Chicago musician San Soma battled a hurricane to get here. The Windy City native is currently a student at Savannah College of Art and Design and earlier this semester, as he was finalizing his debut album, Hurricane Matthew forced him to evacuate. Weeks later and the storm has passed, the metaphorical dust has settled, and Mr. Soma (one half of duo Tin Gardens) is ready to release Desaturation to the masses. Made up of nine original songs, Soma handles vocals and production (with minimal assistance) on his own, crafting his own dreary, heartbroken world full of guitar riffs and smokey atmospheres. It's a fine addition to an already strong year of music, one that you shouldn't miss before crafting your year-end list(s). I had the chance to speak with San Soma, who is back in Chicago for winter break, and we talked about his album, his creative process, and what we can expect down the road.
What's the process been like for this album?
Long. To say the least [laughs]. I’ve been working on this album for just about two years now and it’s crazy to think that it’s just now getting released. All my prior releases with San Soma [or Tin Gardens] were finished over the course of a few months, this one has definitely been a bit more meticulous.
That being said, it's been super rewarding putting out singles from the LP over the past few months, and hearing all the amazing things people have to say. It’s been a constant battle in my head — and I’m sure most recording musicians will agree with this — wondering if these songs are any good to begin with [laughs]. Hopefully the response will be just as good as it has been with the singles. This project means a lot to me and I can’t wait to share it with the world.
You've been releasing music for years, but is this your first proper solo album?
Yea, I’ve been writing and recording music since I was about 14. I was pretty shitty for a while there though, don’t even bother to look it up [laughs]. After high school, my friend Matias Añón and I started Tin Gardens and that definitely got me more interested in experimenting with electronics — most of my stuff up until then had been pretty straight forward rock or even folk. Pretty shortly after that though, I went off to school in Savannah, GA and Matias hung around Chicago, so Tin Gardens became a pretty remote operation. After about a year of intensive writing/recording when we were both in Chicago, and frustrating inactivity when I was in Savannah, I decided to put together some sort of solo outfit. I started writing what became the San Soma EP in the summer of 2014, and since then it has really started to consume my life. I started writing so much new material, stuff that I was actually proud of, that I felt I’d been trying to write unsuccessfully for years, it only felt natural to make the next release my full-length debut. So here we are, seven years after I started actually making music, and I’m putting out my first proper LP. I guess it just takes time to really figure this shit out.
How would you describe this album to a stranger on the street?
Shit. This almost always ends up with me sounding like a pretentious dickwad. It’s kinda like...Portishead meets The Strokes meets Shlohmo meets The National meets Sparklehorse meets Queens of the Stone Age. But probably not that good.
Actually it’s probably best if you listen to it yourself and give it some other cool label. Make it trendy please.
What's the meaning behind 'Desaturation’?
Well if you listen to this album and don’t think that my music is moody as shit at least at one point, you probably listened to the wrong album. It’s weird because if you knew me personally, I don’t think that’s the first impression you would get. That being said, I've had a lot of concerned friends ask me if I was ok after hearing "Yearlong Pine"...rest assured I’m all good [laughs]. But they’re not wrong, the music isn’t always happy-go-lucky. I mean, there are definitely a handful of upbeat tracks on the album, but it’s largely about, or inspired by, some not-so-cool feels — breakups, anxiety, depression, you name it! In a nutshell, Desaturation is an album about pushing through those hard times (shout out to 2016) and the feeling of being, for lack of a better word, desaturated.
Aside from one production assist, the project is 100% you. Is this how you always envisioned it?
Well I’d be remiss if I didn't also give credit to Matt Conzelmann as well as dylanjkg. Matt’s a good friend of mine I met down in Savannah, and an extremely talented sound designer. He helped with the sound collages you’ll hear in between a lot of the tracks on the album.
But to answer your question, no, this isn’t exactly how I envisioned it to be honest. I’ve always loved collaborating with other artists, hearing what they bring to the table and having them build upon ideas either I develop, or we develop together. Lately I’ve been playing my live sets with a few other musicians and it really makes me miss being in a proper band. I’m hoping to expand this project in the future to include a lot more artists, both on stage and in the studio.
What's next for San Soma?
Good question [laughs]. I’m still writing a lot, hopefully that will turn into something. I’m finishing up school, playing as many shows as I can possibly manage in the mean time. Once that’s over I’ll most likely be moving back to Chicago to set up a little more steady home base. But who knows to be honest. I think the world has been a little too crazy as of late to really look that far ahead and know what’s to come.
Outside of music, you're also a talented graphic designer. What's this world looking like for you, moving forward?
Hard to say. My focus in school is motion graphic design — so somewhere between graphic design, animation, and film. There’s a lot of work in advertising and design for broadcast, which might sound dry and evil from the outside, but it really is its own unique bed of creative problem solving that I thrive on. All in all though, it’s a pretty broad field with a lot of different kinds of jobs, and truth be told I’d like to do a bit of exploring before I really get dead-set on doing one specific thing...Definitely trying to get those dolla dolla bill$ though because, contrary to popular belief, rich musicians are a dying breed. Even Kanye is broke as shit.
Do you have any advice for artists working on their craft?
Keep on keeping on! Aside from bass lessons when I was younger, and playing in orchestra in middle school and for two years in high school, I’m largely self-taught. That’s not me tooting my own horn either, it just goes to show that anyone can do this with the proper dedication. It took me about seven years to figure out what I wanted to say with my music, and even now I’m still pretty lost for words. If you love it, don’t give it up.
Any final words/thoughts/shout-outs?
MARTYRS. DECEMBER 21. ALBUM RELEASE SHOW WITH THEM BOYS SWILL, LOVEJOY, AND JARO. ;)