Not For Nothing: soso mines personal and family histories for meaning on his latest record by Alex J. MacPherson
Not For Nothing is the latest record from Troy Gronsdahl, a Saskatoon-based artist and curator who makes hip hop music under the name soso. Conceived as a catalogue of personal and family histories, Not For Nothing is an attempt to assess the present in terms of the past. Drawing on moments both profound and banal, Gronsdahl paints a vivid picture of his childhood and adolescence that is as earnest as it is compelling. Gronsdahl has always been an unorthodox hip hop artist, and Not For Nothing casts his disarmingly sincere vocals against a sombre tapestry of atmospheric sounds and cardiac drums. I caught up with Gronsdahl to learn more about Not For Nothing and his notion of radical sincerity.
Alex J. MacPherson: You’ve written about how your last record demonstrated that what we call the music industry was an illusion, or at least not what you expected it to be. It feels like this record is a response to that, and a new way of looking at your music.
Troy Gronsdahl: I feel like I have a more mature perspective on that than I used to have. It can be easy to get caught up in certain ideas about what it means to achieve success as a musician and what a music career should look like. In the past few years I’ve given that more thought and arrived at a place that works for me. I feel like I can have a music practice and I can make art and I can have a job, and those things don’t have to compete with each other for my attention; they can all complement each other in some way.
AJM: And by stripping away all the excess you’re able to write an intensely personal record.
TG: I was sort of thinking about my position in the independent hip hop landscape, and I feel like I’ve established myself through this radical sincerity. When I was thinking about hip hop when I was younger a lot of it was about posturing. It was very macho. I liked the idea that sincerity could be radical in some ways, so I try to write from a personal place and use my experiences as a starting point for writing my songs. It’s a way for me to understand my experiences and place myself in the world.
AJM: It seems that Not For Nothing is an attempt to examine your past and prove that life is not for nothing, that it actually matters.
TG: I think that’s fair because it’s searching for meaning, not only on the cosmic scale but also on the micro scale. The experiences we have, the failures, there’s a hope that it’s not for nothing. It is easy to be disillusioned about certain things. I guess I’m trying to be reflective and maybe hope that it was not for nothing, that some growth comes out of setbacks and you learn through disappointment.
AJM: You’ve written that “there are no real hooks” on the record, yet the beats seem to match up with the songs – tension, unresolved figures, stress.
TG: I worked with a producer named Maki. He currently lives in Kamloops and we finished the record together in Victoria. I’ve known him for quite a long time and I really respect his work. He makes these brooding atmospheric beats that I think really complement what I was thinking about for this album – he would share beats with me and it was more of a process of writing to certain songs, sort of feeling which ones would work the best. In some respects, it was me responding to the beats that he was sending me, picking ones that resonated with me or ones that harmonized with the lyrics I was working with
AJM: I’m curious how you feel about the idea that life is not for nothing now, after making the album.
TG: It was kind of cathartic, I think. Somehow putting words to this experience and naming it in some way, or even alluding to it, had given me sort of a place to move forward from. I guess maybe that’s the cathartic moment with the album. It’s something you can work with then. Sort of like once you can articulate that there’s something and you don’t know what it is, it gives you a place to move from.