Until about a year and a half ago, I always said that I didn’t like “loud” music. I didn’t mind if the volume was turned up, but too much noise made me uneasy; I preferred lullaby baby music at all times of the day, or songs about fuckin’ bitches and getting money because who doesn’t like being brainwashed? And then I heard Soul Glo.
I’m not entirely sure what it was about them that made me change my mind—perhaps the fact that they’re Black, but then again, the drummer TJ is white, so that couldn’t be it. Maybe it was because they allow the listener enough time to breathe before another auditory flogging. (I’m listening to Diaspora Problems now, and no, that can’t be it either; the entire album scares me.) More likely, it’s just because they’re really talented, and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to chat with them.
Before we get to the good stuff, let me introduce the band: There’s TJ, whom you already met. GG, the guitarist, and Pierce on vocals.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
High Times: How’d you guys meet?
TJ: I met GG a while ago. I met GG, like, over a decade ago.
GG: I met TJ at a show in New York City at 538 Johnson. And I met Pierce through band stuff. Pierce actually booked my old band’s old show in Philadelphia.
Pierce: People had been coming in, coming out. And essentially, both TJ’s time and GG’s time just came to be in the band. I’ve been in this band from the beginning, but everybody else has joined.
HT: So how does a song start for you guys? What’s that look like, going into the studio?
Pierce: It really depends. Somebody usually comes with an idea. The idea might be a full song already ready to go. Or it might just require a few little flavorings from each of us. Or one of us will only have a couple riffs, and then we kinda just play things, play the ideas over and over, talk about how we want them to sound. Or, sometimes for the digital shit, GG’ll just be making beats and sometimes I’m there and I have ideas that GG will then translate into songs.
HT: Do you go in with a theme?
GG: Musically, nah. I don’t think so.
TJ: Kinda just happens a lot of the time.
Pierce: There was times where we’d ask each other, What do we want this next shit to sound like? One album I was like, I want this shit to sound like pain. And I feel like it did.
HT: I feel like there’s some comedy to the music videos. How do you feel that plays into the music itself?
TJ: I was just the subject of the music video. The music video was really a Pierce idea. I mean it is all sort of playing up minor themes in the existence of this band. Was my experience of joining the band as the drummer literally being flagellated on a rope? No. But it was painful. I got a call and it was like, do you want to play this fest with us in a week, and I was like sure. And then we practiced the set every day for a week, and I was like, I feel like I could sort of play this. And then I just had to do it. It beat me into shape, in a sense.
HT: What role does cannabis play in your music?
GG: Jesus Christ.
TJ: Well I mean, you heard the beginning of the album, right? I’ve been smoking weed every day for, like, over a decade so it has a role to play in virtually everything I do.
Pierce: The way other people drink coffee, I think, is how I smoke weed. The way other people smoke cigarettes is how I smoke weed. It really has helped me manage my anxiety and depression in a way that I needed for many years before I really discovered it. Smoking weed as a teen for the first time, I just didn’t know I could feel, like, good. I didn’t know I could not have a constant monologue that’s totally driven by anxiety. And that’s just really underrated for somebody like me. Obviously, I want to be a more well-rounded person, so I have to find other things in life that do that for me as well; and also weed helped me to realize that. They’re all, as GZA said, planets revolving around the same sun. The music, weed, and everything else that I love are the things that keep me tethered to this mortal coil.
GG: I was smoking weed as a baby.
HT: As a baby?!
GG: To join this band, one of the requirements, well not a requirement, but I was asked before I joined this band: Do you smoke weed? And I said, every day. Now I don’t do that every day anymore, because of a certain situation that I was a part of, but I did smoke weed last night and that shit was crazy.
HT: Do you smoke together, like in the studio?
Pierce: We used to a lot, like a lot a lot.
HT: What caused the change?
GG: For me, I got arrested. So it just fucked me up a little bit and I can’t do it all the time, because I get super anxious now.
HT: How do you feel about mass incarceration in relation to cannabis?
GG: It’s bullshit, off top.
TJ: Especially when you have places that are rolling out legalization. That’s ridiculous. How can you get locked up for some shit that’s not even illegal anymore?
Pierce: It’s like the emancipation proclamation came out and niggas was still slaves because no one told them. It’s like niggas will really just steal your life away, and not tell you.
HT: Why do you make music?
Pierce: I don’t really feel like I’m that good at too much other shit, for real. So when this stuck for me as a kid, it stuck. I mean, the easy answer is because I can’t skate.
GG: My dad is a percussionist and he gave me some drums because he thought it was a good idea and ha ha. He probably kicked himself in the ass several times for doing that because of how I developed as an individual. It’s just something that I stuck with. Somebody left a guitar at my crib and I just picked it up, and I taught myself how to play it as a bass, then I was like, Yo bro, there’s two more strings on it. Then I started teaching myself guitar shortly afterward. I don’t know, I just felt like I should keep doing it because it made me feel good as I progressed with the instrument. And over time I just kept meeting cooler and cooler people, which made me feel a sense of belonging.
TJ: My dad got me into punk. It’s just something I’ve always been interested in and it’s something people have been encouraging me to do.
HT: Hmm. Do you come from a wealthy family? Punk music seems like something only wealthy parents would introduce to their kids. I don’t know why I feel like that.
TJ: Not broke, but not wealthy particularly. I think it’s just because my dad’s young, comparatively, to other people my age. [He’s] still in [his] mid-50s now and I’m going to be 30 next month. He was just into cool shit and it helped me. He just had this giant pile of CDs. It was either that or go to the library. I would just take shit from the library and burn it. My mom worked at a library.
Pierce: I was also burning a lot of CDs, for sure. I was just talking last night to somebody about how I listened to Metallica for the first time on a burned CD that they made for me. It was Metallica’s Ride the Lightning on one side, then Arch Enemy’s Doomsday [Machine] on the other side. I was already listening to a lot of rock music during that time… I was in middle school, so I was probably like 12, 13. My dad was really into music also, but he was into jazz fusion mostly, and a lot of weird pop. He doesn’t really listen to metal or anything at all; that was more so my own personality. But I feel like he definitely got me on the path of listening to very, very energetic and busy music. He worked for the Census Bureau; my mom was in the military, so we were, like, middle class. We could go on vacation, not every year. And it was always through timeshares.
HT: How would you say class influences music and the bands that come out? Do you think if they come from wealthy parents, they have a better shot at success?
Pierce: Yeah, I think it can definitely make a difference. Like, my parents paid for me to have lessons for a good seven years. And that honestly led to me having a mentor who changed my life and the way I look at music and everything. And GG very decidedly did not have that experience. So I feel like it doesn’t matter, but it also can just help when it’s there.
GG: I feel like it’s dependent on your interests. The resources can definitely help, but if you fuck with what you’re doing, then you’re gonna do it well.
HT: How do you feel about the categorization of Black art? Like Afropunk, for example. Or going to a bookstore and seeing the African American section.
Pierce: Well, Afropunk is a damn-near meaningless term. I feel like the conversation that we would need to have about Afropunk, and just that term, and the festival around it, is longer than ten minutes will allow. [That term] doesn’t really represent anything that it originally was meant to. I don’t know, that’s just what I have to say.
HT: Afterlife. Does it exist?
TJ: I feel like when you die, you’re done. I think this is all we got.
Pierce: I feel like the afterlife could exist, like energy is never destroyed, it’s only transferred type-beat. Heaven to me is kind of a selfish idea. We’re already given the chance of heaven here, and we’re fucking it up. But I do think hell is real.
Pierce: I think reincarnation is real. It could be real. You go back into the soil, come out a whole new nigga.
HT: If I like you guys, who else should I listen to?
GG: You ever listen to :3lon?
Pierce: That shit will change your life. Spellling. Meshuggah. Cloud Rat. El Alfa. Tokischa. Tupac. Dance With the Devil by Immortal Technique. I was by myself in the middle of the night when I heard that song for the first time. I heard that shit and I just looked at the computer screen and stared in silence after that shit played. Like what the fuck did I just hear?!
HT: What do you think the future of music looks like?
TJ: They’re just gonna start running software to generate jingles and shit. It’s gonna be an AI world.
GG: We’re gonna be able to Airdrop with our minds.
Pierce: I think everything will be… Like, genres will become much more merged together, and I think Black music will simply be a single genre that artists just do different traditions simultaneously within the same song.
HT: Will white people be able to make Black music?
Pierce: They already are.