Photo by Sasha Aleksandra Arutyunova

Never Enough” began as a lighthearted, affirming jam session during the OneBeat Russia arts residency. It wound up as a poignant reflection on human greed and desire, presented as part of a reworking of the Russian classic The Soldier’s Tale at GROUND Khodynka. Chicago-based producer Aquil Charlton (“AQ”) talks to Found Sound Nation’s Elena Moon Park about the chaotic origins of the song and development of the video (filmed and edited by Ben Stamper).

EMP: What‘s the inspiration behind “Never Enough”?

AQ: Originally the track started out with a different intention. We wanted to do something fun and light, just to get the group and as many of the producers as possible together. But as things came together, the music started taking on a heavier sound. And as we started to write ideas and talk themes, the possibility of integrating it with the Soldier’s Tale themes came up.

And at least in my mind, those feelings were already there in the song — greed, desire, the emptiness of material accumulation versus personal or cultural wealth… they started to emerge in the words I was writing.

I came upon a verse that I wrote for another song that was never released or published formally, and that ended up becoming the first verse. The theme worked and then I ended up writing the second verse on that same idea, talking about the human desire for more and more interesting things, and the pressure placed on being wealthy or fulfilled.

EMP: So the lyrics and the theme of “Never Enough” came together alongside the creation of the musical track itself?

AQ: One of those verses was written a long time ago — but as far as the hook goes, there was a moment in which a whole bunch of people came into the room while we were making the song. Somehow it was left on me to come up with hook ideas. It was getting chaotic in there, and suddenly, something in my mind and in the room felt like it was going to be “never enough” ideas. At one point, while we were singing “never enough,” it was getting to be too much in my opinion — it had gotten to an “enough” point for me. I just said, “yo, we don’t need anything else right now, we need to sit and listen to what’s going on. There’s too much stuff.” And that was a point when we decided we were done for the night.

The things in the song that we get “never enough” of, some of them are basic needs. But a lot of times the wanting for material gains are a twist on our basic human needs, like food, clothing, shelter and love, human companionship.
Aquil Charlton works alongside Russian producer Anton Meskeliade

EMP: Why and how did you decide to make a music video for this song?

AQ: We were trying to figure out how to perform our group piece in this strange, small space (GROUND Khodynka gallery) — and we noticed there were two TV screens we could use. They were playing still videos, and I thought, ‘oh, well, we have a videographer here…’. There was also a serendipitous installation in a tiny alcove in the gallery: the installation is a dark room with these hanging clotheslines, with very nice-looking paper hanging from them that had lots of writing in red ink all over it, and a red light projected onto it. As if they are drying on the clotheslines. And it was really striking to me — this paper and all these words — because for me the thing I can seem to get “never enough” of is editing my writing.

It wasn’t originally intended to be a music video, it was supposed to be an installation piece for this very specific show at GROUND Khodynka.

EMP: It’s cool to hear how the setting for the video reflected the “never enough” theme so personally for you.

AQ: I would add that it’s not just that the piece wasn’t meant to be a music video — also, the song was not intended, at least for me at the beginning, to be a solo piece. It was meant to be a group piece. It ended up being singularly focused because I guess that’s the nature of rap music, maybe, that the vocals become the central focus of the song. Being in the midst of producing this very intricate performance piece (The Soldier’s Tale), there were only so many people, and so much energy for something new. So this piece ended up being something totally different than what we set out to do.

EMP: What was your overall experience in creating a very theatrical, multi-media show in a small art gallery space? Have you done this type of performance before?

AQ: My takeaway is that I would really love to make more interesting productions around my music. It felt like (the added video) made the song make sense for me, made it complete for me. Throughout this part of my artistic development, I’ve been toying with ideas of personal identity and stage identity, and so wearing this clown nose is sort of my “holding pattern” joke on how absurd it all is. Wearing that nose throughout the video was a statement about how all of this commodification — turning our ideas and desires and basic needs and cultures and expressions into commodities — is absurd to me. And being able to express that physically through what I was wearing, and it not being ME that was represented — yes, it was my words and yes, I was rapping in the video, but I was a character — and it being the first time I was able to play a character and not be like “oh, I’m this rapper making a video about my ideas” — it really made it all about the song and the music. Everything was needed — all the elements of the song — but it all comes full circle in this video, where it is just dark, and it is just me, all observed through my character. The process of making it is what is important. All the other stuff is not. And so you strip away everything so it’s this very simple, straight, one-shot or one-directional, video. One space, one scene, a simple installation. I think for me, watching that video allows me to really get into the music, and feel everything that the music was intending.