JT Soul. Photo by Naska Demini

Say hello to JT Soul’s light

With any justice, this Montreal soul MC is next up.

Music reporting that tosses around words like “influences,” “honesty” and “confidence” like sunscreen samples at a public pool is fucking lazy, period.

So if you read them here, you better believe it’s intentional (and generally an exception to the interviews you’ll see about any talent we cover, local or otherwise) because that’s exactly what Montreal soul MC JT Soul offers on his debut EP Goodbye, Lightspeed.

Blasting off two weeks ago on streaming platforms everywhere, the 20-year-old talent’s ear for musical currency and meaningful, powerful pop composition is miles beyond open and in tune to creative inspiration that other artists claiming to want it, mean it and be it can’t actually deliver further than the stars in their eyes.

Jean Talon Soul (fuck yeah, that’s his name) has it all the way in him. He told us what he’s about. He and his team at Oddio Entertainment — consisting also of “CEO-type” Ethan Cyr and management flex Giancarlo Rawssi — met up in high school and decided then and there that business was business. Play time was over before it even started, and they started a pro studio from scratch, opting immediately to start a foundation rather than a rec room for anyone with a few bucks.

The integrity of the music speaks for itself, but we had to find out more because, with any justice, JT Soul is next up. We’re pleased to help our readers get familiar but even if we don’t, you will be soon.

Darcy MacDonald: How did you guys take it here?

JT Soul: A year ago we met myDirtyHaircut because of (Montreal hip hop outfit) PlanetGiza. They come to our studio to record. We’re not a recording studio, though, we’re a record label. We don’t wanna, like, take clients for $50 an hour. That’s fuckin’ wack. Artists we like, we fuck with for free because we wanna get it out.

We were looking for a producer who was making beats. (So I) met him like that, and we had such a good connection. It was just pure fun in the studio and that’s exactly what you want. I feel I’m making the best music of my life with (these guys).

He gives me great advice on how to write good pop, and I’m just learning to make music (as we go).

DM: I never ask this question but there is so much going on in your music and you’re such a young dude. Amid it all, there’s this, like, ’80s radio synth-soul sound that hasn’t been incorporated into modern pop quite like this that I can think of. What are your influences?

JTS: My sound I’ve been on (since childhood) was so diverse. From what I remember, the first type of music I would listen to was, like, Akon, Chris Brown. Dude, I was born in 1999, so imagine that era.

And I love more modern stuff like Tame Impala, but there’s guys like Led Zeppelin that were super amazing that I really, really fuck with. The Beatles. Some Phil Collins.

I feel like there’s a lot of Phil Collins’ beat inspiration on “Lay in the Sun With Your Soul.” It’s not that he’s an inspiration so much, but when I hear it, it reminds me of, like, “In the Air Tonight.”

But for real, I’m a really big fan of Drake. How he can rap, how he can sing, how he can make a pop hit. I like Kendrick Lamar when it comes to writing. And Frank Ocean is a huge inspiration of mine. I think he’s one of the best writers among the modern day R&B singers. He has such a great voice but then you listen to what he’s saying, and it may be far-fetched to say, but it’s kind of almost as outlandish as the Beatles, how they would sing super weird stuff that almost no one would get. I feel like Frank Ocean almost has a modern-day twist on how they used to write. My opinion.

But Dirty shows me a lotta music and has a vast knowledge. I’d also have to ask him what his inspirations are because he has a big role in this soundscape.

DM: You guys created this music all at once, together, from the sound of things, right? Like, these weren’t just beats a producer had on his laptop.

JTS: Exactly. We started Goodbye, Lightpeed in October of 2018 and we were finished in February of this year. It happened fast. We made “Lay in the Sun with Your Soul,” “Doja” and “That’s How U Feel?” in the same day. “Lay in the Soul” was just a guitar melody and a hook up until then.

The rest came about in the next month and a half. We had 10 songs, then we cut it to the best eight, and then to the six strongest songs. We got it done in four months. I really wanted to get it out for the summer, but also not rush it.

DM: How did you manage to avoid the imitation trap to get this sounding so original while hitting all the right marks of making something current?

JTS: If you listen to my prior work, from “Loud” to “Not Your Average Love Song” — I dropped five singles before Goodbye, Lightspeed — I really felt confident with it all, but it wasn’t 100 per cent what I wanted to do.

I can listen to my new project and think, wow, I really did exactly what I set out to do. So really, with trial and error and experimenting with the music I put out (throughout) 2018. And I tried everything I could do, vocally, my entire vocal range, to falsettos and high pitches, different scales, different types of rapping, to the point where me and Dirty knew my strong suits and how my voice sounds best, when to use that certain pitch. And just do something the most, and then narrow it down to what I need to do.

DM: How and when in your life did you know you could sing? Who told you, like, you didn’t suck?

JTS: I remember this one time when I was a little kid. I would always be singing in my room. And my sister told me, “You know, you actually have a cool voice. It’s not bad. You’re pretty good.” I thought maybe it was just my sister being nice. So one day I was with my friends, this girl and this guy, and I looked at them and I was like, “Guys, I think I can sing.” I’ll remember this moment for the rest of my life. We were 10 years old and we were chilling at a little playground in a park. They were like, “Okay, sing!”

And I was super nervous. And I remember I didn’t do it then, but another time, I was with a big group of people, and I brought it up again. And they were like, “Just sing!” So I sang a little song I knew. And you know what’s funny? I didn’t do that well. But they were all super supportive and they were like, “You’re actually good!”

Then I got into high school and I was always rapping, and (I told a friend) I’d always been singing, low-key, my whole life, but I’d just never told anyone. So I went in the studio to show what I could do. At first it wasn’t the best. I didn’t know how to control my voice and I didn’t know much about singing, really. Then Ethan heard me and he was like, “Dude, there’s something there.”

After that I studied song and practice, singing songs I never thought I’d do, while driving around in my car or by myself in my room. Bro, just, for real, mimicking songs by other artists I was mesmerized by. You ever hear that song that you just play 100 times, back to back? I’d hear something by Frank Ocean or Daniel Caesar and be like, I just wanna sing that song all day. That gave me a big knowledge of my range and what I can do. And since then, I’ve been singing for real. And a lot of these guys also didn’t start with vocal training. I’m actually thinking about doing that now, just to polish what I’ve got.

DM: Where do you feel you stand in terms of making this kind of music and being creatively competitive?

JTS: I specialize in hooks, things that are ear worms, like, grasping melodies. That’s always been my niche and I won’t work on a song if it doesn’t have a fire hook on it. That’s the first thing I do, and if the hook doesn’t grab onto me, I will not continue.

And I work with people who are very meticulous and very strict. Ethan is hard on me because he wants me to be the best of what I can be. If I write a trash verse, he’ll tell me it’s wack.

I’ve been around (dishonest people). Ethan and Rawssi are really real with me. I wouldn’t be able to make such a great project — and I say that humbly, but I would never release a shit project — if my team wasn’t 100 per cent real with me. I rewrote certain verses 10 times. That’s what I mean by being a disciplined writer. I wanted all these songs to hit well together, but also stand alone very confidently, as if each one could be for a different listener.

I’m not a guy who thinks I’m the best, biggest artist, and I’ll never be that way. I know where I stand. But I really, truly think that there isn’t another English rapper/singer/songwriter like me in Montreal.

I fuck with Nate Huss. He inspires me. Planet Giza. Zach Zoya. Those three guys, I consider myself a part of them, even though I’m not as big as them yet. All four of us stand alone. We embody what we do very well.

DM: The themes in each song speak for themselves, but what does Goodbye, Lightspeed mean? Where does the title come from?

JTS: Initially it was called Goodbye, Godspeed. But I feel like ‘lightspeed’ has a bigger impact. Plus Husser dropped his thing, “Godspeed.”

Anyways, I’ve been through a lot of loss in the past two and a half years. My cousin passed away, my uncle passed away, and I broke up from a relationship I was in all through high school. And seeing friends disappear, and not believe in me. I have to put those people aside.

So (what the title means) is for all those people that didn’t believe, because I know what I wanna do. That’s why it starts with the song “2020,” because in 2020, I wanna be where I’m at. One aspect of it is me saying goodbye, and I’m on my journey now, going lightspeed. As soon as I get on, I’m on and I’m gonna roll the ball. And I’m also placing myself where I wanna be in the future. And my cousin and all those I lost — I’ll see you in Kingdom Come. ■

JT Soul performs on Saturday, June 22, at Festival Marcoux Marcoux, St-Alexis-Des-Monts, QC, 814 Rang du Lac Castor (look here for more details)