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While it can sometimes feel like we’re standing still, the truth is, is that we are constantly evolving. Sometimes these changes can feel drastic, often they are imperceptible. Born and raised in New Jersey and a former social worker - singer, DJ, producer, family man, and trumpeter Miles Bonny, is in the midst of big changes. When we spoke to Miles, he was gearing up for a move from Kansas City, where he's lived for the past 8 years with his family to New Mexico. Beyond the move, Bonny continues to grow as an artist and play with the boundaries of what it means to be a blues/soul/jazz influenced singer. His songs incorporate a sense of intimacy usually reserved for the grainy sounding records your parents listened to when you were a kid - and his music emits a sense of nostalgia, ease, and vulnerability. When we spoke with Bonny, he was phasing out his work as a Cultural Communications Curator for individuals and non-profits and had recently returned from touring in Europe where he performed much of his latest album, Supa Soul Sh*t, with collaborator and producer, Brenk Sinatra. CultureFphiles chatted with Miles about his latest album, being an artist and a father of two, and waxed poetic on the following questions: how does my identity as an artist evolve? How do I make sure my work aligns with my values? How do I contribute to the greater good? Read on.
Let’s talk about Supa Soul Sh*t and the origins of this album.
Since I never made money from my music, I did it on the side…I jumped around from a lot of different jobs and I realized that I value my life and my potential and if I’m doing music this whole time, why am I not just doing that? When other people started taking my music more seriously, like listeners, I was like wait - they’re taking it more seriously than I am. It’s cool because good things are happening and maybe that has to do with my energy because I’m in that place and people can feel that.
How did creating Supa Soul Sh*t differ from your previous album, Lumberjack Soul?
Supa Soul Sh*t took a lot longer and so my vocal recordings were all over the place...it’s my first album completely with one other producer [Brenk Sinatra]. In the past, I've been the producer. As a cohesive work it definitely feels more powerful and deep than my previous release. When we toured we largely based our shows off of that album and people would come up to us and tell us how the show had impacted them, which was surprising. It’s not easy to perform this material when people are going to a show on a weekend night and they’re hearing slow ass soul music. But I think that because of Brenk’s strength as a spirit and as a person and how much he believes in the music, he would play the entire beat for each song not like, ‘oh we’ll do a verse here or a verse there’ so as a performer, it wasn’t easy but maybe it just made it more real. If it touched people there must be something to it. Music is just social work in that it provides a warmth that people don’t really get from other people or other settings in their life.
Do you feel your music provides that warmth or a sense of connection?
That’s not my intention when I record but I think that is something that happens as a result. I mean, I’m just trying to be genuine. I’m not like, ‘hey, let’s fuck all night. I got a lot of money.’
Well, soul music used to have a real subtlety to it. Even in Marvin’s, “Let’s Get It On” the message is clear - but there’s still a subtlety present that’s missing in a lot of music.
Yeah, and it comes off as being disingenuous. I love old music. I love things about new music. Why can’t we just make something that is honest and true for today without having to feel like that middle ground can’t exist?
If I am trying to describe what my music sounds like, I have to come up with words to do that, and that’s where marketing comes in and that whole, music-meets-non-music-conversation begins. I’ve been struggling for a long time given my understanding of marketing and how helpful it can be when you find those right words. I mean, ‘soulful’ doesn’t mean much. To a bunch of white people, it can mean ‘black’ music or something for ‘black people.’ You can’t say ‘organic’ anymore because it’s just redundant. I feel a connection between the idea of Jazz soul and beats. My history stems from hip-hop beats. There’s a trumpeter named Nicholas Payton who is creating a whole lot of hub hub now because he is saying Jazz is a derogatory term and it’s actually black American music and if you look back historically, all these people like Miles Davis and Duke Ellington were saying we don’t play Jazz, we just make music. All I get sent from producers are slow Jazzy beats which is a great - I really love being that guy who sings over slow Jazzy beats. But I also love crazy shit. I love the genre that is related to the music I make and the music that has historically preceded it, but I also love fast, danceable things and I’m thinking I can do both.
How do you negotiate the desire to try different things so you're being true to your evolution as an artist but also remaining faithful to your fans? Is that even something you consider?
My fans love the music I make. Or have made. Whether they like what I create in the future is up to them. I don't have zombie followers. I have a community of individually minded, free, progressive thinkers. They are evolving themselves in search of self and freedom. We all are, the world is changing before our eyes. Sticking to an easy formula or something that is purely about money is foolish for anyone.
I’m an ambassador for the type of music that I like. Musically, I make the music I want to hear...I'm conscientious about what I do. I'm not into pyrotechnics and choreography. I'm not a lighting designer or stockholder. I’m living a life based on my spiritual path and connection with community in this time. All with an understanding of the history of my musical lineage in my ancestors and with the recorded material that has shaped me.
It’s clear it’s important your values are aligned with your work. It can cause a lot of conflict when we do work that is not aligned with our values. Can you speak on that?
I would say, factually, probably most people don’t have their work aligned with their values. I think that’s why society is collapsing right now. As individuals, people are working purely for money and if the people they’re working for are doing it purely for the money then it’s hard to base an entire society on something that’s fake. We’ve had to choose boxes as jobs for people to fit, but they are essentially created by someone else, as opposed to us developing our own interests.
A lot of it comes down to how I am choosing to be perceived as an artist. And if I am being consistent with what I claim. I want to be someone people can rely on and trust. I’m starting to write things that are more reflective. If I genuinely believe strongly about things going on in the world and the people that listen to me also do, I can do it in a way where the music is enjoyable and not shoved down their throat. I’m growing as a songwriter and finding the balance between creating content that is not too personal that no one can relate to it but also not making it into a lecture. The fact is, is that there are things going on in the world that are ugly - but I don’t want to make ugly music.
That’s the hard part about anyone being adamant about social justice. It’s never ending, as far as the amount of ways you can shift your choices to be aligned with those beliefs. I’m trying to be conscious of not buying things from countries with bad labor laws…I was talking to a friend of mine and he was like, ‘yeah people might have these beliefs but we still don’t follow them when it’s inconvenient for us.’ At what point do I hold myself accountable? It doesn’t mean we have to be hard on ourselves but it’s still something I’m trying to work on.
How do you balance your family life and your career?
How do I not completely sell out and potentially gain greater fans or bigger opportunities while at the same time staying true to my values and make sure I have enough money to be a responsible father? So far it’s not hard, but it requires a lot of hard decisions. You can’t be lazy about it.
How has being a father and having a partner influenced your music and the way you approach your art?
It's increasingly becoming something my collaborators understand is important to me. My love for family and belief isn't "cute" - it's real. Raising children well is important and realer than any fame I could ever obtain. I could not buy what my family provides me and what I can provide them. My first video was based on my family life…at the same time, we give each other great freedoms. My partner and kids and family situation is amazing. I'm thankful. I want the same for others.
I started singing when I met my partner. The balance between touring, recording, and anything I do publically has to fit within my life as a whole. The song "As you sleep on my lap" did real well on my man's Ta-KU Soundcloud. People seemed to respond to the honesty of it. It was a freestyle recorded while she was in my lap, sleeping in the studio. I'm trying to be myself as much as possible. Myself, and my music are always getting realer as I learn more about myself and society.
My grandmother, Helen Bonny, wrote a book called Music Consciousness: the Evolution of Guided Imagery in Music. She wrote that even though she knew how to play violin she never wanted to be the person on stage, she wanted to touch people’s hearts. I was like fuck, I wish she was still alive so I could have a conversation with her. It’s like, I need to do shows because I want to connect with the people who like my music but I don’t really care about being on stage and I don’t really care about being famous. I just want to make good music and I’ll do whatever it takes to do that.