Charleston, South Carolina artist Contour collaborated with Oakland label Dusty International back in 2015 and I've been listening ever since. While their two collaborative releases involved showcasing Contour's production skills (instrumental hip-hop/beat tapes), his newest release hones in on his vocals for the first time. 'My first full vocal release', he tells me via email. Softer is a six song release unlike anything from Contour's past discography. It comes complete with a moving short film (directed by himself and John Peters) that reminds me of Shabazz Palace's 'Black Up'. Enjoy the new properly packaged project (mixed and mastered by Harris Cole) as you read the Q+A below where we discuss melancholia, Charleston's music scene, and Contour's expectations of his listeners.
You've released a bunch of projects over the course of the last year. How is your newest release different?
This is my first full vocal release, and I've actually been slowly working on it since October of last year. I've always wanted to make music that centered my voice/my songwriting but i didn't want to really go at it until I felt like I was at a level of production to craft the sounds that I wanted to. This project is sort of me introducing another layer of myself to the world.
Do you tend to approach your music conceptually or more in regards to mood/emotion?
It really depends on the project. I tend to approach the projects I consider albums conceptually. This is only the second one of those, but what I like to do is make music until a particular song strikes me in some way. Then from that point, I keep creating until I've made a couple more that I think fit. Then I look at those and try and listen to what the concept is that naturally lies within them. This particular project's concept happened to be centered around mood/emotion, so it's a bit of a medium between the two.
What do you want your audience to get out of this release?
I only ever want my audience to feel something when listening to my music. I've yet to craft something that I wanted to invoke a specific response. I think the beauty of art lies in the potential for individual interpretation. As long as the listener feels something and something about the art resonates with them, I consider it successful.
What were some inspirations/motivations behind this release? What were you listening to/watching?
I've been generally motivated as of late simply be a desire to know myself more and a desire to expand. Pretty much everything I do these days is to that end. I was listening to a lot of Sade during the creation of this record. James blake too. A folk singer thrown in here and there. I was really into Nick Drake for a stint. I listen to a lot of different kinds of things constantly though so that can be a bit difficult to track.
Not many artists mention Nick Drake and Sade in the same paragraph, so respect to you for that. Both of those names are often associated with slow-paced melancholia. Would you consider this to be an element within your own music?
Melancholia has always been a staple of my songwriting. Most of my personal muses have something to do with sadness or despondency (at least at this point in time). That isn't to say that every single song has to be interpreted that way, but it's certainly a motif. I'm also sonically drawn to more melancholy sounds in a general sense because they evoke beauty to me.
You said you've been working on this since last October. Did you know back then that it would be the start of your first full vocal release?
I didn't know it right away. When I had the first Rap Show (a series i did featuring some of my favorite rappers in the South / East Coast), I premiered one of the songs during my set and people really loved it. That encouragement told me it might be time to really try and make the record.
Were all of the artwork covers done in the same shoot? Was lighting and editing the only adjustment, as your pose remained the same?
All of the artwork covers were done in the same shoot. We used a different take for each individual art but the differences are pretty acute.
What instruments/programs were used in the creation of this album?
I created the album using Ableton live entirely. Most of the synths are designed in serum. I chose that program because I was trying to replicate an analog sound and it has a very simple interface and has the right tools for creating that natural sound. I wanted the sound design to be sort of minimal.
What's the music scene like where you're located? South Carolina, right? Is it difficult to separate yourself from an 'internet' artist and a 'local' act?
I live in Charleston, South Carolina. The music scene here has a lot of issues with accessibility and diversity, which has actually been a major hot topic here as of late. There was even a big forum that I spoke on a panel for trying to figure out ways to move forward on making that better. I'm essentially the only artist i know of who makes the kind of music that i make in the city. My difficulty is less trying to separate myself from and internet artist and more-so with trying not to get lost in being local. I care about where I am and want to help things progress here but I also want to be sure i'm reaching greater audiences, and finding the middle ground there can be a bit difficult. I've seen a lot of people move away and get swallowed up by a big city but I've seen a lot of people get complacent with local praise. I'm honestly at a major crossroads, and my artistic future is largely going to depend on what path I choose.