Following the success of his debut album « TREMORS » in 2014, SOHN, the electronic producer/singer/songwriter just came back with the stunning and engaging « RENNEN ».
SOHN who wanted to challenge and surprise himself on this album, released it on January 13th and started a world tour with it. He stopped in Paris at La Maroquinerie on February 27th and we went to see him to ask him a few questions.
Thanks to SOHN
Merci à : Sébastien B. / 4AD Ltd
Photo: Phil Knott
Interview : Renaud Velin
Well, there is some elements of the record and the song which are sort of like some run. « Rennen », for example, was actually written from the point of view of a friend of mine who decided that he wanted to commit suicide and who was trying to tell his parents that he wanted just leave. He didn’t end up doing it but he did actually tell his parents in a very calm sort of way : « listen up, I am in lot of pain for a lot of years and I am kinda of done » ! In that sense that song was definitely about running from life. The rest of the record, there is obviously elements of like running from danger of what’s happening like politically in the world right now and then the general overall feeling for me is just kind like running without knowing where you are going. The all record for me, scented around this feeling of continue movement without necessarily a fixed destination in mind.
In continue movement, of course you occur changes all the time as only just looking at the next step so for me the overall feeling was about running kind of one step at the time and being completely open and loosed to the idea that your direction might change anything.
Like in your visual universe (videos, covers), your sound is based on geometric, straight lines, very minimalist and experimental. You are like an architect who design buildings and graphic objects. How did you conceived and built this album ? What was your work process on it ?
On this one, I really tempted to make a more instinctive record than « Tremors » which I built kind of very meticulously. For this record, I wanted to stand on stronger foundations but to have less elements within it. So the foundations themselves were very much more vocal in this record. The vocal as the center foundation, the drums and bass on each and side and some musical element which floating around. «Tremors » were like more full of layers so it felt like the all piece was one thing. Drums, bass, vocal, it felt like they were linked together and related together like one single column. This time, I wanted to separated them in three columns and feeling the space lightely in between. I wanted to hear the sound of the three columns very clearly. Actually, you can see them and hear them so cleanly.
The reason I did this is that I felt I wanted to release a bit of control of the record to my instincts. That is why the vocal is much more exposed than it was before in the last record. The vocal had to be really engaging. So I was kinda of trying to challenge myself to make each piece much more engaging (the drums, the bass lines and the vocals). When it came to recording and stuff, I tried to just not work too long on anything. I try to sort of to start working very quickly on something and stop and let it breathe for a couple of months actually. And when we arrived at a point where normally we would have to work more, I just asked straight away my sound ingeneer if I had permission to stop working basically and if he got enough material to work on because otherwise I would have done a lot more. I know myself, I would have continued to work on it until it is full of stuff and I really wanted to make sure to not overstuff the record that was really the intention on this record. This time, I really tried to make myself ‘stop’ because the last time I did not to do it and I was really obsessed on every details. And this time, I was just determinated to not do that. It was also to do me having a healthy relationship with the record. I didnt want to own it like I did with « Tremors ». I owned that record because it was all everything I had. And this time, I didnt want to give everything I had, I wanted to give a snapshot of the work I was doing at that time. I said to myself « just do it like the way you want it to be and enjoy it ».
All your songs are based on a moving soul, focused on a deep toughtful topic or meaning, to lead us to a reflexion, like a clever awakeness of the conscious. What is (are) your message(s) in this new album ?
I don’t know yet …. (laugh). There are messages but they are revealed or understood much later. Generally when I write songs, I address messages that do not necessarily make sense at the moment but that with the things of life make sense. They usually make sense with the decisions that I made later in my life. In the same way « Tremors » was totally a breakup record. At the time, I was not aware of it but after the breakup, it came out of my songs. With this one, it is more like my opportunity to talk to myself, to work on myself and to work myself out. So that theme comes into a lot of my songs. With what has been going on in the world, it is impossible to continue to look in wood because there are more important things going on outside. So from that point of view, there are a lot songs in this record, including the political songs which are very much songs written to myself about how I am feeling about this. It is more me reflecting on my own thought about it.
I have to stop on « Signal » for a second. It was your first release since your 2014 debut album « Tremors », and you enlisted actress Milla Jovovich to both star in and direct the music video. Her directorial debut is a beautiful and intense stark black-and-white clip filmed in one continuous shot. She really understands your artistic universe. How this artistic thunderbolt happened ? You were the first who approached her and asked her to collaborate together ? What did you retain from that artistic collaboration ?
Actually she had posting my music on her social network and I sent her a message to thank her and then she go back to me like « Fuck ! Am I speaking to you, actually?! » She was very pleased and very surprised that it was really me talking to her. She was constantly listen to my stuff since the last two weeks, we continued the conversation on the phone and I said to her that I was working on a new song and that I wanted to make it listen to her. I sent ‘SIGNAL’ to her and she went crazy on it, she really loved it. We talked a few times about it and then the next few days she had all these images in mind, she is so creative and we were talking about doing a video. I had a concept for the video which was kind of what you saw in the end but not exactly the same idea.
I wanted to have a video with just a all performance without necessary a plot. Just watching a very engaging performance and taking whatever you want from it. So I told her that and she told me that she would love to direct the video and I also proposed her to be in it, to do the performance. She was thrilled about doing both. And three weeks later we shot and we went to Boston, she literally organized everything and it became this incredible thing. It became a one shot by accident. We were chewing these different things and made shots for each and towards the end of the day, we had multiple shots but there is one shot which I really adored. And that was the shot you see in the background with this kind of makeup running, it is really an engaging performance. There was a projection of that performance behind her that she couldn’t see and she did another tape in front in a very pure, calm sort of way. To make a contrast of attitude between the back and the front to create a more intense interaction. We play the music while it was rolling and this incredibly magic thing happened. She starts to interact with what was behind her and suddently, it wasnt planned, the cameraman started at zooming from back to front and they did it at exactly the time where your eye wanted it to. It blew me away and that was it, that was exactyl that I wanted. I was in love with this one take.
You released « Rennen » on January 13th, 2017 and also started to tour in different countries including France with Paris. How is the communion, the communication with your audience from all these different countries ? What do they give you to you ?
It’s funny because the first few shows, I didnt’ really felt it. At first, I was more focused on making the show right, trying to improve the show, changing things around, etc… and I was really exhausted. And after 7/8 shows on the road, we did this show in Copenhagen and I felt through me everything that this people sent to me and at this moment I realized that we’ve got the show now and I should now change mode. To stop managing the show and start playing the show. And that was crazy, I cried on stage. I just let it go and released everything that I kept from the beginning of the tour. And it totally hits me. Now I try to remember that everytime and that I am there for the audience also. It is a very sort of ‘given/take’ thing and it doesn’t work if you don’t allowed them to take from you. You have to open that part too and now the shows are totally a different experience for me. It is not just a show, it is a share, a sort of communion. I don’t talk a lot on stage but I try to interact in some ways with the audience and allow them to come deeper into the show.
You were always wearing a black hoodie, like an ascetic monk, playing a conceptual music made of dark synthés and beautiful spiritual vocals. Now you are wearing the hat of a Protestant priest… What would be the philosophy of your Order ?
I try to learn myself and publicly put stuff out to connect that with themselves and kind of learning also. My main thing that I try to focus on right now is like noticing everything. Like opening our eyes and look to what we really got in front of us. Take conscious that we are really here and connecting with everything which is around us by touching it and looking at it. The physical space that we occupy on this planet is really important. And noticing things that is really important too.
Being open, being present and being observent of what is around us, that would be the philosophy.
I want to be as present as conscious as I can be and from that I want to find like absolute peace in myself. The only way to do that is to realize that all the anxiety that you have in your head, all of the preconceptions that you have, you actually can choose to get it out from it. You can choose to stop yourself from living in your head because as soon you realized that, you have the strength to become a roc in your life.