Exclusive: Soko is not an It Girl
Despite what the magazines may say, French-American artiste Soko is no It Girl. Sure, she may possess a casually trendy grunge-goth style, a perpetually and perfectly messy bleached coif, and an effortless cool that no amount of money could manufacture. She may have all the trappings of an ingénue, but to refer to her as simply as an It Girl would contradict the sheer magnetic virtuosity of her musical labors. No, Soko is instead the post-Siouxsie punk rocker we’ve all been longing for.
Fusing the joyful noise of new wave with the freneticism of punk rock, 29 year old singer-songwriter Soko crafts nu-punk that is both cerebrally catchy and deeply emotive. With a shiny new record out on March 3rd (My Dreams Dictate My Reality), Soko is primed to break in a big way. We spoke with the artist about working with The Cure producer Ross Robinson on her new album, the representation of sexual identity in music, living in Los Angeles, and how her surprising childhood dream has finally come true.
There’s this incredibly sincere 80’s punk throwback atmosphere on your new album. What did you hope for this record to sound like or evoke?
The whole idea for making this record was to feel better. For that, I need to surround myself with sounds that are familiar and which strike the string of comfort and joy in me, which is pretty much what I get while listening to punk, post punk, and new wave music. And add to that some super raw emotional, dark lyrics. It’s me digging through all of my dreams, fears, joys, failures and wishes; dreams of a lost father and longing for love… Then you get exactly the sound I was looking for.
The album was produced by Ross Robinson, producer for The Cure, who I’ve heard you’re quite a fan of. How was the dynamic when working with Robinson?
When I met Ross, all the songs were already written. A lot of them I had already produced myself (like ‘Monster Love’, ‘Ocean Of Tears’, ‘I Come in Peace’, and ‘Keaton’s Song’). But I needed someone to finish my album with, someone who could actually keep me in one place and get me to release everything I had to say into something concrete. I wanted to play with a band and not solo, because that’s what makes me happy. Ross gave me that opportunity. He’s the best at capturing people’s fire and emotions. He thrives for passion and pushes you to be the best version of yourself and express every bit of ache through your music. He’s the most patient and caring man; I found my true musical partner in him. And yes, getting some Cure behind the scenes was definitely a bonus!
Are there any other producers or musicians you might like to collaborate with in the future?
I’ve worked with Ariel Pink on my record, and Stella Mozgawa from Warpaint played drums on it too. I also just collaborated on a song with Anton Newcombe from Brian Jonestown Massacre, so I feel pretty blessed with the people I’ve got to work with so far. But yeah, sure, I’ll work with Robert Smith if you insist!
Is there a moment on the record that you are most proud of?
Hmmm, that’s hard to say. Maybe it’s this one sentence in Visions: “Forgive the ones you hate the most." I had no chorus for that song and the vocals were already recorded, but then I wanted to try [that line] out and it ended up tying up the whole song together. It added so much meaning to what I was trying to say. When I first sang it, I was so emotional. Ross and I almost cried and we had chills and thought, “This needs to stay.” We even started the song with it.
What is your optimal headspace for writing? Do you need to be in a particular mood to be at your creative crux, so to speak?
I need to be alone with my thoughts for days, sleep deprived, lonely, depressed, and feeling like I need to prove to myself that I’m worth something by being creative and writing out what’s crowding my fucked up brain.
You’ve lived in LA, Seattle, London, New York, and France, which is where you hail from. Which feels the most like “home” to you? Or is “home” defined not by physical location but something else for you?
Home is always where ever I am. Home is my suitcase really! I try to be happy wherever I land without regretting or missing where I’m not. But really, where I feel best and where my actual life is would be L.A. It has been for the past seven years. Just thinking about it makes me smile. I feel so creative there. I have the best friends in the world and I get to always have so many adventures.
On “Who Wears the Pants,” you sing about stereotypes society places upon lesbian relationships. Can you elaborate more on your thoughts on the limitations and restrictions our culture places on sexual identity?
It started when a bunch of my friends – who wouldn’t qualify as homophobic, as they were asking genuinely – if I am the woman or the man when I’m in a relationship with a girl. My answer was, “Damn, what would make you wonder that? What do you think I am when you look at me? Am I a woman? Am I a man?” And then, what does that make me when I’m in a relationship with a man? Am I any different then? The bottom line is this: I’m a person. There is such a thing as being the alpha in a relationship, but that doesn’t make me a man. If I decide that I like a woman, that doesn’t mean that I wish I was a man either. I’m very happy and content as the person I am and I try to live this life fully, not judged by who I happen to love.
With regards to gender, what sort of challenges have you faced – if you are aware of any – as a woman in the music industry?
I don’t know…I don’t really think about things like that so much. I move on from any thought that bugs me and try to focus on the positive. The good thing is when strong women come to my shows and say that my music somehow makes them feel stronger and less lonely. It’s always mind-blowing and [makes it all worth something].
What has been your greatest challenge, your brightest accomplishment, and finally, your biggest dream thus far?
Oh man, so many things! My greatest challenge is still being alive and not having killed myself the many times I thought about it. My brightest accomplishment would be all the music and art I’ve created that is the pure reflection of everything I think. And my biggest dream…I mean, I just got my green card approved, so if you ask the 10 year old me, my biggest dream would be to live in the U.S. And boom! Here I am. I’m legit now!
Soko photographed exclusively for Milk Made by Aysha Banos
Make sure to buy Soko’s new record, My Dreams Dictate My Reality, which comes out on March 3rd