T: What kind of pressure do you put on yourself as an artist?
DS: A lot, a lot of pressure. I like to think of myself as kind of a perfectionist when it comes to my music, and to be honest that’s the one thing that keeps me going; knowing that I put everything out there when I do my music. When it comes to writing or finding a new way to perform a song, having it perfect is what I plan to do.
T: What drives you to start a new song, work a specific song?
DS: I guess there’s a certain feeling that I have, or I connect to it in a certain way; through personal experiences or just really liking the song – could be dedicated to someone else – it’s making sure I have a connection to the song; making sure I feel I do the song justice.
T: What are your thoughts on music as an industry?
DS: [short laugh] The industry of music… It’s a business at the end of the day, and it’s much like many other businesses. A lot of people make their money off of their talent… so I guess I kinda treat my own talent as work; making sure my work is done properly.
T: So off the book [unprepared question], do you feel like it’s weirdly two-faced that artists are told they’re “selling their soul,” but a chef can sell their grandmother’s recipes and no one bats an eye?
DS: That’s exactly it. Music is a weird art, because you do pull from a lot of inspiration in order to put your own feeling into it. It’s what really makes the difference between you performing a song and someone else performing the song, even though it’s the same song. It’s the difference between J-Lo and Michael Jackson performing a song – it’s just completely different. Funny enough, you get stuff like Sam Smith and Tom Petty and then people are like, “Oh, this [person]’s a thief.” It’s hard to come up with something that’s never been done before.
T: There’s nothing new under the sun?
DS: There’s nothing new at this point, so it’s really about making it your own, that’s what it is.
T: What scares you musically, when it comes to your craft?
DS: I think what scares me the most is just completely cracking and not being able to do what I’ve prepared for. That last minute where everything falls apart. It’s happened before, when you know everything, but it’s all gone – going blank – it’s the scariest thing for me.
T: What have you found in the ways of the local music scene and it being a place to perform your craft?
DS: I found that it’s actually been a lot better than my home town. I’m from Mississauga, and I find it a lot easier to get into music here in Peterborough as opposed to Mississauga. I’ve done stuff in Mississauga and it’s fairly difficult to get known or even to go to an open mic, because you have to know people to do it.
T: So whereas Peterborough may be considered slightly barren, it’s still better than being saturated where you can’t even get your voice out there.
DS: Exactly. It makes it far easier to get my voice out there – even to just go to an open mic and just show up and be like “I’m going to do this,” as opposed to Mississauga where the bar is hidden and if you’re going to do something without a guitar you have to let them know in advance; and you don’t necessarily run into that problem in Peterborough.
T: How do you go about preserving your integrity as an artist?
DS: It’s really just making sure I’m doing this for me and no one else. I’ve done that, where people are looking for a certain sound, and it just doesn’t sound good to me. It may sound good at the moment, but it doesn’t feel good. So keeping my integrity has been about doing what I want. It’s my art, my work, my talent; I’m going to do what I want.
T: How do you counter-balance that and the business side of music as an industry?
DS: That’s the most difficult part and that’s the part I’m still figuring out – I think all of us are. Being able to do what you want and still having everyone back you in that; finding that perfect balance.
T: Where do you believe an artist’s role in the community is?
DS: In being a part of the community, in being able to say: these are my friends who are also artists and let’s all work together in what we all love. It’s why we’re all friends. Essentially showing each other that even if it’s hard, we’re all here together. So bringing each other to open mics and meeting new people, showing these new people to our friends – networking in that sense. I think that’s why it’s easier doing that in Peterborough, because the community is a lot tighter than it is in my hometown.
T: Can you get into the industry without betraying your community, or can you stay connected to community while pushing into industry?
DS: I think it’s possible, very much possible. Hip hop has that quite a bit, I think it’s possible to bring your community up while you’re trying to make it into industry. Unfortunately, because it’s not necessarily seen as very possible, artists feel that there’s no other option other than to leave the community they’re in. But it happens all the time in hip hop, and in other genres, so I think it’s very possible.
T: How has technology informed your art?
DS: Massive, actually, a lot of it. Which is kind of funny actually, because a lot of the stuff that’s on my Soundcloud was because at that time in my life, I didn’t have the ability to do the live performances I do now. So, my outlet was to produce music and put it onto my Soundcloud and be like, “Alright, let’s see if people like it.” And technology and that limitation is why a lot of it sounds similar, and maybe because I learned those skills while I was in high school, one of my teachers taught me a lot of the stuff I do now; teaching me to produce, teaching me to perform.
I’ve grown since then and a lot of it has changed, so my new stuff has a very different vibe from my old stuff. I hope to one day implement the technology I produce with in the live performances; bring it together to create that perfect coherent sound that I’m aiming for.
T: Despite the fact that it is a business right now, do you believe music should be for profit at all?
DS: If you’d asked me a couple years ago, I’d have said absolutely not; I shouldn’t have to pay for music. But now that it’s my only income while I’m here in school, I understand now. I put in so much work into my passion, the same way a carpenter will when they’re building a desk, or a painter will when they’re painting the walls – whatever their art is. Essentially, I’m putting in all this work and effort, I’d like to share that, and I’d like to be paid for it – even though it sounds bad.
T: [laughter] Wait, you want to eat? Art and food? Jeez.
DS: [laughter] Literally having my cake and eating it too.
T: So, what would your message be to young artists reading this article?
DS: Honestly, going with their gut. I haven’t done that for a very long time, and I regret it. I feel like if I’d done that from the beginning I’d be a little further along than I am now. Doing what feels right – and not everything that feels right in the moment will feel right ten years from now – but the point is if you’re doing it now and it feels right, you won’t regret it. Don’t regret what you’re doing. Continuing on, even though it’s hard, even though it sucks, keep with it.
Don Soul gives shout outs to Beth Bekele, Jack Martella, and Tokoni Edmund-tam’nabo.
Check out Don Soul at the Centre for Women and Trans People’s Black History Month showcase at Gordon Best Theatre, located above the Only Café (216 Hunter street West), on Friday February 28 at 9 p.m. He is on Soundcloud and on Instagram.