When local rapper Sol released Yours Truly in January 2012, it shot to No. 1 on the iTunes hip-hop chart and put him on a path to stardom. Then he put his career on pause. After graduation from UW, he received the Bonderman Travel Fellowship from the university and headed abroad for ten months. Once he finished up his globe-trotting journey of growth in April, he returned home to record and release his latest EP, Eyes Open. Sol celebrates being home with a sold-out show at Showbox at the Market on November 27.
For our latest Fiendish Conversation, we chatted with Sol about how traveling has changed his perspective, constantly growing as an artist, and Prince.
You recorded some early versions of Eyes Open songs while you were traveling abroad. How did you find studios when traveling?
Because of the nature of the trip, it was really important for me to not try to work too hard, because I wasn’t out there to work or grind for this music career. It was really more about life shit. I just really wanted to be where I was. And also, I didn’t want to necessarily impose myself on other people. So I didn’t have some sort of agenda. But just naturally, as an artist, with the conversations you have and the people you meet, you kind of just gravitate towards some of these situations. It just kind of happened naturally.
When I was in India, a friend of a friend was actually one of the only hip-hop artists in South India. So I kind of knew as I was working towards that part of the country that I’ve got this guy’s phone number and I wanted to connect with him. And when I ended up getting down there, he invited me to come to the studio—he actually let me stay at the studio—so I was kind of back in the studio environment for about a week randomly. A similar thing happened when I was in Uganda. People just hear, “Oh, you’re a musician.” It’s something that people connect with; music is a commonality that you have and it kind of breaks down certain barriers.
What made you want to do the fellowship in the first place? I don’t think a lot of people with a rising music career would be like, “Hey, I’m just going to put this on pause and figure out life stuff for awhile.”
Well first of all, part of what makes great music is the connection that people experience when they listen to that music. When I make music, the moment of creation comes from life experience. And if I’m just on the road or if I’m just in the studio doing the “work,” I feel a certain amount of creativity kind of draining from me. The most important thing to me as an artist is to maintain life experience and a certain amount of health and happiness as a person. I don’t relish in just the “rap life.” It’s very important for me to be out there as a person.
When I was going to the University of Washington, I had heard about this fellowship. I worked really hard towards it and applied for it, so when I got it, it was really a position where—with the way I was raised and the way that I view things—it was a no-brainer. I’ve always dreamed about an opportunity to be able to travel the world for an extended amount of time, but to be given the funding and to be told to do it? That made sure it was going to happen. It’s never not awkward to put your career on pause, but the magnitude of the opportunity just really outweighed everything. It’s a small step on a long journey.
How would you say your relationship to Seattle changed as a result of your travels?
I was curious how I was going to feel coming back after going to such different places. Like, there’s very, very, very, very few similarities between a place like Port-au-Prince, Haiti and Seattle. A lot of these places are very much on another side of the planet. A lot of places don’t have this luxury. Seattle is most beautiful cities in the world. I’ve been around and I can say that Seattle is one of the most beautiful cities, like, even comparing it to places like Cape Town or Rio. We’re surrounded by mountains and we have all this water. It’s a cool city. We have our own issues. We’re definitely in a bubble, oftentimes too much. But as someone who has been able to pop that bubble and step out, I’m able to come back to the city on my own terms. It seems like a really big neighborhood. I grew up here. I can walk the down the street and run into someone I love. There’s no place that I could move to that would replace that for me.
Do you have a favorite moment or two from the trip?
There’re a lot of them. I think that the moments that I appreciated the most were the people. I chose to go to places like Ethiopia or Jamaica because of the cultural influence they’ve had around the world and in my life. But when I was in these places, I remember it through the friendships and the connections that I made. I’d show up to a country and sometimes, literally, know just one person. Or nobody. Really being out there and having this faith in humanity. Not being naïve, but having to trust more than I’ve ever had to trust before. Following these connections and building these friendships. I found myself in some of the most extraordinary situations. I made friends with an artist in Brazil who, three weeks later, ended up inviting me to come perform with him at Carnival. I ended up being on stage in front of literally half a million people to a million people.
Or, for something not music related, just showing up to Axum, Ethiopia. A friend in Seattle connected me with their family in Ethiopia and I’m going to visit them. They don’t know me, but because they know my friend, they welcome me. And as soon as we get there, they hand me the knife and I’m supposed to cut the neck on this goat. We slaughter the goat and like 20 minutes later we’ve skinned the goat, and we’re pulling out ribs, and we’ve pulled out the heart, and then we eat that goat over the next three and a half days. It’s the most welcoming thing that they could do for me. Things like that were super humbling.
What’s your plan going forward?
For me, the driving force is always to become a better artist. I was kinda raised in a recording environment that was really heavy on artist development. It's the most important thing to me. I get my excitement and happiness from always trying new things. Like, literally, taking vocal lessons. I’m just trying to grow. I feel like I’m not where I need to be or going to be. I’m never really there. I have no idea really what’s next. That’s why I’m excited.
Do you have a favorite concert you’ve seen since you’ve gotten back?
Man, so, I got back on the 16th of April and Chad and Katie from Showbox gave me the most ridiculous welcome back gift — fucking tickets to the Prince concert, when he did the four shows at the Market. And Prince for me is like… he is music. When I was seven years old, I saw Purple Rain somehow and it was like watching somebody walk on the moon or something. It was the craziest thing. For me musically, he’s it. So I’ve seen him every chance that I’ve gotten throughout my life, and its always some sort of arena setting because he’s Prince. But for him to do that club tour and to go to the Market, which is, in my opinion, the best venue in Seattle? It was super sexy, really, really intimate. To be in Seattle at that show when two days before I was in Port-au-Prince, Haiti — it was just the biggest mindfuck. It was one of the greatest nights of my life. I was deep in this reverse culture shock and Prince just walked me through it.
Nov 27 at 8, Showbox at the Market, sold out