Interview: SonReal talks “The Name EP”, living on the road, and music videos

SonReal

This year alone, Vancouver’s own SonReal crossed Canada with Classified, is now going through the U.S. playing a sold out tour with Jon Bellion, and has recorded a new EP, which is set to drop on August 12th. The forthcoming The Name EP is definitely a SonReal album, in that it has that unique, all over the map sound to it, but it’s also a massive step forward for him.

“Can I Get A Witness”, the album’s lead single has around three million streams on Spotify, and the video just passed a million views on YouTube. Produced by Redone and Rush, the song is continuing to live in Shazam’s top ten trending chart in Canada and is definitely one of SonReal’s most infectious efforts to date.

In our recent interview, SonReal talks the making of The Name EP, living on the road, music videos, and more!

You’ve spent the majority of 2016 on tour, what have some of the highlights been for you? 

It’s hard to say, because every single show has it’s own highlight. My mom came to the Seattle show a few days ago and that’s always a highlight, when my family gets to come see me perform and do my thing. Some of the fan interactions are huge, getting letters from fans and little drawings, paintings, and stuff like that. It’s really cool. Somebody painted something on a skateboard for me the other day, that was really cool. It feels really special, every single night something special happens.

While you’ve been on tour for most of the year, it hasn’t been with the same artists. You’ve been touring alongside Classified, now Jon Bellion, and a few other artists. How would you compare touring with different artists?

Every tour you go on is a different tour, whether you’re headlining, or you’re direct support for another artist, or whatever. It’s hard to compare all the tours. The Classified tour was throughout Canada, so you’re dealing with different weather conditions, longer drives, we were driving at night sometimes to the shows. This tour with Jon Bellion, it’s my first time on a tour bus. We’re on a tour bus, we’ve got a tour bus driver, it’s a little bit easier in that regard.

Every single tour is a different battle, there’s always different hurdles you have to get over, there’s always different special things about every tour too. This tour has been absolutely phenomenal, I’ve had so many good times with Jon Bellion and all those guys. The shows have all been crazy, it’s in America, so the drives are all a bit shorter. It’s been cool.

It must be pretty cool, the first time on a tour bus. You’re living on the road.

Yeah, you live on the road in the van too. You actually probably live on the road more in the van or sprinter, because a lot of the time I don’t even know I’m on the road. I’m sleeping a lot during our drives, or you wake up and you’re in the venue and you have to go do soundcheck. I found when we would do van stuff, you see every single inch of where you’re travelling to because I can’t sleep very well in vans. You see more and you’re a bit more present for the drive, so I’d say you’re living it more when you’re in a van then when you’re in a bus. But the bus is awesome, I’ve got no complaints. (laughs)

I’m sure it’s more comfortable.

MUCH more comfortable.

Heading from where you’re from all the way across must’ve been awesome. You get to see the country like not many else do, I’ve always wanted to do that road trip.

Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. I must say after spending so much time in America now, Canada is so fucking beautiful, it’s crazy. Some of the landscapes… America has some of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen too, but it makes you appreciate where you’re from.

You’ve been playing a lot of american shows. After those two shows, you head straight to Montreal to end the tour at Osheaga. You’ll be sharing the stage with many artists, are there any that you’re most excited to either see, or be playing the same festival as?

SKEPTA, I’m psyched to see them.

SonReal will release his new EP, The Name EP, on August 12th.

The Name EP is out in just under a month, yet “Can I Get A Witness” is already hitting the top of the Canadian charts. While this isn’t the first time you’ve gained recognition quickly, this is definitely a large stepping stone for you. What was it like for you when you found out how quickly it was climbing the charts?

It was crazy because I’ve never went to radio before, I’m not a radio artist. This was nothing I’ve ever leaned on. We’ve had previous records that I’ve had people come to me and say “we should go to radio with this, we should go to radio,” and I said “no, I don’t think I’m ready, I don’t think it’s the right song.” I didn’t want to do it too early, because I think artists that go to radio too early [can] have a short stint at radio and it might affect them in the future. So we recorded “Can I Get A Witness” late last year and we put it out this year.

I was thrilled, we went around to all the stations and played it for them in their offices, played it for all the people at the station and everybody was just losing it over the song. It’s a pop song with rap as well in it, it’s got almost a bit of a reggae vibe, it’s got all sorts of stuff in it. They’d just never really heard anything like it, it’s a weird song, it’s got weird lyrics. It’s me. We were really happy to bring it to radio and I hoped it would go the way it’s going. I’m humbled that it’s doing really well [on the] radio and also well online. I think it’s got like three million streams on Spotify, just went over a million on YouTube, so it’s moving quick.

I was wondering, on the original copy of the EP it’s called “Shots Fired”. Is that going to be like a side name in brackets, or is that a name that you changed?

No, it’s just called “Can I Get A Witness”. We were going to call it “Shots Fired”, when we first started doing radio visits, it was called “Shots Fired”. We switched the name because I felt like it wasn’t the most appropriate name for what’s going on in the world, I wanted to put out something that was a little bit less direct in that sense. “Shots Fired” is a term like when you make fun of someone [it’s] shots fired, it wasn’t at all meant in a malice way. I wasn’t talking about holding guns and all that kind of stuff. It was just a way of me saying [that] my music has changed a lot and certain fans are going to have their opinions, but you can throw the shots at me and it’s no problem because I’m moving on to my next thing and my fans are going to come with me.

While the EP only has five tracks on it, it still manages to ever so smoothly jump through more genres than there are songs. “Hot Air Balloon” really showcases how seemingly effortless this is for you to accomplish and begs the question of where your musical influences lie.

People have [asked] me “explain your music to me, what does it sound like,” and I was like it sounds like me, I don’t really know, it’s just me. I don’t really know, because every morning I wake up different. I really like old soul music, I’m a huge fan of Stevie Wonder, I’m a huge fan of rock music and soul music. I love James Taylor and I also love old Eminem. I love old Queensbridge rap, I love new Kid Cudi, I love the Weekend. Anyone that says shit doesn’t inspire them or influence them is lying. All that stuff influences my music, all of it. Sometimes it turns into a melting pot of music. I just wanted to make good music, I never really cared about what genre I was in or if I had to sing on that song. I never wanted to be just a rapper, I wanted to be an artist.

I think some of the best rappers in the game right now, if you took rap away from them and said you can never rap another word again, I don’t think for a second that someone like Kanye West couldn’t go do rock music, or that Drake couldn’t do soul music. Anybody, Chance the Rapper, some of the great people, Kendrick Lamar, J Cole, these are all multifaceted people. You don’t know what to expect from them, my favourite artists I can never expect what they’re going to do next.

I found that with “Hot Air Balloon”, it goes… almost at one point, I noticed a jazzy undertone. It’s really cool how you go from an Eminem style line straight into Jazz and you don’t even skip a beat, it just switches and you don’t even realize it.

Yeah, it’s kind of like 50’s jazzy rockabilly shit, I don’t even really know. That’s produced by a guy named Rocky and he produced Kendrick Lamar’s song “Alright”, he produced lots of in-house dudes. When I first started working with him, I would just try rapping on everything we did and try to prove to him that I could rap as good as Kendrick Lamar. One day he was just like “yo, you’re a singer, you’re a rapper, go do something that you feel is right and let’s do whatever you feel is right.”

Before we did “Hot Air Balloon”, we listened to Queen’s song “Bicycle”. It was just so cool how simple that song was and how random the bike was. The bicycle was just metaphoric for something else and that inspired me to write a song about a hot air balloon. I was just trying to find something that I could use as a metaphor for how I was feeling about this girl.

What’s the story behind that?

It’s just a story I wrote, it has nothing to do with me. It’s about a guy that’s… I guess maybe it does have something to do with me. It actually does probably. It’s about a guy that’s obsessed and infatuated with this girl that doesn’t really reciprocate how he’s feeling. He’s way over the top and he ends up trying to fight her dad, he’s coming to her house and he’s going to leave, but he looks at her and comes back and is like “why don’t you love me, why don’t you love me?” She thinks she’s in love with him, but by the end she’s like “nah I never was in love with you,” and he says “I gave you my all, you were my hot air balloon. You got me higher than a hot air balloon.”

That’s what I take from it, but other people are going to take other things from it and that’s the thing about music. Some of my favourite songs, what I took from it probably wasn’t even what the song was about, but it meant that to me. That’s what I tried to make my EP and my album about, all of my music.

What I found pretty cool about the “Can I Get A Witness” video is you bringing in characters from “Everywhere We Go”, “For The Town”, and “Woah Nilly”. Did that idea influence the writing process for the song, or did it all just fall into place like that? 

It was actually my manager’s idea. The thing is with our videos, I work with two directors, that’s it, for all of my videos that I’ve got right now. We all come up with stuff together, come up with ideas and work on them as a collective. It’s kind of like a family thing. That idea came from my manager, he was like “what if we brought in the other characters” and [we] loved it. I wanted to play myself in the video, but I also wanted to bring back all of the other characters and make it kind of like the grand finale for all these videos. Then obviously carry on, because I love the characters we’ve created and I want to make more too.

“One Long Day” and “For The Town” both hit pretty hard and got people talking and Everywhere We Go went viral, winning you an award for MuchFACT Video of the Year. Were you at all nervous about following that up, or was it more motivation to move quickly?

No, because the thing is when you do a follow up what you do is what you did last in their opinion, but I only compete with myself. I’m in my own lane, I don’t compete with anybody else, I don’t even know anybody that does what I do. Everybody wants me to do another viral dress up like a crazy man and go do crazy things and I followed it up with a song I really like. I shot a video and it wasn’t weird at all. It was an emotional video, I just wanted to play something real. It didn’t go viral, it didn’t go crazy, and I loved it.

I would do it the exact same way if I could do it over again. I didn’t have another viral video until Preach, and when Preach came out we were never really striving to do viral stuff, or follow up with something that the whole world is going to look at. Obviously you want your stuff to get heard, but I want to stand right where I deserve to stand and I want to be true to myself and not try to follow that too hard. I find too many people follow trying to get a viral video, having people go look at them and I think that sometimes hurts the art. So I only compete with myself, we’re going to have bigger videos than anyone has done before within the next six months I believe. We’re just doing what we wanted to do.

You winning the video of the year award couldn’t have been surprising to anyone who’s watched your videos. Especially with Believe, you have quite a way with the screen. How would you compare the creative process for making videos to that of making songs?

I think making videos is just as important as making a song. It’s a visual representation of your song, so I put easily just as much in the video as I do the song. Lots of songs take me six months to record, but lots of videos take me six months to film. “Preach” took us six months to film, I remember “Believe” took us three months of prep before we actually got into it. Trying to find the right actors, trying to find the right settings to do it in. These are all things that we had to work at for a long time, so they’re kind of the same thing to me.

That song has quite the message too, not only in the visuals, but in the words. Is that sprung from anything, anything personal, or just noticing?

Oh of course, there’s always times in life where [you] either want to give up on something or feel like you’ve failed. I think everybody needs something to believe in at some point. Even little things, like the problems I have may not be a fraction of what’s going on in the rest of the world or what’s happening with other people, but they’re my experiences and they’re my problems that I’ve had to get through. I use music to inspire people to get through their problems, whether they’re way bigger than mine or way smaller.

I’ve had a lot of people hit me up about that song in particular, saying it helped them get through hard times and times they didn’t think they could get through. That’s why I started doing music, that’s why I started writing songs. To make people feel good, to write songs that can affect people and change people’s day.

It’s almost like that moment where the little boy is running, that’s really representative. He’s getting picked on and picked on, then finally he gets up and starts running towards something better.

Yeah, to me that was the most epic part in the video. He’s been getting shit. You can say he’s like “okay screw it, I’m going to get into shape,” or he’s like “I don’t care I’m just going to go get it, I don’t even know.” Him sprinting down the street is just amazing. That kid was an amazing actor too by the way, he’s a superstar. That kid is going to be in movies one day, he’s already acting in a bunch of stuff. From the first day he was committed to the part.

Most of your videos have a pretty clear message to them. Would you say that there’s a sort of movement, or a message that you’re trying to get out through your music and videos?

 Yeah. I’ve got lots of stuff that’s meant to make people feel good, make people feel bad, make people cry, make people laugh. Music is supposed to do everything, that’s why I have all sorts of different songs. I just want to affect people, that’s all.

Can we expect a tour in Canada in support of The Name EP?

You maybe can. There’s some heavy talks about it right now. I can’t say anything about it, but we’re expecting something soon. I’m just trying to get all my ground work done here in America because it’s starting to go for us here in America and I want to really cultivate on that and then bring it all back to Canada.

This interview can also be found on Aesthetic Magazine’s website.

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