SOHN – Interview

Foto-© Paul Hyde

„Vertraue dem Prozess“ heißt es so schön. Für SOHN bedeutete das, sein drittes Album komplett über den Haufen zu werfen, Begrifflichkeiten wie „Song“ oder „Producer“ neu zu definieren. Für sein neues, gerade digital erschienenes Werk Trust (CD & Vinyl erscheinen am 4. November) bedeutete das, keine Angst davor zu haben, Dinge anders zu machen als zuvor. Selbst, wenn der altbekannte Weg erst zur Popularität des Briten führten und ihn zu einer der wichtigsten Figuren der gegenwärtigen Indietronica-Szene machten. In unserem Interview gibt er intime Einblicke in die ungewöhnliche Entstehungsgeschichte seines dritten Studioalbums.

Congrats on your new album! To be honest, Tremors is one of my favorite albums because it’s so dark and dramatic. And that’s the kind of music I’m drawn to very quickly. But now with Trust, it’s so beautiful and has this unusual lightness to it. I really liked that.
I’ve spent five years trying to write a record and really struggling to work out which path to take without going over old ground. That actually has been the main thing. Because even when I tried to go over old ground, it wasn’t as good as Tremors. It’s really difficult. Because you say to yourself: I just need another one like Lights or another song like this. And it doesn’t just come.

I’m so happy with the result of this one and I know it’s really quite different. That was a big struggle to allow myself to just be different. I feel that a lot of people around me are really positive about the record. That’s a big relief after five years, right?

Wow, yeah! I especially like these soft, jazzy elements that are so prominent all over the record, that makes it kind of intimate in a way. Quite welcoming!
It’s funny! I’ve been obsessed with this idea that you should be able to hear a physical space in the room. And for the last four or five years, I’ve been obsessed with this idea that it’s got to sound like a room.

Basically there was a whole different record, Tundra, which I was writing, which is much closer to following the trajectory of Tremors and then Rennen. There was something that I couldn’t place, like it’s not intimate enough. Because when it’s synthesized music, when it’s drum beats and samples, and when it’s like bass synthesizers, and synthesizers, I just felt like: How do I make space for that closeness actually?

These kind of things create more like an invisible wall, which sometimes feels great because it can get lost in it.
What a great description of what Tremors is, it promises this sort of amazing thing that’s going on either on a movie screen or behind glass. I was really adamant during the making of this, that whenever someone tried to do something that would have made it sound professional, I’d like did the opposite. When a mix engineer would send me back the first draft or something I’d be like: No, this sounds like a song. That’s horrible! I don’t want to hear a song, I want to hear a scenario, I want to see her space actually. And the song can live in that space, but you can’t take the space away, because then it’s just a song. Then it could be Adele or whatever.

It’s something that I’ve been obsessed with for a while, this idea of what the sound could be — it’s difficult when you’re meant to be a producer. That was always the thing that was tied to my name: Producer SOHN, or producer & songwriter SOHN. What do you do when you don’t want to produce anymore? Even the sound itself is not the thing that you hold important anymore. Which for this record, it isn’t. I’m sure it will be again, but right now, I’m tired of hearing productions, the next New Music Friday, where I probably would have found really great music five, six years ago.

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It gets repetitive with time…
Yeah, even if it’s good, right?

Yeah. Even if it’s good, but you don’t have mental space anymore to absorb everything that comes out every Friday and so you have to find something else.
I like the idea that his record is kind of shocking sounding. Because it’s bizarre to hear just space. Not like fake space, not like reverb and delay and stuff like that. Just space. So I love this idea that one of the songs might come on for someone and they might be like: What?!, because it’s so anti of what music has become in the last few years, that I enjoy the idea that it’s a bit jarring.

So it wasn’t scary at all for you to drop a whole album you already had there which would have been a safe space?
I could just tell that. I mean, it’d been five years of writing songs for that and I wasn’t excited about it anymore. I was probably overreaching in some ways for trying to make a new sound and it wasn’t really doing it. I could feel that my manager and the label, they liked it but they weren’t jumping up and down. And so I went to L.A. to try and record a last good song for it. Like all I need is one single.

Just to finish it and be done with it, right?
That’s what it was, a three week trip to try and write two samples. A week and a half into that trip, I realized I still can’t write. It was not working. And it was terrifying to think: Okay, this trip is going to come to an end which was this big grand gesture I’d done, once this is done, it’s finished, right?

But it was not gonna happen. I was gonna go back home be like: I still don’t have a finished record. I still don’t have any idea when I’m gonna have a finished record. And then on one of these last days, we wrote I Won’t and I was like: Oh shit! This is better than five years of work I’ve been doing. It just wrote itself. And the next day I wrote Riverbank, and the next day I wrote M.I.A. and the next day, I wrote Truce, and it was just like: Oh, I’ve got a different record. This is much easier! It was pretty magic.

The realization that you don’t automatically fail when you step out of your safe path. It’s really strange and frightening?
I’m getting to an age as well as an artist, I’m 10 years into SOHN. I’m a fucking legacy artist now, bizarre to think that I’m on my third record. Now I’m at the point where, I did this little show in Vienna recently to practice some of the stuff and someone came up to me and said, my parents were really huge fans of yours. And so I’ve grown up listening to your music. I was like: What? This person was like 18? They would have probably heard the first SOHN stuff when they were 10.

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Don’t make me think about it, time’s moving fast!
I’m at an age where I’m asking myself: Where do I want to go? What sort of artist do I want to be? this was very much a crunch time for me. For me, I’m really happy that, you’re right. I sound this path, which doesn’t require me to stick to any of the rules, which is really exciting because that means I can write anything actually. And I can see anything, I just have to believe in it and then it will be a SOHN record. I’m really happy that when I showed this record to the label, they went immediately: This is amazing. Let’s do it.

You said in the press release that you didn’t try to be an artist anymore and realized you are one.
I think you can hear it in the record. It’s a loving record, if that makes sense. It sounds like this record has love for the listener.

That’s the welcoming feeling I mentioned earlier!
And it had that same thing for me. It kind of took me in at a time where I was totally on my knees when I went to LA to write these songs. I had no real hope for the future. I felt like: this is the last roll of the dice and it’s probably won’t work and then that’s it, you know, I’m done. I retire, whatever. That’s a reason why I called it Trust, because all of a sudden I started to trust people around me to be there for me and I trusted them enough to tell them that I was struggling.

Yeah, that’s the biggest part of it, isn’t it?
Yes. And then you can’t shut me up about it. I was telling everyone about it. Once I realized how I get out of it, I told these people that I’d never even met before. I was walking into these sessions, kind of just literally laying on the plate for the strangers and being like: Look, I don’t really know what you know about me and my music, but basically forget all of that, because I’m absolutely lost. Doesn’t mean anything that I made something good before, because right now where I’m at, I’m just a human being who really needs some help to get back on this horse that’s kicked me off.

So yeah, I think that the record is a really loving record and in a way I had to allow myself to be a lot kinder to myself. Because once I realized, it’s not about whether or not you’ve got all the answers. It’s about the fact that everything that’s going to come out of your mouth from this moment forward, is valid. Even if it’s good or bad, or whatever. That’s what I meant about realizing that you actually are an artist. I’ve got to stop beating myself up and being like: I’m meant to know the answer this conundrum.

There’s also probably two sides to almost every artist. You’ve got the personal side. And then you’ve got the invention of the artists side, which a lot of people see as a different person. I certainly did. And when I started with the name SOHN, it was my way to create a superhero version of myself that can do all this amazing stuff. This record was kind of me realizing: It’s all just me. And if it’s all just me, that means that I haven’t been an honest artist at all. I haven’t given my audience the credit to be able to see all of me. I’ve been giving them like a perceived version of myself, in order to be cool or interesting, but actually, I can’t write from that perspective anymore. Because I have nothing left to say. That was my character that I kind of invented. It was the darkest parts of me going into SOHN, right? But what about the lightest parts of me? What about all the good things that I give the world, that I’m not letting the artist be that? It’s insane, actually.

SOHN Tour:
27.11.22 München, Freiheitshalle
29.11.22 Berlin, Columbiahalle
30.11.22 Köln, Live Music Hall
01.12.22 Hamburg, Mojo Club
02.12.22 Dresden, Reithalle

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