Success demands perseverance and the willingness to immerse oneself in a chosen craft while traversing the arduous road to the upper echelon—all of which requires sacrifice, but who gets left behind by the bright allure of the finish line?
“We all want to be able to live a life that speaks to our accomplishments, but do we lose who we love in order to gain that?” asks Marlon Wilson, better known by his stage name, Arlo Maverick.
The question is particularly poignant when it comes to the local hip-hop artist’s new album, Maybe Tomorrow. The conceptual record follows a protagonist named Soup, an aspiring musician who loses his grandmother just as his career begins to take off. Add to that a breakup with his fiancé, and Soup finds himself turning to substances as a means to cope. Realizing he can’t continue on that path, he seeks help from a therapist.The songs throughout Maybe Tomorrow capture the dynamic of those sessions, interspersed with dialogue that offers a glimpse into Soup’s relationships with those closest to him.
“The album is loosely inspired by a true story, and for me, it was a form of therapy. But at the same time, it was me trying to create an album that spoke to my lack of balance in my real life,” Wilson explains. “So many things that happen within our childhood can affect our relationships that we have with our significant others, you know? So it wasn’t a situation of me trying to blame or anything like that: it was a situation of me trying to look at, what are the circumstances that can occur within your childhood, whether it be poverty, whether it’s living in a single-parent household, doesn’t matter what it is, but how is that going to affect the relationships you have—and at what point do you accept responsibility for that?”
Putting pen to paper helped Wilson process some of these questions, and he believes writing down problems can benefit anyone coping with aspects of their life. Maybe Tomorrow is a deeply personal album for Wilson, but he remained cognizant of the sense that he was only telling one side of the story, and certain elements of it have been changed to protect those who aren’t able to share their perspective. It’s a nuanced portrayal of an individual’s internal and external turmoil, but it all circles back to the need for balance—much like the conversation with Wilson does. He notes there’s an ongoing struggle to keep yourself happy while keeping those around you happy, too: ensuring family remains at the forefront of your priorities, because if you work yourself to death and have no one around you to celebrate that with, what’s the point?
Balance is undoubtedly difficult to achieve, but by no means does Wilson think he’s got it all figured out.
“It’s one of those things where—especially being an artist here in Edmonton—you’re trying to make music that is going to reach the world and you want to get out there and do all these things, but there’s so much work that’s required for you to get beyond that point,” he says, noting he often gets asked why he doesn’t relocate to a larger centre. “It’s kind of foot in the door, foot out the door in the sense of you want to go and do all these things, but you see how even just working here you don’t really have time for family, so imagine if you were gone entirely. Then you’d never have time for family, you know? Would it be a situation where all you do is communicate via text, via Skype or via email? All of a sudden the people who you say you love the most are the people you see the least.”
In listening to Maybe Tomorrow, it’s clear that a great deal of thought and planning went into the album in order for its story to be a cohesive and impactful one. Wilson formed the nascent ideas for the record in early 2012, wanting to create something that stood apart from his previous work with the group Politic Live. When scheduling conflicts prevented him from completing the album with longtime Politic Live collaborator Fred Brenton, Wilson teamed with with Michael James of local rock groups Motorbike James, Unwed Mothers and Royal Tusk. James was unfamiliar with Politic Live’s work, which Wilson now sees as a benefit since he had no bias or frame of reference as to how the album “should” sound. The result is a richly varied sonic palette that blends elements of rock and hip hop, creating often hard-hitting melodies that complement the emotional undertones of each point of Soup’s journey, further actualized with the help of numerous guest vocalists like Adora and Oozeela.
“It was me basically describing movie scenes and emotions I wanted to convey,” Wilson explains of his work with James. “The lyrics are telling a story, the music itself is telling a story, even certain parts where there’s just musical breaks, that’s supposed to represent different emotions or different scenes. One thing I ask people to do, the first time I ask them to listen, I ask them to listen to it in the dark, headphones on, eyes closed and just listen to it from beginning to end in order for them to get lost in the story, because the narrative is so important.”
The narrative is the impetus of Maybe Tomorrow, but its concluding statement is less concrete. Wilson, who is also releasing a prequel EP and videos to further flesh out Soup’s story, closes the album with a feeling of regret as his central character reflects on what he’s been through, but what he’s taken away from it all is up for interpretation.
“He still feels that he’s not entirely wrong in being such a workaholic and making those sacrifices,” Wilson says. “But I think that sometimes it’s our pride that gets in the way, and that’s why that’s one of the last things that’s mentioned on the project is the sense his pride is getting in the way of him even realizing that he’s lost everything, and he still won’t admit that he needs to make a real change.
“So as far as what people are left with, I would like them to give their own conclusion,” he continues. “But at the same time I would want them to reflect on their own lives in the sense of, are they aiming for balance in their life? I think that’s something we should all consider in our day-to-day lives as we make choices that may seem important in that moment. I’m not saying that sacrifices shouldn’t be made in order to achieve things, but at the same time assessing whether that sacrifice is something that’s beneficial to you and your family.”
Fri, Feb 26 (9 pm)
With The Honor Roll and Sydney Love, Music By Sonny Grimezz
Mercury Room, $10