Interview: Soft Glas
We're happy to announce our next show featuring Brooklyn-based musician Soft Glas. Joao Gonzalez, the mastermind behind Soft Glas, talked with us about his latest album Orange Earth, Cuban heritage, a potential Vans sponsorship, and anticipated headlining set on March 17, 2018 at Songbyrd. Read the interview and find tickets below.
Capitol Sound DC: Welcome to D.C.! I'm not gonna ask if you've been here, because I know you've been here a few times. You haven't ever had a headlining show here before though, right?
Soft Glas: No. No, no.
CSDC: We're excited to have you perform on March 17 at Songbyrd! Any feelings?
Soft Glas: I love D.C. actually. Either with Overcoats or the other few times I have been here, the crowds are just such ... They're so engaged, you know what I mean?
CSDC: Yeah, because they're really into the music, over everything else.
Soft Glas: Yeah, which is beautiful, it's all you could ask for.
CSDC: So, to start, you're from South Florida, correct?
Soft Glas: Mm-hmm. I went to school at FSU.
CSDC: After moving from Florida to New York, is there anything that you feel you should have taken more advantage of before you left? Because I feel like you draw a lot of inspiration from Florida with your album Orange Earth, especially from the sun there.
Soft Glas: Yeah, it's weird. I always felt like Florida limited me, you know? And that's why I moved away, is because I felt like, "Oh I need to be in New York to creatively flourish." And I think I was just being immature in a sense, I was just not appreciating what I had, you know? But on the flip side, it makes going back that much more special.
CSDC: Right, you get to bask in it.
Soft Glas: Yeah, because New York is so different, it's like the polar opposite of Florida. So I think that contrast almost romanticizes Florida for me.
CSDC: Of course. So, you have some amazing collaborations. Obviously you work with Overcoats a lot, and a bunch of other people: Sunni Colon, Chargaux, J’Von to name a few. What's your favorite collaboration experience and are there any collaborations you're excited to drop this year?
Soft Glas: Sunni and I have something we've been working on for a while. We’re almost the exact same person when it comes to our creative process, which makes it almost impossible for us to get anything done. Because I'll be like, "Yeah dude, I'm going to send you some stuff," and then just not send him anything. And then I finally send him something and he's like, "All right bro, I got you back!" And then he just doesn't send anything. Then he'll just text me and be like, "So, when's the release date?" Like, "I don't know! We should probably sit down and figure that out." So, that will happen eventually.
CSDC: We're anticipating! I wanted to talk about your Cuban heritage, specifically Cuban Jazz influence in your work and Afro-Cuban cultural impact. Recently there’s been a lot of conversation regarding the existence and experiences of Afro-Latinx’s and wanted to know your take, if you have one.
Soft Glas: Because Cuba was so closed off for so long, it was almost like we lived in a vacuum. And as a result it kind of fermented in itself and became very rich and ... very powerful and unique. My dad is a Cuban jazz pianist.
CSDC: Grammy winning!
Soft Glas: Yeah. He's my hero. My dad is my hero.
CSDC: You have a lot to live up to.
Soft Glas: You have no idea, you have no idea. But yeah, but I guess the influence I got from that side is the fact that Cuba ... it internalized all of its influences for so long, all of its classical influences, all of its African influences, and then it kind of melded all of them together and just stayed there in purity for so long. Growing up I was introduced to all of that stuff in a very pure form, nothing was diluted, you know what I mean? The African rhythms I was listening to were traditional folk African rhythms straight from Nigeria. The classical music I was listening to was just ... just everything in its purest form. I think that helped me a lot, because when I internalize stuff I'm not internalizing someone else's version of someone else's version of someone else's version.
CSDC: Which is super important for authenticity.
Soft Glas: Yeah. And so I think that helped me, and I didn't really appreciate that until later. Obviously as age does, it kind of makes you more aware of those things. So yeah, I wouldn't say I'm influenced ... I'm not like playing salsa over my song, you know what I mean? I don't think I'm influenced in that way, but I am influenced in the approach of the Cuban culture. To answer the second half of your question, I'm mixed and I actually grew up in the Dominican Republic until I was six. I was born in Havana, and then moved to the Dominican Republic when I was like one.
CSDC: So you're saying your mixed, you mean Cuban and Dominican?
Soft Glas: I'm Cuban, but my dad is darker skinned and my mom is lighter skinned, and I'm fairer skinned. I guess I was too young to really feel the way that I was treated because of that, but going back you can see discrimination towards darker-skinned people; it's a complex issue that I don't know enough about to elaborate, but it’s definitely visible.
CSDC: Now, let’s talk about your music. Your features on the album include Mulherin, Sunni, and J. Von. So obviously J. Von is on the track Pub Sub by himself, then you have "Glass House" with Sunni Colon and my personal favorite, "The Bay" with Mulherin.
Soft Glas: Yep.
CSDC: Is that you singing [in The Bay]? Do you guys sing together?
Soft Glas: So Mulherin are two people, they're two brothers.
CSDC: Oh okay. Cause I was like “there are two different voices, not sure if one of them is his,” and it's not!
Soft Glas: Yeah. They're twin brothers. Mulherin and I have this crazy backstory. When I was 16 I would post online- I was in the drumline in high school and I would post all these videos of me playing on this drum pad to YouTube when YouTube was first starting up. Fast-forward 10 years later and I'm talking to Mulherin one night on FaceTime, and we're just talking about drumline stuff, just geeking out about stuff, and they're like "Yeah, we used to follow this drummer guy when we were younger." And I was like "Yo! No way, who was it?" And they were like "Yo, this guy named joaospace on YouTube," I was like " ... my god, that's me, dude." And so we went back and you can see in the YouTube comments on a video from like 2006, Mulherin commented something like "Bro, where'd you get your sticks?" "Yo, shout out curly haired gang!" The most crazy thing ... 10 years after we were watching each other's YouTube videos we ended up making a song together.
Soft Glas: So yeah, that's them singing, they produce and they write.
CSDC: Thanks for clearing that up. So, back to Orange Earth. The album is ethereal and feels really great when you’re listening. It also seems really cohesive compared to Late Bloom, right?
Soft Glas: Yeah.
CSDC: What was the biggest improvement you were dedicated to making when you set out to record it? Like "Hey, I did Late Bloom, this is what I need to do for Orange Earth to take it to the next level."
Soft Glas: Well two big things. The first one was with Late Bloom I felt like I was hinting at a concept and I kind of created a concept after it was done to kind of tie it all together. But for Orange Earth I was really set on coming up with a concept before I wrote any of the music.
CSDC: You can definitely feel that.
Soft Glas: There’s a Pablo Neruda poem called "Ode to Hope," and there's a line about the waves on the ocean crashing up against the orange earth. And I was just like "Oh, this is really interesting, let me create this album." I think that's what lends itself to be cohesive. The second big improvement I thought was that I needed to just sing, you know? Which is something I was terrified of for a really long time.
CSDC: And you still kept some production tracks obviously, with "Riverside" and "Woodside."
Soft Glas: Yeah, I wanted my thumbprint to be all over the album, but also I wanted to be able to perform it without like 30 special guests on stage with me. I needed to do that to take the next step.
CSDC: Let’s talk about the importance of visuals. I didn't really have enough time to get too into your collection, so I don't if you have many visuals, but I know you have one for "The Perks of Being a Sunflower" which went viral; I see you're going to be releasing more soon. Recently I’ve been seeing clips of you in very chic-looking, color themed homes. Can you talk a little bit about those?
Soft Glas: Yeah, so that stuff is from a short film that I made with a director called Aaron Vazquez, and we actually released it. It was kind of a soft release but you can find it online. We've been silently screening it throughout the country, we did one at Soho House in New York and we're going to do another one in LA soon.
CSDC: That's fun.
Soft Glas: But visuals-- my whole dad's side of the family is musicians and my mom's side are all photographers, cinematographers, and just in the visual medium.
CSDC: That's the perfect combination for success.
Soft Glas: So again, that's in my blood you know? I've always loved cinematography and the visual medium and it's only recently that I've decided to kind of take it more seriously and merge it into what Soft Glas is.
CSDC: Do you see any difference in how people react to your music before you had any visuals versus after? Because I feel like people in general- I know this is basically common knowledge at this point- but visuals are a lot more interactive to people so it's just a lot easier to grab people's attention with them, especially if you have a a good song in the background.
Soft Glas: Yeah, for sure. And I think visuals accent the music and add a different dimension. I honestly feel like the point of all art is to kind of engage with the person consuming the art; and if you're only engaging one sense that's great, but if you can engage multiple senses then it's that much more powerful and that much more memorable.
CSDC: Of course.
Soft Glas: If you heard a song and you liked it you'd say to yourself "Oh, I really liked it." But remember for example, seeing Beyonce's “Formation” video and hearing the song for the first time while watching the video?
CSDC: Yeah, a major move.
Soft Glas: Made me love the song even more you know? Because you're drawing multiple connections in the brain. So I think it's super, super important. And it bleeds over, it's not just like having a music video for a song, it's like you're-
Soft Glas: Yeah. And also something seemingly dumb like Instagram, that's another form of expression that you can use to convey your artistic expression. I feel like all of that stuff is equally important. I probably spend way too much time on Instagram though.
CSDC: Yeah! That's just a millennial thing isn't it? But, speaking of Instagram… have you gotten anywhere with these Instagram sponsorships? Where'd you get that idea from? I really want something to happen for you. You're really dedicated.
Soft Glas: Like with brands and stuff?
CSDC: Yeah. I know there's Vans, which is a big deal.
Soft Glas: I'm working on getting a sponsorship with Vans. - Oh shout out Vans if you're [reading], I'm still trying to get that sponsorship!
CSDC: Where'd you get the idea for that?
Soft Glas: I know so many people that want those things but they think that it's weird to say it out loud and ask for it. I feel if you undermine the corniness of it, like "You can't tell me it's corny, cause I know it's corny!" Plus, I wear Vans all the time.
CSDC: You deserve it, right! Why not? You know, you go to Instagram, do the promo, get the two for one.
Soft Glas: See? This is what it's really all about. Honestly. All of this music stuff, it's just to get the Vans sponsorship.
All photos by Cina Nguyen for Capitol Sound DC.