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An interview with SOHN

Dom Ellis talks Laneway, Björk and a second album with English musician SOHN.

Off the back of his debut album, Tremors, and a year of non-stop globetrotting, London-born Christopher Taylor, better known as SOHN (pronounced sonn), touches down in Sydney for the Laneway Festival. As a producer, SOHN has worked with the likes of Banks, Lana Del Ray, Rhye and Kwabs, but his main focus has been on his solo work, which is talked about in the same electro-soul breath as James Blake and The Weeknd. He played the Oxford Art Factory on Thursday, but he’ll be in Sydney again on Sunday, February 1st for what I’m assured will be a Laneway set to remember.

How was your first Laneway show (in Auckland)?

Great. It was a weird one. It was within this silo thing, which made for a slightly bizarre looking stage, but it was cool. There was loads and loads of energy from the crowd so it ended up being this weird party.

And you were in Australia last year straight off the back of your album Tremors, weren’t you?

Yeah we did Sydney and Melbourne. It was great! Even at the time when we came here 6 months ago I was really surprised that there was even an audience here that knew what I was doing. To come back is even better. There’s like a really cool, core audience who know the tunes.

Anyone you’ve met or you’re looking forward to seeing within the ranks of Laneway?

Yeah, I met a lot of people at the last show, or having met them before as well, I’ve worked with Banks, and I know Jungle quite well. There’re a few there. I’m looking forward to seeing Future Islands, properly for once – I just missed them at SXSW. St Vincent, I’m really looking forward to seeing. And I saw Twigs the other day and met her before her set, which was pretty cool.

And you’ve worked a lot with Banks before, right? What’s it like touring with her?

It’s cool, but kind-of funny actually. It’s the same with quite a few of the other artists – I’ve seen them for one offs before but now we’re all on this summer camp together, you know? My manager told me, “if a plane went down with all these bands on it, Pitchfork would crash”.

So, aside from Banks, you’ve worked with the likes of Rhye and Kwabs as a producer, what’s it like transitioning between making your own music and producing for others? What comes more naturally to you? 

Working with those other people has been an extension of doing what I do anyway. It’s cool because in a way you get to explore particular melodies or lyrics that you wouldn’t necessarily sing yourself but totally make sense when you put in the hands of Banks or Kwarbs or these other artists. It’s a good way to explore what I love and other influences I have in music, that don’t necessarily make their way into Sohn albums.

Is there anyone you’re particularly proud of working with? Or any great moments you can recall in the studio?

Lots really. Almost all of the artists I’ve worked with, I’ve worked with from the stage when they were not well known. You know, like, to see Waiting Game by Banks take off, which we put together in this little studio in London, and seeing her play that in front of thousands of people, and seeing it get in a movie, and stuff like that. All of those things make you really – not just proud ­– they make you sort of disbelieve it, because you think ‘I remember when we did that in a little room in London’ and no one who knew Banks was – and now she’s huge.

Do you have plans to work with anyone in particular in 2015?

Yeah, I’ve had a lot of really cool opportunities come up, but it’s all just about whether or not there’s time. I’ve still got a bit of touring to do, I’ve still got my own stuff to get done – because I’m hoping to finish a second album this year. It all just depends on time commitment really.

Going back a bit further, what inspired you to make music in the first place?

For me it was always an outlet, from when I was a young kid. I was writing songs before I could even play an instrument. There was music always around the house, in that my parents would always have the radio on and stuff. And then, as I got older, music was really the only thing I would ever considered doing.

You mentioned being surrounded by music, what sort of things were you listening to growing up?

Equally, I loved Michael Jackson and Radiohead. Those were my two big influences. And Björk as well. Those were the three big ones I grew up liking. In between, there was stuff like Jeff Buckley when I was a moody teenager and I would try and sing everything that he could sing. And in my 20s I would listen to some hip-hop, stuff like old Busta Rhymes. It’s kind of a mish-mash of all those things, really.

Side note: have you listened to Björk’s latest album?

I haven’t. I haven’t had the chance, actually. I would’ve definitely listened to it the day it leaked, but I decided ‘nope, out of respect I’m not going to do that, I’m going to wait until it comes out’. But still haven’t caught it. Not yet.

And now you’re based in Austria?

I was, until about three weeks ago. 

But you were born and grew up in London, right? What inspired the move away from London?

I moved there, to Vienna, about six years ago. Originally, I tried to make music in London, but it’s just such a huge place for a start. It feels more like a group of towns then one city, and I lived on the outskirts, so I never really felt like I connected to London. I was trying to make music and people would ask what I do, and I’d say ‘I’m a musician’, and they’d reply ‘Yeah… but what do you do for money?’

What’s the music scene like in Vienna?

It’s changed quite a lot in the last six years. When I moved everyone was copying out-of-date indie bands. But it used to be a big electronic city in the late 90s or whatever, and now it’s starting to become that again. You’ve got people like Dorian Concept coming out of Austria as well as these great small electronic labels emerging.

Do you plan on going back there?

It’s always a home to me in a way, but basically, a month ago, I moved to Los Angeles. So we’ll see how that goes.

Back to your live show – what’s your favourite song to play live?

Umm. Probably Lessons. Because it just goes nuts. And the lights go nuts. And the music goes nuts. And it just keeps raising itself, not just throughout the song, but throughout the tour, it just gets bigger and bigger. Probably also The Chase, which is the newest song I put out in August or so, just because that’s a really vocal song and I really love singing it, and the melody of it. But Lessons is really fun. Especially because, on the record, it’s about 40 seconds shorter than the live version, and those last 40 seconds really take it up another gear. 

So you mentioned the possibility of a second album. Is that on the cards? Any other big plans for 2015?

My main thing is trying to get [the second album] done. When I say get that done, I don’t really have any songs yet. I wrote my first new song in a year last week. But basically, I’m starting to get ideas about what that could be, so I’m starting to get excited about the possibility of an album being made this year. I want to have the attitude with this album of doing it a lot faster, and having it as a kind of much quicker snapshot of where I’m at. You know what I mean? I’d rather have this album as a more immediate fast album that’s rougher around the edges but more immediate in terms how it feels.

There’s also a little bit of touring, but not too much hopefully. I’ve also had offers to work on a couple of music scores and stuff, so I’m hoping to do that a bit. And just have some good production work happening as well. So that’s it really.

Last question – it’s a big one. I read this interview from a few months back where you said you really wanted to cover Usher’s Climax at one of your gigs. This is very selfish, given I love that song, but any chance Sydney will hear that cover?

Ahh man, I wish I had done that in time for Laneway, ‘cause I would really love to do that still. We did like 120 shows or something last year, and the only time I had off was from December until now, so I haven’t really have a chance to do anything new. Maybe it’s still possible – who knows?