‘I’m definitely a labourer’: Talking Tech with SOLA

Listening to SOLA‘s music, it’s clear she’s in a lane of her own. The South London singer and producer fuses different musical worlds; there’s a raw soulfulness, whispers of classical influences and an experimental approach to production, all laced with her singular vocal tones.

Having self-released a few productions in the summer of 2020, at the end of that year she signed to Jamz Supernova’s Future Bounce with Mami Wata, a seven-track EP produced in entire isolation in her bedroom. More recently she shared Feels Like A War which saw collaborations with Moses Boyd, Ezra Collective’a Ife Ogunjobi, Raven Bush and Tora-i, and explored themes of healing and maturing as well as sexism, injustice and mental health.

This year her first long player will be shared with the world, a mixtape that’s in the works as we speak. To get a window into her approach as a producer and singer, we stepped into her home studio and chatted went into her creative process and practice.

SOLA features alongside Labdi on Extra Soul Perception’s latest compilation, New Tangents in Kampala, London to Nairobi, which will be released on 25th March.

What’s your musical education?

I started learning classical piano when I was six, and then I self taught production through my teens. I also studied music at school and university, which was where I really honed my skills. Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of unlearning, and self teaching myself new things on the piano, as well as guitar and bass. YouTube is a great learning tool for me.

What was your first ever set-up, when you started making music?

My computer, dingy bluetooth speakers, and the Yamaha Electric Piano I learnt to play on, which I still have now. I used to sing through the built-in mic on my laptop and it sounded awful.

What was the first serious piece of kit you bought?

My Nord Stage 2 when I graduated university. It was the first time I was able to play on proper keys in nearly five years, and also became my first dive into synthesis and outboard gear.

Thanks for taking some photos around your studio. Could you give us a little walk through the main components? 

I primarily work in the box with VST’s, so it’s fairly simple. I have an Ableton Push, that I use as “the brain” of my setup, but also to play finger drums and some simple synth lines. My favorite things are my SP-404, which I use for outboard effects, and my Prophet Rev-2 which I got last summer. I also have a DeepMind and Maschine (that I admittedly don’t use enough) and a XDJ-RR for DJing.

Where is it located and do you share with anyone else?

At home in South London in the front room.

Was there any method to the way you’ve laid it out and have you made any special non-musical touches to make it feel like a productive workspace?

I have lots of plants to help me feel calm and centred. They bring some life into what is quite a dreary room.

What’s been your method for creating this studio? Has it been a gradual accumulation or a bulk purchase? Any key inspirations in pulling it together?

It’s really a gradual accumulation of buying new toys whenever I’ve had a nice paycheck come in. I only started making enough money from music to buy gear in the past year or two, so most of this stuff is quite new. There’s still so much I want to grow.

Are you always seeking to experiment and develop your studio, by changing or adding equipment? If so, what warrants a change? 

Yes, I want to keep on building, but also sell off things I don’t use so much to help fund equipment upgrades. A good mono synth is next on my list.

If money were no object what would you add?

I’d rent a proper studio space where I could fit a grand piano.

You must have a most treasured bit of equipment. If you had to keep just one piece, what would it be?

My laptop, it’s the most versatile thing!

How do you condense your studio set-up for your live sets? 

I’m testing out stripped down sets with just the Nord piano and my Voice Live Touch for vocal looping and effects. Otherwise, I do lots of live looping with my Push, effects with the SP404, finger-drumming with the Maschine, and play some keys.

Before you head to the studio, is there anything you do to prepare or get in the right headspace?

I’d love to say I meditate, or take a walk in the park, but in reality, nothing. I do like to work in the early mornings as that’s when I’m most productive.

What’s your creative approach when you’re in the studio? Do you go in with a concept in mind or is it usually an impulsive exercise?

A bit of both really, it depends on my mood. The creative process is different with each song, and it can depend on how inspired I’m feeling.

Are you someone to labour over a track until every crease is ironed out, or do you prefer a raw, instinctive approach without dwelling too much on something?

I’m definitely a labourer and I hate it. I’ve been focusing on learning to let go recently. 

Where do you go or what do you do when you have writer’s block? Anything to reset the mental hardware?

I focus on learning. I look for new skills I can learn for inspiration, and often turn back to the piano or guitar. I’ll play old songs, learn classical pieces, and look there for sources of inspiration. At times, I think writer’s block is my brain telling me it needs rest. So getting outside and away from a computer is also great.

What inspires you outside the world of music?

Politics, film, TV, and art are the big ones.

What would you say was the most important piece of kit in the making of your new release, and why?

My computer, but the Prophet Rev 2 is a new piece of gear that really inspired a lot of my new music.

What else is on the horizon this year that’s getting you excited?

I’m releasing a mixtape that will be my first full length project, really excited to share (and finish it)!

SOLA features alongside Labdi on Extra Soul Perception’s latest compilation, New Tangents in Kampala, London to Nairobi, which will be released on 25th March.

Comments are closed.