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[Herald Interview] R&B musician Sole is proud of how far she has come

Singer-songwriter revisits 1990s, 2000s music with remake album "A Love Supreme"

Sept. 19, 2023 - 15:33 By Choi Ji-won
R&B singer-songwriter Sole (Amoeba Culture)

For singer-songwriter Sole, the last year has been a transformative period, opening up new challenges that she wouldn't have taken on before. One big challenge was creating her album, "A Love Supreme," which consists of remakes of original songs by other artists. The album was released Monday.

A self-made musician who built her career up from the bottom, Sole has always tried to keep moving forward since her debut in 2017. Last year, just when she felt she had achieved stability in her life and career, she was hit by an unanticipated mental breakdown.

"I suffered from panic attacks early last year. It brought a lot of changes into my life. I've never felt mentally unstable before. It was unexpected and I couldn't understand why I was being so affected at first. It was then that I went through a period of introspection and thought about how I was really doing," the singer said during a joint interview at the Amoeba Culture building in Seoul on Monday.

Sole started making music early in life. She spent much of her late teens and early 20s applying for TV audition shows like "Super Star K" and "Voice Korea." Despite failing to make her big break at the time, Sole flew to Seoul from her hometown of Busan to pursue her dreams in the larger music scene.

With her unique yet trendy voice and distinguished songwriting talent, Sole quickly caught the public's attention. With her 2017 debut single, "Ride," she got off to a smooth start, and with the release of "Slow" in 2018, she made it big as one of the most anticipated R&B singers in Korea.

In 2020, Sole joined Dynamic Duo's label, Amoeba Culture, becoming a core part of their star-studded roster of R&B and hip-hop artists.

Since then, Sole has worked almost ceaselessly, releasing her own singles every few months, while teaming up with other artists. Sole demonstrated remarkable chemistry with musicians across all kinds of genres, from ballad singers to hip-hop stars, and she quickly became one of the most sought-after feature artists.

As a confident and fun-loving person, Sole thought she was doing fine. But deep down, her energy was being drained.

"I was thinking and worrying too much. I never used to stay at home before. I worked hard and played hard, and I think it had been weighing me down and I didn't realize it," she said.

Thanks to a swift and professional response from her company, she was able to get the right treatment to help her recover. She learned then that, whether life was good or bad, rest was necessary every now and then.

Discovering the right pace in life and learning to manage it, Sole opened herself up to new opportunities, including her first regular variety show spot on "Hangout with Yoo" last year. She debuted as part of the show's project girl group, WSG Wannabe, and its sub-unit quartet, 4Fire.

"Before the show, my music was mostly about telling my own story. But getting to know the public through the program, I came to think more about what people would like and want," she said.

This shift in her mindset was what led to the creation of her latest EP, "A Supreme Love," Sole continued.

R&B singer-songwriter Sole's new album "A Love Supreme) (Amoeba Culture)

For the singer-songwriter, starting from the scratch is something she found easier than working on songs that already exist. From the rearrangement in melody to the pronunciation of lyrics and the vocal texture, the six-month long production of the album opened up her mind to deeper, untapped levels of musical creativity.

Sole's new five-song package is led by two songs of her company's suggestion -- Nami's "I Want to Get Closer to You" (1992) and Kim Gun-mo's "A Beautiful Farewell" (1995) -- rather than her favorite, "Love Supreme," a 2005 song by Kimbanjang and Windycity.

Reflecting her preference, "Love Supreme" became the album's title and was listed at the start of the collection.

The whole remake project presented her with a whole host of new challenges, Sole said.

"I worked with a band for the first time and the whole album is based on the band's sound. The genres are also diverse, including ballad and city pop, (and these are all things) I'm attempting for the first time."

For "Love Supreme," Sole teamed up with the guitarist and percussion team of the original band, Windcity, who were currently working with her label chief, Dynamic Duo.

Some of the songs, such as "A Beautiful Farewell," are her old favorites that she'd used to listen to endlessly when she dreamed of becoming a singer. As much as recreating her old favorites stirred up a sense of nostalgia, recording them created a completely new sense of stress.

"I don't think I can be free from comparison with the originals. They're masterpieces. We initially thought we needed to turn them into something better, which made it more difficult. Then we realized that it's not 'better' that we had to aim for, but 'different.' So we infused our own unique sounds and styles into them," she said, referring to the other musicians she had teamed up with when producing the album.

Also listed on the album are Sole's version of Panic's "Waiting" (1995) and Nell's "Losing My Mind" (2006).

"A Love Supreme" marks the singer's return to the music scene with a new album nearly a year since she last released her first LP, "Imagine Club," in September 2022. In April, she released her collaborative single with Sung Si-kyung called, "Need You."

With the new album, Sole is slated to perform at several festivals and gigs, but her own standalone concert is not in the works for this year, the singer said. "Hopefully next year," she added.

In September, Sole is set to take part as a judge on a new TV audition show, "Unveiled Musician." Only in her seventh year in the limelight, the 29-year-old musician will join the cast alongside seven other famed musicians, including veteran vocalist Shin Yong-jae, singer-songwriter Paul Kim, Highlight's Yang Yo-seob and Mamamoo's Solar.

R&B singer-songwriter Sole (Amoeba Culture)

Sole, whose real name is Lee Sori, says she feels proud of herself.

"I never used to think like this, but I do now. I didn't go to college or have any connections in the music scene, but I've come this far. Thinking that it was solely my talent and efforts that allowed me to achieve this, I think I have done quite well."

Without her solid career and reputation as an artist, she wouldn't have been able to make "A Love Supreme," Sole said, expressing gratitude to the original artists who granted her permission to remake their songs.

Sole added that she wishes to sing for the rest of her life. Even if she still has a lot of time ahead of her, she said she feels hopeful.

"I've always had this vague dream of singing until I was really old. I want to build the foundations for it, and I believe I'm still at the early stage of it ... (but) that's still my goal."