SonReal

Canadian musician SonReal aka Aaron Hoffman is a talent like no other. In an industry saturated with voices, it can be hard to stand out, make waves, and stay true to the person you are.

Following the success of the Aaron LP he flexes his ability to seamlessly switch between Hip-Hop, Rap, and folk-infused melodies to deliver something truly special in his new album Nobody’s Happy All the Time, all the while touching upon issues like mental health and the overwhelming pressure of social media. 

Since 2013, SonReal has been cultivating an audience and steadily growing a following. More concerned with connecting to fans, giving them an authentic, unfiltered, and raw experience than putting out smash hits. He is an artist of a rare caliber, taking the time to inspire and be a unique voice cutting through the din.  

The hustle, the grind, and the passion is clear: there’s no stopping him.

He chooses to bet on himself and work on becoming the best version of Aaron he can be. It’s a constant work in progress, but that’s what keeps life interesting.

Having become a father while making Nobody’s Happy All the Time he credits being a dad for making him realize there are more important things than music. And when he can focus on his craft it makes him go all the harder.

Each track on the album has its own message. Using his personal experiences to resonate and weave a relatable tale for those listening. Speaking to an audience that he knows has their own struggles and who he hopes can take a little solace in the music he makes.

Just like music did for him as a kid.  

In conversation with 1883’s Dana Reboe, SonReal discusses the slippery slope of social media, the joys of fatherhood and the dangers of comparison. 

 

 

Congratulations on the album! It’s beautiful.

Thank you so much. I honestly appreciate that. We worked so hard on it. It’s been super dope. It’s been a very good feeling. I love putting out music. It’s my favorite feeling.

 

I did a little bit of deep diving on your Instagram and Tik Tok; you were discussing how you chose to put what you’ve been through in your music. Was the making of the album a catharsis for you? What did that process look like?

Yeah, I came up with the concept of Nobody’s Happy All the Time on a plane on my way to Toronto. Right after I did my last album and I’ve been working on it ever since. It’s my way of tapping into how the world is right now. I think it’s so easy to be consumed by social media. You know, like, looking up to people that aren’t necessarily showing you the whole spectrum of things. I never post anything when I’m feeling down or I never post when my kids are sick and I’m running off no sleep. I never post when I’m feeling unsure about my career and where it’s headed. I never post about all those types of things. But you see my highlight reel. I wanted to show in my album it’s okay to go through things. It’s okay whether you’re financially struggling, struggling mentally, whatever it is, you can always bounce back and keep going.  

My story is of an artist that’s never blown up to a crazy level and had the smashed single, but I’ve gotten bigger every single year and every single time I went out and toured I’ve done more tickets. And every single time I put out a project it seems to get a better reaction. I wanted to hone in on getting better at my craft, getting better at singing, getting better at song writing particularly, and getting better at putting myself out there. I would need an hour to tell you what went into the album [both laugh] like, there’s so much stuff. I went and recorded the album when Sheena (wife) was pregnant with the twins. I had so much riding on my career and my job and what I wanted to do. I think you can kind of hear the immediacy in the songs on this album and me really putting myself out there. It feels raw and natural. I didn’t try to have any singles off this album. I didn’t feel any pressure to be like ‘this needs to succeed!’ or anything. I was like, I need to get this off my chest. That’s more of the vibe I was on.

 

The title Nobody’s Happy All the Time is a hard truth we sometimes forget. How has your relationship with social media changed during the making of the album?

I’m so guilty of everything I’ve talked about on the album [laughs]. I sit on TikTok for three hours in the morning trying to come up with a viral TikTok. I’ve got people being like, ‘oh, we need more TikToks, we need more TikToks!’ You know what’s funny? I called my manager the other day I was like, ‘Dude, I haven’t been writing music because I’ve been sitting on TikTok and Instagram.’ If you look around my studio right now, I got a bunch of cameras set up for content. I really just want to sit down with my guitar and write a song. But that’s why I got into this (TikTok) and why I fell in love with it. It was listening to music and stuff. I wouldn’t say I’m a mental health guru that knows how to navigate my way through the crazy world of Snapchat and TikTok. I have 19 things I need to post today. But I will say this: I have minimized its value a bit more. I’ve got a TikTok that bombs? Who cares? I control what I can control. It is what it is. Another thing I’m starting to grasp, that’s helping me with the effects of social media, is if I do my best, I just try as hard as I can with everything — being a father, being a husband, being a son, being a musician — if I try my best every day, that’s all I need to do.  

Everything else is not up to me.  

Some of my best songs, I wrote in 15 minutes– it just came to me. All I can do is work hard and put myself in a position for it to come to me whenever it wants to come. With everything. I always try and be the best dad that I can be, and always give 100% to my music career. That’s all I can do. And if I do that? I can be happy. If I don’t do that though? If I sit in my room and sulk about why I’m not a bigger artist than Drake? Or compare myself to this new artist that’s been doing it for three months with 2 million followers on Instagram? I’m not going to get anywhere. I think a lot of people do that on different levels. This album kind of takes that head-on.

 

 

Agreed. We really should be focusing on ourselves and looking inward. During the pandemic, there was nothing better to do than go on TikTok or on Instagram and make comparisons.

Yeah, the pandemic threw a lot of people for a loop.

 

You mentioned how being a father has heavily impacted your music, feeling like you have more to write for. Can you talk a bit about how having children has shifted your reality and changed you?

Before I had kids, I got married to my wife and she’s my best friend. We have such an amazing relationship. But I was able to make music my everything. It’s been my literal obsession since I was a kid. I’ve been working on music with no plan B, no anything. Since I was 15 years old, I’ve been telling people I’m going to be the biggest artist in the world. Every single year, I’ve put out music and put out projects since then. Luckily enough, I’m one of the few people that do music that’s been able to do it as a job and provide for my family.

When my daughter and the twins came into my life, I realized for the first time ever that it (music) wasn’t the most important thing in the world anymore. In a good way, not like oh, ‘I’m going to take a back seat and just chill with this.’ Arguably I go harder with it now than I did when I was obsessing over it. But now I have more to live for, it’s not like I just live for getting to the next step and never looking back. I’ve got hundreds of millions of views on YouTube, it’s a great thing to celebrate. I’ve come far. Having kids made me appreciate that and want to go even further… but they’re the most important thing in my life. If all this went away, and you said: you must quit music now for your kids, I mean, I’d be like, say yes.  

You open up a lot. I understand everything better after having kids. All I got to do is try as hard as I can to be the best I can be, be there for them, nurture them, and nurture my career. I’m not going to have as much time for my career — and that’s just what it is. But when I do work on my career, I’m dead focused. I used to spend so much time twiddling my thumbs. I recorded most of this album in four months. When I work on music, I’m focused now, because I know that time is valuable. That’s time I have to be away from my family and that puts it all into perspective. 

 

You said you wrote the album for anybody out there struggling. What is your hope for people listening?

I’m faulted. I’ve been through things to get to where I’m going. My main message is to just keep going. I get messages from people saying, ‘I lost my job, I’ve been through a breakup, I lost my dad, I lost my mom,’ all sorts of like deep messages saying ‘Your music helped me through’ — that’s why I do music.

As I’ve gotten further into the game of making music and getting better at it and connecting with my fans, all I want to do is make people’s day. I want to inspire people. You know that kid that’s sitting in his room with a guitar that hasn’t put out a song yet and he’s only got one song written? I want to make him write song number two.  

I want people to get inspired by my music and go get the next job that they like even more than the one before. That’s what music did for me as a kid; my parents divorced when I was 15. I turned to music. I broke my ankle skateboarding and was laid up for a couple of months; music’s what I turned to. I try to make positive music and I try to make honest music. That’s why I think people connect to it so much. It’s kind of unfiltered and people can relate to it. I’m not an untouchable creature; I pretty much reply to everyone in my comment section on Instagram. I hit everybody up on my texting app because I get messages like that. They’re just like so deep, you know?

 

That’s a rarity. You don’t really hear about artists reaching out like that. Amazing!

I know when I hit people back, I’m a lot of people’s favorite artist. Or maybe I’m in the top ten. And I go hit them back and none of those other nine guys hit them back… I know the power of that and now I’ve got a superfan. It’s not just a fan anymore. I built my whole career off super fans. I don’t have the most fans in the world, but I have hardcore fans. I can go anywhere and do a show and have people show up singing every single word to the verses. Not just the hooks. I can go overseas and go do shows and stuff because I’ve literally hit people up. It’s crazy.

 

Speaking of… is a tour on the cards?

We’re working on some stuff. Can’t really say anything just yet.

 

I won’t dig too deep then [both laugh]. One of my favorite songs on the album is Double Down. The line ‘I’ve worked overtime as an underdog’ really resonated. The music industry is rough for newcomers and seasoned professionals like yourself. So, what advice do you have for people looking to break into the industry?

The biggest thing I would say to somebody that’s trying to break into the industry is to be relentless. Nothing’s going to work immediately. If you really want it, you have to love it. So anything that you want, you have to love first. If you don’t fully love it, if you’re just experimenting with it, that’s cool. But just experiment with it and enjoy it. If you fully love it, and it’s your passion and you know that you can make a living off it or you know that you can make an impact in somebody’s life with it? Don’t give up, keep going and be patient because it takes a long time. 

I was doing music for 10 years before I was able to do it as a job. I would also say one of the biggest things — to any artist or anybody doing anything in music — is you have to stand out, you have to do something different. Early on in my career, I would shoot the weirdest videos I could come up with. I just felt like I needed to separate myself. As I’ve matured, I’ve really taken on a lane that I don’t think anybody’s occupying either. I can really stand out with this kind of folk-infused hip hop stuff that I’m doing. I don’t think anybody’s doing it the way I’m doing it sonically and I don’t think I need to scream at the top of the mountain to promote it.

I would say to anybody coming up, to try and be great, be unique and keep going. Don’t give up because it takes a while. Enjoy the journey, because some of my most fun times were when I first started and had no fans. Enjoy every step of the journey and love it. And that’s how you’ll get success.

 

And finally, 92 Jetta sounds like a love letter to the person you used to be as you hurtle into the future. As you venture onwards, what are you most looking forward to professionally and personally?

That’s the coolest way to describe 92 Jetta. I didn’t even think of that. But that’s what it is. It’s a love letter to old me in the 92 Jetta and it’s a full circle moment. 

Professionally, I’m looking forward to doing exactly what I’m doing to a higher level and making music that’s resonating with people. I believe there’s absolutely no way I’m not going to keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger. I believe I’m literally just scratching the surface right now. And I really cracked the code with my last album the Aaron LP with going where I want to go musically. I think Nobody’s Happy All the Time is going to really speak volumes. It’s not a first-listen album, in my opinion. It’s an album that as you live with it, it’s going to get more and more following and it’s going to keep cultivating this kind of real fan base. I really believe in it. I’m not trying to do quick hits in and out. I know things are going to work out for me. I just got to keep trying as hard as I can and doing what I’m doing and feeding my fan base.

Personally, I’ve got the most to look forward to more than my career. I’ve got three healthy kids. I live in my hometown. My mom lives down the street. I’ve got the grandparents and the cousins all around. I’ve got so much to look forward to personally and sometimes it’s hard to count your blessings, you get so wrapped up in all the other stuff that you forget to like: I’m alive. I’m okay. My feet are on the ground. So I’ve been trying to just appreciate those blessings more.

 

Nobody’s Happy All the Time is out now, follow SonReal via @sonreal

 

Interview Dana Reboe 

 

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