No stranger to hard work, Nelson raised artist Somber has been prolific in 2019. With a string of moody alternative rock inspired songs released earlier this year, there is only more to come from the young artist. We caught up with Somber to discuss his early influences, the New Zealand music scene and his future plans of going global.
It’s not particularly easy labelling the genre of Somber’s music. Instead, it seems as if a variety of alternative rock, trap and hip-hop was put into a blender to create something truly unique. Growing up with a variety of influences helped to shape this diverse sound.
“I’ve always been a musical dude,” says Somber. “I’ve played guitar since I was eight and I used to be really heavy into punk rock. I’ve always loved bands like Smashing Pumpkins, I liked dudes with weird voices and everything.”
It wasn’t until much later that the young artist started exploring more traditional hip-hop and rap. “My biggest influence when I was 15 was Travis Scott and his tape called ‘Owl Pharaoh’. I heard it and thought holy shit, I need to make beats like this, because I was just starting to produce. That got me into trying to make beats and experimenting with sounds. Then Young Thug’s crazy ass vocals taught me you can do this; you can be unique with your voice.”
Growing up experiencing such a diverse range of music, it wasn’t until an epiphany like moment before the artist realised what it was that he wanted to create with his music. “I was lying down listening to ‘Days Before Rodeo’ and something just changed. I have to be able to make people feel like this. It just put me into this zone and inspired the shit out of me. I was like man, I want to be able to do this to people.”
Pioneering a new wave of sound always comes with risks, and it can be hard to find the confidence to create something different. Having this wide array of experiences cultivated into something special, from producing to the final mix, Somber’s sound is captivating as it is unique. Incorporating his musical upbringing has allowed a more flexible approach to making music. “I think coming from a musical background where I didn’t listen to classic hip-hop or 90’s hip-hop was important. Because I wasn’t listening to that at all, I felt like I didn’t have to stick to just rapping or having bars. I felt that I could just do whatever, my own thing. Whereas I think a lot of artists who listen to old school hip-hop feel like that if they’re not writing a song with heavy bars then they’re not doing a good job.”
But it’s not always easy finding the time to make music. Working 60 hours over two jobs can take a toll on the creative spirit. Between writing, producing, doing shows and filming videos it’s hard to imagine there’s any time for sleep. What might be a burden for some, has turned into extra motivation for the artist formerly known as Lukas. Speaking on his recent name change, “Lukas was really personal when I was putting my music out. It was just like a mind thing. It was cool to separate the music from myself. When shit wasn’t going that well, it was hard. But now I feel like I can be more creative being Somber. I feel like there’s more than one side to everyone; I can take Somber I can blow it up and just create something with it. It’s giving my music life and a personality.”
This aspiration has the artists eyes set on tackling the world. With him and collaborator September eyeing up a move to Canada near the end of the year looking to create some global attention. “There are those dudes that put a song out and eventually it clicks, but in saying that it’s not many. That’s why New Zealand has a barrier and I want to leave. You can get comfortable and that’s why I want to leave. I feel like I’ve kind of done it here. I’ve played the Auckland shows, I’ve played the Wellington shows and I’ve talked on radio a couple of times. I feel like what more can you do here, besides just being the opening act for other New Zealand artists.”
While looking to create some attention overseas, this move also comes out of a frustration with the New Zealand music industry. With a new wave of talented Kiwi artists, largely making music in their bedroom, on par with the rest of the world being largely unrecognised.
“If New Zealand wants to do anything to help the music scene or the industry here, they have to take risks. At the moment they play everything so safe, they stick to the same artists that they’ve been with for the last 10 years. Then Sony signs a new artist, that artist drops a song and you’re like this would do so well 10 years ago. We need to catch up. That’s what the artists are doing, that’s what I’m saying, the artists are ahead. The artists are making crazy music, they’re making music that is on par and above the shit that’s popping in the States and in the UK. It’s all from their bedroom which is nuts, we’re so talented and driven here. Because we see all this shit and think we need to be that good. We’re sweet, what needs to change is the people in charge of pushing it, they need to catch up.”
Although there are frustrations with the New Zealand scene, there are also a variety of positives. With a tight knit community of artists always close by, collaborating is easy. “In New Zealand you can see a song that you like, or someone will pop up and you’ll be like yo this guy is dope as fuck. Then you find out they’re from New Zealand and because you are too, you know that you’re going to be able to work with each other.”
Thanks to the likes of Spotify, New Zealand artists are able to punch well above their weight, with a playlist inclusion bringing the possibility of hundreds of thousands of plays. Meaning music often made in a home studio can be broadcast to eager listeners all around the world. Although streams are great to get your music heard, it doesn’t often translate into real life success.
“I think Australia and New Zealand playlisting is good for numbers, but it’s not necessarily great for traffic to your social pages. I had nearly 300,000 plays on one of my old tracks called Comfort Clouds. But then I only had like 500 followers on Spotify. Out of all of those plays they just add it to their playlist. You have to make them feel compelled to be like, yo I gotta go find this artist.”
With so many songs being posted online there emerges the need to fight for your music to be heard. Often more than one hit song is needed to really captivate an audience, and the need to solidify yourself as something bigger than an artist becomes more important than ever. “What New Zealand artists need to focus on is building their image and showing that to the world, and showing why they are unique. That’s what it’s all about. You go on YouTube and you see an artist with fire music videos; money has been put into them and a lot of creativity. You see their Instagram and it’s all cohesive, same with Facebook. It all feels the same, you’ve got this feeling and a vibe from this artist. You want to become an idea in peoples mind. So when anything comes up that is to do with you, it creates a link in their mind.”
“I think that’s what New Zealand artists kind of lack. Not many of us, but a few of us are nailing it and I’m only just starting to figure it out. You can make the best song in the world, but if you don’t show it enough love by getting it out there on blogs and pushing it out to the world, putting some dope artwork behind it, making a dope video then pitching it to some Spotify playlists and doing everything necessary, you aren’t going to make it. Unless you just do it for fun and for love and you don’t really want to go anywhere with it, you are just going to stay in New Zealand.”
With a new album in the works as well as a move overseas, 2019 is shaping up to be a very exciting year for the talented artist. Check out his Somber’s latest release ‘Anywhere?’ below.