If you want to know the meaning behind Contour's upcoming release, Softer, you're going to have to find it for yourself. When we spoke with the experimental artist and sometimes-emcee, he was resolute on remaining tight-lipped on the meaning of the project, which encompasses both an album and a film of the same name. "I know it's like a risky interview decision, but I've decided not to explicitly address what the themes are," says Contour's Khari Lucas. "I really want people to individually interpret them, but there's definitely a very strong common thread."
What we do know is this: The project's been in the works for some time, with the first of the EP's six songs completed over a year ago. After debuting a sample track at a Halloween show, the crowd's positive response encouraged Lucas to consider doing a full vocal record.
"I originally planned on doing nine songs or so but the way my creative process works is that I start with something and I kind of follow that thing and I let it take me where it's going to take me as I'm doing other projects and stuff," Lucas says. "So I didn't write the second song until maybe two or three months later. I've just been writing the songs really gradually, and eventually the concept presented itself to me as the songs were starting to sound similar."
The EP is a unique one for the multidimensional Contour, an artist whose previous releases include an album that's predominately experimental beats and samples (last year's something else) and a collection of chill hip-hop tracks with local emcee Illadell (Verses, also from last year). This time, each song has lyrics and a vocalist, with one track featuring Georgia rapper Garret Odom.
But what really sets the project apart is the film that accompanies it, a concept Lucas dreamt up after completing the actual music for the project in April of last year. "I wanted to think of a way to present the music in a way that was more than hearing some music, because anyone can do that," he says.
So Lucas and co-director John Peters, who the artist had met at a local rap show, went to work on the visuals, spending two months scouting locations, like the inlet at Isle of Palms, the graveyards between Archdale and King streets, the residential area near the Battery, Hampton Park, and the top of the Charleston Visitor's Center garage. Carson Tucker, who Lucas and Peters found on Twitter, is the videographer, while Amara Britt and Austin Butler (a.k.a. local emcee Nory) star in the film.
Clocking in at under 15 minutes, Softer, the film, is wordless and open to interpretation. "It's like vignettes, like music videos for a few of the songs on the album but pieced together so there's kind of a story to it," Lucas says. "It's not narrative driven, but you could pull a narrative out of it if that's what you see and what you want to do."
While Contour is largely a solo operation, Lucas has recruited three other players — pianist Tyler Sim, bassist Jesse Kieve, and drummer Chase Bunes — to introduce Softer to listeners this weekend at Redux. He also chose local support who he's produced recently — Charleston-based chill-wave musician Diaspoura and Columbia R&B artist, Niecey Blues. "I wanted to spotlight artists of color and female artists, especially when I figured out I'd have access to Redux," Lucas says. "I want to represent those groups of people and places that might be outside of the types of art people would expect artists of color to make."