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INTERVIEW: SOLLYY chats Triple J, representing his city & why he’s Sydney’s best kept secret

Western Sydney producer and DJ, SOLLYY, took the time out to chat with us about collaboration, working instead of celebrating 'winning', and the longevity that is earnt from being an outsider.

When I sit down to chat with Western Sydney producer and DJ, SOLLYY, over-the-phone late on a Monday afternoon, his natural affability instantly shines through with a “is that who I think this is?”. It sets the tone for what ends up being an honest and open chat about producer autonomy, SOLLYY’s love for the Sydney scene, and the importance of constructive criticism.

SOLLYY’s just come back from an afternoon session of chatting and curating music on Triple J, a gig he’s earned after impressing with his hosting of the Triple J Hip-Hop Show during a brief period in the 2021 COVID-enforced lockdown in Sydney. Instantly, his readiness for our chat radiates an authentic, natural enthusiasm for all music-related discourse, something he’s naturally infused into his work in radio.

“I feel like I’ve made a good impression thus far, but it’s early days and I know I’m still working to that point where I can have more freedom and try to do more,” he says about his time at Triple J so far.

Working closely alongside the host of the Hip-Hop Show, Hau Latukefu (AKA Hauie Beast), has seen SOLLYY earn the platform to have his voice and expert curation heard on a mainstream radio station.

“I have to give it off to Hau man. I really have to. He’s the reason why I even got into Triple J. He went on leave for this period in July and was looking for people to fill in, and then he asked me and I was like “sweet”. I’d never done any radio before, and the Hip-Hop Show was my first foray into it.”

Having produced for the likes of CG Fez, CD, PANIA, and many others across the scene, Sydney’s self-confessed “best kept secret” is a producer known largely for his keen understanding of the fine line between the self-indulgence that can overwhelm a listener, and the lackadaisical approach that can leave a listener underwhelmed.

His collaboration with CD and PANIA, entitled ‘Catcha Grip’, was released in August to plenty of love for its renewed and vibrant approach to contemporary R&B.

“That song was so random, how it came together. An artist named BUTRŪS and I were in a Clubhouse room with a couple of people from Melbourne a while ago including CD and PANIA. We were chatting about Australia in general and we got to the topic of music, and we stayed connected from there – I sent CD my entire beats folder. There was another time where we were sharing our music in a room with a bunch of American people, like a feedback session. I played one of my remixes and had gotten good feedback, and I tapped in with PANIA after that.

“A month or two later – which is really quick considering songs usually take years to come together for me – CD sent her demo back. At first, I didn’t know how to feel about the demo because I wasn’t expecting an R&B take on it as I’d originally made the beat with a rapper in mind.

“The first person I go to is Zion [Garcia], because I show that guy everything – he’s like my creative muse. I show him, he flips the fuck out and says ‘I can already see the video’ – I know that if Zion freaks out about it then it’s game over.

“We pretty much went back-and-forth, then CD came out to Sydney once so we did a session for it and she took it to her guys in Melbourne. Shoutout to @mikkifrompreston, he’s the one who made the final song sound the way it did – beautiful and so layered, the bassline was so much better on the final product.”

CD and PANIA are both artists who offer an immense sonic versatility and musical freedom with their sound, and to see SOLLYY coming together with musicians who embody the type of creative fearlessness that leads to groundbreaking tracks like ‘Catcha Grip’ is undeniably exciting as a fan.

Especially as the significance of the artist-producer relationship has gained greater traction in the years since producers have emerged as stronger household names in their own right, it’s always fascinating to gain insight into how these creative partnerships lead to such incredible music.

“I think the priority, at least for me, is to match their [the artist’s] sound as much as possible while having your own flavour with it. Like, if you can find the perfect balance between what’s to your liking and what they would love, then I think you’ve really done it. In sessions sometimes no work gets done ‘cause we’ll just get lost in the discussion about music, like we’ll just sit there and fan out about all the stuff we both like and I learn from there.”

Being aligned musically, and being willing to compromise and to try something else feel like the cornerstones of a successful artist-producer collaboration. In particular for SOLLYY, allowing artists who share his cultural background the space to be themselves and then to subsequently embrace new ideas, is something he values highly.

“I think, and this is something I’ve come to know more so lately, you have to be comfortable. Part of making an artist comfortable is being able to reason with them on any level. I guess I have come to find out how important people skills really are. If you can interact with someone on a level you end up opening them up to more ideas than you would initially if you didn’t have that level of connection there. For example, it's why I enjoy working with Pasifika artists so much. Being Samoan myself, it’s so mad to reason with them on that level.

“To get [Pasifika artists] to open up to things that they normally wouldn’t have done, I’m able to do so easier as a Pasifika person myself. I understand cultures are different and sometimes encouragement from one of your own who’s able to reason with you and show you the possibilities of music is sometimes what’s needed to step out of traditional ideas. I guess the most important thing would be where you’re comfortable and the artist is comfortable, then anything goes.”

In our ‘Sydney Speaks’ series, when discussing collaboration, SOLLYY expressed a desire to see artists giving greater weight to the input and ears of producers in the music-making process.

“There definitely is a lot of collaboration happening, but I guess what I would like to see more of is artists really trusting the mind of the producer. I encourage producers to take all creative liberties with the songs that come out. I know this culture is starting to form where rappers pay for beats, and now they get sold in packs, and it’s like, ‘$50 for 5 beats, and here’s this type of beat’ – I’ve never done beats like that ever. I know it’s such a big thing in the producer community though and their beats go to anyone that has the money.

“I would really like to see producers take more creative liberty in their songs, in terms of: Is this rapper somebody you even like? Is this person jumping on it good? Is this song something that you’d even listen to? [For producers] I would encourage really thinking about having faith in your own vision and not being afraid to execute it.

“For artists and musicians, I’d say it’s important to be able to trust somebody with their vision or really work with a producer you love on an agreed vision. I know from experience that producers are really musically inclined people and they have a lot of reference points indicating their love of music which shows through their beats.”

As for recording sessions where the producer-artist relationship has been at its most vibrant, SOLLYY recounts his times working with local favourites and frequent collaborators GIVEMEFLOWRRS (his production group with Zion Garcia & Jay Maaka), Becca Hatch, CG Fez, Juwan, Hoodzy, and Hamza.

“I always have to say anytime I’m with Zion. Working with Zion, we just sit there and we treat shit like jokes, but we laugh about it and then go “oh, oh wait that’s mad”. Just doing shit for jokes, I love that, though I know we can then sit down with somebody else and make something full serious. We linked up with our mate Jay as part of GIVEMEFLOWRRS recently and we all do shit for jokes, and that guy is the king of every instrument, so he’ll do mad musical shit and I just flip out and find it hilarious how good he is. Zion and I used to work with Becca [Hatch] in our early days, Becca’s still the OG. We used to just sit there and just jam, and make the most random songs. I’ve still got the files on me and we still talk about them,” he recounts.

“We just used to do things like that, and it’d just be me and a guitar, and Zion’s got his laptop (we used to work off his laptop) and he’ll start drumming along and Becca’s just sitting there humming to chords and we’d all hum together a melody and so on and so forth. And to me that’s the essence of music. Being able to sit there and have a laugh, have a great time while you’re making, it shows in the music. It shows in the music if there’s no passion or life in it.

“The times with Fez, Juwan and Hoodzy, being able to connect pretty much straight away to them and consistently make something fresh and unique out of what we both enjoy is so cool.

“I’ve had a lot of sessions where I’ve been pushed out of my comfort zone and it’s made me go “how far can I really reach within my bag?”. I worked with both BUTRŪS and Hamza a lot and we had so many random times we’d make stuff that I may have thought was trash, but it was there. Being pushed to my limit, and the artist being pushed to their limit and accepting it just as much as you are, also has proved to make for some really interesting musical moments across the board.”

In acknowledgement of SOLLYY’s own playful tagline, one had to ask the biggest question of the interview, this being of course the obvious: “why are you Sydney’s best kept secret?”.

“I guess it’s because I don’t put myself out there. Having visuals, promotion, cool branding, I treat it almost like a necessity, but I’m really not the type of person to be all social media savvy. I’ve just kind of let the music do the talking. And so, I’ve always been secretive in that way, in the sense that I’m not necessarily out there but you’ll find me somehow. Somebody that you know will know me, know of me or know something that I’ve done without knowing me. That’s why I say I’m ‘Sydney’s best kept secret’.

“If I’ve done something that’s affected somebody so much in real life that they’ve needed to tweet or post about me, I love that. You can’t predict that; on social media it looks like I’ve come out of nowhere. I love the idea of being able to spread in that way especially in a city like Sydney. It’s an interesting landscape here, the rap infrastructure is really small compared to the UK and obviously America, so it’s been interesting navigating this scene in that manner. Being able to be as known as I am is cool, like, I couldn’t care less about the attention, but I know it ends up helping pay the bills.”

A few months prior to this interview, SOLLYY reshared an article to his Twitter titled the ‘The Outkast Edge’ which hypothesised that outsiders in the music industry will take longer to succeed but will have laid the foundations to be able to remain true to themselves in their art, much like the iconic Atlanta duo. It felt applicable to the current Australian hip-hop scene which is dominated by drill and pure rap sounds.

“I shared that [post] knowing that the people I love doing music here would resonate with that too. Because, not even just me, the acts that I really enjoy – Dylan Atlantis, All Black Alby, Freesouls, Breakfast Road, Isaac Puerile, Hamza – all of these sorts of acts that have been grinding and doing their thing, they’re embodying that principle and they’re on the outside of what mainstream Australian rap is, but they’re building that connection with the people and building these foundations early. Just being of your city and of your community, not trying to ever be above it,” he explains.

“And I’ll say it now, I’ve never been a fan of ever trying to be above the community. It creates a distance between you and your potential fan base. It creates that gap where it’s like your people from your own suburb can’t even reach out and talk to you. It’s that disconnect that I feel like a lot of the mainstream scene in Australia has now. It doesn’t feel like people are very accessible in that regard while people are just starting out. If you’re starting out and you’re trying to make your way out there, I feel like you should love where you’re from. Be where you’re from and do things within your community, be of that. That’s why I back everybody that I named.

“There are more outsiders than you think out there, there are more people like you who will resonate with you. Being able to do you comfortably, like a Milan Ring, or a Huskii, or a Nick Ward has done, they’re doing that and end up inspiring enough like-minded people to build their foundations upon for their success. I really feel like Australian hip-hop and R&B needs so much more of that. Especially in Western Sydney because I feel like it’s a bit fragmented when it comes to that at the moment.

“I feel like that, and plus everything else we’re talking about, the willingness to open up across both parties [artist & producer] – all of that will result in the scene starting to see growth. It’s not going to be about the numbers, it’s not going to be about the data, and it’s not going to be about the plaques. It’ll just be about who makes hectic music and who’s having the best time while doing so. Or who’s making the music that makes you feel real emotion? I think these things need to happen for that to occur.”

When it comes to evolving creative expressions within the scene right now, SOLLYY believes there needs to be a greater emphasis on work and less of an emphasis on the wins.

“I feel as if people just need to work. And I say this not as a slight to anybody, I know that people are working very hard and I see that, but what I mean when I say people need to put in work is that I feel the wins start to take precedence over the work. People share a lot, and while it’s cool to share your wins, like the fact that your track got another million streams, it's like okay cool, but when’s the next song coming out? I know you’re proud of all of these wins for your catalog at the time being, you’ve put in work, but I’m just trying to see more right now.

“I know the scene is just starting, not many artists might have that ‘extensive’ discography. That's why I say people really should just work while we’re in this phase and just hit us with music. That's what we don’t have enough of here in Sydney, but it’s what we need from authentic artists. I never want to bag anybody that’s proud to document their progress, I do that a fair bit myself, it’s more ‘what’s next from you?’ I say this out of love because I genuinely love a lot of the acts that are coming out of the scene. I’ll always support your wins and your triumphs as an artist, but me as a fan I get tired of it after a while because I’m really just tapped in for what you got next. That’s why I encourage everyone to work, not just for the fans and the community as that’s what we’re fans of you for in the first place, but for yourself - the wins are that much sweeter down the line if you keep the work up.”

SOLLYY proceeds to demonstrate his self-awareness when a question comes up about potentially releasing a solo or collaborative follow-up to his debut mixtape ‘Asuelu’, which was released in 2019.

“I have heaps of music sitting here but I haven’t had the time to dedicate my time to music and putting music out. I’ve been so focused on this Triple J stuff that I’ve sort of been making music for myself now. I guess what I go through is I tend to switch between a consumer mindset and a creator mindset. Right now, I’m really in the mindset of being a consumer and being a fan, and as a fan I want to enjoy other artists and not pay so much attention to my stuff. Though as things settle with Triple J, I can focus on music and properly look at what I want to put out. All of these collaborations have been sitting here with a goal in mind. As much as I do want the artists I’m fans of to release music for my enjoyment as a consumer, I know that’s what I need to be doing as well for myself as a creator.”

For 2022, SOLLYY confirms his desire to release as much as he can, and as for his role at Triple J, he wants to simply play the music that the people are actually listening to in order to empower local artists and their communities as a result.

“Triple J… I really want to do something different at Triple J, because God knows we need something different. I say to myself, I don’t care if it wasn’t me as long as it’s someone doing it. If it’s up to me to do it then yeah whatever I’ll do it – to play the shit that we (the youth) all genuinely listen to. So, I’m really trying to do something there because I know how much it’ll mean across the country to turn the radio on and get to actually hear what our generation enjoys.”

For SOLLYY, some of the artists here are comparable, if not better than the lofty regard in which UK and US artists are held. And that, amongst everything we discussed, drives him to put on for his community in any way he can.

“That’s my ethos right there. I enjoy the artists here as much as I do the artists overseas. Who’s to say I can’t play Shely210 with, like Max B? It’s just as good, it’s just as meaningful, and it has just as much artistic merit as it does anywhere else.

“For Western Sydney, we’re the best doing it at the moment if I’m being real, so I want to inspire other communities as well with the things I hope we’ll be doing. If I can see what I’m wanting to do being done in other scenes and communities too, I’d love that. I see the potential for local support everywhere, maybe they just need someone there to spark that change. If we’re all enjoying being ourselves, the city becomes a much cooler place. The road rage will go away because everyone will be having fun.”

Words by Matthew Badrov

Photos by @_feks

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