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SOHN Alone, Naturally

Sohn

Vienna-based beats and falsetto maestro SOHN will appear at the St Jerome’s Laneway Festival at Esplanade Reserve & West End, Fremantle, on Sunday, February 8, 2015.  AUGUSTUS WELBY checks in.

Two years ago, the then-unknown SOHN emerged with an EP called The Wheel. Before long, the EP’s title track was making the rounds of the blog circuit, which led to radio play and praise from media outlets the world over. 

But the question loomed, who was behind this release of soul-dappled electronic pop? A bit of detective work revealed the mysterious moniker belonged to British tunemaker Christopher Taylor, who’d previously gone by the name Trouble Over Tokyo.

The strength of The Wheel nabbed Taylor a release deal with UK indie luminaries 4AD (home to likes of Bon Iver, Grimes and Ariel Pink). A few more singles followed, which boosted anticipation for SOHN’s debut long player. Titled Tremors, when the record landed in April, it debuted at #31 on the UK Albums Chart.
Taylor recorded Tremors while living in Vienna. In order to completely submerge himself in the process, he operated entirely alone. “I can work and not even think about eating for 24 hours,” he says. “I close every blind and every window. It’s night at all times when I work, basically.”
Making music can be an effective way to escape from everyday stresses. When working in intimate solitude, creative exploration is also likely to provide insight into one’s own strengths and weaknesses. Thanks to some useful discoveries made during the recording of Tremors, Taylor’s uncertain about persisting with the solitary studio approach in future.
“Being alone definitely was important in the making of the album,” he says. “One of the bad things about working alone is you can get too obsessed with things which actually don’t matter at all. Basically I want to loosen up a bit creatively. When making the next album I want to have more of a turnover of people coming in and out.”
Tremors isn’t over-stuffed with production details, but it’s certainly an intricately constructed work. The crafty layering and mutating of voices, synths and percussion indicates that Taylor’s in-studio seclusion leads to relentless tinkering. But perhaps he’s not as pedantic as you’d think.
“I’m quite good at making sure that I let go early,” he says. “I’m really focused on what I’m doing and then every now and then I have a little wake up call and think, ‘No one gives a shit if that snare drum needs to be one dB louder or not’.
“I am actually at heart quite a meticulous perfectionist,” he admits, “and I don’t like that about myself, particularly. So I quite often try to stop myself from doing that.”
Taylor’s spent the majority of 2014 on the road – including a mini Australian tour in June, as well as stacks of US and European festivals. There’s a ‘round-the-clock social imperative tied up with being a touring musician, which means Taylor’s lifestyle underwent some major changes. This inevitably took some getting used to.
“I’m still loving getting to go to new places and I’m still loving discovering music and making music,” he says. “The one thing which is really gruelling is the fact that you don’t really have a home. I try to keep slapping myself out of those thoughts,” he adds. “Every now and then when I think, ‘I’m so exhausted, but I don’t have a home…’ I’ll slap myself in the face and say, ‘come on get on with it’.”
Taylor’s acute self-awareness, and ability to curb his own pessimism, is reflected in the emotional range of Tremors. On the one hand, the record rumbles with downcast tones, accentuated by emotive vocal wailing, but it’s also dressed with several relatively sprightly moments.
Given several songs on Tremors are steeped in honest feeling, a successful live performance rests on Taylor’s ability to communicate these emotions with an audience.
“In many ways, it’s the same thing as putting on a play or something,” he says. “Of course, you can’t just switch on this same feeling that you got when you were alone and quite vulnerable. But what you can do – in the same way that an actor does – is get your head into the space where the words that you’re singing mean the meaning to you in that exact moment.”
Along with establishing this method for delivering songs convincingly, Taylor’s relentless touring schedule has brought home an insight that will assist with his creative decision-making going forward.
“The tour has revealed which songs definitely are the strongest,” he says. “The ones which every single time will get some sort of reaction, and it’s not based on people knowing the songs. It’s based on the energy of the songs themselves when you play them. It’s normally quite heartening because it’s normally my favourite ones and I think, ‘That’s good because that means I’m going in the right direction,’ in terms of when I’m trusting myself and letting myself do whatever comes into my mind.”
Following up on his brief mid-year visit, Taylor heads back our way for next year’s Laneway festival. Nestling into his own home might still be a distant prospect for the thoughtful Brit, but sometimes that’s not such a bad thing.
“All of the other bands that I know who’ve been already, they get kind of glazed over, sugary eyes when they say, ‘Oh Laneway, I wish I was going back there,’” he says. “I loved the last time I came out to Australia, so I’m really looking forward to it.”

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