In Conversation With Soko
Earlier this month, Soko released her sophomore LP, My Dreams Dictate My Reality, on Babycat Records. A major departure from her 2012 debut, Soko finds herself examining new and gripping musical directions -- even collaborating with Ariel Pink on two tracks.
While she was visiting New York City recently, we had the chance to sit down with Soko to chat about the new record, working with Pink and how she turned severely negative thoughts into a bright and hopeful reality. Check out our exclusive conversation below:
Congrats on My Dreams Dictate My Reality. It's got to feel good to have it out.
It’s great. It’s been wrapped up since September, so I’ve just been like, “Put it out already!”
And now that it's out, what does it feel like?
There is a ton for me to do. I direct all my music videos. Promotion, traveling, I'm keeping busy. It’s sort of fun.
You're always busy as a one-woman band, right?
Well, I have people onstage that play with me, and some guests in the studio. But, yeah, I write all the songs and I play as many instruments as I can on the record. Most of the songs on this record, the core of the songs are recorded live with Stella Mozgawa from Warpaint on drums, and then two of my friends, Simon and Ryan who used to be in a band called No. They helped a lot in the studio because I used to play live with them. It worked so well. Ross Robinson, who produced the record, wanted to capture that live vibe on the record.
How did you capture it?
It was all recorded live. As many takes as it took, but everyone was in the same room and we’d just play live.
What was this process like compared to your debut, I Thought I Was an Alien?
It wasn’t similar at all. I used to play a lot of guitar and write songs that way, but I haven’t written one song for this album on guitar, except maybe the last song. All of the others were written on keys, which was already so different than me. I also wanted to be surrounded by sounds, so many sounds, in a way that didn’t sound acoustic. I wanted a lot of dreamy and synthy guitars.
What changed for you as an artist to get to this point of wanting more "sounds"?
I don’t know, I just didn’t feel comfortable being so stripped down. I wanted a band. I wanted to have more fun. I wanted to make music that makes me happy. I didn’t want to stay in the depressed, sad, solo bubble of being miserable. And even though the lyrics are still really raw and dark, the sounds, I wanted it to be a lot more reassuring. At least to me. Supporting me, you know?
How long did it take to make this record?
The last album I put out was three years ago, so basically three years. But not really, because I did a lot of other things during that time. In the studio, it was about six months.
How many songs did you enter the studio with?
I think we came in with 25, and there are 12 tracks on the album.
Ariel Pink is on the new album. What was it like working with him?
The actual part where we were actually in the studio doing it together was amazing. Getting him there was a nightmare.
It was a nightmare because ...
Because the last time I wanted to see him, he changed the schedule three times and then told me to come to his home. So I did. He wasn’t there but his door was open, so I just waited on his couch for an hour-and-a-half by myself. And his phone was off! He was super hard to work with. Well, not work with. Working with him is great, it’s amazing. But getting to that point ...
But when you finally got to that point ...
Well, we've dated, too. Like four years ago.
So was that weird working together after you dated?
I wasn’t worried. It was just for half a second and we were clearly not a match. [Laughs] I love him, but we’re not compatible in that sense. But when we collaborate together ... you know, I sang on his record, I love his music so much. I think he is an absolute genius. I love getting into his head. Me being on his record was so much fun. When we wrote “Lovetrap” together, it was so collaborative. I wrote a verse, he wrote a verse, he sang my verse, reversing the lyrics. It was just crazy back and forth. It was really fun because we feed off of each other’s crazy mind. It’s very fluid and easy and exciting.
Have you collaborated with anyone else that had that kind of impact?
Stella from Warpaint. She’s the best. She’s seriously the best drummer I know. Leo Abrahams, too. He plays with Pulp, Yoko Ono. He’s a London-based producer, and with him, it’s so easy. He reads my mind.
What was the toughest part about putting this album together?
Just finding the right people. And dealing with the rejection and making plans and things falling through. You know? You just wonder why you can’t find the right person, but then you do, and then you realize why everything didn’t work before.
That seems like a healthy outlook.
Yeah, of course, everything is for a reason. This is really what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to work with Ross. He made it so easy and safe and secure. He’s there for the right reason, clearly. He’s such a music lover and he’s so supportive. In terms of human-to-human relationship, not just work, he’s just the best. He’s the best person.
It sounds like you surrounded yourself with an amazing group of people.
Yeah, a group I felt really safe with, which allowed me to go deeper and be fully myself 100-percent. I wasn’t worried about being misread or being judged. I wasn’t scared of going full on because Ross was feeding off of my energy. Ross is the only person I’ve worked with where if I have a panic attack, he’s like, “Yes! Yes! Go with it! This is awesome! This is what you want on the song, this is exactly what you need.” Other people would be like, “Oh, s---, a girl on her period. Let’s just cancel the day.” Ross was the opposite. He was so supportive.
He empowered you.
Yes. He basically shined a light on all of my flaws and was like, this is what makes you special.
Which has to be kind of terrifying, right?
Right! Why would you look at my flaws like that? I’m a mess!
Three years is a long time between your debut and My Dreams Dictate My Reality. What were you influenced by during that time?
The main theme of the record came out of something pretty dramatic, but ended up being positive. The last three years, I just wanted to be a better person, feel better, surround myself with better people, beat up my fears and be more at peace with my surroundings. I think it worked. Basically, I was really depressed when I thought of the album title. My reality was very, well, everything was s--- around me. I was crashing with friends, I could never be alone. All I ever wanted to do was sleep but I couldn’t sleep because I was just crashing. But my dreams were so beautiful. I thought, well maybe I’ll just end it and sleep forever and just live in my dreams.
What put you in that state?
It wasn’t anything in particular. Everything around me was collapsing. I didn’t have a manager, I didn’t have a solid team, I felt so lonely. Everyone was like, “You’re doing so great!” And I was just like, no I’m not. It’s so weird to interact with people who think you’re doing great when you’re not.
So, you wanted to dream forever. What kept you from doing that?
When I was a kid, I made lists of things of what I wanted to do before I died. And I had a lot of things left to cross off. I also had such amazing times in my life already, so I was kind of like, “What’s next?”
You’ve definitely experienced a lot at a young age.
Yeah, I have. But there is still stuff I haven’t done yet. There’s this or that song I want to write, or I want to feel like I’m in love, there are just a ton of things. I want to have a family, I want to be pregnant, I want a cat, I want a house. Instead of jumping from place to place, I want to create a cocoon for myself. So I was like, well, I need to do that. So instead of dreaming of a life that is so good, I decided to go after it and make it and go after all my dreams. I wasn’t going to let anyone or anything be in the way of what I want for my life.
I'd say that's a pretty big influence for an album.
That also came with accepting my roots and my childhood. It was difficult. I had to accept that all the hard things that I’ve been through makes me what I am today -- which is very strong but also very vulnerable. Instead of being scared of confronting my childhood, I made it a more positive experience and put it through songs.
A lot of people struggle with similar things. When you made this album, did you have that in mind? Do you want people to hear the music and have those same positive feelings?
I didn’t really thing about it like that. The important thing is that it transformed me. If you’re being honest, you are going to touch people, and this record is that, 1,000-percent. It’s all of my tears and sweat and blood and soul and worries and fears.
Soko's latest effort, My Dreams Dictate My Reality, is available now. You can grab the album here -- and make sure to check out her complete tour itinerary (including a stop at Burgerama on March 28) at her official website.