December 11, 2008

Oh SoKo!

Filed under: Interviews — Anthony @ 11:25 pm

First, it was a huge hit in Denmark. Then it became the ninth most popular song in last year’s Triple J Hottest 100 poll after being played on high rotation on that station. It’s a good part of the reason why the artist behind it is coming to Australia to play this year’s Falls Festival. Only one small problem: the song, I’ll Kill Her, is from an EP which the artist in question, SoKo, would rather not exist at all.

Photo by Sarah Kahn Indeed, SoKo – real name Stéphanie Sokolinski, but that’ll be SoKo to you thanks very much – would rather be doing anything else than spending half an hour on the phone doing an interview. Friendly, often funny and self-deprecating, and constantly laughing at herself and her words, she nonetheless has very strong feelings about publicity. There’s very little information about her or her music to be found online, and that is precisely how she likes it to be.“I don’t want it,” she says firmly, speaking from Seattle’s Bear Creek Studio where she’s mixing her debut album with co-producer Ryan Hadlock. “People only write shit, so I’d rather not spread a lot of information or give a lot of interviews, because people write shit all the time. When people don’t know anything about your music and want to make you a ‘cyber-star’ or a ‘MySpace revelation’… I mean, if I have to listen to that kind of bullshit, I’d rather not talk to anybody.”

It was the London Times that made the small mistake of declaring SoKo a “MySpace Phenomenon”, and the mere mention of that 2007 article still triggers a strong reaction.“Yeah, well… what do they know? I put myself on MySpace like many other people, and the last thing I wanted is having that kind of ‘cyber success’, how people call it, with songs that I hate. Songs that I haven’t produced myself. I like the demos that I do by myself on GarageBand, and I don’t mind putting that to people. But I made the mistake of putting stuff that I was not happy with on MySpace because I didn’t know anybody was going to listen to it. That song I’ll Kill Her, I hate everything on it – the guitars, all the arrangement, the way I sing, the way that person made me sing… everything about it I hate. And then that becoming a kind of ‘thing’ and being called MySpace stuff for that piece of shit… I’d rather just wait two more years and, you know, come to a place where I’m happy with my record, and I’ve chosen every single piece of what is on it and I’ve decided all the arrangements, how it was going to sound, all the musicians I work with and I’ve played a lot of the instruments myself. If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t do it that way, because I don’t want to have to justify myself for doing that mistake.”

Recorded some time ago in her native Paris, the rest of the five-song Not Sokute doesn’t fare any better. “It’s something that I hate I and that I should never have released. That was released on the internet unfortunately. It’s on iTunes still, and I’m fighting to take it off.” It’s since been removed from the Danish iTunes store that turned it into a bona fide hit, but of course, it’s still out there for the finding. This is the internet, after all… “Unfortunately I didn’t know about that, and my goal was to make my friends listen to it. I didn’t tell anybody else but the people I know. That’s a big mistake, and that’s a lesson for life that you should never do things and put it out of control when you’re not happy with it.” But surely it’s not an entirely bad thing – the song got good airplay in Australia as well, and… “Hey, I don’t even want to talk about it,” Soko interrupts. “I just hate it, and it makes me angry. And it was, like, two years ago, and it’s so different from what I’m doing now. It’s been produced by somebody that I will never, ever work again with… I don’t wanna talk about it. It makes me feel weird. I mean, I’ve taken it out of my MySpace more than a year and a half ago because I had already realised my mistake, and I feel like I have had to justify myself for a year and a half for that, and I don’t want to.” But then, it’s gotten you a gig on the other side of the world… “That’s the only good part of what had happened, is that I can actually make it to Australia, but really…nothing can make me happy about it.”

Determined to make a record she is happy with, SoKo first hooked up with former members of Welsh band Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, sessions that were ultimately abandoned. “It’s not that it was not working – I love them so much and worship them so much, I’m the biggest fan, and I will always be. I think I was just not mature enough in my music to do anything good at that time. I was still not able to play any instruments, I didn’t even know how to play guitar, I was only playing ukulele. And now I can play guitar, drums, keyboards, banjo, a little bit of mandolin. It was just too early to do anything that is actually me, and where I can play the stuff that I want to hear.”

The key thing about SoKo’s rather fractious relationship with music is that it’s not her main calling. She is, in fact, an actress with nearly a dozen movies on her resume, including one in which she plays alongside Gérard Depardieu, due out in France around the same time she heads to Australia as a singer. “I want to do movies. But unfortunately now that I’m singing, people think I’m a singer and I’m not an actress. So all they offer to me is parts like the poor little girl that is writing songs nobody understands, or the artist or whatever. I don’t wanna play myself”

To date her movie credits have been under her real name, but that’s about to change. “This is going to be the first movie where I’m credited as SoKo,” she says, sounding pleased. “Just because SoKo is my nickname, it’s my name since I was a kid. And when people call me Stephanie, I feel like they’re talking to someone else. I don’t feel like it’s me. My agent said ‘you should go by SoKo, because when you do interviews people are going to call you Stephanie and you’re gonna hate it, and then you’re gonna hate them, and then you’re gonna do bad interviews.’ But I’d rather be called SoKo just because it’s me. Sometimes I have people that I don’t know who write me really nice email on MySpace, and they’re like ‘Dear Stephanie…’ – and I’m like, do you call me by my real name because you think you’re going to be closer to me? Because it’s actually the contrary. It’s feels like you’re calling someone else.”

Having moved past the fractious issue of that EP, SoKo seems to be enjoying talking about herself and her view of life. The reason, most likely, is simply that she tries to avoid doing press at all, either for her music or in support of the movies she’s in. “I don’t do a lot of interviews. I really don’t like it. I mean, I don’t mind talking to you right now, but it’s just that it’s something else. I don’t want to be in a magazine, I don’t want to be in the papers, I don’t want to be on TV for something else but acting. I don’t want to be like all those people that want to be famous and like to see themselves in the magazines. I don’t do music to sell records or anything. I do music because I like it. And if it happens that people like it and it happens that I sell records, it’s fine. But I wouldn’t be sad at all… I mean, I just challenge myself all the time, and the challenge was making a double album. I had so many songs that I thought hey, it’s never going to fit in one, maybe I have to do a double album. It was just a challenge to record everything, come up with all the arrangements and, you know, not make my record polished or anything, not make it like a perfect piece of pop or whatever, because that’s not at all where I come from. It’s as imperfect as I am, and that’s what I like about it.”

Photo by David MushegainSoKo, you’re probably realising by this stage, isn’t exactly the sort of person to have spent her formative years dreaming of being a pop star. She’s having fun with it, even being playful with the business of creating it, but she points out that if her double-album debut were to sink without trace, there’d be plenty of other things to keep her occupied. “I want to do so much stuff in my life. I don’t want to do music forever. I want to have a band and do other stuff with other people, and share stuff with other people. It’s so hard to do music by yourself, and to be a girl, young… people put so much expectation on you, and because of all that MySpace stuff, people want to see me as something that I am not and I will never be. It’s pretty scary. So I could do anything else. I could just as well work in a shop and be happy. I want to open a vegan restaurant, and… I wanna do a lot of stuff, like travel and see different stuff. I don’t want to do touring and do promotions and all that, it’s not what I want. It’s a different job. Some people just want to do music and be famous, so they have to do interviews and stuff. I want to do music, but I don’t want to be famous for it. I want to do music as well as doing movies as well as probably directing movies, writing, doing poetry, creating recipes for vegan people, and opening a restaurant.”

It’s incredibly rare, though, to find oneself interviewing a singer, songwriter or musician that doesn’t want to be famous, at least in terms of some level of public appreciation and success… “Well, I don’t see the point. If you think about it for two seconds, it’s just problems. It’s only problems. I mean, I don’t have a lot of money, and if I had, I wouldn’t know what to do with it myself. I would just give it away to people, because I don’t need it. I’m happy without. I don’t need that. I don’t need to go to parties, I don’t need to know famous people, I don’t need all that. I have a happy life right now, and I’m doing what I want and I don’t want it to change at all.”

Why SoKo, you’re starting to sound like something of a 21st Century hippie…! “I am super-hippie!” she says emphatically, laughing. “I recycle my garbage, I am vegan, protect animals, I burn a lot of incense. Though I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs and I don’t drink. So I’m like a healthy hippie. I don’t need that to be happy. I think it’s so obvious that I don’t want it that I have never been offered drugs in my life. I feel like it’s written on my face that I’m against it.”

But in the music world, the gigs, the studios… surely you must see a fair bit of it going on? “I’m really tolerant about that. I don’t mind other people doing it at all, if they are happy with it. Everybody should do what makes them happy. And if they do it to forget that their life sucks, if they do it because they want to have fun when they are not able to have it when they are conscious and clear, then they should question their life, and not take drugs. But everyone has fun as they want it. Who am I to preach?”

© Anthony Horan 2008

Originally published in edited form in Inpress Magazine issue 1048, 3rd December 2008


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