice WRLD. The drum kits he released online were used throughout Brockhampton’s star-making Saturation trilogy, and he appears twice on Bon Iver’s fourth studio album.
“At this point though, I really don’t know how to answer the question of if there’s a bucket list of people I’d like to work with,” he says fresh from a trip to L.A. working with the likes of Dijon and 88 Rising’s Rich Brian. “I’ve already worked with everyone I wanna work with, and if there is somebody that I do wanna work with that I haven’t, I can’t even think of it because maybe it’s not even meant to be.”
Psymun has insisted that everything with him “just happened,” but he’s been putting in work for years. Whether it’s his textural production for early collaborators Chester Watson and Corbin, or his intricately detailed Ghostly International-released EP Rainbow Party, Psymun only puts his name to quality music. Now, he’s joining Tame Impala on a tour alongside his close collaborator Velvet Negroni, all within a month of him “tripping the fuck out” over his placement on Banks’ song “The Fall,” which was co-written by Miguel.
“There was definitely a time where I was like, ‘I’d love to work with King Krule.’ And now we’re friends and we’ve made some music together,” he explains. “Or there was a time where I wanted to work with Bon Iver and it just happened. It’s kind of crazy. If it’ll happen it’ll happen. I’d love to work with Death Grips but that will never happen.”
Ask any one of the countless musicians he’s worked with and it becomes clear why he’s so well-loved. By providing a free-flowing collaborative environment, Psymun’s studio has become the birthplace of some of the most exciting music to come from the Midwest in recent years. Dua Saleh, who collaborated with Psymum on their gorgeous debut effort Nūr, explains that he is one of the most significant figures to ever emerge out of the Twin Cities.
“His presence in the music scene provides artists with creative invigoration, active critical response, and access to resources that would otherwise be inaccessible to many,” says Dua. “The music he creates is incredibly inspiring, breaking boundaries and extending beyond the realm of possibilities that seem stifling, at times. What I appreciate most about Psymun is his unfettering love for the arts. He surrounds himself with an eclectic group of artists that stir the soul and prick at the mind. He feeds off of raw talent and, in turn, feeds the scene with beautiful music. All in all, Psymun is a legend and the sweetest person you’ll ever encounter.”
Noah Goldstein, who worked as Kanye West’s producer and engineer for around a decade, was one of the many industry veterans to also take notice. “I first heard about Psymun when I worked with him and Justin Vernon at April Base studios,” Goldstein explains. “I loved the fact that Psymun’s taste and execution of ideas were all at the same level of excellence, and I was immediately impressed with his musical sensibilities and professionalism. Simply put, he was dope as fuck from jump.” When Goldstein signed a joint venture with Concord Music Publishing earlier this year, Psymun was hist first signing.
“Noah and Concord represent all of Psymun’s work that he has writing credit on as an artist, songwriter, or producer,” Jeremy Yohai, Head of Creative/A&R in the US at Concord Music, explains. “Noah and the Concord team work together with Psymun to create new opportunities for his music which could be with other artists, placements in films, TV, ads, video games.”
Psymun says the venture so far, despite some occasional growing pains, has been a delight. “The publishing company gets me sessions in L.A. a lot. They get me booked out for the whole week. It’s been awesome, pretty much every artist I’ve been linked with has been great to work with,” he says. “It’s not the most organic way to meet somebody, but I’ve worked with a couple of people I’ll be friends with for the rest of my life, and I just met them within the last six months. In general my publisher and A&R at Concord have a really good grasp on what I want to do and what I can do. It’s calculated in a way so it’s not a disaster.”
One of Psymun’s biggest collaborative undertakings so far is Velvet Negroni’s Neon Brown album, which he co-produced alongside Negroni and Elliott Kozel, best known to locals as producer and DJ Tickle Torture. “The way Psymun works is very open and collaborative,” Kozel says. “It’s a real close-knit family of people in the studio space. You can feel the love everyone has for each other and the excitement and dedication to the music. It’s a special spot. When we produced the Velvet Negroni album together, we worked everyday in the studio for a few months. We all got really deep into it. Since the studio has such an open and free atmosphere, it was super helpful to play the music for all the different people who were coming through and get fresh takes on whatever we were working on. I think one of the best things about collaboration is the perspective you gain immediately just by having other people in the room.”
The two producers powered through countless cans of White Claw as they worked on Neon Brown, which is to be released through 4AD. “Psymun is an ideal collaborator for me because of his willingness to experiment mixed with his ability to listen and compromise while refraining from destructive criticisms,” Velvet Negroni explains.
“He’s such a fascinating guy, says some of the most profound things even though he’s a total goof,” Psymun adds, of his roommate and collaborator Velvet Negroni. “Working with him is one of my favorite ways to work. He’s such a genius that he has the perfect algorithm because the moment he opens his mouth on the mic I already hear the song.”
In his small but cozy studio, Psymun makes it clear that “everyone’s idea is worth hearing” if they’re present. “It’s such a chill, no pressure vibe when we collab on stuff,” producer SinGrinch explains. “We make a lot of melodies and samples together that we send out to other producers and also do some full productions together.” The pair both worked on Future and Juice WRLD’s “Fine China” and Young Thug’s “Chanel” alongside go-to Atlanta rap producer Wheezy. But there are other producers dipping in and out his studio, too; from Falls, to Delaware’s Distance Decay.
"It is crazy, because that’s my voice on ‘Chanel,’ and me playing guitar on ‘Fine China.’ People send me videos of them performing those songs live, and people going crazy to it and it’s so cool." - psymun
“When ‘Chanel’ came out, I was very pessimistic about it,” Psymun says. “I was like, ‘Oh great, we’re not gonna get paid or credited or anything. Our shit’s on there, but we’re going to get fucked over.’ But, we didn’t. It is crazy, because that’s my voice on ‘Chanel,’ and me playing guitar on ‘Fine China.’ People send me videos of them performing those songs live, and people going crazy to it and it’s so cool. We did not know ‘Fine China’ and ‘Chanel’ existed until they even came out, so that was surprising.”
While it still hasn’t become normal for Psymun to see his name associated with such huge acts, he and his peripheral cast of collaborators have had brushes with the upper echelon of the hip-hop world since 2014. “None of it has been as surreal as I would have ever expected. Maybe just because it happened so quick. Corbin blew up and Drake was hitting him up immediately.”
Psymun was instrumental in the earliest days of Corbin’s career, helping him evolve past the internet curiosity he initially was when he released the confounding “Without U” video. “I think we had the same goals in mind when we first started working together,” he says of Corbin. “As you can probably tell he doesn’t want to be a celebrity, and I didn’t want that either. I always wanted what was best for him. It’s been frustrating for a lot of people when he’s turning down these big offers and collaborations and stuff, and I was one of the people who told him to do what he wanted. I care so much about him.”
Even before that, however, Psymun was sending beats to the now Los Angeles-based Chester Watson, who Psymun has frequently called his “favorite rapper” of all-time. “Me and Psymun don’t ever have to be in the same room, or even the same state, to feel each other's musical vibration,” Watson tells me. “It almost seems telepathic, and it’s all natural. We are both schooled in what we do from a different perspective than most. From what I know, Psymun kinda hails from a rock and electronic background. I hail from a classical ballet and soul, funk background. We both bring our outside knowledge of music into the realm of hip-hop: him as the producer and me as the MC. That’s my brother.”
Whether it be a rising talent such as Dua Saleh, or an established star like Justin Vernon, Psymun treats everyone as though they’ve been friends for life. That attitude has looped right back round to him, too. “Justin [Vernon] kept pulling me aside and being like, ‘Simon I gotta tell you that you’ve really impressed me, you’re one of the most amazing producers I’ve ever met’,” he adds when asked what it was like working on the latest Bon Iver record. “He kept telling me that shit, and it was tripping me the fuck out. Every time I would see him after that he would be like, ‘My favorite person ever!’ It made me so happy.”
“I first met Psymun through Ryan Olson, a producer and friend in Minneapolis,” Vernon tells me. “I’m sure the first shit I heard was Spooky Black and a lot of that early stuff he did when he was really young. Now he is one of the first calls I make when I want emotion and texture in a song and I can’t find it.” Vernon has had a huge impact on the way that Psymun works, but there’s also another local legend who informs his approach.
Anyone who has been to Minnesota, and Minneapolis in particular, knows how important Prince is to the local legacy. Psymun, like Prince, has become an invaluable producer that brings out the absolute best of those he works with. And, like Prince, he has always championed marginalized voices. Dua Saleh, booboo, Kamilla Love, Dizzy Fae—they’re the first artists he mentions when we talk.
"Now [psymun] is one of the first calls I make when I want emotion and texture in a song and I can’t find it." - Justin Vernon
“The Prince sound is a real thing, the minimalist ‘fuck the wall of sound’ attitude. Make the most out of the littlest you have,” he says. “Prince was a big part of creating this… When the ‘wall of sound’ was created by Phil Spector and everyone was doing that, Prince was doing the super minimal production. Simplifying it sonically, and that has a lot to do with songwriting too. It puts a focus on the vocalist, and I feel like Prince had a lot to do with that.” He’s giving people space to create freely, and that’s what makes him the heart of the Minneapolis scene.
“I’m pushing a lot of solo shit aside to work on other people’s projects, and I’ve been doing that for a few years now,” Psymun continues. “But the Velvet Negroni album, the Dua projects, Dizzy’s project, I love them so much, just as much as my own vision for my own projects.” As he focuses on uplifting others, there might not be another Psymun solo release for quite some time, but in sharing his talents with so many, he’s solidified himself in the canon of Minnesota greats.
“I never want to turn into the dude that’s sitting there with a notepad ordering people around. I try to just listen,” Psymun explained of the transition he’s made from beatmaker to producer. “Me trying to change someone’s lyrics, I don’t even feel like that’s my place unless it’s something really horrendous. I like to give an artist space. I try to be a tool for them, because they all have ideas and I just want to help tell their story and execute their vision.”