Sol Patches is a gender abolitionist artist from the South and North Sides who makes music influenced by poetry, theater, and black and brown queer and femme. Their new album Garden City includes a host of local collaborators including Hora English, Plus Sign, and Mykele Deville. The Weekly spoke with Sol Patches and Chaski, one of their collaborators, about the album.
So where did the album title come from? What inspirations did you draw from?
Sol Patches: Hora made the title of the album. We were working on a song one night in Chicago at my friend’s, Alé, who’s also on this project. I made this instrumental composed of rain and certain keys. And Hora was just slowly writing and then was finally like “Okay, I got something.”
I was just like “That’s it. That’s it.” When I heard the words “garden city,” I thought a lot about growing up with my auntie and my momma and seeing how they were to each other, taking care of each other. Like us kids, we would go off into the neighborhood, into the hood. We would just play with anything that we could, play hide and seek [in] these abandoned buildings. We would see old records in these old houses. We would try and play those records. We would break those records. When I think about garden city, I think about: “Wow, there’s so much potential here.” There’s so much potential in my family, and there’s so much potential in what this neighborhood could do to us and what this neighborhood could grow out of us. And also seeing all these signs in the city—all these signs on these abandoned buildings, saying “state property” or “property of,” something relating to the state government. Seeing things like that really altered what I think about—well, what does it mean to be owned? And what does it mean that there’s no grocery store. And there’s only corner stores around the corner. How does that play [a] part? Those things were a very huge inspiration. I also think [about] gentrification and gentrification through art, and certain people renovating parts of Chicago, and it becoming a site of tourism. A site of the white consciousness and unconsciousness consolidating with each other under the disguise of Black liberation.
In a similar vein, what sort of influences were in this album? I know one of the tracks “Sims” has Philip Glass in it, as a sample. Another track, “Magic Isn’t Real,” has the dialogue sample at the end. I’m wondering if you could share some of those influences and other things that maybe listeners wouldn’t hear automatically that are in this.
Chaski: The research that goes into this piece is very inspired by a lot of the work that we’re doing also at school, at NYU, and different readings we’re interacting with. And realizing how those can be transformed into a piece like this. That’s been amazing. ‘Cause it’s like, you can’t really do that in high school.
What sorts of readings have you encountered?
Chaski: Well, Patches was in a class called Reinventions of Love and reading a lot of song lyrics, a lot of plays…
Sol Patches: …A lot of James Baldwin, Federico Lorca, Frida Kahlo’s diary, and this is a bit more––but you specifically brought in a lot of Fred Moten.
Chaski: He’s an Afro-pessimist, but not in the same rigorous way as people like [Frank B.] Wilderson [III]. He believes a lot of things, but one thing he believes in this piece called “The Undercommons” is that the only relationship a student can have with a university space is criminal. Like, that realization, and then just realizing, whoa, there’s a lot to exploit here…because you know, this place is exploiting us and so many other people in so many ways.
Who was sampled in “Magic Isn’t Real,” at the end?
Sol Patches: Nina Simone is sampled at the end of “Magic Isn’t Real.” My advisor, Karen, took me to this panel with this person named Malik Gaines, and they were hosting this thing about this book that they made, and it was all about Black performance. And I was asking him, “What is the future of Black performance?” I was unsatisfied with my answer, but that’s because there wasn’t enough time and space to really talk. But he had this brilliant section on Nina Simone—how when Nina Simone covered songs, [there were] dynamic shifts that happened—and the power of reclaiming. So being able to experience that and then the next day looking at songs that my mom would play by her, and just really listening, just listening as much as I could. I feel that what Nina Simone has always been alluding to and speaking about is something that is so needed, even today.
I think that New York is very influential on this project. New York has been an experience where it feels like there are three or four different Chicagos in boroughs, and they all make up a city. It’s humongous. And a lot of times, I think that I had to do some reinventions of how I love, how I interpret my love for art and “Why am I doing this?” Because the city moves so fast and I realized that if I really want to create music, I really have to not get caught up in how fast a city moves, how fast it is to yearn for procrastination. And I think that’s very relevant to this album. Being able to be outside of Chicago opened my mind to so many more possibilities––how I can distort my art, how I can subvert, and reverse power dynamics around the topics that I’m talking about, and it being a constructive matter that will help offer questions to the future generation of folks that listen to music, folks who want to know about trans musicians, Black trans musicians specifically. I really wanted to honor that tradition, or that notion that’s been coming about in the conversation with people who’ve come before me. I feel like one thing that is really haunting me about this project in terms of what New York has done—I think about who’s here and who’s not. My advisor Karen Finley has had such an impact on this project, and I think about her generation of friends who aren’t here. I think about the AIDS epidemic, how that specifically affected queer folks in New York. I definitely feel that through these rhythmic structures and me, in a lot of ways, being inspired by Sylvester, who is an amazing singer of their time and disco-oriented trans person who is Black, plays a part into how this album is supposed to be experienced.
Watch Sol Patches perform verses from “Dear Chicago,” a song on their new album Garden City, at the Experimental Station in Woodlawn:
Talk to me about some of the collaborators on this album.
Sol Patches: Some of the collaborators?
Chaski: Those are amazing…I’m just like…all of them are amazing people.
Sol Patches: So, one of the first tracks, “Yob Culture,” there’s Mykele [Deville], there’s Eiigo Groove, Sasha NoDisco, + [Plus Sign], and that’s one track that is instrumentally built to change drastically. So I always find that song to be very nice. On the production side for one of these songs, the sixth song called “Morph+,” we got this person named Eve Calstrom. And we have this person named Little Bear, who’s an amazing jazz instrumentalist and plays a mad trombone. But uh, [laughs] I don’t think they play the trombone on this album.
Chaski: I don’t think so.
Sol Patches: Yeah, we have this amazing artist named Andre, who changed our lives. I was like wow, I was like wow.
In what way?
Sol Patches: They were the first other GNC [gender nonconforming] rapper that we had met specifically in New York, but more than that, they were also really about cultivating spaces of accessibility, of critical theory and bringing their family together. Andre is very inspiring, especially on the song called “Last Soil.” They taught me so much about my own music, and I think for that I’m forever grateful.
We also got EMEKA on that song, “Last Soil.” EMEKA is hella talented. We met EMEKA with Andre.
And like, it was amazing to collaborate with other queer Black and brown folks and [have it] not be such a tokenizing thing.
Let’s go back to “Yob Culture,” real quick, for our listeners who don’t know, what does yob mean?
Chaski: Well, yob actually has multiple definitions.
Sol Patches: Yobbery!
Chaski: There’s many forms of the word yob. Can you be a yob? I think you can.
Sol Patches: Yeah, you can be a part of a yob.
Chaski: Yeah, so yobs are people, it’s a British word, it’s kind of like…what’s that word?
Sol Patches: It’s like mob, but it’s not like mob at all.
Chaski: It’s like vagabond, kinda, it kinda has like similar connotations. Just like mischief, but what against, you know, like that’s the question. So “Yob Culture” talks about that.
Sol Patches: It takes a lot of different meanings. I think there’s something interesting about how queerness affects certain words like boy or violence. And I’m also reminded when I think of yobbing. In the contexts that I’ve heard of it, I think that it’s always important to draw parallels between certain forms of English to demystify this American notion of speaking properly and how destructive that is to a lot of communities. So I think that there’s power in us choosing that particular word in describing a certain happening in the Midwest, Chicago, [and] America, in seeing how those politics play out.
Listen to the full interview on the January 2 episode of SSW Radio, the Weekly’s radio hour on WHPK:
There are at least four people on that track, and it takes you through sonically very different scenes. I remember during the listening party a lot of people said that it felt like the song of the summer. It’s almost like you’re hopping from party to party on a nice summer night’s evening. I was wondering what was the process of putting together that track.
Chaski: It just kept on growing—that’s one thing that happened. First we put Eiigo on it, and Eiigo didn’t know that Mykele was gonna be on it, and Mykele didn’t know that Eiigo was gonna be on it. So at first it was like, people were just doing what they want with this, independently of each other in completely different cities. So that was amazing to see when people were finished with their verses, to see that come together. And it was astounding how the different parts spoke to each other. And then when Sasha added their part it became something entirely different. And really set up the feeling of, you were saying, like a theatrical type of narrative.
Sol Patches: ’Cause I was working on an instrumental, and it was not happening. For some reason I was missing the drums aspect of it, so I was bothering my little brother. ’Cause Eiigo— it’s always been like second nature to make a beat or to orchestrate music. It was crazy because he came over and visited us in New York…
Chaski: …For like the whole summer…
Sol Patches: …[laughs] For the whole summer, yeah, and was like, “We gotta do something about these drums,” so he helped me completely reorganize the sounds, also helped to make the drums sound a certain way in the air. And it really changed the project for all the better, because I went back to all the other songs and really investigated pocket of the drum sounds with the melody.
Chaski: Yeah, inspired by Eiigo’s intuition with drums.
“Basketball” has a really driving, urgent beat to it. Likewise, I was wondering if you could explain the creation of that track.
Sol Patches: It emerged out of growing up with my auntie and my mom, specifically when I stayed over at my auntie’s in Englewood. It also is about these basketball stories. How so much of my life was centered around being a basketball star, when we talk about Blackness and masculinity. This kindship, this feeling of expression—like, wow, is this that potential for expression only allowed to happen on the basketball court? And just dwindling in that bitter tone really inspired this song. But also thinking of cookouts, thinking about barbecues with my family, thinking about the songs that were played—the house songs specifically. And thinking about this boy who was about four or five years older than me and being able to play a basketball game with him on the court, with so many other people. And just witnessing his speed, how much power, how much compassion was there and is there. I think that moment really changed me. And coming back a couple of years later and playing another game with him and just realizing like—this person actually did get shot, and how does that feed into the context of this basketball game that we’re playing with each other. I also really think about the song “Cha Cha,” and how the person was from Chicago and grew up in the same neighborhoods as my family did. And so those steps all play into part with that song.