Hēran Soun

Q&A: Hēran Soun

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How would describe your music?
The reason why I made this music alone was purely due to my failure at being able to describe my music. I failed with the musicians I loved playing with. I failed to articulate how they could get the noises out that would make the music. That’s the same way I would fail you now. I’m not saying someone wouldn’t be able to, but to answer
your question … “badly.”

What does music mean to you?
You could survive on water and potatoes only, but then there’s flavors and food you
couldn’t live without. Sounds and noises give me a lot but hearing those noises shaped and mixed into music is the most incredible sensation. Music has a sense of controlling chaos; using instruments to try to harness noise and create something far beyond just surviving.

When did you first become interested in playing music?
Sadistically, around the time that it was impossible to. I’ve never been good at being told I can’t do something.

Why do you speak with a British accent when you’re not actually British?
My first learned accent was from being around my American family. That went away early when I couldn’t hear myself speak and only two people could understand my slurred speech. I had to relearn and the speech therapist who taught me was from Oxford, England.

Hēran Soun
Hēran Soun

How did you become the artist in residence at 25th Street Studios?
The studio manager saw me play at an open mic in Berkeley and offered me time at the studio. But I really became the Artist in Resident at 25th Street when I pulled into the parking lot with my RV. The studio manager is one of those people that musicians just need in the world to be so open and generous. As far as I know, this wasn’t a typical
residency as I was offered the nights to record. I thought the best way to do this would be to sleep in the day and as close by as possible, to not be distracted by any other things in life. If I wasn’t in the RV I was in the studio, and I far preferred the studio to the parking lot, so I chose that more often than not.

What have you learned most from your residency there?
It tested my limits on being isolated. It became unhealthy at times. No one was awake at the same time as me and so I didn’t have many social interactions for weeks on end. I wouldn’t change the process but I’m not sure I could do this again. Plus, I learned that you don’t need a typical living situation to be happy. Living in the RV and recording
in that studio was the best.

You were born with a hearing disorder that eventually made you deaf. You’ve since regained your hearing. How did the experience shape you as a musician and as a human being?
The most real way this changed my music is basically the frequencies I don’t hear. I had about 15% hearing when I was born, and that went nothing and I had constant problems, but with time, and operations, it was mended. The passion to make music is so strong, it’s hard to say if it’s because of this experience, as it’s the only experience
I’ve had. The reality is my hearing isn’t perfect and it’s there in the music and has shaped the sound, for better or worse.

What are some of your favorite neighborhoods in the city and why?
On 25th street in Oakland, there’s Bobby (who also lives in his van) and feeds the 200 strong siege of pigeons which terrorize the cars and business owners; the bakery that at
7 p.m. presents its unsold artisan bread on the sidewalk; the art galleries which all open up once a month; the ‘don’t ask too many questions how’ mechanics; the unknown
studio that offers time to so many musicians, and always finds a way to help make things happen. You could walk this street in minutes and not see any of this, but it’s all here, sometimes hidden.

What are some of your favorite music venues in the city?
The Swedish American Hall is the most connected I’ve felt while watching musicians playing there. It just a large room with a stage knocked into the furthest wall. The artist has to walk through the audience to get to their spot and everyone joins them for their time in that hole. I can’t wait to play there one day.

The SF Gate came out with a story today about artists fleeing the city. What do you think accounts for that?
I’ve seen it — the desire to move somewhere cheaper, or with dreams of a bigger music scene which would embrace them more. I understand it. I had to make the Bay work with what I had. I didn’t jump at the option to move into the RV but it was the best move for all the same reasons that people leave here. There’s always a balance with struggle and artists, and sadly that’s where the good scenes often come from.


Having released albums under Digital Nations, a label founded by Steve Vai, music critic Louis Raphael has remained deeply connected to the pulse of the San Francisco music scene. Following his tenure as the San Francisco Music Examiner for Examiner.com and AXS.com, he embarked on creating Music in SF® to authentically highlight the vibrant offerings of the city's music scene.

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