When SOHN first emerged in 2012, he cut an icy figure out of the Austrian city of Vienna. Hooded press shots met with early material that was cold and distant yet brilliant, and a snow-blanketed scene made up the artwork for his 2014 debut album ‘Tremors’. Rightly or wrongly, he was framed in the same mould as the likes of James Blake and Jamie Woon - a sadboy-type producer making music with melancholy at its heart.
Today, however, he’s Skyping us from a sun-drenched Los Angeles poolside. “I took the sunglasses off a second ago so I don’t appear too smug,” he quips, worlds away from a bitter London mid-winter and the Austrian capital he called home until 18 months ago. Starting up a new life on a whim, getting married, and becoming a father - all in the space of two years - it’s been a whirlwind ride that’s spawned his bold, bright second album ‘Rennen’.
“There was a moment when the big tour [for ‘Tremors’] ended and I got back to Vienna,” Christopher remembers, “and I’d been renting an apartment from a friend for four months, and realised I’d spent four nights there.” Disillusionment with a city he’d called home for seven years - he originally hails from South London - and the break-up of a relationship, opened up a literal world of possibilities, with Los Angeles an understandably exciting alternative.
“I moved out there and had about nine months of not being SOHN. I was still working on music, but it was removed from the career I’d built,” he says, and it wasn’t until he took himself up to Sonoma in the northern Californian hills for an isolated break at a friend’s house, that he set down with the sole purpose of writing the follow-up to ‘Tremors’. Gaining some distance and perspective from his first big tour - one that lasted two years - allowed Christopher to digest the amount of change he had experienced, giving ideas the room to flow freely and without restriction.
“I’ve got to be looking forwards, or else, what am I doing?”
’Rennen’ opens with ‘Hard Liquor’, a thumping pop song that cuts through the mist and gloom of ‘Tremors’, straight to the sweet-spot. The stories of him potentially writing with Rihanna make perfect sense, now, and serves as a completion of his journey, a statement Christopher calls “a flag in the ground,” from which ‘Rennen’ could spread its wings.
“I went from being someone who was in my little corner in Austria, away from everyone, to driving around Taipei on a scooter in the middle of a world tour. It felt like I was in ‘Lost In Translation’ for a while,” he jokes, ”and I somehow became this worldly man.” It’s a transformation of such vast proportions that made Christopher struggle to associate with the person that wrote the songs that make up ‘Tremors’ - the songs he was singing every night on tour, going through these drastic changes. It also meant ‘Rennen’ was going to be - and had to be - something extremely different.
“There’s no situations that could be further apart than the recording of my two albums,” he admits. ”I went from holing up in a dark studio in Vienna, leaving at 6am and trudging through the snow to get home, to being on a ranch in the California hills, worried that a fire’s going to sweep across and blow everything away. I also learnt not to conceal what I actually enjoy about making music, and what I want from it. There’s a big talking point around the ‘suffering artist’, and we all play up to it, to a certain extent, and it can be to the detriment of the art itself. I learnt to speak up when on ‘Tremors’ I would have shied away. I learnt to sing and write boldly when before I would have concealed it. ‘Hard Liquor’ isn’t a song I would ever have written three years ago, let alone put as the grand opening of my album. It’s me owning up to what I actually love to do.”
“I learnt to speak up when on ‘Tremors’ I would have shied away.”
Christopher admits that it would have been easy to continue being “that person” he introduced on ‘Tremors’, both visually and sonically, but instead, he chose to be “like an actor taking another role,” opening up a world of options. From ‘Hard Liquor’ and ‘Rennen’’s neon green cover alone, that potential world became infinite, and the album runs amok with the idea.
“The second that ‘Tremors’ came out, it was dead to me,” Christopher concludes. ”People are probably still discovering it now, and it can still mean something, but I’ve got to be looking forwards, or else what am I doing?” he asks. ”I learnt to live with my head up.”
SOHN’s new album ‘Rennen’ is out on 13th January.