It’s a simultaneously cool and humid Brooklyn night in the middle of September and it seems as if Mother Nature can’t decide whether or not she wants to let summer live longer or finally transition into fall. The outfits spotted in line outside the Music Hall of Williamsburg reflect this confusion. As people begin to hold their spots in front of the venue nearly an hour before doors are set to open, there’s a clear thread between many of these outfit choices. Traces of black and yellow stick out in the midst of the crowd as dedicated fans proudly display their Sonder merchandise.
Over the course of a year, the fanbase surrounding Baltimore singer Brent Faiyaz, as well as Sonder, has grown immensely. Last September, Faiyaz shared his A.M. Paradox project on his birthday as a short introduction to who he is as an artist and individual. Just a month later, Faiyaz joined forces with producers Dpat and Atu to form a trio named Sonder. The word “sonder” means the realization that each random passerby lives a life as vivid and complex as your own—causing each of our unique experiences to flow into each other. Their Into EP is the direct result of what seems to be Faiyaz' favorite word coming to life.
Above his right eyebrow, this same word can be seen tattooed in all capital letters. "It’s funny 'cause we named the band after the tattoo," Faiyaz says, explaining that his attachment to "sonder" came about after a day of randomly searching for obscure words. "I couldn't really think of anything more perfect that I could've got tattooed on my face and it kinda sums up how [Dpat, Atu, and I] met too," Faiyaz says. "It was all just organic. We all had our own thing going on and we crossed paths and we made something beautiful out of it. I think it’s perfect. It sums up the lifestyle."
Though it’s been less than a year since the release of their debut EP Into, the impact and growth of the group has already skyrocketed. They have now performed for two sold-out crowds in Brooklyn, and both included the audience not only singing all the words but singing even louder than the man with the microphone onstage.
“Pretty much all the shows we’ve done, it’s been the same thing, just more people,” Faiyaz explains about the audience’s eagerness to sing along with him. “But I don’t think any of us put the project out expecting for it to do what it did.” Individually, Faiyaz, Atu, and Dpat each have growing solo careers but this year has proven the power of their strength together. And currently, the spotlight is shining brightly on Faiyaz, the band's frontman, as he prepares for the release of his forthcoming debut album Sonder Son on October 13 via Stem.
"I think it’s perfect timing," Faiyaz admits, and he's right. This summer, GoldLink's single "Crew"—which features Faiyaz and D.C. rapper Shy Glizzy—cracked the Billboard Hot 100 and it remained a major staple throughout the season. Faiyaz is proud of the accomplishment, but is still aiming to see his own msuic receive the same recognition. "It’s cool. I might go into a Popeye’s or whatever, anywhere and I’ll just hear it and I’ll do a little dance to it and keep it like that, but I don’t really focus too much on it. I’d rather do my own record that’s moving like that."
At only 22 years old, there seems to be plenty of time for him to hit that goal, and it seems very feasible. In comparison to the rest of his R&B peers, Faiyaz stands out in an intriguing way. Rather than making generic love songs, he says he'd rather listeners get to know him through his music. “I feel like it’s another [thing] to take your personal life, learn from it, then make music about what you’ve learned,” he says. “I feel like I just learned a lot throughout the process about myself and I feel like people can listen and relate it to their everyday life.”
Early songs like "Natural Release" show the strength of his songwriting and his ability to make serious matters still feel alluring. "I like the fact that you can hide actual messages between people thinking that they’re about to get it on. So people hear it and vibe to it, thinking it’s something sensual and then the lyrics are something deeper than that. I feel like any way you can get the message to resonate, I’m all for it."
The vivid imagery reads more like the script of a film than a two minute song. Faiyaz admits he's a big fan of director Quentin Tarantino, which seems fitting for the subject matter at hand on "Natural Release." "I’m super big on Tarantino films with blood and shit like that," he explains. "If I’m not making music, I’m watching movies so I can’t really, directly find a way that it affects it but I already know it does."
His current composure and maturity stems from the fact that he’s been creating music since he was very young. Yet, his tranquility doesn’t mean he doesn’t still get nervous. “I feel you gotta be nervous. If you’re nervous, it’s just ‘cause you want to do well, it’s not ‘cause you’re scared.” Backstage he has a real calmness to him as he speaks, but onstage he transforms, moving like someone who is used to the spotlight. All the hard work has led up to this moment.
As the title Sonder Son implies, Faiyaz sees himself as a student of everything happening around him which he uses as inspiration for his own storytelling. "Since a lot of the stuff I write is just based off personal experience and the people that I meet and collaborated with, I think [the title] just made sense. I’ve always felt like I was observing everything, like I’m just looking out of the window, peeping how everybody is living and just penning about it, so I made the album about that concept."
Any fan can agree that Sonder's Into EP allows listeners to take a deep dive into their emotions, but Faiyaz explains that we can expect to take a deep journey into his personal thoughts on Sonder Son. "With the Sonder music, I pull a lot from what’s around me. But with the solo album I finally got an opportunity to pull from within so it’s more personal, more introspective."
Traces of Timbaland and Tony! Toni! Toné! can be heard within the rhythms, while his approach to storytelling comes from his inspirations like Nina Simone, Jeff Buckley, and 2Pac. Brent Faiyaz is right on the verge of something big, but he seems prepared. “There was a time where I was looking at everything and I was just [overwhelmed]. Now I’m relaxed and I feel like I’m ready for what’s about to come. I’m not as overwhelmed as I was. I think these shows got me over it. I’m just ready, ready to see what’s next.”
As Sonder's Williamsburg show came to an end and the crowd headed out of the venue, a car passed by with impeccable timing blasting "Crew," and Faiyaz' voice was once again heard trailing off into the distance. If AM Paradox and Into were introductions to Faiyaz' brilliant talent, then Sonder Son is another chapter in this burgeoning star's story.