Tim Holland, better known as Denver emcee Sole, is busy.
Taking a break from recording with his Skyrider Band project, the indie hip-hop icon released his first new solo album since 2005's "Live From Rome" last December and now just five months later he's released another new solo album titled, "No Wising Up, No Settling Down." He just completed a European tour promoting NWUNSD and is about to begin a U.S. tour in June. In between making music, Sole started hosting a new philosophy podcast called "The Solecast" and continues to participate in activism around Colorado.
Sole recently took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with The Huffington Post about NWUNSD, anarcho-feminist Emma Goldman, being a DIY artist and much more.
Prior to ARCOEE, there were several years before a new Sole solo record. You released ARCOEE last December and now less than 5 months later we get NWUNSD. Why release albums so close together? Are you planning on releasing more material this year?
It wasn't a conscious decision to drop another album so soon. I started recording all this music because I felt inspired to do so, cabin fever I guess. Because I didn't feel any real pressure to make anything it all happened very naturally. When you truly are your own boss you can do shit like that. There are no rules, we're artists, we're supposed to make art, not repress our creativity because industry like things a certain way, fuck all that. Make art, share it! Make more!
I think I'll definitely release more music. Not sure what it's going to be. Maybe a self produced instrumental-ish kind of thing. Maybe another ARCOEE style album. I'll see where the chips fall when I get back from tour. I plan on touring pretty heavy this year so that might slow me down, recording wise.
NWUNSD is a companion album to ARCOEE, is that fair to say? What links the two albums?
NWUNSD is meant to be a sequel, when you call something "A Ruthless Criticism Of Everything Existing" and take the concept seriously, obviously it is a job that is never finished. When I started working on a new solo album (before Occupy happened) I intended on making more personal/poetic stuff, but of course that never happened, in fact I just got more "politicized." After that album and experience, NWUNSD was a way of processing it all, in different ways. In the process I started realizing that there's a hell of a lot more to "revolution" then smashing capitalism and yelling at cops. There's all this macro-social shit that is influencing things. So I guess NWUNSD is just expanding the ruthless criticism to talk about different things. ARCOEE was more of an attempt to make "songs" and NWUNSD doesn't give a shit, it's more about poetry and abandoning structure. I still don't know the best format for these kinds of ideas, so it's all about experimentation and having fun with it.
Were these tracks that you recorded for ARCOEE or were inspired by those sessions?
The outro, "War on Self" was recorded before ARCOEE. It was a freestyle I did over a beat I made about how depressed and broke I was. It was all too real at the time so I shelved it. It seemed like a good place to start with on No Wising Up, the rest of the songs were all recorded after ARCOEE.
What kind of themes were you wanting to explore on NWUNSD both lyrically and sonically?
What makes this album special is that it wasn't very intentional. I just made it. I just hit up different producer friends, they'd send a beat, I'd record to it and rap about what I was thinking about that day. Some songs are overt raps about anarchism, debt, running a label, some songs are more tongue and cheek, directed at posturing activists or musicians. I wanted to make an honest song about veganism, I wanted to sing about space exploration, hip-hop. I suppose this album is more about asking questions then being so dogmatic about my opininons.
Tell us about the songwriting/recording of this album -- how long did it take, who did you work with this time around?
I think this whole album was conceived and written in under two months, most of it in one month, I guess. It's pretty cool how the collaborations happened, most of the producers are people I became friends with through Twitter. A lot of the music is produced by DJ Pain 1, he's an incredible producer, he does shit for people like Young Jeezy and Gucci Mane. I worked with a ton of new people this time around; Goldpanda, Sean Bonnette from Andrew Jackson Jihad (one of my favorite bands), Hood Internet. Old friends like Dosh, Ceschi, Time, Mestizo Skyrider. New friends like Man Mantis, Manerok and Spencertron.
This album feels a lot more upbeat or hopeful than ARCOEE, it still hits really hard and dives into the political and social issues that fans have come to expect from your music, but somehow it feels more life-affirming (felt in songs like "Gangster of Love" or "Emma Goldman") -- would you agree with that? Were you looking to produce a more uplifting record to follow ARCOEE?
I think that feeling is just conveyed because that's how I'm living. I'm certainly not in the middle of a low grade civil war like I was last year (although I wish I was). I'm in a really good place, I'm paying off debts, doing what I want. Other then "the state" I've eliminated negative energy from my life. I've finally figured out a way to live and work that really works for me and I think it comes across in my music. Own your labor, fight the power, don't let the weight of the world crush you!
One of the standout tracks and another favorite of mine, one of your early singles from this record, "Emma Goldman" is a fascinating spin on a kind of song you've been doing for years with "Noam Chomsky" or "Ben Bernanke" -- I wonder if you might talk about the politics of Emma Goldman, her character, writing -- what drew you to her as a figure and inspiration for a song?
When I first became friends with Ravi Zupa thirteen years ago or so, I was telling him my views and he told me I was an anarchist. I didn't believe him, so he gave me "Anarchism and Other Essays" and it resonated with me. Emma was an amazing writer, a Russian immigrant at the turn of the century. She was able to articulate class issues in a way that really resonated with working people. She wasnt afraid to do what she thought was right. She believed that women should assert themselves in every situation, that they shouldn't be property of men. She distributed birth control pills when they were illegal. She helped plan an assassination of William Frick when he was trying to break unions. She constantly put herself at risk by never backing down. She loved living in America and fought hard to make it better. Of course she was exiled for this. The main reason I did an Emma song though is because I think she is the perfect introduction to anarchism, which has proven itself to be the dominant organizing force and inspiration for what is happening now in these new leftist movements. Anarchism is a rich toolset of powerful ideas, you don't have to wear black or speak in slogans to use them.
You funded ARCOEE through Kickstarter, was NWUNSD album crowdfunded also? Will you crowdfund projects in the future?
I didn't find it necessary to crowdsource this. I was going for more of a home studio aesthetic and the beats sounded amazing without going to the studio. I am not opposed to crowdsourcing in the future, it is a shit-ton of work though. But I also don't want to abuse the generosity of my supporters, I'll only do crowdsourcing if I need to, like if I have an album I need help mixing, want to try some bold marketing idea, etc.
You are now almost entirely (or totally entirely) DIY with your music, releases, art, shows -- Is that right? What drives you to want to be so independent with your art?
Yes, I run my label, my webstore, my bookings, my music, my layouts, my PR, everything. I always wanted to have my own business that would grant me the freedom to do what I wanted and allow me to live off it. Nowadays artists on labels barely see any money from record sales so the full time musician has to tour year round. Fuck all that. A few years ago I was really broke and considered quitting music, because i was thirty-something earning less money then a fast food worker. So I took back the rights to all my music I ever made and now I earn 100 percent of my royalties, and everything changed overnight! It's absolutely amazing, iTunes pays my rent every month! But it goes deeper then that, if I work really hard on something, I can turn around and release it immediately. So I get the emotional satisfaction of sharing my art with people and getting instant feedback and reap the rewards. I believe very strongly that when you disposess a worker of his/her labor, you are killing their spirit. So in order to be a good anti-capitalist I choose to first be a good capitalist.
What is it like being so independent? What freedoms and setbacks does it create?
It's like owning a business, the work is never truly done. For instance in the week before I left for this tour, I had to do a pre-order for the CDs, mail out hundreds of packages all over the world, press up posters, put together a little street team for my U.S. tour, finish booking a U.S. tour, practice my new set for a few hours every day, ensure that there is a solid buzz for the album, plus maintain my personal life, I felt physically sick before I left for tour! But I just kept making to-do lists, crossing things out, making new ones -- usually it's not that crazy, usually it's awesome, I can do what I want, if I don't feel like making art I read blogs and reach out to new writers, I'm always making contacts be it for activist stuff or music stuff and both bleed into each other. The only real trouble is that sometimes I fuck things up. Sometimes I'll have wierd web problems with my website and I won't know how to fix it, stupid shit. I'd say the biggest problem these days is pacing myself, working smart, not taking bad things that happen too personal, going with the flow.
Could you ever see yourself at a label again? Or perhaps even starting your own label?
Yeah, sure. If a label can add value to what I am doing I'm all for it. I understand my niche better then most labels do. I get emails from A&Rs at big labels about how bullshit the industry is and how I give them faith and I'm like, "fuck that, sign me" and they don't want to fuck with me. I'm a wild card and a bad investment.
As far as starting a label, I don't like to be a middleman, I'm bad with money. It's best that I stay away from being a bureaucrat.
What's new with Occupy Denver? What have you guys been working on/towards recently?
Depends on what you mean by "Occupy Denver." Most of the people that did most of the work, and planned all the major actions have broken off into smaller affinity groups working on more dedicated campaigns. We still use the Occupy network as a sounding board and help each other out when we need to, but for the most part that network exists mostly as a loose network of affinity groups and not a big organization protesting every little thing -- which is awesome. As you know the "Boycott Snooze" campaign was successful, Snooze, which was one of the main supporters of the urban camping ban, reversed their decision. Now they have gone after the next most influential supporter of that inhumane bill -- "The Palm," so "Boycott Palm" is in full effect. The Denver Homeless Out Loud group just published the most comprehensive poll of the homeless population ever done in Colorado. People from the OD legal team provide offsite support for the tarsands blockade. A lot of us have been very active with "Colorado Extraction Resistance," as well. That group has been disrupting fracking conferences and trying to shut down fracking in the state. There's a lot of awesome work being done and none of it would be possible had we not all found each other through Occupy.
You're involved with a line of vegan food products, is that right?
That's not going anywhere. If I had two more hours a day to work I'd be able to, but right now it's nearly impossible. Not to say it won't happen, but it hasnt happened yet.
Can you tell us about that and what inspired you to get involved in veganism/farming?
I love animals. I don't want to kill them and the idea of eating flesh grosses me out. Food sovereignty is hella important. I always wanted to know how to grow my own food. It's a fun way to be outside and do something different with my time. Next to rent, food is my biggest expense, so as an entrepreneur it's smart to grow my own food. I make my own tea, canned tomato sauce, it's fun to learn all this shit and food tastes best straight out the garden.
What's next for Sole?
I always wanted to do a talk show and I just started one up. It's a bi-weekly podcast about radical philosophy called "The Solecast." You can subscribe on iTunes. I'm very psyched about it, it is very unique.
Other than that I'm excited to get out and play more shows. Over the past few years I haven't really played many shows. I realize I get really bored watching a one-man rap show so I wanted to create a different kind of live set. One that incorporates what I love about noise/electronic music and post-rock, so my new live set is loud beats with cool improvised textures. It's really fun and no other rapper is really doing shit like that, so that gets me psyched. I never figured out how to bridge the more experimental stuff I do in my studio with rocking a show, and I finally figured it out so that is very exciting to me. I'll be doing my Denver debut of it at the Marquis on June 13th with Time and Moodie Black! other than that -- I have no plans!
For more information about Sole's Denver show at the Marquis Theater, click here.
Stream Sole's new album "No Wising Up, No Settling Down":