TFword In Conversation With Sola

After the release of the drum & bass trio’s sensational debut album, we sat down with them to know more about the long release, their creative flow, plans for the future, and lots more.

When you listen to Sola’s music, you will notice that you get a little of everything around drum & bass. There’s some neurofunk, there’s some liquid drum & bass, some jungle – you name it, you have it. With Nothing To Lose & Echidna from Manchester, UK, and Hanm from Brisbane, Australia, Sola are steadily building a reputation for the expansive drum & bass cementing their name as a staple on the scene.

After years of combining their musical prowess, Sola released their debut album last month called ‘Stars Align,’ which we have have heavily volunteered for as one of the albums of the year. Featuring collaborations with Perplex, Lauren Rose, Sammie Hall, Kit Rice, Whiskey Pete, and Stytchd, the diverse drum & bass trio encapsulated quintessential elements of the genre within 16 tunes.

Being in awe of the release, we grabbed the opportunity of speaking with the trio to know more about the album, their label, their plans for the future, and lots more.

Hey guys, congratulations on your stunning debut album. What are your thoughts?

Robbie: Thank you very much. We couldn’t be happier with the end product and the feedback we have had from friends and the DJs we have sent it to so far, to be honest. The album turned out pretty much exactly as we’d hoped and this is something that, no matter what happens, we will always be able to look back at and be proud of. Also in the run-up to the release of Stars Align, and because of some of the tracks on it, we have had some of the biggest opportunities of our career come up, like a guest mix on Mollie Collins Kiss FM show, and an article and upload on UKF.

How did the Sola journey begin?

James: Me and Robbie have been running our label Grand Theft Audio Recordings since the start of 2014, and we signed music for several years by Hanm before we asked him to do a remix of one of our tunes, ‘I Need You.’ What he made was so light and dancefloor friendly compared to the tough neuro we’d heard from him, he showed he had a really impressive range and musicality.

So we decided to embark on a series of collaborations with him spanning multiple styles. The results were a big success (at least sonically if not commercially at that time) and so the Sola project was born. We chose the name because it was short and catchy, and being a geek, I’ve always loved space stuff.

How long was the album in the making?

Robbie: Probably around a year in total but not a constant process. We made the decision we wanted to do an album and then kind of kept it to ourselves until it was done. We worked on other things as well and kept our output consistent but had this going on in the background. When it was about half done, it became our primary focus and other stuff shifted to the back burner.

That’s probably how we would go about it again in the future if and when we do another album cos it worked well for us. When we had our zoom meetups with Paul, it would usually be pretty album focused, which helped a lot of the bigger tracks take shape quickly.

We absolutely love the journey of the album and how it traverses from club to couch music. What was the approach when you guys started writing the album?

James: We wanted it diverse but not too diverse. We wanted it to be a coherent musical journey not a full presentation of every single thing we can possibly make. We wanted a range of vibes so there are definitely tracks that are built for rammed clubs, ones for a festival stage, and ones that are much more mild and chilled.

Most of the tracks were written for the album specifically so towards the end there were conversations like, “What does it still need?” and “How do we bridge the gap from here to here?” The opposite happened too, of course, we actually cut one tune down by 90 seconds and another we removed entirely. We didn’t want to feel like there was any fat that should have been trimmed.

Having the trio in two separate continents with different time zones. How did you guys manage this obstacle while working on the album?

Robbie: It’s maybe easier than you might imagine. In spring/ summer, the time zone works out fairly well so when we are in the studio at lunchtime, it’s 9 PM for Paul who is back from work and ready to jump on zoom with us. A lot of those sessions, one of us would be on the main DAW while the others found/ made samples and created patches that worked with what was being created, like a big melting pot of ideas. We got the main body of a few of the tunes with this method. Another way we worked is one of us started an idea and sent it over to the others to listen to and work on in a chain. Our dynamic is unusual but I think we make it work pretty well.

The album is out on your own imprint which has been home to some incredible drum & bass acts. How and when did the idea of starting a label come about and what plans do you have for it going forward?

James: When me and Rob started the label, I was already running a DnB night called Grand Theft Audio in Manchester. For branding reasons we decided to go with Grand Theft Audio. The label has since become our primary focus with very few events nowadays so we tend to take our age from when the label started despite actually being 9 months older if you include the events.

Like 95% of labels we started in order to put out some of our own tracks that were burning a hole in our hard drives but we fell in love with the dark art of A&R, giving future stars their first chance to have a full release. I think our 50th release was a turning point and off the back of the momentum from that album, we’ve really had an influx of forward thinking musicians swell our ranks of high quality producers and vocalists.

One of the plans going forward is a yearly “Fresh Music Annual”. 20+ tunes (the first will have over 30!) being released for the first time rather than an annual of the year’s biggest hits. Another plan is for a massive album and tour for our GTA 10th bday at the start of spring 2024. The great thing about being a producer and a label A&R is that the 2 skills are linked. When our quality control increases as producers, we can pass on some of the knowledge that allowed us to do that to our producers, and so the quality control for the label improves at the same rate.

There are some breath-taking collaborations on the album. How was the experience like while working with such a diverse range of talent?

Robbie: We use vocalists in our tracks a lot anyway so in that sense it was just another day in the office. Everyone brought their A game for this project especially though, and it was great to work with people like Whiskey Pete, Stytch’d and Kit Rice for the first time, as well as our main stays Lauren Rose and Sammie Hall. There is actually only one production collab on there and that’s with Perplex.

We do a lot of collaborations with other producers but we wanted to keep the sound cohesive on the album, so we kept that to a minimum on this project. We also felt like if we had 5 collabs with other producers on there, it would end up like a sort of Sola & Friends thing, and we wanted it to be a Sola album. We’ve already explored that with our first Solaboration EP, and we plan to do more of those.

What plans do Sola have going into the rest of the year?

James: Aside from the Stars Align LP, we have a track called Dreamworld coming out on Headsbass on a charity LP series close to our hearts as it raises funds for mental health charities. We also have 2 tracks coming out on an album to raise money for those affected by the floods in Pakistan. We have a track called Redwood coming out on Soul Deep Recordings on October 17 with Russla. We have a track with pyxis called From Dusk forthcoming on a GTA EP for the 1 More Thing Patreon around Halloween.

We’re releasing 2 tracks on the first Fresh Music Annual in November, one with Nvrsoft and a Dukes remix of Motive ft. RivalTechnique. In December we’ve got a collab with Kjah forthcoming on a 28 year old dnb label, keep ’em peeled for more news on that one.

Other than that, we’re just doing any sets we’ve been booked for, polishing off EPs and collabs for release next year to join the growing number of tunes we’ve already got coming out in 2023, and judging a remix competition for Sun God on Boomslang Records that we’re looking forward to.

What are the five tracks that you guys are feeling at the moment?

Sola: Vektah – Echo Mode ft. Pav4n & T-Man [Soul:vent Records]
Al/So & The Cliques – Feck Off [Korsakov Music]
Syran – Listen Carefully [Ram Records]
Tengu – Out The Way ft. Whiskey Pete [Korsakov Music]
Charlie B & Jfal – Voodoo [Grand Theft Audio Records]

Listen to Sola’s debut album here:

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