INTERVIEW: SF-Based Hip-Hop Artist Souleye

Photo Credit: Dennys Ilic

Hi Souleye and welcome to Vents Magazine! We’ve got a lot to unpack with you, but first and foremost: How has your 2021 been thus far?

It’s had its highs and lows, as I’m sure it has for most people with the pandemic. I’ve looked at my relationship with fear differently and how quickly things can change. And how important it is to be flexible and adaptable and resilient, and patient and optimistic. Also, there’s been lots of growth, as far as my children, and my new music, and on a personal level as well.

Congratulations on the release for your new album Hunting Teardrops! That’s a great title! How did you arrive at it?

The title hunting teardrops is a play on the hunter and gatherer archetypes. And the role, the masculine kind of driven role that a lot of young boys in my generation were taught, you know that feelings are bad, and that you’re not supposed to cry if you’re a man, and that as an adult who grew up in a time period where that was the message, I’ve had to relearn and go to therapy, and really work hard to tap into my grief and into my tears. So it’s almost like I’m out there hunting to connect to my feelings, because I was never taught as a child how to feel, and how to have an emotional intelligence.

Does it feel surreal in the least that, during all of the tumult and strife of the last twelve months, you’re doing something as remarkable as releasing new music?

To me, it doesn’t, because of the opportunity that I got out of this. The silver lining for me was that I was going to be in the same place for an extended period of time, and over the past 20 years, I’ve literally traveled every few months, whether on tour or somewhere, so to have a period of time where I technically can’t leave, then I’m going to be in the studio, I’m going to do what I love to do. And that’s either going to be spending time with my kids and my wife, or it’s going to be making music, or exercising. Those are my favorite things in life, so actually all of those things multiply when I’m not traveling. I get copious amounts of time with the kids, time in my studio, and I have time to exercise.

You’re super-prolific, having dropped nearly a dozen albums during your career, each album debut rom you a genuine event. Is there that constant desire and need as an artist to create music and share it with an audience that sort of fuels your fire?

Yeah, the audience is important, the people, the listeners. Of course, if I had nobody to listen to the music, then I probably might not be as inspired to write the music, I guess.

There’s a personal relationship that I have when I write music, where I feel expressed. I know that when I feel expressed, when I’m creative, I feel more healthy and more able to connect with other people and happier, and one of those ways I feel expressed is through my music.

Considering the worldwide pandemic, what are the plans in promoting Hunting Teardrops? Is it still too early to prognosticate a late in 2021 tour for the album?

At this point in my career, I tend to do one-offs so that I can spend time with the family. I don’t like to be gone for more than one or two shows at a time. And when I do tour, it’s predominantly with my wife, who will do full tours and I’ll support her with the kids. And then while I’m on that tour, if there’s an opportunity to do a performance at another venue while I’m in that city, I’ll do that.

Your lead-off single on the Hunting Teardrops album is a tune called Ghost Steps, which dropped last month. Why was Ghost Steps the perfect track to unleash first? Does it set the tone of the rest of the album?

To me, the reason it was the perfect track to lead off with is because I thought it had a catchy, nice, fun, uplifting beat. But at the same time, it had some deep, introspective, thoughtful lyrics. It showed off some of the lyrical talent and skills I have as far as wordplay and delivery. And it had a unique feeling as well, as far as songs I’ve released in the past. As far as my singing goes, I’ve been working more on my hip hop singing hooks and then you know it kind of set the tone off, playing off the words of hunting teardrops, it made me think of ghost steps since both are kind of a little spooky, I guess you could say.

You use to great effect a lot of sounds in the new album tracks such as chiming bowls and hand pans. What is the inspiration for that type of life-sampling?

Yeah, I want to be as open and broad and experimental as possible, while still sticking to the roots of the music I grew up loving and still love, keeping a traditional at times arrangement with intro, verse, chorus, and repetitive hooks. As I continue to mature, I want to continue to mature the sound. So when I collaborate with producers, I’m always wanting to explore new instruments and those from around the world because there’s so many unknown instruments to me that when I find out about them it’s just such an exciting experience to have new sounds to play with, like new colors to paint with.

You recently turned 40. How has the progression of time altered the music you create? Would you say your music has undergone a metamorphosis as you’ve lived and seen more of life?

Yes, it’s always an evolution. It’s always a maturation process, as a person, and art is life, you know, so it’s always showing itself in the lyrics I’m writing. Sometimes there’s more clarity, there’s more focus, there’s times I never would have thought of ways to put the words together, so it’s a continual process of maturing and growing. The more I understand of myself, the more that will reflect in the music I’m writing.

 Could you talk a little bit about what the collaboration process was like between you and producer Bil Bless for Hunting Teardrops?

Yeah, it was slow, very open, no pressure, easy, and just a relaxed attitude. It was pretty harmonious. As far as all the songs we wrote, those were all the songs we used for the record. There weren’t many like, ‘that’s not going to work, that sound is not going to work, this chorus doesn’t sound good.’ It was pretty much on point every time.

 Listening to Hunting Teardrops you can pick up so many different styles that you and Bil Bless marry beautifully into the overall album: Rap, Hip-Hop and EDM. Why was it important for you to massage different styles into the album and how do you feel about the end result?

At no point did I ever sit and think about what style of music it would be. It was more just, this is what the sound is that we’re making. When Bil and I were producing and collaborating, if Bil was to have sent me a drum and bass song, I would have written drum and bass lyrics. There was no ‘let’s do a strictly hip-hop or EDM song. Let’s do a drum and bass song or a house song.’ It was just ‘this is what we have, the loop, this is what it sounded like, let’s keep going with it.’

 The album artwork for Hunting Teardrops is a thing of beauty, right up there with other seminal LP covers from the likes of Pink Floyd, The Smiths, No Doubt and the Sex Pistols. What inspired this lovely cover?

It’s an honor to even be mentioned with those other artists. I’ve been a longtime collaborator with Rob Prior on previous records and artwork, and he’s one of the most talented artists I’ve come across in my life and really understands and gets my music. So when we originally brainstormed the idea for the cover, he kind of took it one step above where we were into this whole idea of my journey as an artist. And as you look at the cover, you can kind of feel the hero’s journey. With the two different figures, one looking out into the horizon and then one kind of looking in deep thinking mode, contemplative.

So when I saw that cover originally I felt like ‘Wow, you really encapsulated Souleye’s journey thus far.’ And I also feel that way about hunting teardrops as a record. I feel it’s a conglomeration of all of my abilities and skills and tones and voice and vocal layers. It’s got the warm, more caramel kind of flow, but it’s also got the excitement at times and variety. And that’s my life. You know, that’s been my career.

 You’re married to the resplendent and nigh legendary Alanis Morissette. How active of a hand does she take in your music and vice-versa?

We’re each other’s biggest fans and supporters. I fully support her mission. And she supports mine.

 Any parting thoughts to leave or readers with on your new LP Hunting Teardrops?

I appreciate everyone for taking the time to read this. For those that do listen to hunting teardrops, I thank you and want you to know that there’s more to come and I’m excited to share it all with you. Thank you for being part of the journey. Strap your bootstraps up and put a helmet on, let’s go.

About Ryan Vandergriff

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