Posted: August 14, 2013
interviewed by Chris Richards, August 2013
Tim Holland, known as Sole, is one of the original founders of the collective label Anticon, and a strong presence where activism meets music. With a couple dozen releases, countless tours and shows, a strong organizer and media presence in Occupy Denver, a podcast focused on radical philosophy & activism, and much more, Sole is a solid reminder that music and culture can overlap seamlessly with community organizing.
Check him out at www.soleone.org
Can you give us a brief explanation of who you are and what you do?
My name is Tim Holland, aka sole. I am primarily a rapper, that runs my own record label. husband, animal lover, urban farmer, sci-fi enthusiast, & amateur chef. I got my start in the late 90’s with the ‘experimental/indy’ hip-hop movement. Musically, I’m all over the place, from gangster rap sounding music to ambient drones, but it’s always an attempt to find new and improved ways of sneaking critical sentiment into music form. I also run a podcast called “The Solecast” which focuses on radical philosophy, art, and activism. In my spare time i lend my time to various anti-capitalist ‘Activist’ efforts.
What goals do you have with your art and its impact on the world?
I want to make music that makes people think, and hopefully empower them to take action. I try to educate through my art in a way that doesn’t sound preachy or like a book report. I view my art and my overall approach to my “persona” as constantly trying to inform people and normalize ideas that are normally thought of as radical, when in fact the world we live in is radically anti-human. I believe that revolution is not telling people how to live, but showing them. I don’t have any lofty notions about what I do, but I’m trying the best I can to agitate through my art and have fun doing it. I want people to live without fear, to pursue their dreams and live an authentic, un-alienated life.
Ideally, what experience would an audience member take away from your live performance?
First and foremost, I’d like them to enjoy what I’m doing musically, because if they can’t appreciate it sonically there is no way they’re gonna care what I have to say. My live set up is just me and some samplers and effects, on some electro-pete seeger-godspeed shit. If people walk away from my show having enjoyed the performance and feel that they’ve had their own beliefs confirmed or challenged, i’ll be happy. Lately, I’ve been trying to get more local groups to table at my events, if i can get people plugged in with people doing cool shit locally, that’s ideal.
What place does music & creativity have within building a resistance movement?
Honestly, when we see the way music journalists & popular blogs belittle music with a “political” message, it’s easy to believe that it truly is a waste of time. If you talk to any “activist” doing cool shit, and ask them why they are doing what they are doing, 9 out of 10 of them are going to say it was music that initially inspired them. Culture is critical, it brings people together, it puts complex ideas into a plain digestible format, it calms people down when they are stressed, it gives people a language to describe what is happening, it reminds them that they aren’t alone, and it builds on what is already there. Beyond that, music can also play a huge role in galvanizing mass amounts of people for civil disobedience. In Europe they squat giant factories and convert them to political spaces and music venues, unfortunately outside of the punk communities, praxis between art/philosophy rarely happens in the states. We’ve kinda had a quiet few decades since the 60’s but so far the 2010’s are looking to be very hopeful in terms of resistance, so we’re gonna need music for it! Emma said it best, “i don’t want to be part of any revolution where i can’t dance”.
What sort of organizing or social/political work do you do outside of your music, and how are they connected?
I never was involved in any on the ground activism until occupy, when that happened I basically took a year off from making music and dove into that fully. My main function within that was doing the media stuff and helping organize direct actions. We got real good at figuring out how to use media and how to utilize it to get people into the streets. Our affinity group broke off from occupy and has continued to work on whatever we want really. One of the coolest things we did last year was plant a guerilla vegetable garden near La Alma Projects in Denver, we never took credit for it because we knew the cops would come in and trash it if we said who did it. It is still being used by the community to this day. Most of my work this year has been in support of anti Keystone XL Pipeline efforts, and stopping fracking/pipelines here in Colorado. Really, I just put my efforts wherever I think it will have the best impact, and the goal is to stir up shit and do what I can to help reinforce a culture of resistance here in Denver. I do whatever I can, provided its not reformist. I’d like to do more animal rights stuff. Through the connections I have made through music over the years, I have folks all over the world and we are always in contact, sharing stories, struggles, ideas. All the skills (and contacts) I built up on how to handle PR on my own have been critical in all my efforts as an activist, specifically my understanding of social media have been really helpful for a few campaigns we’ve done. Organizing tours/ concerts is much like organizing marches/direct actions, and having to learn to deal with crazy artists/egos over the years really prepared me for organizing in a horizontal (leaderless) structure.
Where did Anticon Records fit into all of this?
Anticon was my first form of anarchist style direct action. I just didn’t have that kind of vocabulary/understanding at the time! It was a project based on horizontal values and built from necessity, ie; shits fucked up, lets just do something! We wanted freedom to do what we want, market forces be damned, and people loved us for that. When we got started I had no idea about Marx or punk/diy ethics or anarchism, i had a vague idea of “justice” which motivated me to fight the music industry, which is really all i understood at that age. The more my political views expanded, the more i realized the music industry was just a microcosm of the world and so my targets got bigger. As the label “grew,” i found myself at odds with the overall direction the label was headed in, so i pulled my masters and as a result I’m able to basically pay my rent off my back catalogue, which frees my time up to do a lot of unpaid-activist stuff. The main things I learned from Anticon is that if you’re gonna start a collective everyone has to have the same goals, motivations, and understanding. All in all it was an awesome experience, we put out some amazing music and the early years of the label (98-2005) it really stood for something and I’m proud to have been a part of that.
Do you feel that using your art for social and political purposes has been successful? Howso?
When you are 12 reading the autobiography of Malcom X, you imagine you’re gonna write a song and then it’s gonna start the revolution (like the movie strange days), but shit doesn’t work that way. We have this narrative of history that focuses on “larger than life” people like MLK and WIlliam Wallace, when in fact history is changed by thousands of tiny things happening, a litany of sacrifices which doesn’t lend itself to a quick and easy story of how change actually happens.
Lately, seeing how music has bled into activism has been the most rewarding part of all this. For instance, I was in home depot the other day and i got a paypal notification on my phone that Scott Olsen bought my album, i almost feinted; i was so moved! When you realize that the people listening to your music are also some of the very people on the front lines doing the real work, taking real risks, its the highest form of validation. I’m kind of blown away by it to be honest, because for so long it felt like i was pissing in the wind and now i feel like we’re at a point in history where we really need this kind of music/analysis. I’ve been writing about all this anti capitalist shit for over a decade now, so when shit really started to hit the fan in this country, I already had a language to describe how I see it. When “I think I’m Emma Goldman” dropped, not a single music blog posted it initially. But, it was blasted out through Occupy Wall St, Strike Debt, tarsandsblockade, AK press, Earth First, Youranonnews, it totally blew me away. Because I am on the ground engaged in this stuff directly, we’re all speaking the same language, so i think activists can recognize the sincerity of it, not like I’m just trying to attach my name to other peoples work. Through all this, I’m making some awesome friends, and learning a lot. I’m very privileged to get to travel all around, and i try to use it for the best i can. Whether its being asked to play anti fascist concerts in Athens, or help raise bail funds for my homies doing tree sits, I’ve never felt so good about what I’m doing, and i feel like its just getting started. Through my podcast; “the solecast“, i dive into the more academic side of things, so by doing this bi-weekly talk show consisting of long form interviews I’m able to tie it all together, provide an entry point for the uninitiated and further create the kind of radical media/analysis that is desperately needed. There is so much potential with this and i feel like I’m only really starting to understand the possibilities recently.
Is there any hopes of success?
i know you mean it in the revolutionary sense, but i think its important to point out that our ideas of “success” carry to our personal lives as well. You’re not gonna be a good activist if you’re unhappy in your normal life, and i think the key to being happy is doing what you love, in whatever humble capacity that is, and changing our definition of “success” to fit the times. If we apply those same ideas to society, it’s true that the forces mounted against us are very powerful, brutal, and organized. But, that’s no reason not to fight back. That is how things change, by people taking risks, plus waging revolution is rewarding and fun. It feels good to be challenged. No one else is gonna do this shit, will we win? If we set up systems of mutual aid and slowly start providing for ourselves, we are already winning. If we are organized and have the experiences under our belts when the time comes we will know what to do. If we sit around and worry about failure, we’ll never get anywhere. History is a series of failures, and everything that ends well is ridden with failure. So success is a feeling, when you get away with it, that is success! If you eliminate a little bit of suffering, or make it that much more difficult for the powers that be to fuck everyone over, that is success. Are we gonna overthrow capitalism overnight? No. But, if you look at places where real revolutionary shit is happening right now, Greece, Montreal, it’s because its a multi generational struggle. If we think about things in terms of reality, not some myth, then we are already succeeding!