Trash Mutant Interviews (TMI): Sole
- by Señor Editor, 15 November 2012
TRASH MUTANT: First of all congratulations on the new album! It’s a great record and it’s coming out really soon now [this was a bit before the album dropped, it's out now]. You’re releasing it yourself and it was funded using Kickstarter. Your initial goal was the absolute minimum you needed in order to make this happen, just so you don’t fall a dollar short and get nothing. You ended up raising over 3 times more than that. How do you feel about that, did it meet expectations, exceeded it...?
SOLE: Hell yes. Thank you. I had always been on the fence about Kickstarter, and the entire model of donation based art... So I wanted to make my kickstarter more like a pre-order, so the items that people received would feel worth it to people. Even putting together various rewards like "the sole reader" (80 pages) seemed a very pretentious and risky project, but when it was done I was so impressed with it and I honestly feel like people will get a lot out of it. Same with the "prayer flags," its crazy all the skills you develop over the course of a career as a musician. Anyway, yes I raised 3 times more, not quite enough money to do everything I wanted, but I ended up not needing that and have done quite fine releasing everything myself... The people I felt the most responsible to were the backers of the project, and I figured they'd rather have an album mixed top notch then hip press cred that means nothing after all is said and done.
Let’s be honest, the old model of record labels pressing up a record, marketing it and selling just a record are over unless you are a total gimmick or very lucky. They've been over. If artists who want integrity and longevity are to thrive they must remove the parasites.... the labels! There are still some record companies doing great work for artists, so I’m not opposed to record labels that are ethical and do good work, sadly they are the minority. I am always producing videos and giving away free music. In the long term, this is "potlatch" economy, and that is why I like the idea of kickstarter, it allows those who can afford to pay to pay, those who want to, and in doing so they allow me to do something that I could never do on my own (or even on most indy labels), I retain my freedom, and everyone else can steal the music! It’s a fair trade for everyone!
I’m not too fond of labels such as “political rapper” etc., but it’s obvious the subject matter in your music is most often a political (or sociopolitical) one. You’re an emcee with a cause. If you had to describe it to someone who never heard your music, what would you say Sole stands for? What are the causes that you’re fighting for?
I don't know if there is any one cause I fight for, not so sure it can be simplified like that. The things that are important to me is people reaching their potential, to fight alienation, to own one's time, to each his own according to his own ability, to reduce suffering everywhere, freedom of expression, good food, etc. All my life all I've ever done is rap, but these days I get involved with everything I can, that interests me. I enjoy working on anything that disrupts monotony & snaps people out of their bullshit for a split second. I believe in the power of ideas to shape events. To me making music has always been a platform for my philosophical motivations, I think art is best used when it is informing people, inspiring action, educating, advocating, and antagonizing.
Like I mentioned in the review of the album, despite there being quite a few producers on “A Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing”, there is a sense of a unified sound of the record. How was that achieved? How closely did you work with the producers on this album?
I just selected beats that moved me... These are new friends and old friends I've made over the years, each friendship is different and each of them has a different version of what they think I sound good on... It’s the culmination of a lot of shit. It was imperative I mix it in a top notch studio, so everything could be consistent. I used the same engineer (Jesse O’Brien) that mixed “Hello Cruel World”, he's my homey, knows my sound and he does great work.
You’ve been with anticon, the underground music collective/record label you co-founded, for 12 years. You left the label two years ago to do things on your own. How do you look back on your time with anticon?
Depends on the day of the week, I guess. I look very fondly on what we did, that shit was pure magic... It was truly a "beat poet" movement, unfortunately I was too unschooled, unread, and ignorant to realize what the fuck we were really doing. When I look back on it now, it strikes me almost as this last sigh before the matrix swallowed everything. I know that’s really egotistical, but let me explain. All the artists that formed the core of that movement; Sixtoo, Sole, Buck 65, Sage Francis, Dose, Pedestrian, Why, Nosdam, Alias, Mayonnaise, Circus, etc... We all found each other by trading tapes online, through these old networks that were accelerated with the internet... Before mp3s.... We were the weirdest of the weird in all our respective cities and when we found each other it was truly inspiring & magical. We would sit 6 dudes in a room, locked in there for a week and come out with an album... In today's era everything is so instantaneous that no one would have the patience to fly across country to be with strangers. Shit, people don't even talk on the phone anymore, let alone text... Sure, through the internet collectives are springing up left and right and people are doing this all the time now, but no one cares because it’s not unique to this era, it’s not interesting, it’s almost expected so it’s already written off. We got lucky, we were way ahead of the curve at the right time in the right place with the right know-how, making great art that was special. There was a lot to it, there was an attitude, there was an unforgivingness...
The politics in your music go way beyond just “sticking it to the Man”. You’re well-read in the important works on economics, politics and philosophy and approach those topics, with all their complexities, in a comprehensive manner instead of just “rapping in bumper stickers”. While that’s definitely admirable and elevates your lyrics beyond just some easy-to-dismiss, Politology 101 kinda thing, I was wondering if you think there’s a flip side to it and if it matters if it matters at all. Like, dumbing things down is obviously out of the question, but do you think the complexity of your message can limit how widespread it gets?
Well, I often wonder if it matters at all. Sometimes when I’m down and out I feel like I've thrown my life away putting all this energy into writing a million manifestos that get lost in rap songs. There are flaws to my the way I write my songs, flaws that make them not work at all as folk music, they barely communicate. I hate this about my music. Every record I feel like I get better at communicating, but I still haven't struck the perfect medium. I don’t have a problem with pop music, or "low theory," i.e.; meeting people where they are... I'm way more approachable then my music is, and that is something I’m always trying to rectify.
The “Nuclear Winter” series of mixtapes you did a while back was based around you taking beats from popular songs, and reworking the themes from their lyrics into a critique on all sorts of current social and political issues. I was wondering if you got any feedback from any of the artists whose beats you jacked and whose songs got the “Nuclear Winter” Sole treatment?
I have never heard from anyone. I kept waiting for a cease and desist, I thought it would make me rich. Never got one.
Please correct me if I’m wrong here, but in the last 10 years you lived in Oakland, Barcelona, a small city in Arizona, and now Denver. Why all the moving and why those particular places? Do the (quite frequent) changes of scenery influence your creativity and your artistic output?
My job grants me certain freedoms, and so I embrace that. I really don't know what I want out of life, it keeps changing. I pretty much am down to move wherever it'll make me and my wife happy, depending on where she can find work, etc. After living in California we wanted to live somewhere ancient, so we lived in Barcelona for a few years, wandering the old ass streets living this bizarre expat life, then when we moved back we decided we hated American cities and wanted to be expats in America, so we lived in the middle of a forest on a river called "Beaver Creek" in Rimrock AZ, holy shit that was amazing... I lived amongst tarantulas, scorpions and wild boars... All these experiences have nurtured different parts of my brain, but none left me fully happy... Denver is the closest I’ve come... We live downtown, I have a huge yard w/ a lil farm, I can be in the mountains in minutes if I want to be. All my moves have also been inspired by a sense of armageddon, Barcelona cuz I thought America was going to turn to the Soviet Union, Arizona cuz I wanted to survive meteors/global warming, etc. and now Denver because not only is it as geographically safe as Arizona, it has lots of water... I also think cities hold the key to the future, cities in revolt have the potential to become self sustaining communities. I feel like I’ve found the balance between nature and culture in Denver, but who knows... We change our minds every week... We could end up living in NY or Paris next year...
You’ve been very involved with the #OccupyWallStreet movement in Denver since the protests started. While the movement is still going and it accomplished a whole lot, the number of people actively taking part in it has been dropping. What do you think the future holds for #Occupy?
It’s really tough to put a finger on.... I keep thinking "Occupy is dead," and then something crazy will happen which will reinvigorate my faith in it. Here is what I think, and "Occupy Sandy" is proof of it. During the 2 months where we held occupations in every city, communities of people who otherwise would have never known each other were created. those communities consisted of tons of different kinds of people, activists, would-be activists, drifters, radicals, etc. Those communities that were created, have developed over the year after leaving the encampments, we've extended our communities... Reached out to people who don't fuck with occupy, other forms of organizing are emerging from its wake, now there are huge networks in every city, waiting to be activated for the right things. We have succeeded in creating the beginnings of a second power, and because of that I can see occupy being around for quite a long time. Occupy is a meme, a platform, something that can be used to amplify whatever cause we choose. It could be gone tomorrow. People were so hungry for a big change that thousands of people were participating at this time last year, it became a media event... It worked in reverse of how grass roots organizing really works, i.e.; things take time. If we want to address the systematic problems we face it’s gonna take a hell of a lot more then marching around chanting "we are the 99%" or sleeping in a park.
Since Public Enemy’s insane success in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, no other politically-charged hip-hop artist (or arguably any music artist, with a few exceptions) has made it as big. That’s not to say there were no successful ones, but nobody ever blew up to that extent. Why do you think that is? Obviously, PE are legends, but what do you think would it take for political music to come back in a comparably big way nowadays? With all the stuff going on in the world, it would seem the social climate for that is right.
I think a lot of it has to do with the media. Political music stands no chance in popular culture. The only culture we have left is "flash in the pan." If someone says it’s cool, it’s cool. Word of mouth barely works anymore, because there is so much white noise... We are lost in an RSS feed... Music is notably absent from everything that is happening with today’s social movements (outside of the Arab Spring)... The movement doesn't care about music like the 60s did. People want music that is escapist, because they've been trained to believe that’s what music is for. We need to remind people what culture is for, it’s not just a backdrop for drug use and fashion, it’s also a breeding ground for revolutionary sentiment! Seems like the only genre that knows this is punk, and in that world people give a shit about words.
You've mentioned a few times that you do some gardening in your spare time. What do you grow? Is this a hobby for you or is it more of a full-on food production? What do you enjoy about it?
This year I successfully grew: spinach, kale, chard, heirloom beets, lettuce, carnival carrots, spring onions, tons of different hot peppers, like 20 tomato plants, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, eggplant, green beans, and melons. It is both a hobby and a production. As a self employed artist, most of my money goes to food, I would rather manage my own organic food stocks at my leisure, pay myself to harvest my food & give my eyes a rest from staring at a screen. I continue to learn about what plants like what, how much sun, compost, etc. I've learned a bit about permaculture, because I was so busy this year I didn't tend my garden as much as I should have... But last year's tomatoes came back like a mothafucka this year... same with zucchinis... My herb garden is an annual thing, at any point in the winter I can dig up snow and pull up some lemon balm... We definitely canned a shitload of tomatoes to last us through the winter and just picked a shit ton of carrots which we will either freeze or pickle. As a vegan, I love food, cooking a meal is the perfect way for me to end a day of "work," and the more of my own food I can produce the better off I’ll be. When the shit hits the fan I want to be as self sufficient as possible, and hopefully have skills that can be of use. My garden is pretty much year round. This year I need to rotate my crops and grow more beans.
I know “ARCOEE” only just came out, but judging by that record you seem to really be on fire now and in top form, creativity-wise, so I have to ask: Do you have plans on what’s next for you? Will you be touring with the record? Are there any plans for a new Sole and The Skyrider Band record, mansbestfriend or any other projects?
Thank you. I feel like it. I had to completely let go and stop giving a fuck, this is ultimately my greatest strength and liability. I am about to do a French tour, then when I get back I'll work on playing some shows in the States. I've never been a fan of slogging it out on the road for the fuck of it. Trying to find that balance between growing my base, working on non-music "activist" projects that inspire me, earning my keep, and furthering my art. I am working on a solo project right now called YTX, which I’m pretty psyched about, working on new music with Skyrider, I’m more interested in trying to start a radio show or developing my non-music writing a bit more... I just go where the wind takes me....
Anything you wanna add, any shout outs, plugs or anything like that?
RIDE OR DIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Thanks for the interview!
Check out Sole's official website to stay up to date on all Sole news, listen to music, buy things and more! And for all your social media needs: follow him on Twitter and *LIKE* him Facebook. You also can (and should) buy "A Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing" right here.