Hailing from Duanesburg, New York, singer-songwriter Souly Had has become a popular, soulful new voice within the alternative R&B scene. Sonically sharing similarities to artists such as Giveon, Snoh Aalegra and The Weeknd, Souly first started performing music at local rap concerts at age sixteen, later experimenting with R&B after joining a local Hip-Hop collective named Entreband.
After spending time formulating his sound and promoting his music on social media, Souly released ‘Déjà Vu, his first song to blow up gaining thousands of streams in the first few hours. The initial success of ’Deja Vu’ lead Souly to drop out of school to focus on his music.
Fresh off the recent success of his latest single ‘Drugs’ and with his debut EP on the horizon, we sat down with Souly Had to discuss growing up in Duanesburg, his musical journey and upcoming EP.
So originally you’re from Duanesburg in New York State. What was it like growing up there? How did you first get into music and did Duanesburg influence your musical tastes?
Growing up in Duanesburg was super weird because it’s a very ‘Hick Country’ town. It’s very working-class there with lots of trucks. It’s definitely influenced my musical taste just due to the environment and people I grew up around. When I was around ten, my mom had a boyfriend who loved rock music, and he got me into listening to bands like Metallica and ACDC. It inspired me to buy a guitar and start creating my own music. I didn’t become interested in Hip-Hop and R&B until I was around fifteen. I started making beats on my iPhone using Garageband and selling them as CDs at school for five dollars. I would print out a bunch of pieces of paper with the album cover on it, fold them up and use them as the CD case. I made three hundred bucks on them and everyone said how good the music was, but looking back they were so terrible, honestly the worst haha.
After a while, I began taking music more seriously and put a lot of hours into perfecting my craft, bettering my rapping and singing in the process. At the time, my friends and I would attend house parties and gatherings in the woods at a place we called ‘The Pit’, practising our rapping there whilst everyone else was listening or playing country music. It felt like a weird place to try and show off my rapping skills and how I had improved but a lot of the people there were supportive and interested in my music regardless.
Can you tell us how you first got into the music scene and how you got to the point you are at now? Was it intentional or did your music career take its own direction?
So I started uploading my early music on Soundcloud. I would then film myself talking about the music, promoting it on Twitter. I would showcase the process of creating a song, how I made the beat and formulated the lyrics for it and include some short clips of me testing out rapping and singing ideas for the tracks. I also spent a while taking parts in viral challenges like the ‘So Gone Challenge’, where people had to record themselves singing or rapping a verse over Monica’s song ‘So Gone’ and my rendition blew up on Twitter, helping me get my name out there in the beginning. My track ‘Déjà Vu’ was retweeted by Mike Corey, who I’m really good friends with now, his Twitter account was huge and the track got thousands of plays overnight. After that, I called my mom and told her I wasn’t going to school the next day and that I was going to stay home to make music. I told her I have to make music my career, I want to put everything into it.
Sonically your music has an alternative r&b sound, which is popular in today’s industry. Are there any artists, genres or cultures that have influenced you significantly to date?
So my mom and my dad both have rather expansive music tastes. Bob Marley, Jack Johnson, lots of guitar-based music was a constant fixture at family reunions. My mom was really into Pharrell Williams and Justin Timberlake, so my influences growing up were very broad in terms of genre. Mac Miller was a huge inspiration for me when I first started rapping, his ‘Nikes On My Feet’ era was what made me want to start rapping. I also got into heavy metal and ‘Screamo’ when I was a teenager.
You first made a name for yourself in the local music scene through being a member of hip hop collective ‘Entreband’. How important was that experience for your musical journey? What did you learn there and how did you first join?
It was an excellent experience learning and creating with them. The founders of Entreband are from a neighbouring town called Schenectady. I started going to Schenectady every other weekend because in Duanesburg there are no parties, the parties I mentioned earlier at ‘The Pit’ were hosted in Schenectady. I would meet people who weren’t ‘country hicks’ like the people in Duanesburg. People who were into different music, it was a great time and that’s how I first met Entreband.
I appreciated how honest they were with me, they liked my beats but knew I wasn’t strong enough as a rapper yet. So I first joined the group as a producer because they had told me they enjoyed my production. Pretty soon after that, we all got a house together.
So I know the collective has ten members, what’s it like working with such a huge amount of talented people? I imagine you all have your own roles and different styles. How do you bounce off one another when creating or writing for one another?
Working with so many people honestly makes everything about creating music so much easier. If you’re stuck on something, nine other people can help and advise you. Most of the members of Entreband all produced beats as well, all ten of us living together really made things a lot easier, and our productivity went up massively. There was lots of room to bounce off each other with various production or writing ideas.
I feel like living with all nine of the other members of Entreband was a big reason my career kind of took off the way it did. We were all just consistently creating music the whole time.
I lived on the third floor. My studio was my engineers’ bedroom, which was right across the hallway from my room. We would hang out every single day and make something. I’d cook something up in my room and would take it to him to record it. It was super accessible and everyone was down for it. We weren’t worrying about paying people or cutting percentages, it was just a carefree environment with us making music and helping each other grow.
What would you say has been the biggest highlight of your journey so far?
Probably the show I did in Arizona about a year and a half ago. I went on this FYGU tour, which is where you open up for huge acts at different college campuses. The crowds were so good and most of them hadn’t heard of me before. There were a few people in the crowd who I caught singing my lyrics which was really cool. I performed an unreleased song and everyone went crazy. It was great to see people who don’t even know the song or the words just making noise to hype me up and it was one of the biggest crowds I think I’ve played. There were loads of people there, it was one of my favourite moments!
Your track ‘Deja Vu’ was one of your first successes, gaining thousands of streams by the hour. How does it feel to have your work listened to and recognised by so many people? I know you dropped out of high school to dedicate yourself to music after its success. What was going through your mind at the time?
It was surreal! At the time I had been dropping music for five or six years with no outside attention and the majority of support came from friends and family. I felt I didn’t have anyone listening to my music because I’m one of their favourite artists, but because they knew me personally and wanted to support me. Things went crazy once I released ‘Déjà Vu’. There’s this feature on Spotify for artists where you can see how many people are listening at once live and it blew my mind at the attention it was gaining.
My parents were super supportive when I decided to drop out of school after the success of ‘Déjà Vu’. My mom loved the song, and to help convince her that I was serious I sent her a bunch of unreleased songs that I hadn’t dropped yet. Once she heard them she was on board and didn’t mind me dropping out. I went to a community college so financially it wasn’t an issue.
Your most recent release ‘Drugs’ perfectly encapsulates your brand of alternative R&B. Lyrically the song tackles some emotive topics, can you talk us through the creation and story behind the introspectively personal track? What is your approach lyrically when trying to tell the stories you do?
When I create songs, I have a back catalogue of different lyrical ideas I write to try out on various instrumentals. Both of the verses from Drugs were originally made for a different song. Something clicked when I heard the beat, and I knew exactly what verses to use and where to put them. ‘Drugs’ is a super vulnerable track and it had to grow on me. At its core, it’s a metaphor where I compare the effects of toxic relationships to drugs.
Some would say the alternative R&B movement has become a bit of a trend lately. How do you intend to keep your sound fresh and modern as people’s tastes evolve? Is that something you concern yourself with or do you prefer making what feels right to you?
I’m going to stray from my core sound, it helps my sound stay fresh and I feel it happens naturally anyway if you are a true artist. I’m a big fan of artists who switch genres and experiment sonically and it’s something I aspire to do myself. I have a lot of music in the works, acoustic stuff just guitar and my voice, things like that, which I think is my favourite side of my music. That’ll come out soon, probably after the ‘Drugs’ EP.
I’ve evolved a lot since first starting musically, I’m trying to break out of the box of what my core fanbase likes. I worry a lot If they’re gonna like what I’m dropping next. Just like I said before, I like to follow artists, but I know a lot of people are going to always prefer my older sound, but I guess when you experiment you also gain fans who like your newer sound.
You excitingly have a new project on the horizon. Could you tell us a little bit about that and what fans can expect from the EP? Can fans expect a similar sound to B.L.I.S.S. Do you touch on any new topics thematically and lyrically post-success?
So the songs on ‘B.L.I.S.S’ were about the happy honeymoon phase of love. ‘Drugs’ is more about the toxic side of all that, the downfall of a relationship. I’ve got so much music recorded at the moment, I could drop 60 EP’s right now if I wanted haha! So it’s exciting to put out what I think is my best work.
Listen to Souly Had’s music here.
Words: David Pratt