Sole on the perils of pushing boundaries: "If I go to jail on some bullshit, I'll do a correspondence course and come out a professor."
For an artist whose career has been built espousing the virtues of DIY self-reliance, it's been a long time since Sole (born Tim Holland) has done a record all by himself with no producers or label people listening over his shoulder. And while Sole confides that this was nerve-racking at times as he worked on his new record, in the end, he says, it gave him space to unleash a verbal barrage that touches on geo-politics, revolutionary ideals and personal growth, among other topics. A Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing is an appropriate title for his new album, which is due out tomorrow, because Sole seems to leave no stone unturned in his quest to deconstruct the myriad cultural and political ills infecting modern civilization.
Currently on tour in Europe, Sole will be back in time to celebrate the album's release locally on December 7 at the hi-dive alongside Skyrider, ManMantis and Wheelchair Sports Camp. Before heading out on tour the day after the elections, we caught up with him to talk about how he narrowly avoided making an emo record, was empowered creatively by not giving a fuck, and why his wife says he shouldn't expect to earn any new fans with A Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing.
Westword: The last time we talked, you had a lot of the album recorded. Did a lot of things change over the last couple of months?
Sole: I didn't decide until I went in to mix it. I recorded a couple of new songs right around when the Kickstarter ended. It turned into an album. I'm really happy with how it came out. It was kind of nerve-racking because it was my first truly solo album. In the past when I've done solo albums, I've had some producer or label person being there saying, "That song sucks," or "That song's good." When you have to do it all yourself, it's hard to be your own A&R sometimes. You don't know whether it's good enough.
When you get into that situation, what do you do? Do you call up some people and ask them to listen, or do you keep it all to yourself?
I kept it all to myself. As soon as it was done, my wife was like, "Don't expect to earn any new fans with this record. This is so brutal and non-stop and relentless." All right, well, if that's what she thinks, then I'm gonna work like that and go all out. I'm gonna sell it as what it is: a relentless verbal assault.
Is this your most inflammatory record? And is that something you were aware of while you were making it?
I'm very aware of it. The thing is, I never understood how free speech worked. I never understood how much I could get away with saying. Once I started to realize that, I wanted to push those boundaries more. It's inflammatory. It's PTSD-ish. It was written after some extremely traumatic experiences that really fucked me up. A lot of it is just how I channeled those experiences.
How certain are you that you'll have your phone tapped after this drops?
[Laughs] The work I've been doing in the past year has probably put me on a radar, but there are 10,000-20,000 people who are on the same radar. Don't fuck up. You can't let fear rule the decision-making process. If I go to jail on some bullshit, I'll do a correspondence course and come out a professor. Everyone is surveilled. We can't live in fear. Everything I'm doing is aboveground. I'm not part of a secret organization. We're just using our constitutional rights.
Would this record have been what it is if you hadn't been involved in Occupy?
No. It would've been totally different. I came back from tour wanting to make a very personal, emo diary, emotional-rap about my personal life. I wanted it to be entirely different from what I ended up making. I got back, I started recording, and then I took time off and started doing Occupy. Next thing I knew, nine months had gone by, and it was time to make another record.
The album sounds really cohesive, despite the fact that beats are coming from half a dozen producers. Were you trying for a certain sound? Or was that happenstance?
That was the stuff that got me juiced. I wanted music that was kind of gangster but also free and experimental and ambient. I tell producers Godspeed meets Jay-Z and see what they do with it. There are a few people I really clicked with. Part of that was getting it mixed at Colorado Sound, having a good engineer that knows my sound and is able to mix everything to sound consistent. That was the whole reason I did Kickstarter was so that I could get the record to sound how I wanted it.
Were the beats part of what pushed you to write so hard?
Yeah. I don't write unless I have a beat. "Denver Nights," I heard that beat and was like, 'I wanna do a pervert club flow, but instead of doing club shit, I wanna talk about Denver.' It's hard to tell how I write stuff. I try to record a lot and only keep the good stuff. It's very instantaneous. I don't give a fuck. I just record. There are points on this album where I've just given up. I don't care about being the next big thing. I'm happy with what I do. I don't give a fuck. I'm not gonna beat myself up if I'm not a Pitchfork darling next month. That's what I like about the album.
Who have you been listening to lately? Was there anybody that influenced the direction of this record?
No. Typically, I'm not in competition with other rappers like that in my head. If anything, I'll listen to Jay-Z, or Lil Wayne, or Kanye or Drake -- some mainstream shit -- and hear a rhythm or a cool way they use space in a song. Those four. Those guys are artists. When they record, a lot of the stuff they do is freestyle; it's not written. They just go. I try to use a lot of those techniques. I try not to be attached to what I had in my head when I wrote it, to let it go. Right now I'm listening to Kendrick Lamar and Andrew Jackson Jihad pretty much. That Kendrick Lamar, that's the first album in a while that made me want to rap more.
The timing of the day after the election seems appropriate. Did you vote?
I'm a Libra. I was very much 'Fuck the vote all along,' but I ended up voting for Jill Stein. I wasn't gonna vote, but then I met them when they were in Denver, and they're basically what I believe. Obama's gonna take Denver anyway, so I can be one of the people who voted for Jill Stein because she's fucking awesome. Electoral politics, everything about this election pissed me off. All of a sudden, for two months, everyone is tuned in and giving a shit, going into cold sweats at night, saying we gotta get Obama elected.
"It doesn't matter who we vote for -- we're getting drones." I voted for weed legalization, I voted for the public schools, and that vague bullshit about Citizens United. My main point is if you're gonna vote, that can't be the extent of your civic duty. You're a member of a so-called democracy in this society. Nothing changes if you don't stop the machine. If the extent of what you're willing to do ends on the day you vote between Coke or Pepsi, we're gonna wake up in Greece. That's what I'm saying. You got the president you wanted; are you gonna wait another four years to give a shit?
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