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Feature: Sabo [Interview + Podcast]

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Sabo’s music is a journey into sound, a sonic landscape that crosses several musical borders with mixtures of tropical poly-rhythms, warm bass frequencies, rich percussion, lush tribal vocals, and smooth organic textures. When listening you will undoubtedly find yourself resonating with his intention, imagining yourself dancing in an Amazon rainforest, on a moonlit Tropical beach, or on a desert plane for a Saharan sunrise. Behind the decks, his innovative approach to each DJ set makes him a consistent stand out at festivals like Burning Man, Coachella, Lightening in a Bottle, Shambhala, Fusion, Symbiosis, and Further Future. He is also the label boss of “Sol*Selectas Records” which is successfully re-defining a new vein of dance music. It was the Top 10 Best Selling Deep House label on Beatport in 2016 and 2017, several #1 release in 2018 and 2019, and with every release breaking into the Top 10 charts of their respective genres. The label captures a wide array of sounds, drawing influence from our native roots, and combining these traditional styles with the modern sounds of electronic music. With a stellar roster of underground DJs and producers from all over the globe, Sol Selectas deep tribal sound is guiding its listeners into the future realm with positive intention.

Hello William, thanks for joining us. What is your current mood and what was the last piece of music you listened to?

I’m well thanks, its Monday morning so just had my green tea and ready for a productive week ahead. I’m currently listening to a compilation of Iraq love songs from the ‘20s that I just bought on Bandcamp.

What are your plans for the coming week?

Cook, garden, bounce stems on 3 new songs for mixdown, continue promoting online for Buddy System, spend some hours working on new song ideas, and hopefully, get a day of skateboarding in as well.

Can you name five tracks that were important in your musical development and why they are so significant for you?

Just 5? Ha-ha there are soooooo many, but here are a few that come to mind straight away, and I have chosen a few tracks plus also some albums.

Breakdance – Various Artists (K-tel Records)

In 1984 I saw the movie Breakin’ and was hooked on the idea of breakdancing. I went to a record store at local mall, and spent all my allowance money on this record, so I could learn more about the music linked to the dance style. It was the first vinyl record I ever bought, and it came with a poster – a step by step guide on how to breakdance. I must have listened to this a million times over and over. I was in love with every song, and this was also the 1st time hearing scratching and cutting. So many influences came from this one compilation.

“Dub Gone Crazy” – The Evolution of Dub at King Tubby’s

My roommate in college was a maniac vinyl collector, (shoutout to Devin) and he turned me onto to dub music. The dub sound became the blueprint for everything I created, and basically defines the type of elements I like in my music today. This release was so ahead of its time.

“We Been Troddin” – Rhythm and Sound w/ Shalom

Hard to pick just one from this 10” vinyl series, they are all genius. It is simply the best produced dub music I have ever heard. The low-end frequencies are so warm and full. Every record I make is referenced to this one in my mind, as I’m always thinking “I want my track to sound and feel like Rhythm and Sound records”

“Massai Women” – Bobby Konders

I acquired this in the late ‘90s on NuGroove and it was the B-side to “Nervous Acid”, which was already famous in those days. But this tune was like deep dubby tech house mixed with African vocals. I knew this was the style of music I wanted to make the second I heard it. I still play it now, and people come asking for the ID, which is testament to it being so timeless. I recently found the original sample too, which I had been wondering about for over 15 years.

“La Mezcla” – Michel Cleis

This one came out around same time as the smash “Heater” by Samim, and it opened up so many creative doors. Colombian folk music mixed with minimal techno, but very tribal, and driving, this record was such a big influence on my productions and DJ sets. The craziest part is when this came out, I was already working on a remix in a downtempo style of the same cumbia original.

Your new collaborative album ‘Buddy System’ is out this week on your Sol Selectas imprint, tell us a bit about it and the idea behind it.

The name “Buddy System” comes from my elementary school as a child, when we would take filed trips, all students were asked to find a buddy. Students held hands in pairs while traveling from destination to destination, looking out for one another and helping each other to find their way. This was the concept behind the album, each of us producers, musicians, and singers, all helping one another as buddies to push each other and the music forward.

You worked with many musicians and vocalists over the creative process. How did you go about choosing who to collaborate with and were you set on keeping it to certain number of tracks?

For me, the collaborations must be natural and not forced. Each track has a different background story to it, and there was no real formula to making this album. It all just happened organically while relentlessly traveling and touring. I try to make songs or develop ideas with friends while visiting them in between shows. For the Namito song, I had just left Ibiza where I was hanging with the legend Bahramji. He gifted me some recordings of his vocals and santoor. I was so excited that I played them for Namito, and we knew right away this was the foundation of our collaboration. For the tracks “Duende” and “Imagine” I had taken the recordings of Basel Khoury years ago, and was waiting for the right moment to use them. Those moments came while in Mexico City hanging at Metrika’s studio, and then in Los Angeles when UNER was in town visiting for a few days. Both were created in just a few hours. For the track with Dandara featuring Shawni we began at his studio in Basel. I instantly liked the song but after taking it away to listen at home knew it needed something more. I’ve always wanted to work with Shawni after hearing her mantra recordings, so asked her, and she recorded some vocals that she sent back to a couple of days later… what she did was just perfect! The number of tracks was not planned either, and this is essentially “Volume One” of the Buddy System. I already have 5 more collaborative songs in the works for Volume 2, but I figured 8 tracks is a nice number for this first one.

Once all the collaborations were complete, how difficult was it deciding on the flow of the album from a listener’s perspective?

Honestly, it was not too difficult, as like most of my DJ sets, I started smooth and working slowly built up the energy little by little, then bring things back down at the end.

There’s a very organic but also musical feel to the album, from a compositional perspective, but also design wise. What are your go to tools in the studio, and what featured heavily on this album?

I really like the Rob Papen SubBoom Bass Plugin, and also the Sylenth. Those are both used on my tracks quite a bit. But, since all the songs are collaborations, you’re also hearing a lot of the “go to tools” from my collaborators. It was interesting to get out of my own comfort zone, and in their studios create with another producer’s set of tools. I find that many cool musical ideas and new techniques come out this.

How much of an effect do other genres of music outside of the electronic realm have on your own productions? And in particular the album.

As I mentioned previously, Jamaican dub music is a HUGE influence of mine. It’s a source I draw from regularly for both sound design and mixing down elements. Any style of music that can transmit not only groove and the desire to dance, but emotion is also something I try to incorporate.

How would you feel about these tracks being remixed? And are there any plans for this?

Absolutely! I want to get more buddies involved to see how they interpret the songs, and what direction they take with them. In my mind, I already have my wish list of remixers, and will very soon be sending samples and stems to some people.

Talk to us about your label Sol Selectas, it launched in 2006 with you releasing 300 white label copies only if I’m not mistaken. How has it changed and evolved over the years and where do you see it going in the future?

Yes, that is correct, back in the days I did only white label vinyl that were hand stamped with the SOL logo. Over the years my DJ style has evolved at the same pace of the label. I’ve only ever release music on Sol Selectas that I get super excited about, and that I personally wanted to play out in my DJ sets. So, the direction we are heading is really just wherever my taste leads me.

Do you still release any vinyl at all?

Yes, we just did a limited run 12” vinyl of “Stone Flower” by Namito, and the B-side featured a previously unreleased remix by Satori. We hope to do more in the coming months as well, as I’m still a vinyl junky myself. I also think it’s nice to have a physical piece of art that’s both music and graphics rather than digital data you can’t touch or hold.

The artwork on the label is quite distinctive and fitting for the music you release, talk to us about the importance of having it connect to the music so well and who is behind it.

All the artwork and graphics are done by my fiancé Helia Jamali. She is the most talented and creative graphic designer I have ever known. There are so many labels out there with cool artwork, but when you listen to the music, it does not sound like the image. With Sol Selectas, Helia will literally immerse herself in the sounds, and listening on repeat for several days or sometimes weeks until the story of the music comes to her. I honestly feel like you can “see” the music in her art. She digs deep into the culture of the music, and the backgrounds of the producers to represents those tales visually in the cover art.  We use a lot of the photography taken from travels as well, so her work really is next level, and this also makes it very personal.

What advice would have for an artist hoping to sign their music to Sol Selectas?

Be original and be yourself. I like all kinds of music, so don’t assume I only want to hear songs that sounds like one just released in a recent month.

I love tribal percussion, groovy bass, and music with and emotional feel that takes you somewhere. I like to hear rare or strange instruments, but whenever possible, try to record real musicians, and avoid sample packs.  Send us only a few of your best songs at a time. Also, try to send the songs already mastered, even if it is basic home mastering, as that helps showcase a tracks full potential. Send us demos with private links to our SoundCloud page. I listen to every submission, but we only reply if the music interests us so be humble and be patient. Tell us a little bit about yourself and some background on the concept of your music, as we love a great story!

You’ve been releasing organic sounding music for many years, long before it became popularized in recent years. How do you feel about there now being an actual genre on Beatport for it and a massive influx of producers now making it? Do you worry about the sound becoming over saturated to an extent?

I think it is great to have the new genre on Beatport, and hopefully will help people discover the sounds more easily. Popularity of any genre inevitably leads to mediocre reproductions of that sound, but I think all genres suffer from this at some point. It’s kind of the ebb and flow in the dance music industry, but as you said, I’ve been playing and releasing this sound for many years now. I will continue to support this style because I really love it, and how it speaks to me. I hope we can continue to steer the genre itself in exciting new directions to expand the idea of what “Organic House and Downtempo” can be. Rather than the genre classification, I’m much more worried about the 100’s of cookie cutter sample packs being released, as everyone using the same samples is a starting point of things becoming generic.

You’ve been a regular at Burning Man for almost a decade now, is there a particular year that was most memorable for you? and how has it changed over the last decade?

Every year is memorable honestly. I look forward all year long for the DJ sets I will play on the Playa, and often save certain songs just for those dusty moments. The 1st year is incomparable, however, because there is no amount of research, or information that can prepare you for how insane it really is once you finally arrive. It just blows your mind! Burning Man changes like any other city. For me, the biggest noticeable change was the addition of more electric bikes, and cell phone /internet reception. I am not a fan of either, as the more connection to the outside world, the less immersive the festival experience can sometimes be, but it is what it is, and I do understand why others feel differently about this.

Putting the setting aside, how is playing at Burning Man different from playing in a club? Is track selection and programming different at an event like that?

Absolutely, and I try to play completely different for every set at Burning Man. Sunsets are a totally different vibe than sunrises or playing at night, and depending on where or which day, it is also very different. Some camps have huge systems, while others have a bluetooth speaker for 8 people in a tent. I like to do one set in the day, which is all disco and funk, then at night time do another set that’s a bit darker and more psychedelic. I also really love to do an extended set at sunrise that is filled with feel good vibes and nostalgic vocals. All those moments call for different stories, and each is incredibly unique.

How have you been dealing with COVID-19? How has it affected your daily life, music production and overall inspiration to write new music?

The obvious changes have been no gigs since March, as we are not able to travel at all, so touring came to a screeching halt. I shifted my focus on the label and production, so I am happy to have finally completed Buddy System during the lockdown madness. I started gardening and doing yard work, exercising, and cooking a lot. Inspiration comes and goes, but it usually comes after getting to see friends, hanging out in nature, or a nice home cooked dinner.

What is the current situation with the pandemic in the USA? Are clubs or events happening yet?

Everything here became political and less based on science. It is quite sad to see so many neighbors and family members fighting each other, when really, it’s the government they should be angry at. Also, I am quite sure people who spend all day on social media, have started to lose their minds, which I guess is understandable if you are constantly exposed to so much conflicting information.

Private events with testing are happening here and there, but I don’t think actual clubs and festivals will be opening anytime soon.

What is something you do now (regularly) that you did not before COVID-19?

Kundalini yoga, and water my garden.

Once nightlife eventually resumes globally, what kind of effect do you think this period in our history will have on the clubbing experience?

Nightlife will become more and more Daylife I think.  Big massive indoor clubs will be less and less, if not disappear completely for a bit. Outdoor festivals will probably be happening more, but on a smaller scale. But this is all so unknown, that who knows really?

How much road testing or friend feedback is done before you’re ready to say a track is finished? And who is someone you share your new music with first for feedback?

BC – “before Covid” I would try to play songs out several times before releasing. That is the best way to know how a crowd will react and hear if the mixdown needs any adjustments. Helia my fiancé always hears the new music first, and her feedback is also invaluable to me. Often, I also send tracks to my good friend Goldcap, as we have similar taste and I value his opinion.

What have been some of your favourite tracks over the quarantine period?

Satori’s new album Re:Imagined was released on Sol Selectas in October, and that is something I listened to a lot. It is such a beautiful story, and features some new versions of my favorite tracks from the label.

I’ve read that had you not found a career in music you would have pursued professional skateboarding, given your spiritual background I would lean towards you skating a lot of pools or bowls, is that accurate? Or are you out in the streets as well? And if so, what are some of the tricks you are most proud to have done?

Yeah, I’ve been skateboarding since I was 10 years old, and proud to say I still have a nice bag of tricks on a mini-ramp, which is my go-to these days. But I grew up skating indoor parks, so we skated pools, vert, street, and mini ramps all in one spot.  It all feels good, but back in my prime days of being sponsored, I could board-slid a 12-stair rail, and heel-flip-Indy grabbed another 10-stair. I made a music video several years ago for a song called “Dusted”, and the whole video is VHS footage from my early skate days. I also mixed in some newer clips I had and it’s like the “Sponsor Me” tape I never got to send out lol.

There are so many tricks I’m stoked to have made over the years, but I think the memories I hold most dearly are less about the trick itself, and more about the unique spots I was able to skate over the years.

What does the remainder of 2020 and early 2021 hold for you? Anything you can share with us?

Apart from the Buddy System album that recently came out, I’m also working on a remix for my friend Hot Oasis, and a new track for our next Global Entry compilation on Sol Selectas. We almost have the 2021 release schedule fully planned, which includes exciting new EP’s from Zuma Dionys, Laroz, Derun, German Brigante, and more. I am also starting to collect demos for our Summer Sol VI compilation, and provided Covid allows it, I’ll hopefully be doing some label showcases again in 2021. I want everyone to stay positive, and let’s get back to dancing together!

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