SOHN Reiventing The Wheel

SohnSOHN’s Christopher Taylor writes songs that, like James Blake and Ajuna George, straddles the territory between raw, heart-on-sleeve vocal delivery and glacially cool electronic production. He chats to ZOE KILBOURN at the end of his album tour and ahead of his performance at St Jerome’s Laneway Festival on Sunday, February 8.


After an intense year touring off Tremors, SOHN’s recuperating in America. February marks his second spin in Australia after a June tour. “I’m really excited to come back, really loved it last time I was there,” he says. “There’s a lot more cities this time.. It’s great to be able to come back – it’ll be interesting to see how the record has lived and breathed since the last time I came over, cause that was quite early.”

It won’t just be material from Tremors, the lushly orchestrated eleven-track follow up to The Wheel EP. Only two months ago, he surprise-dropped The Chase, and there’s a heap of new material being shaped.

“I’m finishing the main part of my touring year in the beginning of December,” says Taylor. “Then, I’m basically locking myself down for December and January to just make new stuff, whatever that’ll be. Since the tape I didn’t do anything, and even before the tape, I didn’t do anything till the album was done. In terms of just making my own music, it’s been a long, long time. Like, one song in a year is just crazy. But it’s been good – I reckon it’s been good just to let myself recharge that desire to want to write from a personal perspective, not just from producing someone or remixing someone. Hopefully there’ll be some new stuff to come over in January.”

In spite of the sparse studio time he’s had in the last year, Taylor makes it clear he’s an artistically restless person. Boredom comes up a lot, in the sense of dissatisfaction with the RnB scene, electronic production tropes, and even instrumentation.

“A lot of the time my motives come from boredom,” he says. “I reach a certain point and then I stop because I’m bored. It’s interesting to know what happens next with me making stuff, because I’m already starting to get bored of the aesthetic of a lot of stuff right now. It’s starting to get to a point where I’m thinking, ‘Where is the next spark going to come from, what is it’. You keep moving. You can’t be too satisfied with a certain aesthetic or sound. You want to keep discovering.”

Taylor has a bone to pick with that “certain aesthetic”, possibly the FKA Twigs and James Blalke approach to electro/RnB crossover.”There’s a certain thing to the vocal tone of those songs at that particular point in time that maybe was a bit different then,” he says, of writing his first work circa 2012. “At the moment I feel that it’s become a bit – not because of me, but because in general – a lot of people maybe gravitated in that direction in the last year, year and a half, and that’s one of the things that was exciting at the time but to me became an aesthetic that people started to use. There’s been a lot of singers in the last year or so where you can hear that same – I don’t know, almost trying to not deliver the vocals clearly, trying to keep a bit of a mystique between the vocal and the track. I guess for me I realised that if you’re doing it live, there’s a different energy and a different power I’d like to explore next time. In a way, more of a traditional vocal performance than I might’ve put on the record or the EP. I guess people can see – I might be talking bullshit and it’ll all go back. Who knows.

“One of the things that has been most prominent in the last year of touring is that I feel like I’m using my voice in a bit more of a stronger way than I had on the record. I’ve been putting a bit more power in and I guess making the voice a bit bigger than it is on record. I’ll be interested to know how that’ll work coming into the next album, because I want to explore that a little bit, now that my voice is a bit more confident and a bit more prominent in the song itself. On the album and before the album, on my EP, it was almost like I was trying to hide the vocals within the music, keep it in the clouds behind the track, whereas now I’m more thinking about getting the voice to be the main element of the song.”

Taylor is first and foremost a songwriter, not a producer – the production “just sort of happened that way. When I first started writing vocal music, I started recording it electronically just because I didn’t know how to record it acoustically” – and it’s no surprise his focus is on developing the raw elements of his work. “At the moment, I’ve been getting a lot more basic again, a lot more work with vocals and percussion,” he says. “I’ve been trying to focus down on having the best possible vocal lines and the best possible vocal performances. I’m thinking less about the production itself and more about the straight delivery of vocals. That’s actually the most powerful thing in most music – the vocals. We almost don’t notice the rest of it.”

For all his melancholic ethereality – there’s a hearty sense of romanticism in his songwriting – inspiration is about practical innovation and getting stuck into the stuff of musical life.

“It normally just comes from playing with stuff I have no idea about,” he says. “That’s the main thing which I do to discover stuff. It’s like getting a new instrument where I don’t understand how to use the instrument properly. Something will happen, and I’ll have this brand new rhythm or this brand new sound I’ve never heard in my life. That inspires me. I’ll be like, ‘Wow, OK’, and hit record.

“When I did the beginning of Tempest, the first thing on the album. I did a weird vocal thing by mistake almost, and I was really fascinated by how it sounded, because I’d never heard anything like that. That inspired a whole song to come out of it. It was the same when I first wrote The Wheel two years ago. I had a very particular idea of what I wanted to do – that was one where I sat down to record the idea that was already in my head. I knew that I wanted the motif to be the choppy vocal thing, but I didn’t know that it was going to be choppy vocals – it just turned out that the fastest way to get it in to the computer was to sing it basically. So I sang the two notes I needed to make the ‘Oh, oh-oh-oh’ part, but I sang them long so I could cut them in order to make the sound. And then I had about five different vocals that needed to be chopped, and that became the theme of the song. It wasn’t because I sat down and said, ‘I want to chop some vocals up,’ it was like I had this idea of an instrumental or vocal sound, and I had to use an instrument or just sing it for now, and then I’ll find the sound later. It turned out that was the sound I used.”