Interview Soko: ‘I Want To Hear People’s Scars And Wounds’

DIY catches up with Soko to babble about beauty, depression and festivals.

Stéphanie Sokolinski first found success in 2007 with the stirring blog smash ‘I’ll Kill Her’ but soon after that she vanished from the musical cosmos. Absorbed in self-doubt, she swiftly relocated to LA and made friends with Warpaint and Spike Jonze, all the while scribing tune after tune. At last, she’s back this year with a debut album five years in the making, jam-packed with sentiment, amour and tristesse. Hot on the heels of her incredible Union Chapel show, DIY catches up with Soko to babble about beauty, depression and festivals.

Your new record is entitled ‘I Thought I Was An Alien’. You keep on tweeting about loads of extraterrestrial stuff too. Why?
I guess it’s just exactly how I feel. I don’t really feel like I understand this world well most of the time.

So, were you in a particularly sultry, dark frame of mind when you wrote and recorded the new album?
Well, I recorded it over, like, five or six years so there are a lot of different moods. I feel like the songs kind of set the tone of whichever mood I was in when wrote them or recorded them. Some are lighter and some others are really, really depressing. There are a lot about death and I guess that just reflects how depressed I was when I wrote them.

You said you’ve been working on this album for five or six years. Do you feel your influences changed over that time?
I don’t really feel like I wrote with influences in mind, or inspirations in mind. I just write about what happens to me in the most direct way possible and always very simply. I actually feel like the album ‘grew’ with me but I feel like in the end it’s what I wanted to do from the start, and that hasn’t changed.

So, you’re pleased with how the album turned out?
I mean, I wouldn’t listen to it, but that’s just how it is, right? You just do it, it’s out of the way and then you don’t want to hear it again.

The instrumentation is incredibly stark and you sing about very intimate, personal topics. Did you think it was important to let the vocals and lyrics shine through?
What touches me the most in music is the lyrics and how people feel, and I want to hear people’s scars and wounds. I want to hear their true emotions when I hear their music. That’s what touches me in other people’s songs. I don’t feel like a musician or anything. I mean, as much as I love arranging and producing songs and stuff, like, the reason why I write songs is for what they mean. I felt like this needed to be the most important thing in the song.

How did you go about writing these songs?
I just write all the time. That’s all I do; I have notebooks filled with writing and yeah, that’s just all I do. I write at any time, day or night. I write better when I have crazy, insomnia nights and then it’s just can’t help it, and I have to record them right away. I don’t really demo or anything.

You said don’t really like listening to your own music, but do you have a favourite track on the album?
Well, who does?! I mean… If you ask any artist, unless they’re massively egotistical, I don’t think they’ll say that they listen to their own music. It’s, like, if you ask yourself the question ‘would you rather meet some other people or have conversations with yourself in the mirror?’

You moved to LA quite recently. Did your new surroundings there influence your sound at all?
No, my record is just fuelled by loneliness so I don’t think my surroundings or anything made any difference. I’m just alone all the time. I’ve recorded that album in so many different cities, houses, hotels and on the road. I don’t think LA has anything to do with it, except the fact that it was sunny everyday which gave me the strength to wake up, get me out of bed every morning and give me a big kick in the butt to go to the studio and record the album.

You worked with Fritz Michaud on the recordings. How was that?
That was great. I already had most of the songs recorded before I met him, and then we just finished everything together. We tweaked everything and did all the right EQs and stuff. I wanted it to sound exactly how I wanted it to. I really needed someone like Fritz, who’s really, really, really patient, and not forceful at all: whatever I wanted to do, he’d be like ‘all right cool, let’s do it!’ He was like a best friend to me because was so cool with everything, always up for anything, even if it was the craziest thing like ‘hey, can we change the key in this song and slow it down?’ If I needed to re-record the whole track over a drum machine instead of drums, he’d be like ‘yeah, okay, cool’. He’s a really happy person, you know. He was really good to me.

You’re currently touring the UK. How was the gig at the Union Chapel last night?
It was amazing. It was sold out. It was really… fuck… it was really, really beautiful. It felt like a sacred, religious experience, almost magical. I have a lot of songs with backing vocals on the album and so I asked people to do those in the background. Everyone singing in the room was really incredible. It felt like there were little angels floating around the chapel. It was the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. 900 people singing together in a church. The light was on so I could see their faces and it was so beautiful that I almost fainted. I was, like, “woah, this is most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard in my life”.

Do you think your music is best suited to a venue like that?
I just like places that are intimate, special and quiet. That’s always amazing.

Who makes up your live band?
I have a violin player called Julian, my brother Max plays guitar and bass and we have a guy subbing for my fourth member, and he’s playing drums and guitar. And I play keys, bass, guitar and drums.

What other plans do you have for this year?
Well, we’ll finish this tour. It’ll be done in a month and a half or something. I don’t really have a home or anything, so I don’t have anywhere to go back to after the tour. I wish I could go back to LA, but I don’t know if that’s going to happen.

Do you know if you’re playing any festivals in the UK this summer?
Yeah, I think I’m playing Latitude and Secret Garden Party.

I saw you at Latitude a few years back actually. Do you remember playing in the woods?
Ahh, that was amazing. I loved that show. I think I was really sad that day, and so I cried a lot on stage.

Is there a gig like that which particularly stands out for you where you were just totally overwhelmed and overcome by the atmosphere?
Yeah, I like doing impromptu shows. I sometimes posted on Facebook saying ‘Hi, I’m in this city’, like I was in Leipzig, Germany doing a movie and I just posted something on Facebook being like ‘Hey, I’m going to be there tomorrow night. I don’t know anyone over here, but would you guys want to come if I played a show? Find me somewhere and I’ll be there’. And they wrote, ‘oh, you could play in that park, by the pond’. I agreed, and I asked the director of the movie that I was doing if he wanted to come to see me play a few acoustic songs. When we got there, there were like three hundred people who had come over within only four or five hours. Everyone bought candles and blankets and tea and stuff. It was totally dark in this park. I was playing acoustic with no microphone or anything and it was just impossible. I asked people to raise their hands so I would go and play where there were the most raised hands and I would change location at each song. It was one of those really amazing shows and I played for two hours. I thought there were going to be about ten people there. It was the most beautiful thing ever.

Sounds surreal.
Yeah, and all through Facebook. I mean, it’s pretty weird that it happened with no promotion, but I guess everyone just came for the sake of music. It was great fun.

Soko’s new album ‘I Thought I Was An Alien’ is out now.

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