While not a household name (yet), Ki:Theory’s music has been going worldwide via placements in shows like “Suits,” “CSI” & “How to Get Away With Murder” for some years. Even popular brands, ranging from Nike, GoPro and Audi, feature his music in advertisements. And this succesful producer and song writer does it all from a studio located in Scott’s Addition.
Joel Burleson, better known as Ki:Theory, creates music that dances fluidly between the genres of rock and electronic music. His latest album, Silence, which dropped earlier this month, features a cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy The Silence” from 2017’s Ghost in The Shell reboot.
“I’ve been playing music for a long time,” said Burleson, in an interview with RVAMag. “I write and release albums and I tour and stuff. [Before streaming,] it was a lot more lucrative to make music when people were paying like $18 for a CD and they bought a lot of them… you just have to diversify. So my business model, I guess you could call it, is I write what I want to write. When I haven’t released things, I try to get them placements in film and television.”
“It’s just been contacts and connections that I’ve made and formed through the time I have been playing music,” he said. “[This] has led me down that path and I feel like my music just has sort of a vibe to it. Like an emotional component that fits well to picture. That’s sort of helped me get opportunities. Opportunities work in kind of a chain: you get one and you get another.”
The name “Ki:Theory” was once a moniker for an entire Richmond band. Burleson described the split as amiable and more of a difference in artistry. Before The National was even a venue, the band of the same name opened up for bands at Toad’s Place and down in Alley Cats (turned Kingdom, now it’s The Top).
“Our bass player left, and I was certain to do my own thing,” said Burleson. “The drummer was more into metal and our guitar player was actually moved to Nashville and plays in Old Dominion which is a pretty huge country band now.”
As each member of the band went on to explore their own sound and musical passion, Burleson took great influence from electronic artists like DJ Shadow and rock band Nine Inch Nails. His sound, while wholly unique, is a blend of many rock and hip hop percussive elements, electronic ambience and up-beat vocals. Silence, Ki:Theory’s latest album was released on May 5th, before the artist’s headlining appearance at Harvey Milk Festival in Florida.
“Silence is just basically the culmination of work that I’ve been writing since my last album,” said Burleson; the musician’s release before that was Kitty Hawk (Remixed and Extended).
Despite being a seemingly random collection of new recordings, Burleson said the tracks fit well into a cohesive group of songs, and they all only date back about the last 2 years.
“Basically I’m always writing,” he said. “If I like a song enough to take it to completion, then I will probably release it- whether that’s a single or [a track that] waits for the record.”
Ki:Theory’s live performances are also nationally recognized having supported major acts like Phantogram, Sparta, Passion Pit and playing the Bonnaroo festival back in 2009. Burleson’s attention to his craft and work is nothing short of dedication. This dedication and talent put Ki:Theory on the same stage as DJ Shadow, which Burleson admits was like coming full-circle.
“He is definitely a top influence of mine,” he said. “He is the reason I started getting into electronic music. He was a super nice guy; I got to talk to him a little bit backstage and he is totally down to earth… humble [even though] he knows how big of an influence he is on so many artists.”
And despite commercial successes that range from an invitation to be part of Disney’s album Tron: Reconfigured to collaborating with contemporary Nashville artist Ruelle, Burleson (the sole Ki:Theory musician, now) stays incredibly humble and hard at work.
His advice to his young musicians in the city is how to stay grounded, and realize being a ‘rockstar’ is the equivalent to winning the lottery. With musicians and creatives no longer even needing to visit a studio and instead opting to create sounds from a bedroom set-ups, the pool of noticeable, talented folks is significantly larger.
“If you have a midi keyboard and a computer, you can kind of dabble in any genre that you would like- not to say that you’d be good at it,” said Burleson. “I would say do/play music because you like to play music. You’re more likely to be successful versus just playing music because you want to be successful. If you don’t love to play and totally immerse yourself in it, then odds are you will not [be successful]. Somewhere along the line you will fizzle out. This was the road that was laid out in front of me and I kept taking turns to be on that path.”