Catching Up With William Soul
As you know, I recently posted a discussion about whether we really need to use genres to describe music. Well, this week I’m excited to introduce you to Baltimore, Maryland artist William Soul, whose music is a perfect example of how to dispel the myth that genres are necessary. As you listen to his songs, you’ll notice that his sound cannot be put into just one category. His voice has been compared to soul singer Curtis Mayfield while his arrangements have rock, reggae and blues influences. And, if that isn’t enough to spark your interest, William manages to combine all these styles with lyrics that present the good news of the Lord.
William’s biography says that he has picked up the torch left by others to spread love and righteousness in the world. He recently performed with the Baltimore for Yele fundraiser, which raised over $50,000 to support Haiti relief efforts. He also performed at a fundraiser for the Tanzanian Orphans Project, which supports Tanzanian children whose lives have been decimated by AIDS.
William kindly made time to answer a few questions about his music. Here’s our conversation.
Mimi: What would you say inspires your music?
William: My sound is inspired by African influenced music, which started in Africa and was reproduced in the United States. That includes African American spirituals and African American music of all genres including rock and rhythm and blues. My lyrics are always influenced by spiritually uplifting music, spiritual people and thoughts of justice and equality.
Mimi: Your biography says that you’re emboldened by the gospel of Christ. When did you know that you wanted to make music that shares the good news?
William: That’s a great question. I don’t think you can separate my knowledge of wanting to and my knowledge of Him. It’s a walk and I think that part of my gift is not just playing music and performing but it’s listening. Though I’m not a perfect person, He has always guided my steps. For example, I remember while I was in college, I wrote a song about a girl that I fell in love with. It wasn’t designed to be a sensual song but the rhythm and the melody were so sensual that it attracted the wrong type of attention. After a couple times, I pulled the song because I didn’t want people to get lost in the melody or lost in the wrong thought of what I was trying to do with my music. I wanted people to know that my music stands for something. It’s about uplifting people and it’s about struggle and victory. So, it can’t be separated. It’s just who I am and I could never depart from that.
Mimi: How did you decide to not limit yourself to just one style of music?
William: I grew up on soul music but when I started to play the guitar, Bob Marley was a big influence on me. I listened to Bob Marley and I realized that the chords that he was using were really not that complex. So, that’s how I started and alot of my music had a heavy reggae influence. But, I would always incorporate other genres and the music is kinda an extension of me. I’m a very different person so I don’t want to produce the same type of sound. Gospel is the good news; it’s not a sound. It’s the word; it’s not an organ and a church choir. So, for me, the more varying sounds I use, the more audiences I can draw. I don’t ever want to be a stagnant artist who just does one particular type of music. I’ve never been afraid from that standpoint because everything that has been given to me is from the Lord.
Mimi: What’s your initial reaction when people listen to your music and compare you to such artists as Curtis Mayfield, Lenny Kravitz, Van Hunt and Maxwell?
William: You know what; let me give you the background story about how I found my voice. I grew up in church and very few men in gospel music have a lighter or higher voice. I could sing the lower notes, but when I was starting to write, I told my mom that my writing didn’t fit with how I was singing. She said “Well that’s not your voice”. That really struck me because I don’t believe my mom had ever heard me sing in the voice that I sing with now. But, she was like “That is not your voice. When you find your voice, you’ll have everything you need” and she was absolutely correct. When I didn’t sing a lead on a choral song, my voice would always float into the alto and soprano ranges. It was just always more comfortable for me.
I actually had the pleasure of meeting Bob Marley’s lead guitarist, Junior Marvin. I let him hear a cd that I made in college and he said “You sound like Curtis Mayfield”. That was the first time I had ever been told that. After that point, most older people would say the same thing. So, that has always been a compliment because Curtis Mayfield is a wonderful artist. The Lenny Kravitz thing came because of the way I look and the way I wear my hair more so than because of the way I sound, although I have done a couple rock tunes that make people draw that comparison. The Van Hunt comparison is a sound thing and it’s another compliment because Van Hunt didn’t get alot of play. I think it was because his sound was so different. But the brother is bad and honestly the Van Hunt compliment just came around September/October during my debut period. Someone was asked to describe what I sounded like and they said “Curtis Mayfield meets Van Hunt covering Maxwell”. That was one of the greatest compliments ever because that’s a full understanding of my sound. I can’t hold a candle to those brothers but it’s wonderful to be mentioned like that.
Mimi: I’m hooked on your song Walk in Beauty. How did you come up with the concept for that song?
William: When I was teaching in Baltimore City, normally in every school play or performance, the principal would allow me to play an original song. One particular time, the music teacher asked me to write a song for a presentation, which was called We Walk in Beauty. It was about encompassing and understanding each other throughout humanity. Everybody in humanity is a beautiful person in essence. So, I took that title and I just thought about some of the things that I’ve gone through and some of the things that people not like me have gone through. The line “Sometimes people get me down because I don’t have nice clothes to wear” is something that most people can relate to in terms of acceptability in social settings. My second verse says “My skin is as black as the night and people call me ugly and think that it’s alright.” When people say I’m not dark skinned, I say I’m not just writing for myself, I’m writing for anyone who has been called something because of their complexion; not just African people but Indian and Latin people too. That verse is for them. Everywhere in that song, I pick out something that is a perceived stigma and I turn it on its head. God says that you’re beautiful, that you should walk in beauty and that you were created by Him. So, that’s how the concept was created. Most people really dig that song and I’m glad because that is what I’m all about. I’m uplifting people, I’m telling them about the spiritual and I’m telling them about love and justice. All of it is in that song.
Mimi: How would you describe your experience as an independent artist?
William: For me, it’s exciting, fun and very liberating because I don’t answer to a label. I have total artistic control of my music. Those aspects are great. The hard part is the administrative side. Having a perpetual list of to-do’s is very tough. For example, my manager, Soulstrings, said the other day “Alright William, I need A, B, C and D done by the end of the week” so I can help you and I said “Why can’t I just play my music?” I posted a tweet about it on Twitter and followed that up with #fantasyworld (laughing).
Thanks for a great interview William! I’ve added three of William’s songs (Ain It Time, Filter for Change and Walk in Beauty) below. As we face the tough times ahead, we need more artists who are willing to use their craft to encourage and uplift the world. We have such an artist in William Soul. Please help me spread the word about his music.
Ain It Time
Filter for Change
Walk in Beauty
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