We’ve had our eyes and ears out for the mysterious producer SOHN ever since his name cropped up in some primo remix credits in the last year (think: BANKS, Disclosure, Rhye, Angel Haze). So naturally, when we were able to score a “speed date” interview sess’ with the artist, we took the opportunity and hoped we had what it takes to stand out in the crowd.
The week leading into the madness that is SXSW, we hopped on the line for our round robin interview with the Vienna-based musician. Essentially, he had back-to-back journalists barraging him with questions for hours on end. Moments before we got on the phone a tweet read, “default mental state: ‘Shit! Do I have an interview right now?’”. It was then we got the sense that the life of an emerging artist and producer, on the cusp of releasing their now critically acclaimed debut album, is enough to leave your head spinning.
Thankfully, we must have sparked his interest with our deep and thought provoking questions, because we caught up with SOHN in the flesh the following week in Austin. We arrived early to the new home of Cheer Up Charlie’s, now in the heart of the Red River district, and quickly ordered their signature cocktail, The Golden Ticket. And if the hushed crowd that night was any indication, it was SOHN’s intimate backyard performance that earned the title.
We love the super polished pop of your new single, “Artifice”. It’s so catchy, we’ve got it playing on repeat. It’s almost catchy and upbeat, yet we read the concept behind the new album is melancholic and morose. Was “Artifice” a little bit different? Can you tell us about making this song?
What’s funny about it is, a lot of the subject matter was introspective and maybe what you would call melancholy, but the feeling behind the music never really was.
I have a tendency to write fairly macabre lyrics. In “The Wheel” it starts, “I died a week ago,” and that sort of instantly gives this idea that there’s a tortured vibe to what’s going on, but I wrote that line meaning it in a positive way: that somehow the death of me (in that song) is an amazing second chance to start again.
And in “Artifice” the lyrics are fairly anxious, but what was important about that song is that the tempo is actually quite fast because the thoughts were quite fast. It was about losing track of what you’re doing and needing someone else to come and tell you who you are and where you have to be.
A bit like how I’m feeling at the moment, for how busy everything is!
So it just naturally ended up being a faster song than the others, even though it’s not necessarily faster. I think it’s just the chord structure makes it feel like a positive song, whereas a lot of the time I work with negative space, so it feels like a bit of a jump.
Speaking of the new album, we heard that your process in the studio was really nocturnal and since some artists have a reputation for working late through the night, we have to ask: Are you normally that way or did it just happen?
Yeah, I’d never really done it before, because I never really had a chance. I never had a place where I could work through the night, so it was something that I wanted to try and explore a little bit.
But actually the main reason - it’s funny how that worked out - because of course when you read that I made it at night you think, “OK this guy’s a nocturnal animal, making dark music, etc. etc.” but actually the main reason I worked at night was because it’s the only way I could guarantee myself I wouldn’t leave and go home.
What I would do is, I’d arrive at like 5:00 PM in the studio, and it was always around 12:30 AM, like half past midnight, when I’d get to a point where I think, “OK, this isn’t working. I don’t know how to make this song work. I’m ready to go home now.” Then I’d look at the clock, “Damn, no public transport!” so I’d stay 'til the morning.
It was a way of sort of tricking myself to getting it done, because there hadn’t really been any pressure on me to finish. I had to lock myself in a mental state where I’d go every single day and without fail always achieve something every time I go in. So that’s why I did it in the end.
Can you tell us about your studio?
Yeah! I’ve been really lucky because now a member of my band built a studio, and he’s been collecting synthesizers dating back to the late 60s. So he actually owns loads of really cool stuff, which he lets me rent his studio from him. So it was really lucky that he built this studio, which is now also my studio, and there are loads of synthesizers there that I can play with which I never understand, and always give me something unique and discoverable. There’s always something to experiment with in that studio, which is an incredible gift to be given!
Some of the remixes you put out last year really struck a chord. Did you work closely with any of those artists?
Thanks! It worked in different ways. With the production side of things I got in a room with those people. So BANKS and I sat in a studio and made the song together; and the same for anything that says “produced by SOHN.
It’s never been sort of a backwards, forwards: you send me something, I’ll send you something. It’s always been: we sat there and worked on the song together and got to a point where it feels really good.
With remixes I throw everything away except the vocals. I try not to even listen to the original song. I don’t really approach it the same way that a lot of people who remix do, where maybe they’ve got bits and pieces hanging around which they haven’t used for something; and the beat that was from something else; and they start mixing things together like a collage.
Mine is very different. I take the vocal and I just start building, like a new song out of it. In fact, all of the remixes I’ve done just sound like songs, they’re not “club-ready” or they don’t feel that way to me. They’re just alternate versions of the songs, which I really enjoy doing it that way.
SOHN’s debut album, Tremors, is available now.