Today on the Songfacts Podcast, Sofie and I chat about some of these new tunes, we examine the way she was feeling as she was writing the album, and she graces us with a stripped-down version of her song "Truth Of The Matter." Please go and check out the new album, Cult Survivor, and enjoy getting to know Sofie.
Her Classical Music Background
I think playing an instrument fed into my natural interest and love for all kinds of music. As a teenager I really veered towards hip-hop largely because there are so many samples and connections back to classical music or jazz and these areas of music that I really enjoyed growing up.
I studied performance violin at the Vienna Conservatory and for a while thereafter I actually played violin in various orchestras - the Junge Philharmonics - various opera houses like the Volksoper, and concert houses. But ultimately, I decided to not pursue a path in solely classical music, although I do still play and I still even play in orchestras. Pre-Covid I played in the Wiener Akademische Philharmonie in some of the same concert houses I played at as a teenager, so I kind of came full circle when I moved back to Vienna. I was like, "Well, I want to see if I can still do this," and applied and was accepted.
I still don't want to pursue it as my sole career choice. It's just financially too difficult, too competitive in a direction that I wasn't as excited about, especially not at 15. I didn't really see myself doing just that for the rest of my life.
Does Her Classical Training Influence Her Sound?On my first album I don't play any strings at all, and I was like, if I add strings I think it will just sound really corny. Then as I'm finishing up my second record at the moment, there are string arrangements on almost every single track that I wrote and played, and I really enjoy it. I think in some kind of way, it would inevitably feed into whatever I do, just because it's a part of me.
Mndsgn And "Abeja"Ringgo [aka Mndsgn] is my old roommate. We lived together in LA for four or five years. "Abeja" came about a few years after me introducing him to Stones Throw and him being on the label. Before he did his first album on Stones Throw, I came home from work one day and he was singing on a beat and I was like, "Oh wow, what is this, you've got to make more of this!"
He's a really good friend of mine, one of my closest friends, and it was just fun to make music with him for the SOS compilation. We actually have a mother track on there called "PointPressingStick" but it for some reason isn't as algorithmically famous as "Abeja."
What Was Her Biggest Challenge In Creating The Album?Having faith in myself. When it came to signing artists or developing artists, it was a lot easier for me to see an artist's potential and really believe in them, and give them that sense of encouragement to put the music out there. With myself, I kind of have to close my eyes and do it, otherwise I probably will never end up releasing music. So the first recorded version of these songs is actually the version that you're hearing on the album, whereas now for my second record it's really been a learning process because there are six or seven versions of these songs that exist, and I really just want to take my time with it a little bit more.
"Try To Reach Me"I think any art that I make - whether it's painting or music or writing lyrics - it's just a way of me processing existence. It's something we all have to deal with, and inevitably that will make its way into my art and output. That song has a lot to do with perception, and other's perception of one's self and one's own perception of one's self.
Did Moving Back To Vienna Influence Her Music?Truthfully, I never really ended up having the time or the necessary trust in myself when surrounded by so many other musical peers to consider myself making music. It came from a point where I'd been back for a while and had the time. Not to sound corny as in it just "came to me," but it ended up feeling like a necessary step: I have to get these songs down. And for sure, I think inevitably, if we consider ourselves in like a Marshall McLuhan-istic sense of being processing machines, any input that we receive will inevitably affect the output. I'm sure the album would've sounded different if I was somewhere else or under a different set of circumstances.
Performing LiveI would like to perform the songs live. I just did a small show last week at an auction for this Vienna Actionist painter called Hermann Nitsch. He is fairly old now but he was very, very influential in the Vienna Actionists scene 40 years ago, and they auctioned off a painting of his at a charity event for children's cancer. I performed three songs - that was really fun. I had one show right before the lockdown happened in Berlin for Fashion Week, where I got to perform some of the record. So it has happened. I don't know to what extent it's going to continue happening, you know, it's very uncertain. But for sure, I would like to.
The show in Berlin was at this Fashion Week party, and I played with two musicians that I've worked with before, Kev Koko and Rip Swirl. They are both Berlin-based musicians who are producers and really good artists. They played guitar, bass, and through Ableton we had some of the more textural elements running. Then I played synth and sang. For the show that I played last week, it was a very stripped-down piano singing rendition of these songs. So, they all originally were written on piano and singing, so they work in a really stripped-down sense too. However, obviously it's nicer to be able to perform with a band - even though I don't really have a band, I have this very loose formation of musicians I work with that are called the Cult Survivors. I don't know what that's going to look like in the future. It's also a financial thing, really.
Producing Cult SurvivorI produced the album myself. There is one other musician involved on the album - my bassist Christian Hummer. A lot of the songs are also without any other involvement - I play all the instruments on almost all the songs, so there was no other producer involved.
I guess there was also some transition in terms of me even considering myself a singer - that was something that I previously only produced for other artists. I hadn't ever produced any music for myself.
Becoming A SingerI love singing, I love karaoke - but that's not necessarily viable, it's not able to translate when you're recording. After this first album I started taking vocal lessons, and I told her, "Listen, I am not a singer, I have no inherent knowledge of anything." And she was like, "Well, you kind of do. You know how to breathe because you've played an instrument. If you play a violin, you take breaths at pretty much the same musical note cues that you would when you're singing. So you kind of think you're totally starting from scratch, but that would be unfair to say."
But obviously I realize I don't have an American Idol voice. I would read certain reviews - and by reviews I mean mean YouTube comments - and I'd be like, "Oh no." There can be hundreds of nice comments but you read four derogatory ones and they really hurt your feelings. I really should just ignore them.
Searching For Her SoundReviews fed into the second record because a lot of the reviews were like, "Oh this is a really great lo-fi pop record, great bedroom pop," and I was like, "Fuck." I wasn't necessarily trying to make a lo-fi sounding record, so this second record, I'm really removing myself from that.
I've also branched out to work with other musicians like John Peek - I wrote a part for saxophone that he plays. I just want to make beautiful, timeless music that I'm going to be able to enjoy in 10 years. Maybe it isn't as subversive as contemporary music can be right now. I don't think I'm being the John Cale of this generation, and I think he's really awesome. I'm still very much dipping my feet in the water and trying to figure out what makes me happy - which is something I really struggle with in general. I think just stuff that you can stand behind, is really what it's about - stuff that you try to capture something within, something that will stay and remain really tangible, at least for a while in a world where everything is so transient anyway, you just want to be able to really capture something.
The Problem Of Making Long Music For Short Attention SpansPeople would ask me like, "Well, you know, you should make a song for TikTok," or "Maybe this album is a little bit too long. Are you sure you want to have this 30-minute interlude between this song and the last?" Look, I get it. I think it's really cool that platforms like this exist that to some extent remotely are able to democratize the primary music-industry model. But on the other hand it also comes with this big disheartenment when it's like ...I really have to think about what the first song's going to be like because people aren't listening to it on a record anymore, they're listening to it on Spotify. If my first song is too long they're just going to skip it and then potentially skip the whole record.
Pop MusicI have to say, I really love pop music. One of my favorite songs growing up would be 10cc's "I'm Not In Love." There is a different caliber almost in pop music, and I don't want to knock pop music. There's stuff that maybe on a genre level, you're like, "Oh, well the production on this sucks," but I think one of the key markers of good pop music is if it can still translate to just chords on a piano and singing. A lot of contemporary pop music on the radio does fulfill that aspect and has those elements of being catchy and whatnot in it. I'd be lying if I'd say that I completely eschew that and I'm not interested in it. Anything that allows you to connect with a lot of people, especially on a creative level such as music, is inherently going to be interesting to me. It's just I don't know if I necessarily possess all the aspects needed to fulfill that. There are so many elements that you need to touch. You have to check all of these boxes plus a heavy dose of luck, unless you're an industry plant, which I am not.
"Truth Of The Matter""Truth Of The Matter" was a song about a friendship / relationship, but as it's grown as time has passed since I wrote the song, I've found it uncanny as to how many instances it can pertain to. We can break it down... "Truth of the matter is it didn't always used to be like this," which is so applicable to so many life scenarios because nothing ever stays the same. Then it's also about how people's interactions with you will inevitably shift over time. Situations change, circumstances change, and as a result, interaction is also going to be very transitory, so that's really what that song is all about.
Leaving Room For InterpretationI make abstract art, so similarly with lyrics I write, even though I do try to grasp an emotion or pinpoint something, I leave a lot of room open for interpretation because I always find it more interesting at the moment. We live in such a descriptive, prescriptive day and age where a lot of stuff feels almost like to the point of indoctrinating. If there is one thing that I would like to do with either my music or art or whatever creative output it may be is to give people that sense of imagination or space to imbue their own meaning to something.
Dealing With AnxietyI am naturally a very anxious person and I think I have a lot of fear and anxiety about existence. It's something that is just here as a companion, and there's obviously stuff that I try to do against it. Whether that's being in therapy or working on myself, or ruthlessly exercising to clear my head, I think a lot of art or musical output is a way for me to process all of the input that I'm getting. I really suffer sometimes from sensory overload - either social situations or stuff that I read or see, because there's so much information at our disposal at all times and it's really overwhelming. But then also it's a way for me to not have anything external exist for a while, so whether it's sitting down and writing a song or painting, it can be really cathartic and a way of processing that.
The Musical Influences Behind Cult SurvivorI listen to a lot of Todd Rundgren and Electric Light Orchestra, the Bee Gees, and even in a jazz capacity, Ahmad Jamal, Duke Ellington, Serge Gainsbourg, Jane Birkin - you know, music that is very '60s/'70s adjacent.
August 17, 2021
Subscribe to the Songfacts podcast, part of the Pantheon Network
You can find Sofie on Instagram and Twitter
More Songfacts Podcast