The last time we talked to Denver-based indie hip-hop legend Sole he thought he had turned into Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, but the real Sole is back with a new solo album titled, "A Ruthless Criticism Of Everything Existing." It's Sole's first proper solo studio album since 2005's critically acclaimed, "Live From Rome."
Sole recently chatted with The Huffington Post about his new album, Occupy Denver and using Kickstarter as a way to fund new releases.
What prompted you to want to make a new solo record after several releases playing with The Skyrider Band and such a long break from being a solo artist?
I grew tired of being a lone wolf artist and wanted to start a band with some friends and do something new. I started playing with a band when I lived in Spain and really enjoyed it, so when i got back to the states thats what I did. I knew I would make more solo music in the future, just wasn't sure what it was gonna be like. After focusing on the band for a while I began meeting lots of new producers that I wanted to work with and didn't really have an outlet for, so I started working on a solo album. Throughout all of this time I have released a few "mansbestfriend" records which is more experimental stuff that I do that I make all the music for, as well as the "nuclear winter" mixtapes. I just try to go where my inspiration leads me, right now developing a cool one person performance and developing myself as a solo artist is what I am focused on. Just got a batch of new beats from Skyrider so we're working on a new album right now. No rest for the wicked!
Your new album, "A Ruthless Criticism Of Everything Existing," has a seriously bold album title -- how did you come up with it and what are wanting to say with this record?
The album title was lifted from a Karl Marx essay by the same name. I always liked the title more then the letter. I felt that title best summed up my album and what was happening in the world at the time. It's kind of an absurd album title, long album titles like that are hillarious to me. For many, Occupy was the beginning of a process in the states of seriously critiquing a lot of shit in our society, income disparities, homelessness, corporatism, empire, etc. What I've learned about these situations is that the hardest thing in trying to create a new world is not letting bad habits from the old world creep in (patriarchy, etc.). In many ways it's also ridiculous, because all my albums are ruthless critiques.
You funded the project through Kickstarter -- why did you decide to use a platform like Kickstarter rather than a traditional label?
I think Kickstarter is fascinating and I will likely do it again. I've been self-releasing music for a while but I've never used my own label for a legitimate, high-profile release that I was gonna tour on and promote, it has always been for limited smaller kind of stuff. If I had wanted to shop this record and try to find a label it could have been months before it came out, right now I'm experimenting with how far I can push things on a truly DIY level. The downside is that I have to do a shit ton of work, I had to create all the art and rewards for the Kickstarter which was a lot of work -- it was fun work, but a lot of work. And as far as releasing the album, coordinating press, distribution, videos, tours, etc. -- that is a lot of work for me to do, but strangely I enjoy it. I'm sure down the road I'll figure out a way to get some more people to work with but for now I'm just trying to make sure my own business/label is sustainable for the long term, the best way to have longevity is to build your own infrastructure that can support your career.
Would you release a proper album again this way? And do you think that this the future of funding for indie music?
Yes I would do it again. It will certainly be the future for some people. I certainly never would have mixed this album at Colorado Sound had I not had Kickstarter, and that made all the difference in the world. I can see the Kickstarter model being adapted even more as things progress. Things are rapidly changing. The record label could very well go the way of the travel agent or the plow, we really have no way of telling. I know from a personal standpoint I highly encourage artists to do things DIY, but it's not for everyone. I would definitely recommend Kickstarter though, especially for established artists. Amanda Palmer raised over a million dollars for her record w/ Kickstarter. Labels are good at spending money and artists might learn to be better at spending that money if every penny comes from their supporters and directly from their own funds.
Tell us about the songwriting process on this album, how long did it take to record, who did you work with?
it was recorded over the period of a year. We got back from tour for Sole and The Skyrider Band in the Fall, pretty disenfranchised. So I was happy when Occupy happened because that's where most of my energy went, it was the perfect place for me to use my radical energy on something other then "howling into the abyss." Seeing how ideas/spectacles can play out and being involved in this kind of organizing was seriously educational and inspiring, I felt like that work was my true calling. So I got to a point where i was like "fuck it, I'm going to make this record exactly what I want it to be, and I don't give a shit if people think its over the top." When inspiration hit me I recorded off and on over the past year. I'd record a few songs, collect some beats, go on a tour write some more songs and then return home and record. I reached out to all the people I had met over the years that made music I liked and asked for contributions and they gave me tons of great stuff. It was a very natural process. It was chaotic.
There's so many personal moments on this album that fans have come to expect from your records, but one in particular that stands out is "Letter to A Young Rapper" -- can you talk about what went into writing this song offering advice to up and coming artists?
One of the themes from Slavoj Zizek that has really inspired me was "in defense of lost causes" -- to me that means there is an aesthetic beauty to seemingly futile acts. On "The Inferno" at the end of the song I say, "Who am I to judge, I'm dumb enough to keep rapping in spite of what rap is." This to me is my biggest dilemma, I want to make rap songs that are interesting/fun/poppy, but the most important thing has and will always be the message. I see this new slew of blogosphere rap coming up and every once in a while it seemed like something more honest and critical would emerge, and it hasn't. It's essentially a fashion show with music. Every few weeks there is a new band of the week, a new rapper who for some odd reason is plastered everywhere (the work of ghost A&Rs from major labels doing fake indie viral campaigns). It's natural for an artist to soak in the rays of temporary fame and play the game, I'm urging people, when you get your 15 minutes, use it for something: educate, agitate, inspire, etc. To me that's when music is functioning best. People can do what they want, rap about drugs, sex, etc., but I don't see the point in it. I tried to write the song in a way that was less "bitter indie rapper lecturing the rap community" and a more sarcastic self-deprecating tone, "make the same mistakes I made, take that shit to the grave."
There's reference to the Occupy movement on the album, you're a longtime participant in the Occupy Denver branch of OWS. Can you talk to us a bit about Occupy Denver, what's been going on with it and what is next for it?
This album would not have been what it was were it not for Occupy. Occupy has changed so many lives this year it's hard to gauge the long term impacts of it. Occupy Denver has been one of the most inspiring things I have ever taken part in. I've met so many people that are deeply engaged in fighting for a more just world and we've had a blast doing it. I'm very excited about the work being done by some of our off-shoots, i.e.; Colorado foreclosure resistance (Occupy Our Homes) and denverhomelessoutloud.org as well as what emerges from the Denver General Assembly. Don't believe the hype, the tactic of occupying physical spaces died a year ago, but we don't need tents to say, "shit is fucked up and bullshit."
So now that the album is out, what's next for Sole?
I have no idea. Definitely going to keep playing shows and making music. I've been working on new sound for my instrumental work over the past few years and looking forward to releasing that stuff. I'm working on new album with Skyrider. My wife and I are laying the groundwork for our frozen vegan macrobiotic meal line called Holland Farms -- just trying to stay fed and creative!
See Sole live along with Wheelchair Sports Camp, Man Mantis and Skyrider for the "Ruthless Criticism Of Everything Existing" release show at Hi-Dive, Friday, Dec. 7 at 8:30 p.m. For more information, visit the release show's Facebook page. For more on Sole, visit soleone.org.
LISTEN to "A Ruthless Criticism Of Everything Existing" in the slideshow below: