Interview: A.M. Sokoll
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What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
What got me into music was simply the feeling that music being a part of my life has always felt right. There wasn't any one particular moment where I said "Oh, this could be cool to try". That wanting was always there. It was simply developing the courage to pursue it that has me in it today. If I had not gotten into music I'd probably still be doing something creative. I acted in a lot of theatre when I was younger and I'd probably be more immersed in that world.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
When I'm not playing music I'm usually either outside or reading. Both somewhat influence my creativity, but they more so serve as a motivation to step back and decompress. The pandemic has made so many self-care gaps apparent and they can definitely be there even in spaces you deeply enjoy. I'm not great at slowing down, but those activities are usually when it happens.
How long has music been your career?
Music isn't my career...yet. I work in communications and marketing as my day job and music is a passionate side project right now. I would love for music to be my sole career one day and will continue chipping away at that goal!
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
I'm currently based out of Seattle but spent my entire childhood, teenage and college years in the suburbs of Detroit. Both cities have had huge influences on my music. My Detroit background really shaped my sound/genre leanings (a lot of brass, strings, prominent rhythm sections, etc.) and Seattle has greatly molded my production and approach. I used to be one of those assholes who openly detested electronic music (because I didn't understand it and we hate what we don't understand) but when I moved to Seattle it opened my eyes to the possibilities of what it can be and, in my case, how it can be a part of my style and sound.
Tell me about the best and worst shows you have played.
Truth be told, my list of shows played is really small, but I was at many open mics before the world turned upside down so I'll pull from those.
My best show is actually the one paid gig in my career so far. I didn't play well, I was nervous, barely anyone showed up and I was clearly impacted by it on stage. But without that experience I wouldn't have made it to where I am now. I wouldn't have dedicated so much of my time to becoming an artist who can look back on performances like that and say "that was awful...and I'm so grateful for it."
My worst show was at a very prominent open mic here in Seattle. As a pianist/keyboardist, I've typically used the house piano/keyboard of whatever venue I'm at because my keyboard is a big one to lug around for only 10 minutes of stage time. At this particular venue, I didn't learn until I got on stage that the piano below middle C was nearly mute. You couldn't hear it from 5 feet away, and typically I like playing my songs in that range if I'm performing solo. So I kicked everything up like 3 octaves on the piano and it was rough. Lots of mistakes and awkward pauses. There were a number of folks there who it would've been great to have paid attention to if it had gone well. Hopefully they read this instead.
Tell me about your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
Pulling from that same limited bank of places I've played, my favorite place I've played is at Stone Way Cafe in Seattle. Not simply because the open mic there is one of the best in the city (shoutout Lana Sparks), but the stage has this incredible mural that's really cool to have in the background while playing.
Regarding venues I would love to play at one day, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention The Gorge as an artist in Washington state, but I'd also love to play some shows in Detroit one day (Fillmore Detroit and Saint Andrews Hall are two venues that come to mind). Even though I'm from that area, I didn't start learning piano until after I moved to Seattle so I've never performed in the city. It'll be the ending city of a tour one day guaranteed.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
Good god this is a tough question. If I could play a show with any lineup I'd like for it to be with acts I know would crush live. So, that lineup would be:
The Comet is Coming
Black Country, New Road
If you listen to any of these three's last records there are moments on all of them that get wild in their own respective way and I love the idea of having artists capturing similar moods in differing styles.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into music?
Advice I would give to someone just getting into music is to be patient and swing big. Finding the balance between those two in the beginning is very challenging, but if you allow yourself the room to grow, the confidence to take creative chances comes with that development.
If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?
Advice I would give to my younger self is that your art isn't bad solely because you created it. I'm still working through a deep history of self-esteem/image/confidence issues that were the entire basis of why it took me so long to pull the trigger on pursuing music in the first place. I'm achieving my goals in spite of the environment I grew up in, the people who inhabit it and what they have tried telling me I am. I can only imagine how many young creatives go through the same thing, but they need to know that there's a place for them and what they make.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
All of my songs thus far have been really personal so picking one is quite difficult, but of all of them I would pick Hourglass. I wrote the song not too long after the pandemic began and it's about the way I view my former self, accepting what I can't change and coming to terms with the fact that all those negative experiences in the past have led me to such a loving and positive present. That dichotomy is something I still find myself hyperfocusing on every now and again, but we all have moments we wish we could take back, and since we can't we have to find a way to move forward without letting them drag us down.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
My favorite original songs to play are Hourglass, Side Street and Chateau, but the one that gets requested the most is easily Coffee. That's not to say I don't enjoy playing it (especially considering that's one I know people like), it's just one that structurally and conceptually is more straightforward relative to my other songs and I typically tend to enjoy playing songs with more emotional peaks and valleys to them. All that said, Coffee is the earliest song I remember writing that I actually thought was really good. I think part of that is it's the first song I wrote after I quit drinking and I felt more assured that it was objectively great. I'm more than happy to play it, especially if it means people will listen to my other songs.
What is the creative process for you, and what inspires you to write your music?
The creative process for me is anything that inspires me to put pen to paper (paper in this case being my DAW, composition software or the Notes and Voice Memos apps on my phone). The creative process never ends, really, it just lies dormant until the ideas erupt. Anything can inspire me to write my music. I've written songs that start with a title, a hook, a rhythm idea, a melody/chord progression and everything in between. It's very much a Mel Robbins - 5 Second Rule system though. If I don't get an idea down as soon as I have it there's a solid chance I don't get it back.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
The main message I like getting across in my music is the idea of a light being at every tunnel. That's how I structured my EP and (wait for it) my upcoming debut LP. Light doesn't exist without dark, though, so a number of my songs explore that darkness in a usually emotional and tense way. This allows me the space to talk about the other end of the spectrum. When I first began making music I was in a brutal mental/emotional state and it started as a "fake it until you make it" mentality. Now that I'm here, it's easier for me to communicate how things can really get better in a way that doesn't have the emotional resonance of a "hang in there" poster with a cat on a tree. I'm taking advantage of that ability to be authentic while I still have it.
Do you ever have disagreements when collaborating and how do you get past them?
Truth be told, I don't have disagreements in collaborating because I don't really collaborate at all. The only times I do are with the sound engineer who I call upon for tracking, mixing and mastering (shoutout 1 Shot Studios in Woodinville, WA), and I call upon him because he's damn good at what he does and makes my music sound unlike anyone else's. No reason to disagree over nothing.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
My plans for the immediate future revolve around my debut LP Wings on the Way Down, which you can HERE: Wings on the Way Down by A.M. Sokoll - DistroKid or pre-order on Apple or Amazon July 2! Hourglass, which I talked about earlier, will be on that album for those interested in getting a sample of what that album will be like. After the album comes out my hope is to play more gigs in the Seattle area and connect/collaborate with more of the amazing musicians in the area. Long-term I'm writing a musical that I will have more availability to work on in the Fall and would love to put on a touring production of one day. Once again. Big. Swings. Follow me on social media and check out my music at linktr.ee/amsokoll.