After several interactions with Indianapolis front-man, Willis, I’ve grown accustomed to his quiet and reserved demeanor. It’s a mixture of hard focus and genuine shyness – but it’s what makes the Chasing Daisy artist himself.
This time, our conversation was limited to a quick FaceTime in his makeshift home studio as Willis prepared for the release of his next album. Soul Shoes hadn’t even been released yet, but the next project was in the works. When I asked about the next release, his response: “It’ll be crazy. That’s all I can say.”
We talked about the development of each track on Soul Shoes and the blessing of independent creative artistry. Soul Shoes was created completely by Willis – the writing, producing, recording, mixing, artwork – all of it.
I was one of the lucky few to listen to Soul Shoes a week prior to its release. The project details his journey of self-actualization and self-comfort – finally realizing the beauty in walking in his own shoes.
Step into Willis’ shoes.
What have you been up to, besides creating Soul Shoes?
I’ve been working on my next album. I have six songs done for the next one already. I’ve been working on that and just trying to do everything else. I’ve been teaching myself 3D modeling on the side.
I saw that on Twitter! What is that exactly?
It’s just this program where you make 3D models of anything. You can animate with it – I can make animations and it’s pretty much just digital modeling. Almost like using Photoshop but it’s 3D.
Does it take a lot of time? You’re starting straight from scratch with these animations so it’s not like cut and paste Photoshop.
Yeah, it’s really hard. I just like to do things! I like to learn. I think it’s fun to be able to know how to do all kinds of different things. It gives me more creative outlets to have fun. It’s also useful! I’m a rapper – I don’t necessarily need to know 3D modeling, but it could help me somewhere down the line. Knowing how to do all kinds of things is important. It can make you money and it can add to whatever you’re doing as your main outlet.
Also, if I got really good at it, I could make an animated music video. That’d be insane making my own animated short film!
Speaking of music videos, the visual for Stories of Old was amazing. What other videos are you doing for Soul Shoes?
[If you haven’t watched the visuals for Stories of Old, you’re missing out. But, actually.]
We did Stories of Old and that was awesome. Couldn’t have done it without Nevin. As a video director and film maker, he’s special. He’s great at editing and color grading. I wrote the video and directed it. We also bought all the props and costumes.
That was a mini-movie. I refuse to call it a music video.
That’s what I want to do for all of my videos. Me and my cousin Sam write short films all of the time. I’m really into filmmaking, I love creating! I like making music, making scripts and directing things. All of my videos up until this point were just me rapping in front of a camera, so for Stories of Old I wanted to do something special, something that I could be proud of. And it was fun! We went out to Brown County for like 9 hours straight. It was freezing, but we got it done. Nevin is a beast.
Definitely worth it. That was crazy.
We got entered into a film festival too! It was at Ball State, nominated for Best Music Video. We didn’t win, but it was still really cool. They showed Stories of Old on a huge screen and there was like 400 people there. It felt really good.
Other than that, I’m working on 3 other videos right now for OvaThere, Bury Me in Gold and Easy. I’m excited about those.
If you need a mediocre actress let me know. So when you win a Grammy I can reminisce on being in your music video. [Laughs.]
[Watch my video-girl debut here. Hold your laughter.]
Let’s talk about the entire Soul Shoe project. I love it! Definitely in my rotation. When I’m going to work, it’s Soul Shoes. When I’m off work it’s that Playboi Carti joint because I’m feeling reckless. [Laughs.]
[Shameless plug for the Summer Fun playlist. Most suitable when you’re off work early on Friday’s or getting ready to go out or on the train or on the bus or whenever.]
So what was the background on that album?
I’ve been sitting on it for quite some time. I started working on this when I made Now Leaving District 9 so it’s been quite awhile – the first song I recorded for this album was recorded about a year and a half ago.
I’m such a perfectionist that it just recently came together – I went through so many phases of not liking it and thinking I wasn’t going to put it out. Then just a bit ago, I went in a remixed the whole album. I remixed all the beats and made sure all my vocals sounded good and we got the final version.
Easy is probably the oldest track on the album because Diop’s verse used to be James Oakland. Me and James Oakland wrote that record probably about a year and a half ago when I was living at my mom’s house. When he took his verse off I put Diop on it and it came together.
So, Easy‘s the oldest song on the project. Are any of the other tracks before the interlude really old as well?
Actually, the song Interlude is the oldest on the album. Interlude is just an instrumental that I made when I was 16 or 17. That’s like a four-year-old song. I reproduced it, basically. I had it already and I thought it’d be a cool interlude but it was so old and not as good. So I replayed all the notes on the piano and organs and added vocals over it and redid the whole thing.
I think the two newest songs are Stories of Old and Soul Shoes. A lot of everything else, like Bury Me in Gold, Easy, and OvaThere are all really old. They’ve been done for over a year.
The album seems to tell a story of progression. It’s almost like a self-actualization as you’re going through each track.
Yeah, for sure. The title Soul Shoes comes from phrases like “walk a mile in my shoes” or “the shoe’s on the other foot.” The shoes are like an archetype for one’s self. A lot of the songs were soulful and really honest and open so when I’m wearing my soul shoes, I’m being my truest form of myself. And the whole album is about how I’m trying to find peace within myself. Through all the self-consciousness and all the things that I don’t like about myself, I’m trying to be comfortable in my own skin. That’s the idea of this album.
Through all the self-consciousness and all the things that I don’t like about myself, I’m trying to be comfortable in my own skin. That’s the idea of this album.
That’s dope. I could definitely see that throughout the entire album.
I’m really glad you like it! It’s been a long time that I’ve had this so I didn’t know how I felt about it or how other people would feel about it.
My favorite track right now is a tie between Stories of Old and Luv. When I first heard Luv I felt so warm inside! [Laughs.] It’s so heartwarming.
It’s a Donnie Hathaway sample – just real soulful, on some love shit.
Does your girl like that track?
Yeah, she does. She probably hasn’t heard it in a long time. I played that for her about a year ago.
I wonder how often that happens – where artists record songs, but then it’s released or pops way later.
That’s like damn near what I’m going through right now! All of my old music is my most popular shit. If you go on my Spotify, there’s a song with like 1.3 million plays and it’s a song I made when I was 17. So much has changed since then!
It just goes to show that as an artist, you can’t decide what people will like or don’t like. Some artists go back and delete their old music and that’s a bad move because some of your most hardcore fans will like your old music. I also have to remember that what’s old to me is new to most of my listeners. Soul Shoes is brand new to them because they’ve never heard it.
Is it frustrating knowing you’ve progressed as an artist? With Soul Shoes it’s different because you got to remake some things, but with Chasing Daisy it’s literally just your old stuff doing numbers.
Absolutely, it’s frustrating. I never expected that album to get millions of views. If you went back in time and told me when I made that album that it’d perform how it’s doing now, I’d think you were crazy. I’ll go back and listen to something and think “how are people listening to this…” [Laughs.] I’ve learned so much over the years and my style has changed – I’ve come into myself as an artist. At the same time, people really like that music. Some kid from Denmark just sent me a picture, he got Chasing Daisy tattooed across his leg!
I was going to ask you about that! That’s crazy!
Oh my god. I’ve never experienced anything like this. And he’s from Denmark! That’s the craziest shit.
What was your first reaction when you saw that?
My first reaction was like, “dude, are you sure?!” [Laughs.]
I don’t think of myself as this guy who’s making a huge impact. I’ve very self conscious and antisocial. I’m just chilling in my room making music. When I introduce myself to people, I’m Will. Not Willis the rapper. So for me to have people do that kind of thing is humbling and makes me sit back and realize that this shit is really real. I’ve come to a point where kids are tattooing my lyrics on their leg! It’s surreal. Almost doesn’t process.
It’s powerful. And it makes you wonder what about that project resonated with him so strongly that he wanted it to be a part of his physical self.
That’s another thing that’s surreal! When I made that album I was just a 17-year-old kid making songs in my mom’s house. I would’ve never guessed that this would reach that many people in the first place, let alone that someone would want to tattoo it on their body. Crazy.
It makes me think, what’s going to be the impact of this music? If the music that I made when I was 17 had this kind of impact, how will the music that I make as a 20-year-old resonate with the people who listen?
If the music that I made when I was 17 had this kind of impact, how will the music that I make as a 20-year-old resonate with the people who listen?
Does it add more pressure?
Not really. I don’t really think about it that much. Partly because I’m so self-loathing that I think, “oh, this is just some music I made. It won’t blow up.” And when I’m up here just playing the keys or recording, I’m not really thinking about putting it out into the world yet. I’m doing it for my own therapy. I think that might be why it ends up having a good impact is because I make all of my songs from a place of total honesty. Whatever I’m feeling – I don’t think about whether it’ll be a hit. I make what I like and hope people will like it.
…I’m not really thinking about putting it out into the world yet. I’m doing it for my own therapy.
That’s likely what draws people to you. They could tell that you’re using your music as your diary. Not just to make hits or money, but as your outlet. I think that’s pretty cool.
Yeah, people get something unique and of substance. It’s easy to make some flex music and get rich and famous because your song is a hit on the radio but to be a real artist you have to find the art in you that’s different from everything else.
Was there a particular song on Soul Shoes that you connected with the most when you were recording or patching the album together?
Definitely Soul Shoes. That song wasn’t going to be called Soul Shoes it was jut a really long open verse about the emotions I was going through at the time. Then, when I got ready to make the album I made the beat. The piano is me actually playing the grand piano at my mom’s house. I hooked up two microphones and just started playing chords. I found a chord progression I liked and just played it over and over again for like 10 minutes and then went into my room and laid drums over it and turned it into a beat. Then I already had that long verse and I just put that over it. I added the hook and it ended up perfectly encompassing the total purpose of the album. So I called it Soul Shoes and added it to the outro of the album.
I didn’t know you actually played live instruments to make beats for your tracks.
Yeah. And it’s cool because when you listen to the song you probably wouldn’t even know that it’s me playing the piano. Just a little fun fact.
I mean, everything you hear is me playing or creating, unless it’s a sample. Most of the time it’s me playing something on the electric piano.
That’s cool – most artists can’t do that.
I think it’s important to play instruments to make music. If you don’t know how to create musical arrangements, your music will lack a certain sense of musicality in general. It won’t sound beautifully written. The instrumentation may be too simple.
Or you’ll have to depend on other people to do that for you.
Yeah. I want to show people what that’s like with this album. I did everything myself. I produced every beat on this album. I engineered the whole thing. I mixed every song, mastered the project myself. I made the artwork myself. I’m writing and directing all of the music videos myself. I just feel like the artistry of that is important.
I did everything myself. I produced every beat on this album. I engineered the whole thing. I mixed every song, mastered the project myself. I made the artwork myself. I’m writing and directing all of the music videos myself.
Let’s use Lil Uzi Vert as an example. Not that I’m trying to hate on him, but if you take away his producer, his mix engineer, his art designer and his video director, is he still an artist? Could he still have music if you take away all of those people who are doing it for him?
That’s something that I’m really proud of: you can’t take those things away from me because I do them all myself. At the end of the day, anyone can dislike my music or say my music is trash, but at the end of the day you can’t take away my artistry. You can’t take away the fact that I really play all the instruments and make the beats and master the album and create the artwork. That feels good.
That’s amazing. That says a lot, especially when you mention mainstream artists. Everyone should want to be able to create on their own – and clearly it’s possible because you learned all of it yourself.
Exactly. Anytime I hear of a rapper that makes all of their beats, I’m impressed. J. Cole is one of them. He made all of the beats on Born Sinner. When I looked at the production credits, it’s all Jermaine Cole.
I’ll take it a step further – I do all of my mixing. I’m proud that I can mix music really well, because I didn’t go to college for it or take some class on mixing. I just taught myself over the course of 7 or 8 years. I ended up getting a job at a recording studio and was the lead engineer just because I taught myself how to do it. I take pride in being able to do those things. It feels good that I’m able to do it myself.
Do you have a projected date for the next project?
Probably won’t be for awhile, but it’ll be crazy. That’s all I’ll say. Completely different from Soul Shoes. I’ve got 6 songs done, and the cover will be a painting.
That’s super cool! I’m excited to see how Soul Shoes does and how people like it because it’s a great project. Not just each song individually, but the project is well put together.
Yeah, I’m excited and curious, too. I’ve been sitting on this for almost two years so I’m almost numb to it so I’m looking forward to other people reacting to it.
It’s been a long time coming.