At 20, Soran knows exactly what he wants. Released last month by Audiogram, his first eponymous EP showcases the talent of a multi-instrumentalist in full control of his art.
Located at the confluence of dance music, reggae, funk, and soul, Soran is reminiscent of Jason Mraz or Michael Jackson as much as it is of Justin Timberlake or The Weeknd. Instinctively, one surmises that its creator must be a young music lover who grew up with pop right from the crib, and who’s probably an avid consumer of anything on the radio. But it’s not the case: Soran Dussaigne doesn’t listen to music, at all… except his own.
Seeing how this scribe is perplexed by such an affirmation, he clarifies. “To be clear, I stopped listening to music when I started making my own,” says Soran. “I just don’t feel like it, nor do I feel like forcing myself to. Obviously, there are exceptions, like when I’m in a car, or at a party with friends. I guess sometimes, the music I hear indirectly like that can influence my songs. But on the plus side, I’m inspired by my memory of that song, which yields a much more original and stimulating creation.”
His musical upbringing also bears a lot of influence on his current style. A fan of The Police as a child, the Longueuil-based artist, with Japanese and French roots, benefited from a family environment that fostered creativity and learning. “There were instruments all over the house,” says Soran. “My brother and father didn’t really play with me, so I had to develop that passion through my own will. I first fell in love with drums at around four years old, and to this day, it’s my favourite instrument. Rhythm is the foundation of any song, it’s the groove.”
Curious by nature, the young auto-didact taught himself the guitar in his teens, captivated by the live performances of soul artists, like Allen Stone, that he found on YouTube. Realizing he could also sing, he introduced his first songs on his Facebook profile and rapidly raked in hundreds of views. “The reaction was incredible,” he says. “Only my closest friends said it was crap!” he says, smirking.
The Turning Point
Not one to be easily discouraged, Soran tried his hand at busking in Montréal’s metro (subway) stations. For a year, he honed his ability to attract the attention of the people walking by him. “It was, to me, the best possible rehearsal,” he says. “After a couple of hours, I was able to hit notes I never thought I could hit. It was rough on my voice, but that’s how I discovered that’s what I wanted to do. It also taught me to be more humble, because most people didn’t give a damn about me. I wanted people to stop and pay attention.”
That’s exactly what happened when, in 2015, a staffer from La Voix [the Québec franchise of The Voice televised singing competition] walked by Soran in the metro and convinced him to sign up for the next season of the popular TVA network talent show. He was just 16 when he showed up for the audition.
“Honestly, I had zero confidence,” says Soran. “I saw the people sitting next to me, one who said she’d toured the world with AC/DC, and another who said she had a dozen years of experience on Broadway… I was really stressed out,” remembers the young man, who forged ahead and managed to make all four judges spin their seast around, thanks to his stunning rendition of The Eagles’ “Hotel California.” “In the end, I realized that, contrary to other versions of La Voix abroad, the coaches here weren’t looking for the most powerful voice, but for different voices,” he says. “I remember telling Ariane Moffatt that I felt bad for being so off-key during my audition. She immediately told me that it didn’t matter, because they were looking for something unique.”
Despite elimination in the quarter-finals, Soran’s experience on La Voix was memorable. What came out of it was basically his optimal plan. “Before I even entered the contest, my goal was to lose it and sign with Audiogram… And, lo and behold, the day after I was eliminated, Audiogram gave me a call,” says the young artist, who’d been coached by Matt Holubowski, also an alumnus of the show, who’s also signed to the famous Montréal record label. “What mattered the most to me was artistic freedom, and I knew the label’s excellent reputation for that. In the end, we waited until I turned 18, about six months, before making my signature official.”
And ever since, Soran has worked twice as hard. Over the past two years, he started actively playing drums again, and learned to play bass and piano, on top of honing his production, arranging, and mixing skills with the recording software Logic. In other words, this Jack of all Trades was constantly in pro-active mode, writing and recording the vast majority of his EP in the basement of his family home in Greenfield Park. “I like being able to record whenever I want to, without having to wait for anyone,” says Soran. “I’ll sometimes wake up at three in the morning and create an entire new song that’s done by noon. My mom’s patience is quite remarkable. She never complains, not even when I play drums in the middle of the night.”
The Creative Impulse
But as autonomous as he might be, the singer-songwriter still needed some help along the way. Known for his work on albums by Coco Méliès, Rednext Level, and the aforementioned Holubowski, Montréal-based producer Connor Seidel helped him finalize the EP at Studio Tempo. “There were songs where I had reached a dead end,” says Soran. “I immediately thought of Connor, because I really liked what he did for Matt. Our fusion was perfect, right from the get-go. We re-recorded the drums and voice tracks, but without changing the very intimate and spontaneous nature of my initial recordings. I really felt at home.”
This pared-down, instinctive approach also applies to the lyrics. Written impulsively, Soran’s songs are like emotional bombs. One thinks of “Emma,” which he wrote in a single evening after his ex-girlfriend asked him to write her a love song; or “Not In Love W Me,” which was crerated after a girl told him she “wasn’t in love with people, but with moments.”
“After she said that to me, I wrote, like, 10 songs about her in a week,” he admits. “Actually, if you listen carefully to the lyrics of all those songs, it’s mostly about me being in love with someone who doesn’t love me back… Or, rather, who thinks he’s not being loved back. That’s pretty much what goes on in my mind the second I’m with someone. I get negative ideas real fast, and afterward, I take comfort in the good things. The same happened with my EP: I was convinced it wouldn’t sell, that it would suck, and in the end I’m happy, because all kinds of unexpected stuff is happening to me.”
Among those recent “surprises” are the 120,000 views that the video for “Emma” racked up in a little less than a month; his nomination as “New Artist of the Week” on Apple Music; and his more than 2 million streams on the major platforms. “Honestly, I don’t understand,” says Soran. “It’s so much more than I could have imagined. It’s going well on the streaming side of things all over the world, but I want more. I want to see these people in person, and play more gigs outside of Canada.”
Throughout this hubbub of excitement and good news, even his old buddies from high school have conceded victory. “A couple of weeks ago, I got a few congratulations messages, notably one from the dude who was the most critical and mean about my music back then,” he says. “I was surprised that he thought my EP was good, and he apologized by saying that he should’ve been more supportive.”
Apparently, Soran did quite well without him.