R&B-pop artist SOLA discusses debut EP ‘Everything In Between’

NYU senior SOLA talks about her journey as a musician and the release of her debut EP ‘Everything In Between’

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Debut EP “Everything in Between” by NYU student Jessica Omokheyeke, aka SOLA, is available on Spotify. (Photo by John Matlosz)

Paree Chopra, Contributing Writer

As a music business major at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, Jessica Omokheyeke, aka SOLA, has the drive and passion for all things music.

“Everything In Between” is a six-track debut EP that tells the story of SOLA’s life as an artist and as a person. There are heart, sentiment and societal expectations put forward through this album that not only allow listeners to connect with the artist but also reflect on their own persona. With R&B, pop-inspired tunes and powerhouse vocals, SOLA explores the depths of her inner self as she channels vulnerability and strength in her lyrics. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

WSN: How did you find music and songwriting as your calling?

SOLA: I’ve been a fan of music my whole life. I was in the church choir, which was my favorite thing to do. My older sisters were heavily into music and they introduced me to musical theater at eight years old. I did community theater, and acting was cool, but I just loved the parts where I got to sing and dance and perform in front of an audience. I got to middle school, and did some more theater but stuck with choir, and started writing songs. They started off as just singing words that made sense, but slowly started turning into structured songs. 

When I got to high school, singing, performing and putting out my own music was my priority, so I just wrote and wrote and performed as much as I could. Still, I was terrified of putting out my own music in high school because I felt like I didn’t have the resources to put out something that I would be proud of. I didn’t want to put something out and take it down years later. 

I knew I wanted to study music business because I want to be able to represent myself as an artist and continue full-time writing, singing and performing. I joined an a cappella group called “The Vocaholics” and met an amazing producer, who’s one of my best friends, and we started making music together. It was finally something where I felt like, “Yeah, this is what I’m proud of, this is something that I can put out into the world and not worry about taking it down.” 

WSN: You have to be vulnerable to release any kind of music. How did it feel releasing your first single “In This World” and now having released your debut EP “Everything In Between”? Has it become easier to release music; what has changed?

SOLA: You’re putting your art out to be critiqued by the world so it was very very difficult releasing my first single. Especially because “In This World” has such a strong subject matter. I wrote it during quarantine with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, and all the shootings happening every single day when I was in the middle of Texas. So of course I was terrified to release it because I knew people were going to hear it and not agree with it. But I also knew that despite all that, it had to be heard, so I put it out anyway. It was such a vulnerable, but expressive part of me. The song was my outlet. I was so proud of it that I was like “The right people that I should surround myself with will hear this and agree. And hopefully, the song can educate people who don’t agree with me.” 

Changing to the EP, it’s gotten easier, but it’s still scary just because this is my first full project and it’s the first thing people will hear if they look up my name to hear a taste of who I am. It’s also scary in the sense of putting something out and welcoming critique and feedback, no matter what it’s going to be. But that is also empowering to me because regardless of what they say, I’m so proud of the music I’ve made, to the point that nobody can tell me that it is not good. That’s just the confidence I’ve built from all my releases. 

WSN: What do you want people to take away from “Everything In Between”? 

SOLA: “Everything In Between” is a collection of songs that are completely different from one another because I’m a very multifaceted individual. Each song is a representation of who I am as a person, the complexity of being me and everything that I’ve been through, so I want people to feel closer to me after hearing the EP. I want them to hear it and be like “Oh, that’s who Jessica is, that’s who SOLA is.”

As stand-alone singles, you can take away what you want from each song but together, in the order that I’ve placed the songs in, you’ll get a better idea of the journey I’ve been on my whole life when it comes to music. This EP is a collection of who I am, who I strive to be and everything in between — past, present and what’s going to happen in the future. 

WSN: What was the creative process behind writing the EP?

SOLA: At first the EP was going to be five songs, and I added the last one after a show in New York. But for those five songs, I wanted them to be about big, life-changing moments for me. So the first single “In This World” was the biggest of all.

The other songs I had written afterward. One encompasses my first love that I was recently blessed enough to experience and I’m still experiencing. It was something that I had always yearned for and is such a big part of my life now and who I am. “Unpredictable” is about everything I went through from elementary school to high school, growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood and being dark-skinned. It’s essentially about code-switching and changing who I am to please other people in order to survive. So, it’s a song about altering your whole persona to fit in, which was something I had to unlearn. The last song and title track “Everything In Between” is the culmination of what I’ve learned and how I’m deciding to grow again and find beauty in myself again — to be confident in who I am now and proud of the person that I was and everything I went through. 

WSN: Who is your stage persona SOLA? How is she different from Jessica?

SOLA: My middle name is Bisola, which is Nigerian and it means born into wealth. When I was spitballing stage names, my producer suggested SOLA because it was mononymous like Beyoncé and Adele. The one name is always iconic. I had wondered what I was going to call myself for a long time and that just immediately snapped into place. 

I’m an extra person in all the things that I do and when I hit the stage as SOLA, it’s 10 times that. I love to dance, move around and interact with the audience. It’s just this rush and surge of energy that I have no choice but to let it out through my voice, movement and what I’m singing. There’s nothing I love more than being able to sing in front of people, let alone sing my music — it feels like the perfect match. It’s not too different when you come to my shows and you know who I am, but to me, Jessica and SOLA feel very different. As SOLA, it feels like I’m on a high the entire show. 

WSN: You had the opportunity to perform in Paris even before your debut EP came out alongside multiple shows in New York. How does it feel to have those opportunities so early in your career, and how do you make the most of them?

SOLA: Playing in Paris when I studied there last fall was actually my first time performing a solo show live. I got to France, and I knew I was going to be releasing my second single “Steering Wheel” on Nov. 11, 2021. I knew there were some musicians at NYU Paris, one of them being a really good friend of mine, Neely, who played guitar. We became fast friends, and we started making music together. I emailed so many venues about playing a show, and they emailed back saying they’d love to have me. I played seven or eight shows while I was in Paris, ending with a two-hour set. Doing that so early was scary because at that point I had only had one song out. And I had to share a lot of songs that I hadn’t put out to the world yet with a smaller audience. It was difficult and scary, but I was also so excited for people to finally hear everything I had been writing for years. Performing in Paris gave me the confidence to come to New York and book more shows, with bigger audiences and bigger venues. In March, when I did my first show in New York, I said, “At the end of the summer before I move to Los Angeles, I am going to play the Mercury Lounge.” I did it, and I sold it out.

WSN: You’re a singer-songwriter, a college student and you are working in the music industry. How do you balance that, and how does it give you the experiences you can write songs about? 

SOLA: I’ve always been someone who takes on a lot. In middle school and high school, I was doing too much. But I wanted everything I did in college to somehow impact my music career and who I want to be as an artist. Studying music business and working in the music industry, I genuinely am learning so much. At the same time, I’m working which impacts the marketing of my EP, the roll-out of what I do and the timing of when I put out music. I’m learning so much from these labels and companies that are promoting some of the biggest artists in the world. 

At the same time, I am balancing being a student, a singer-songwriter and looking for a full-time job in the industry. It’s very difficult because there are a lot of times when I’m in school when I know what I’m learning doesn’t directly correlate to what I want to do. Still, I know it’s something I have to do to get to where I want to go. It’s a lot of trying to navigate what needs to be prioritized at that time. Any time I’m gearing up to release music, that is my priority, and the jobs I work, I want them to be something that fuels my career. Everything I do is connected in a circle, and going to NYU, it has such a good music business program and such a good network. I couldn’t have had that network for my music without school. I joined an a capella group at NYU and now my whole band that I perform with is from that group, including my producer. It’s difficult, but I’m doing my best and I’m balancing it well. 

WSN: What is your current goal for your music career?

SOLA: My current goal for music is to attract a ton of new listeners who don’t know who I am, who just hear my voice and want to know who I am or see me perform. I want to engage an audience and really build a fanbase. I have one now and I love the SOLA system, but I’d love for it to grow because I have a lot of stories to tell. It would mean a lot to me if people wanted to hear them. For the future, now that the EP is out, I’m writing my album. I’m pulling songs from the past and editing them. And I’m gearing up to go to New York in the new year where I have a couple of shows booked, which is exciting. Lastly, for the distant future, I want to perform for the rest of my life, whether it’s a coffee shop or Madison Square Garden, I need to be on stage. It’s where I feel at home, where everything melts away and it’s just me, myself and my music. 

“Everything In Between” is available on all major streaming platforms.

Contact Paree Chopra at [email protected]