• Maia Joy

Soleil on a New Generation of Music

Miami-based artist Soleil is no stranger to the music scene--from her first performances as a child in her

home city of New York to her most recent releases, Soleil represents a new generation of music with influences of classic artists from the back half of the 20th century. Her EP “Dawn” (2018) features rich, bass-driven beats fueled by a deep vocal lead. Her sultry, enticing vocal quality displays a great range of ability and all the best aspects of her natural musical intuition. Her new single, “Whose Side?” rests on an energetic club beat that emphasizes her vocal depth and dimension. (I highly recommend listening through headphones to be transported to a bustling club in the heart of Miami.) It released on Friday, Feb. 5, on all streaming platforms.

How did you get your start as a musician?

I did my first ‘performance’ when I was 5 years old…and by performance, I mean I sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star standing on the ledge of the fireplace in the Yonkers, NY home I grew up in. Once my parents realized I didn’t sound half bad, they put me into piano and vocal lessons. I performed in piano recitals and on stage in elementary school during assemblies. I also played saxophone and clarinet when I was in grade school, but I chose voice as my main instrument. I was in traditional, acapella, and gospel choirs throughout high school and college. I’ve been in the professional entertainment scene since 2013, gigging in various cover and corporate bands. But I really began focusing more on my career as an artist when I started writing my first EP ‘Dawn’ in 2018.

How has your background influenced the development of your sound?

My dad is a bass player and my mom is a music lover–she put headphones on her stomach while she was pregnant with me. They always played great music - I grew up on Diana Ross & The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley & The Wailers, Janis Joplin, The Eurythmics, and Jamiroquai to name a few. When I started choosing my own music to listen to, I gravitated towards R&B, Pop, and Hip-Hop--Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, N’Sync, and 50 Cent were some of my favorites. At one point in time, I was really into Sum 41. As I got older, I branched out into more soulful singers like Joss Stone, Amy Winehouse, Erykah Badu, and Lauryn Hill, which is when I really started to develop my sound.

The themes within your music tend to vary between several subjects, and most recently in “Whose Side?” discuss choosing a path in a relationship or within oneself. What inspires you to write, or what inspires you musically?

I’ve recently embraced the practice of making songwriting and music a habit, rather than just something I do when I’m inspired or motivated. Making it intertwined in my daily and weekly schedule has really helped me grow. Other than that, I get inspiration from many places – my feelings and current situations I’m dealing with, what my friends are going through, other songs I hear, dreams, random conversations with people, conversations I hear other people having, trends, and ideas that come to me randomly at any time of day or night.

“Whose Side?” has a deep club beat, which seems almost counterintuitive in the midst of a pandemic— I set up a little club in my house the first time I listened to it! How did you produce such a great party/club track in this time?

Haha! Since we can’t go out and dance like we used to, I wanted to recreate the feeling of going out and dancing at a bar, club, or party; just a good, high energy song that makes people move. ‘Whose Side?’ is the first song I produced. I brought a bass line idea to my songwriting session, and that idea turned out to be the 808s on the track. I wanted to add electric guitar parts, and I found a cool drum track sample. My co-producer and engineer, Aston Marton, and I put it together…and ‘Whose Side?’ was born.

Who are your musical influences? Who do you listen to when you’re not making your own music?

Amy Winehouse is one of my biggest musical inspirations. I have a similar feel vocally – soul, jazz, blues roots, with some R&B and hip-hop influences-- because I listened to her so much. I also love Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, Brent Faiyaz and Sonder.

My listening rotation includes lots of Soulection Radio and Complexion, The Future Beats Show. Other than that, I still listen to the artists I mentioned above that I’m inspired by, as well as Masego, Sango, Kaytranada, lots of classic artists with timeless music – Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan; Afrobeats music – Burna Boy, Wizkid.; Hip-Hop – City Girls, old Plies songs, Gunna, Drake, DaBaby; and I love gospel music too!

How has the COVID pandemic impacted your music and creative process?

I had more time once I found out I lost all of my gigs back in March 2020 as well as my full-time tech job. I ended up turning my side hustle (freelance UX design and content creation) into my bread and butter. I became more focused on my career as an artist because I wasn’t gigging around doing entertainment-style work. I started producing; I was in the studio writing and recording a lot more, I started focusing on strategy and using my resources to bootstrap my efforts. I learned how to record myself at home, made music videos in my apartment, and created more content overall. I worked a lot on vocal production. I trained myself to write at home, alone – this definitely wasn’t easy because I prefer to write in the studio, and in the past, I’ve had co-writers. I made songwriting and my creative process overall more of a habit rather than only leaning to it when I felt inspired or motivated.

What advice would you give a young or aspiring musician just discovering their sound?

When I was just starting, I wanted to be Amy Winehouse – I always tried to

sound just like her, because I have a similar jazzy, bluesy, soulful tone. I eventually realized that I can’t be Amy Winehouse, and I don’t want to be the next version of her because I’m the first Soleil.

To any new musician just discovering their sound, I would say don’t try to sound exactly like someone else. Be authentic to you and take from different styles and from who inspires you. Listen to a variety of artists, especially ones you wouldn’t normally listen to because you can learn a lot from them. Study older music to build your foundation and knowledge. Experiment with sounds, effects, styles, delivery, flows, and writing style.

What can your fans look forward to seeing from you next?

I’ll be releasing the music video for ‘Whose Side?’ by early March! I’ll also be releasing new music once a month this year and at least 3 more music videos. I have some special collaborations that I’m looking forward to sharing soon as well!

If you're a fan of what you've seen here, check out Soleil's social media! Her handles are @solefulsoul. Her single "Whose Side?" is up and streaming on all platforms. Click here to listen to the release on Spotify!