Weaving together sounds both old and new, this Montreal producer’s vision is life-affirming
He’s got a big, pearly white smile and a loud, infectious laugh to accompany it. His Hindi name, Sukhdev, translates into “lord of happiness,” which seems fitting since he’s usually in good spirits. He’ll enthusiastically tell you about how sound travels through air, or how music will literally speak to him. He’s not lying, nor is he on drugs—he’s simply eager to talk about his craft. But don’t be fooled; for Montreal-based music producer Sookz, positivity isn’t the key to success—it’s gratitude.
Sookz described how he practices gratitude daily using a metaphor: there’s a cup. At the beginning of your day it’s empty. As your day progresses, you fill it up with new experiences and new lessons, both good and bad. At the end of the day, it’s about saying thank you for all that has happened.
“When you’re in a state of gratitude, there’s so much more appreciation. You don’t think about the bad stuff,” he said. “I definitely have my moments where I think ‘this is isn’t enough,’ or ‘I could be better at this’ but I always try to fall back on gratitude.”
He wasn’t always in this state of mind, though. When it came to figuring out his career path in his early 20s, he said he was in limbo for a while. “I didn’t know where I wanted to go with my career,” he said. He knew he loved film and sound scores. At 22 years old, he enrolled in electroacoustic studies at Concordia, even though he didn’t have a musical background.
“It ended up being really good for me,” he said. The program led Sookz to the birth of a new passion: music production.
It wasn’t always easy. He struggled learning music composition and putting together harmonious melodies. He didn’t really know what his sound was, but it made him continue working hard to find it.
He set up his own studio in his parents’ basement and decided to take music more seriously. The studio was made up of a set of speaker monitors, an apogee ensemble, a microphone and an iMac. He isolated himself to refine his craft. He compiled hard drives full of instrumentals and beats, many of which became collaborations with several artists. Since then, Sookz has relocated to a place he calls home, filled with new gear and recording equipment, and has moved onto bigger projects.
“I didn’t speak to anyone,” he said. “I was alone in my basement. I just worked on music for a long time.” He would listen to classical music to get his creative juices flowing, particularly Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. “Their pieces are very emotional, and the way they’re orchestrated, each instrument has a voice, and each voice is saying something different,” he said.
What the music says is important to Sookz. It’s what drives him to create it in the first place. His motto: It’s not about him. It’s about the music.
“With producing music, it’s like I black out. It’s such a state of flow that I get into,” he said. He often gets up before sunrise, at three or four in the morning to work on music. “I feel like my mind is really empty at that time, and so I could really listen to what the music has to say.”
Whether he plays a few notes or a three-chord progression, the relationship that the sounds have together is how the musical story unfolds, he said, adding “The music creates itself … What I’ve come to learn is that I’m not an expressive artist. I like to let the music tell the story.”
Layer after layer, instrumentals are created. Some are dramatic movie-like scores, others funky R&B beats. Sometimes, they’re pure electronica. When he began working with vocalists, though, that’s when the game really changed.
Two years ago, he met alternative R&B musician Voyce*. Sookz heard one of his songs, really admired his voice and messaged him asking if he wanted to collaborate on a track. He sent him an instrumental piece and Voyce* returned it to him complete with vocals.
“Next thing you know we were 12 tracks deep and we had a full album,” Sookz said with a laugh. “While we were making it we started to develop a really cool friendship.”
The two released the album in mid-December, titled Hidden in Plain Sight: King of the Sand Castle, which consisted of an eclectic mix of bass-heavy R&B beats and electronic sounds, complete with Voyce*’s dynamic range and emotional vocals. The first song they recorded together, “Proud of You,” is featured on it.
“It kind of felt like I was working with myself,” Voyce* said about the production process. “We both gave each other the flexibility to do what we wanted because we both have the same mental state with music.”
The duo will be releasing another album in March, titled Lords of Gemini: Somewhere Between Worlds. Sookz will also be working on his own electronic album called Fury of a Patient Man, and throughout the year will be collaborating with various artists.
“I was always sort of in a rut and trying to find my way with music,” Sookz said. “But now that I’ve found this sense of gratitude, it’s all come together.”