The Son! Of All Parts

Photos by Julien Carr

Photos by Julien Carr

When describing the origins of his stage name, Wisconsin-based artist Son! explains, “I thought it was kind of a good way to recognize…like, me being the product of other people. Then I added the exclamation point…it’s like the sum of all the parts.” Drawing on influences and experiences from all different corners of the creative world, “the sum of all the parts” is not just an interpretation of his name- it is a description of Son! himself. While he excels in different soundscapes and musical mediums individually, it is in the marriage of all of them together- the sum of the parts- where he truly shines.

Son!’s musical exploration began in North Carolina with spoken word. The youth organization Sacrificial Poets conducted a workshop at Son!’s high school, prompting him to slam and score a spot on the school’s slam poetry team. His spoken word skill evolved into rapping, recording, and an acceptance into the University of Wisconsin- Madison, where he performed under the name Lord of the Fly. Son! was forging a clear path, but something didn’t feel quite right.  “I had some initial bubblings...but I realized I didn’t necessarily have control over my music to be able to make the stuff that I pictured or heard in my head and I hit a really low point where I just wanted to give up on music and I was really dealing with anxiety and depression.”

Despite his discouragement, Son! picked up piano to combat his anxiety, and his writing began to flourish. He tackled jazz composition classes and joined the band ME eN YOU, absorbing and learning every step of the way. “I learned a lot from playing with other musicians and playing in a band and then... over the past year I’ve started to really pick up producing seriously and pick up other instruments like playing bass and playing guitar and singing too...that took a while to find my voice.” Now, armored with all the pieces (i.e. backgrounds in poetry and rap, jazz, production, multiple instruments, playing in bands and solo) Son! has embarked on the creation of the whole, the summation- his debut EP, Emotional Robots.

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Emotional Robots is immediately captivating, blending and referencing countless genres and eras in music, yet finding a refreshingly original ground in the unexpected mixtures. Son! utilizes distinctive synth layers and gated percussion reminiscent of 80’s new wave (“Solo”), as well as structural shifts and jazz-influenced instrumentations (“Whats Good”). His vocals slant towards both hip-hop and indie rock, sometimes simultaneously (“Orangeade”), all while maintaining a pop standard of catchiness and accessibility. Emotional Robots offers something for everyone, but it’s not cluttered in its brew of influences. The assembly of sounds is akin to a Cubist painting, finding significance in every angle, every angle contributing to the whole artwork. 

This concept of creating an homage to different genres was never far from Son!’s mind during the making of Emotional Robots. “I wanted to compress all of American music history into one project...where it’s not necessarily overtly nostalgic, but it’s not necessarily contemporary either. It’s just everything all at once.” Though incorporating decades-worth of musical influences (and even a sample from Blade Runner) Son! does not allow an ounce of gratuitousness. Emotional Robots serves as a salute to the inspirations, but remains a conscious innovation in its own right,. “Part of it was trying to think about it from a design-oriented space where, to some degree I’m making a product or an object for people to interact with. I wanted it to be something you could play start-to-finish without any parts that feel indulgent..or shallow on my part.” 

As Son! continues to release music, he will expand on Emotional Robots’ themes, presenting a product that is episodic in nature, each release occurring within the same universe. There is no better time to achieve his vision than right now, when musical universes and genres are converging and colliding into each other in the industry; there are no constraints on what the storyline can evolve into. “I think I exist at an interesting crossroads of culture where I’ll work with rock bands and work with rappers as well,” and all can coexist in the same space- the entire mentality behind Emotional Robots.

As we continue to listen to Son!’s new EP and music going forward, notice the parts. Absorb  the references to the past, pay attention to the throughlines, but do not neglect the whole, for it is how the parts interact and build off of one another- their sum- that truly makes the difference.