Q&A: How Mom’s Scolding Inspired The Cathartic Songwriting of Sonder Frontman, Brent Faiyaz

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As ‘90s-inspired R&B continues to experience a serious resurgence, Brent Faiyaz seems to be the name on the tip of everyone’s tongue. The sultry vocalist, songwriter, producer, and all-encompassing R&B vanguard is not only the frontman of rising trio Sonder (alongside Soulection’s Atu and Dpat), but he’s also the mastermind behind Sonder Son, a 12-piece collection of relatable, personal moments in the form of a highly-acclaimed solo record.  

From the very onset of Sonder Son, we are invited into Faiyaz’ past with a re-enactment of real-life scolding by his mother in the appropriately-titled track, “Home.” It is this simple authenticity and omnipresently observant demeanor that lies at the core of Faiyaz’ captivating talent, as the Maryland native understands that “people aren’t going to take the shit you say too seriously if they don’t know where you come from or who you are.” Pulling inspiration from the soulful stylings of Lauryn Hill and D’Angelo to the unapologetic honesty of 2Pac and even Kurt Cobain, the album is a raw manifestation of Brent Faiyaz as a person–and subsequently launches him into the highest ranks of artistry with nods from Complex, Apple, Billboard, and more.

While he shared his disbelief at the unanimously positive reaction to both Sonder’s Into and his Sonder Son solo album, he offers universally valuable advice to aspiring artists: “When everybody else is doing one thing, just do the other thing if that’s what you’re naturally supposed to be doing.” This mentality certainly paid off with the exciting news of Faiyaz’ first (of assumably many) Grammy nomination for his vocal contibution on Goldlink’s “Crew” featuring Shy Glizzy–in great company alongside Jay-Z, SZA, Kendrick Lamar, and 6LACK for the Best Rap/Sung Performance of 2017.

We had the pleasure of catching Faiyaz on Sonder’s Los Angeles stop of the INTO North American Tour, and it was absolutely astounding to witness the extreme level of fan devotion towards all that the band stands for, not to mentioned high-pitched squeals with every move that Faiyaz made. The frontman clearly embodies the true meaning of the word “sonder,” which is defined as the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own. After wrapping up the Sonder tour in early October and releasing Sonder Son on October 13, Brent Faiyaz recently announced his 2018 solo tour, embarking on January 30 in Chicago and concluding in Seattle on March 2.

Enter the mind of the R&B visionary in our Q&A below, as he shares more on his role in Sonder versus his solo project, his songwriting process, and finally explains the story behind that “Too Fast” music video. 

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OTW: First and foremost, how did the three of you get together?

Brent Faiyaz: Atu and Dpat reached out. They were with Soulection at the time, but they reached out via SoundCloud to do a remix to “Allure.” They hit me up and were like, “We want to remix this song. We love it.” So I was like alright, cool. They ended up coming to L.A. for a show, so we got in the studio when they came to L.A. From there, the chemistry was just really good, so we just kept working. Then we went to Atu’s apartment in Orlando, and then we cut the Into project in like a week.

OTW: And how did you guys land on the name “Sonder?”

Brent Faiyaz: It was based off my tattoo. It was just something that I had always lived by. It means, “The realization that every individual passerby has their own life just as vivid and complex as yours.” So they said we need to come up with a band name, can we go with that? At first I was like man, hell no, I got that shit tatted. If I start beefing with you guys…but it was like it would be cool, and we couldn’t think of anything else, so that’s how the name came.

OTW: How does the name play into Sonder Son?

Brent Faiyaz: It’s kind of funny. I had an idea for my debut album. I wanted to call it Sonder, but then we named the band Sonder, so I was like “Ah, shit.” But I had an Instagram handle for the longest that was “sonderson” just because it rolled off the tongue.

OTW: What is it like to be introduced into the Soulection family? How has that helped you and your music?

Brent Faiyaz: Oh, they’re cool. It’s still separate, but they’re the homies. They help out when I need anything, whether it be interviews or resources. They’re good people.

OTW: What would you say each of you three are known for in the creative process?

Brent Faiyaz: I write and sing the songs. They produce them.

OTW: You seem to be the one that’s front and center at the shows and everything too. I came to the Teragram one, and it was great.

Brent Faiyaz: Yeah, thank you. They’re really good at what they do. When it’s rehearsal time, I don’t ever take anything seriously. They’re super on it and tell me to be serious and make sure the tech stuff is right. They just make me work as hard as I can.

OTW: But then they don’t like being in the spotlight when it comes to shows?

Brent Faiyaz: Yeah. It’s the best part because they’re all involved when they make the record, so it’s cool that they are in the live show too. They all play instruments, so it makes it so much better.

OTW: So the golden quetsion: how would you differentiate between your personal project and Sonder?

Brent Faiyaz: In a lot of ways, not even just the content, but just the way it was produced and recorded. I did a lot of production on the solo album along with everybody, versus just kind of handing it over and letting everybody do what they wanted to. Writing wise, I drew from a lot more personal experiences as opposed to just making things that came to mind or because I knew it resonated with people. This was more cathartic. It was more like a healing process, like if I go through something, I’m going to make a song about it and feel better about it type of thing.

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OTW: Speaking of that, the album opens with a conversation with your mother?

Brent Faiyaz: Yeah, with my mom.

OTW: Is that something that happened in your childhood and you just recreated it?

Brent Faiyaz: Yeah, plenty of times. That’s a frequent argument.

OTW: Is there a message you’re trying to send to kids through that?

Brent Faiyaz: I’m really just trying to tell my story. There’s a lot of things that I might have heard that meant something to me, but I know people aren’t going to take the shit you say too seriously if they don’t know where you come from or who you are. So when I tell things about my personal life, it’s really just to have people more familiar with who I am, so when it’s time for me to say something like, “Okay, this is how I feel about this, this, that, and that,” people will trust what I’m saying.

OTW: So if you were to summarize who you are and what you are trying to say with that, what would you say?

Brent Faiyaz: Shit (laughs).

OTW: I know, loaded question (laughs).

Brent Faiyaz: This is also where it fits in Sonder Son, because I feel like just the way that I move and interact with people–I’m really observant. Rather than being very reactive, I pay attention to what everyone else is doing and put that in a bank. I wanted to approach the album omnipresent.

OTW: Are there any songs in particular that are really personal to you or stand out?

Brent Faiyaz: It’s hard for me to pick. Probably “Home,” the intro. That’s one that’s definitely like that. “Missin Out” was another one like that.

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OTW: How has the reception been? Any stand out reactions or surprising feedback you’ve gotten?

Brent Faiyaz: Yeah, I’m kind of shook at how unanimous it is that people like it. I figured it may be half and half or something. I always expect people to not like some shit, especially when like I know I put a lot of thought into it. The average person, when they first listen to the album, is not going to soak everything in that you’re talking about. The fact that I caught a lot of people whose attention span typically wouldn’t be to listen to a project with no singles, the fact that those people like the album, that’s what I wasn’t really expecting. It’s been a lot of love though.

OTW: How was the tour? How did it feel to just hear people screaming your lyrics?

Brent Faiyaz: The tour was nuts. That’s another thing I wasn’t really expecting. I wasn’t expecting to sell out the whole tour, you know what I mean? Going into it, we didn’t know what we were going to get. We figured we might feel like rock stars in some cities, and in other cities, it might be more humble. But the whole tour was like that. I was just like, what the hell. But interacting with fans in person is way better than the Internet or anything. They meet you and say the craziest shit to you.

“Ain’t no such thing as too fast” says @sonder 🎶

A post shared by Ones To Watch (@onestowatch) on

OTW: What do they say?

Brent Faiyaz: They talk about how like, “Me and my girl listen to this and we get it on!”

OTW: (laughs) Of course. What do you say to that?

Brent Faiyaz: It’s so much love. I feel like I know them though. For some reason, people who come to the shows; they don’t feel like strangers.

OTW: Well when you’re involved in their most intimate activities, you kind of know them.

Brent Faiyaz: (laughs)

OTW: There have been many interpretations for the epic music video for “Too Fast.” Can you talk a about that, or is it up for what people think?

Brent Faiyaz: I can tell you my interpretation of it, just based off how I wrote the song. Basically, I wrote that song about a conversation I had with my mom when I was living too recklessly and just not doing what I was supposed to be doing. I was just bullshitting, getting drunk, sleeping with random girls, just stupid stuff. So I wrote this song. 

I met with Noah—Noah Lee, he directed the video—and he sat down and told me the idea he had for it. And he was just like, “You’re going to have your heart, and you rip it out,” and I was like, man, “What the hell is this guy talking about, I don’t know, that doesn’t really sound like a good idea.” So I was like you know what, we’re going to run with it. He was saying that we all start out with a hole in our heart. That’s like a complicated ass video. I don’t really know what Noah was thinking (laughs). It’s so artsy. 

To me, it represented a loss of innocence. I thought it was more like, you’re young, and you go through certain things, and it wounds you, and as you get older, those wounds heal, and you keep on going. And I think it went with the song. Even with the song, there’s one part where I’m literally talking about everything I’m going through, and then another part where it’s like a call and response where it’s like the stuff that I was talking about in the first half of the song, and the second half of the song is how those who love me are affected by my behavior type of thing. It goes hand in hand.

OTW: So the things your mom said inspired that, and she’s also in the song, “Home.” What does she say now?

Brent Faiyaz: She’s just always on me about shit (laughs). For the longest time, it’d just get on my nerves, but it actually works. It inspires good content. Keep being on me about shit.

OTW: Is she still on you or is she like “Okay, you’re doing good now?”

Brent Faiyaz: All the time. You’ll probably hear her on the next album.

OTW: (laughs) How does she feel about being on the album?

Brent Faiyaz: She loves it. She wasn’t around to do the real one, but I would’ve liked to get her in the studio. When she first heard it though, she was like, “I never talk to you like that.” I was like stop lying. (laughs)

OTW: (laughs) In terms of the music, your solo versus Sonder, what would you say you’re inspired by in terms of the sound?

Brent Faiyaz: I pull from a lot of places. I listen to a lot of Lauryn, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, and D’Angelo’s Voodoo. We did the project in the Dominican Republic, so on the flight there, that was pretty much all I was listening to, Miseducation and Voodoo back to back. When I was writing though, I listened to a lot of Radiohead, listened to a lot of Jeff Buckley, a lot of Pac, like Me Against the World. Just shit that I was personally like, this is amazing. I just wanted to make an album that was going to be one of my favorite albums.

OTW: That’s a good description of all the different sounds. Very eclectic. What did Kurt Cobain mean to you? I’ve seen the picture of you recreating the white shades.

Brent Faiyaz: I love Cobain. Shit. I think Cobain is one of the most misunderstood artists out of anybody up that I’ve listened to. I feel like a lot of people think they know the shit that he was talking about, or they interpret it however they want, but I almost feel like they kind of take and just want to make it what they want it to be as opposed to what he was really talking about. Then he would make music for the people that would listen to his music and not interpret it correctly, and he would put that in the songs, and people would still take it and eat it up. I think he was about as genius as it comes. He was like Bob Dylan with that. I study a lot of him too, a lot of Cobain.

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OTW: After putting out the record and touring, what would you say is the number one advice you would give to someone who was you a few years ago?

Brent Faiyaz: I guess just stay consistent, and not in the sense where you keep dropping material, but with who you are. When everybody else is doing one thing, just do the other thing if that’s what you’re naturally supposed to be doing.

OTW: Right, that’s good. So who are your Ones To Watch artists?

Brent Faiyaz: Aside from Dpat and Atu, because I’m excited for everything they’ve got going on, I really like this artist Lucki, out of Chicago, Lucki Eck$. I like his writing.

OTW: Where do you see the short term and long term of Sonder and Brent heading?

Brent Faiyaz: Short term, I see more interviews, tour—the tour’s going to be crazy. I’m hype for that. We’re going to do a solo tour. And just more music, releasing more stuff. 

Long term, Sonder’s like a lifestyle, aside from just the music. We’re going to keep doing Sonder radio stuff, merch, and there are a lot more artists we’re going to bring under the Sonder umbrella because it’s more than just the band. There are still other artists we’re trying to find and work with and develop. It’s going to be a whole thing.

OTW: You seem very chill as a person. What’s the difference between your stage persona and who you are?

Brent Faiyaz: It’s a switch. I guess I’m smart enough to know that I wouldn’t want to go to a show and see somebody relaxed. Whether I’m naturally relaxed or not, I just have to put it on.

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