Sole on A Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing and why he feels better than ever

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MC/label founder/activist Sole (aka Tim Holland) has been espousing the virtues of DIY long before the internet made it so easy for everybody to put out their own albums. But since splitting with Anticon (the label he founded), he's been living his philosophy again, and that feels good. Now, having released a steady stream of collaborative projects, including albums with the SkyRider Band and Man's Best Friend, he's focusing on a solo album, A Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing.

To celebrate the new project, there's a banging first single, "Young Sole" and a Kickstarter campaign that will help fund the project. The first single is a change of pace for the MC, who's known to unleash stream-of-consciousness-raps about dystopian capitalist nightmares. On a solidly built, piano-powered beat produced by Factor, Sole drops gems like "This is rap/It ain't a movement/At best, it's self improvement." We caught up with Sole to talk about the new album, his involvement with the Occupy movement, and why he's feeling better than he has in years.

Westword: So is the music for this album all done already? Or are there still tracks in the works?

Sole: I have an album done, but usually in this window is when I make some of my best stuff. I'm starting to get feedback, and I'm getting psyched, but if someone sends me a crazy beat between now and August, it's gonna end up on the record. It's pretty much done. I've recorded 25 or 30 songs. I've been going crazy with this record.

You mention in the Kickstarter video -- and you can hear it in "Young Sole" too -- that this project is a lot more uplifting and inspiring. Do you feel differently when you sit down to start writing now?

Yeah. My gospel that I had created with Anticon -- do it yourself and go get 'em -- it felt really empty when the label didn't become what I wanted it to become, and all the artists were broke. I was like, "I can't even live up to what I put out there anymore. I don't feel empowered; I feel pissed and bitter." Going more DIY over the last couple of years, continuing with the political shit, it was all critiques, rants or commentary on what was going on, and just feeling like the lone wolf in the forest, like it doesn't matter.

Now, all of the sudden, this critical worldview relating to capitalism, politics and empire -- that is the discussion now, and people are standing up to it all over the world. Once I saw that happening, I went from being a rapper to stepping back from rap to focus on being an activist with the Occupy stuff. That was probably one of the most inspiring things I've ever been a part of, or seen.

Who would've thought the world would be in the midst of an insurrection right now? It's amazing. To go from being empowered to bitter to hopeless and then be feeling good about shit again, it feels awesome, because, when I sit down to write, I feel good. I'm not angry. I'm not depressed. That's always nice.

You mentioned Spencer from Cobraconda has a beat on the new project. Are there any other locals making an appearance?

Real Magic did a beat. This guy Man Mantis, he did a couple of beats. He just moved here, but he's fucking dope. SkyRider... there are some others, too.

Did you realize how long it had been since you'd put out just a Sole record?

It's been kind of an ace I've kept in my back pocket. When the time was right, I knew I'd make another Sole album. All my energy had gone into the SkyRider stuff. We're kind of on hiatus for the year. It's cool, though. It's all marketing, too. I've been doing the Man's Best Friend stuff. I've been doing mixtapes. I've done a ton of shit. I just haven't done an official Sole album.

Do you approach it differently when it's just you sitting down with some beats than when you're collaborating with a bunch of other folks?

It's certainly different. When I do stuff with SkyRider, I don't really want to talk about myself or personal stuff. I almost try to come at it from a third person perspective. On this album, I can talk about whatever the fuck I want. When I'm doing more experimental stuff, it's so lucid and stream of consciousness, that I don't really even feel like I'm doing songs.

This bridges a lot of that. It's fun to sit with twenty beats in my iTunes and see which one moves me on any given day. I have different relationships with different people. Like me and Factor have a specific relationship and friendship. Me and this guy Man Mantis have worked up a dynamic. Me and Spencer have a specific dynamic.

So even though it's a solo album, it's really not. It's tons of collaborations with different people. The track with Real Magic is dope. Everything is bringing out a different thing, and then the producers all bring something out on their own, so I could never do this on my own. If it was up to me, I'd be rapping over prog rock '80s electronic shit through a guitar pedal.

You're close to your goal on Kickstarter already. Should you have asked for more?

The goal wasn't to get $3,000. The goal was to let my fans set the budget for the record. If I pull in $10,000, then that means I'll have a lot more money for marketing, whether I do a huge wheat pasting campaign or if I hire viral video marketing people. All that $3,000 covers is the manufacturing and mixing. I set it low because that way I knew I'd at least have my costs covered for making the record. But, the way Kickstarter works, you can pull in 1,000 times what you ask for.

Like Amanda Palmer: She made almost $750,000 and set the all-time record for a music project on Kickstarter.

It's amazing.

To see it get to the point where you can raise your own backing to put out a record is a beautiful thing.

That's why I did it this way. I could've done it the other way with a label and tried to get an advance and have them set the budget. It never works out the way you want it to when you're in that situation. I just want it to be like, "How much money am I gonna pull in upfront?" That's how much money I'm gonna spend on it. Record labels are fucking up left and right. I'm able to get most of the PR myself anyway. I don't really need a label. The only thing a label can do for me is pay for my studio time and press up the CD.

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