Interview with FreeSoulJAH

FreeSoulJAH has a new album out June first, 2020, on Electronic Curiosity Collective entitled, “Refugee Nation.” 

FreeSoulJAH is a kind-hearted and highly skilled Musician from New Mexico. I forget how he and I began speaking in general, but I think it was something along the lines of I bombarded him with questions randomly one night before he knew me, but was still kind enough to answer, haha. A true friend! 

Aside the whackiness that was his last year overall, I can probably say I experienced some whackiness myself that this Gent was kind enough to notice and address. Namely, I credit him with providing me the insight on how I could resume playing Guitar with my right arm in the condition it now is. And, I’ll be god damned, I’ve got a long way to go but he didn’t stop brainstorming with me till we had a viable solution. 

I find that allegorical to the Man himself. He’s helpful and patient, but not really ever hesitant (because he knows wtf he’s talking about, haha). He doesn’t stop until the idea is fully vetted out and thought through. Once that portion is complete, you don’t want to be coincidentally standing in his way because he will bowl right through you. He becomes a Man on a mission and that mission is FreeSoulJAH. 

I thank him for fielding some of my questions, which he was awesome enough to answer below. Please, read on for some more FreeSoulJAH goodness!

So, I always pose this to folks who go by a stage name and you do not need to feel obliged to answer if that blows up your spot - What's your real name? 

We’ll keep that on the DL for now . . . 

Fair enough! I can respect that. Think I know it but I won’t out you lol. 

A little bit of an on the nose question, but what IS FreeSoulJAH about? Who is freeSoulJAH? 

freesoulJAH is someone who tries to dig for the deeper meaning behind things. I try to stay away from the shallow waters and explore the deeper ones that hold mystery and new discoveries. That goes for my personal/spiritual life as well as my music. 

I have a tendency to be very outspoken about social issues that are important to me. I have spent many years doing social work with homeless adults and children, adults with disabilities, and preschoolers. My worldview has been impacted by many first-hand experiences and I see the need for my voice, my musical voice, to help to speak for those who have been silenced by a broken system. 

What is the story behind Refugee Nation? Is there a thematic concept, or is this just straight stream of consciousness; Brain to fingers? 

Refugee Nation is a concept EP that shines a spotlight on the experience of asylum seekers fleeing violence in Central America. It is mainly told from the viewpoint of a refugee trying to get away from violence and raise their family in a peaceful environment. 

The illusion of that is shattered when arriving to the United States, where suddenly their family is separated and forced into overcrowded prisons run by ICE. There are fragments of an outside observer's take on the situation as well. I tried to make Refugee Nation flow from one track to another, each song blending into the next so that the EP is listened to as a whole. 

Where does your music come from? 

My music is often an emotional outlet. My dad was a musician and I started playing the saxophone when I was 12 years old. Music has been a constant in my life since I was a kid, although back then playing music didn't serve that purpose for me...but listening to music did. 

I have tons of songs that I have not released, mainly because they don't really fit the criteria that I have for putting them out there for public consumption. Those songs were still important at that moment though, and almost serve as a journal for me. I can go back and listen to some of those old unreleased tracks and recollect where I was and why I was writing that specific tune. 

So you’re writing a new track. Take me through your process, A-Z, front to back. 

Songwriting can go a few different ways for me, and it won't always fit into the same mold, but there are a few common threads that pop up very often. 

Once in a while, I will have an idea bouncing around in my head while I am washing the dishes or driving - and I will take that and run with it once I get to sit down with an instrument. 

Sometimes I will find myself singing a melody and try to remember that the next time I get into the studio. But, the majority of my songwriting is done while playing. That is one of the cool things about music. If done in this manner, you can be really playful and explore without any expectations or barriers getting in the way. 

So, I may play around with a rhythm for a while and once I am bobbing my head to it, I will begin to build on top of that with other instrumentation. It can get pretty layered and may take a while for it to really come together, but it is a fun process and feels fresh every time I do it. I try not to stick to any formulas or set rules to what a song should sound like, and sometimes that trips me up, but most often it is really liberating and leads me down some interesting musical paths.

This is a fun one to just toss in the middle of a chat and watch the ensuing free-for-all, but if you could please give me a gear rundown, present rig only please? And Go! 

I will list what I have plugged in and just needs to be turned on for me to make music with (ha! I should probably answer that in the same manner when asked.). First and foremost, I have a Fender Telecaster - because guitar has been my songwriting instrument of choice since I went solo many years ago. But, recently the majority of my songwriting has been done on my Roland JD-Xi. Those two go into my TC Electronic Nova System and then into a Boss RC-300 Loop Station. 

That signal then goes out to a TC Electronic Hall of Fame and then into a Tascam UH-7000, which turns all that analog noise into a digital 1's and 0's to record in my PC. I also have a Shure 520D microphone plugged into a Line 6 POD XT Live which is also plugged into the RC-300. 

THEN, I have an Electro-Voice 635A microphone that is directly plugged into the Tascam UH-7000, for a cleaner sounding vocal (clean compared to the 520D, at least!). Then I have an Akai MPKmini which is plugged directly into my PC, which I can use when I turn Reaper on. 

I have several other pieces of gear that I will pick up and use when the moment calls for it, lots of percussive instruments and other guitars hanging up, but that is everything that is plugged in and ready to go instantly. 

Good God, Man! I know I have a lot of Gear and probably would need to explain the same but I don’t know if I ever could do so succinctly like that. Either way, formidable freakin’ stack of toys there, to say the least! 

Was there ever any doubt as to the direction this cut was going? Were there moments you found yourself nearly trashing it and walking away? 

Yes, absolutely. I got really sick this past March/April and while laying in bed wondering if I was dying, I regretted not having released Refugee Nation. This EP has been brewing for around a year and a half now, since December of 2018. At that time, I was just writing these songs as they came out of me and didn't really know how they fit together, nor did I have a clear vision for sharing it with my audience. I had a really difficult year last year and these songs wound up getting shelved for a while, while I dealt with other aspects of my life. 

Within the past 6 months, it became clear to me that I needed to put these songs out into the world because the story of the asylum seekers had been seemingly forgotten about in the United States. But the issues they are facing continue to this day and their treatment by ICE and the United States government continue to infuriate me. So, I scrapped several songs to make a more cohesive story for the listener and condense Refugee Nation down to a 16 minute EP. 

Well, shit, it sounds like you’re on the mend so keep on keepin’ on, man. Also, someday, you know I’m going to need to ask to listen to that extended cut but we’ll discuss that offline ;) 

Is there any sort of profound meaning behind your project’s title, or is it just the way the dice rolled this time? 

Historically, the United States has been a place of refuge and hope for people around the world, at least symbolically. But, there was a time when many immigrants were welcomed into the country and the idea of our cultures becoming a melting pot was welcomed as well. However, we are currently living in a highly volatile and hateful time. The rhetoric being used by some politicians and media personalities are openly xenophobic and inspiring hate and dehumanizing of entire populations. 

The artwork for Refugee Nation is a reflection of the album title as well. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of the USA's openness to immigration and refugees, in theory. The red, white, and blue corn is a reminder of the origins of the land that we call, "The Land of the Free." 

Well, sure, call it what you will but simultaneously, there was once a vast civilization of native people on this entire continent before the European Invaders destroyed and enslaved the majority of the original inhabitants of North America. Corn originated (referencing the album cover below) from the same part of the world that the current refugees are coming from as they flee the violence created by the drug war.

What is the post-production process like for you? There are those of us that love it, those that hate it - I’m interested in not only your approach, but any quirks or personal tricks you find yourself using frequently that define your particular sound? 

I have a tendency to sit on songs for a long time. I will put all my time and energy into one song and then once I feel satisfied, I start on a new one, leaving the song to sort of sterilize itself. This is mainly for my ears and my own sensibilities because there are times where I can lose perspective of the song because I have put so much time into listening to it over and over. Eventually, I will go back and revisit/re-listen to the songs and pick out ones that I feel stand out and would be suitable to share with my audience. 

I will then gather a bunch of them up and begin crafting them into a working album, oftentimes using the same effects pedals/plugins, settings, etc. to bring the separate songs together sonically. Sometimes there will be a single track that I really feel strongly about, and that may be the one that shapes the overall seasoning of all the other tracks.

Well, Ladies and Gents, that’s our Pal freeSoulJah in as much a nutshell as you can get him! What’s funny is despite obvious stylistic differences between our music, I found myself sub-consciously bobbing my head in agreement to a lot of the way he uses and views his gear, not to mention his process and odd similarities between us which struck me there too. 

In addition, forget the politics a moment, FSJ and I knew we were on the same page far as that goes first conversation and you can’t do anything but respect a guy who puts what can be contentious view points right in front of your fucking face so there’s no choice but to answer. That takes cajones to commit to, especially as a persona, and for it I send FSJ all the kudos possible. 

Refugee Nation is out June 1, 2020, via the Electronic Curiosity Collective. I’d like to wish, on behalf of the entire ECC roster and extended family, a continued and rapid recovery, Brother. It’s good to see you around the socials again and with this EP exemplify you’re still not takin’ shit from nobody. Rock on, Man!

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