It’s a bright LA morning, and Soko has what you might call a good problem. As the 32-year-old musician and actress prepares for the release of her third studio record this June, she finds herself at the end of the success story she imagined for herself as a ten-year-old in rural France: “I’ve outlived my most massive dreams,” she shrugs, “So what do I do now? ”
Longtime fans know Soko as a gifted shapeshifter – from adolescent Parisian party animal to straight-edge darling of the French avant-garde film scene; from a punk in heavy eyeliner to a racquet-wielding, Bel Air-cruising Gucci muse. But a persistent theme threads its way through Soko’s oeuvre: a disarming earnestness that, when paired with sprawling sun-drenched instrumentals, is as blissful as it is raw. With the arrival of Feel Feelings (currently postponed due to current events), Soko perfects the recipe – 50 minutes of syrupy ASMR retrofitted with enough torque to tear at the heartstrings.
A lot has changed for Soko in the years since her last record (2015’s Dreams Dictate My Reality): she remained celibate for a year and a half while recording Feel Feelings and later became a mother. Eleven-month old Indigo Blue is the centre of her life now, but this multisensory third album is the fruit of the artist’s efforts to sift through the emotional detritus of a string of toxic relationships and the traumatic upbringing that preceded them.
On Feel Feelings, Soko conducts a sensuous post-mortem of those years, revelling in the benign and resolutely acknowledging the malignant. Abstaining from sex and relationships allowed her to channel all her unresolved emotions into the record, and as a result, the pull of the boudoir is palpable: “Feel Feelings,” says Soko, “is best enjoyed in bed.” The album traps its listener in sex like a bug in amber as gauzy instrumentals wrap themselves around spare lyrics rendered in Soko’s velvety purr.
By depriving herself of attachments, Soko has managed to distill a multitude of desires – some bruised and jagged, others lush and dreamy – into a devastating musical encounter that will leave you tangled in bedsheets before you’re even three tracks deep.
“I was celibate for a year and a half while working on Feel Feelings, and I put all that energy straight into the record. I just focussed on what makes me happy, which is being around my buddies and making music.”
Mara Veitch: You’ve been straight-edge since you were a teenager, how does that lifestyle impact your viewpoint and creative process?
Soko: I’m still straight-edge. I have never smoked cigarettes, and I stopped drinking when I was nineteen, but that was because I started partying way too young. Surprisingly though, I smoked my first weed when I was 28! [laughs] So I was pretty late to that. Now, I use weed just for creative purposes. I take a puff before recording vocals because it makes my voice deeper, and lets me just spiral in the music without doubting myself. It frees me from being like, “Okay, there’s an engineer and a producer sitting over there wondering how long this is gonna take me.” It just takes me out of the judgment zone.
MV: Do you ever feel that kind of pressure outside of the studio?
S: I don’t tend to feel comfortable around a lot of strangers unless there’s music involved. If I’m DJing a party, I’ll be the queen of the dance floor; I can dance my ass off until five in the morning. But I guess I’ve always known that if I don’t fit in with people, it’s actually because I don’t want to fit in with them. My mentality about those things is: if you don’t feel comfortable, you’re with the wrong people. Or you actually just need to be alone. Either way, go home.
MV: You were celibate during the majority of the time you created Feel Feelings, how do you think this influenced the record and your own attitude?
S: It started because this weird thing kept happening where every person I became involved with had just come out of the biggest relationship of their life. They’d be fresh out of a seven-year thing, and then I would come along. It played out in the exact same way every time: they’d tell me they want to marry me and have babies, and meanwhile I’m helping them move out of their ex’s place. I’d believe them because I’m an eternal romantic, and then they’d say, “Actually, I think I need to be alone.” I couldn’t figure out why it kept happening to me, so eventually I was like, “Just stop it Soko!” I was celibate for a year and a half while working on Feel Feelings, and I put all that energy straight into the record. I just focussed on what makes me happy, which is being around my buddies and making music.
“I think the kind of love you’re given as a kid is the kind of love you feel comfortable with when you’re older. I realised this was why I kept dating people who are mourning someone else.”
MV: You collaborated with Gia Coppola on the music video for Are You a Magician? [depicting Soko’s stuffed animal friend coming to life before ghosting her] – how did you come up with the storyline?
S: Gia and I have been friends for a long time. One day she came over to play with my baby and have tea, and I played her the song because I needed an idea for the music video. We were in Indigo’s room playing with one of his very cute toys, and all of a sudden she looked at me and was like, ”I have an idea!” and I was like, “I have one too!” Gia was like, “I couldn’t stop thinking about silent film and magic tricks!” Mine was that I would play two characters: one who creates this fantasy world, and the other who lives inside of it. I wanted the video to have this futuristic-victorian-goth-anime vibe, and it totally does. Gia’s friend let us film it at her place, and she had this collection of dollhouses, which we used in the video. Some were really well maintained and others were kind of a mess, but somehow they all looked exactly like her house.
MV: How does it feel to be a queer woman raising a boy in today’s world?
S: You know, it’s really weird. When he was born I was like, “Why is life giving me a boy?!” I mean, I know that he will be whatever he wants to be, you know? But at the same time he’s raised by two women, and we don’t know what to do with him sometimes. Right now he’s eleven months old, and anytime he’s not wearing a diaper he’s touching his penis. I’m like, dude is this normal? [laughs] Do they just do this all the time? I’ve been googling constantly… it’s really funny. I don’t know.
MV: Are there aspects of your own upbringing that you’re trying to avoid as a mother?
S: I’ve been trying to unlearn a lot of behaviors I was taught by my own parents. I lost my dad when I was five, and after that my mom was in survival mode. She gave me minimal love, but also made me feel like without me she would collapse. I think the kind of love you’re given as a kid is the kind of love you feel comfortable with when you’re older. I realised this was why I kept dating people who are mourning someone else. I went into this record rich off of that realisation, and it felt fantastic. But it’s been intense to recover from my childhood while being a mother. [laughs] I’m like, “Okay, well I’m definitely going to fuck up my child.”
“…I wanted to show people what it looks like to be a new mom and still be creative, make a living, have a life.”
MV: Your son is in the music video for Being Sad is Not a Crime, what’s it like to arrive to a shoot with an infant?
S: That was my first film project really since motherhood, and I had such terrible mom guilt. Anytime I had to leave Indigo he would cry; it was so heartbreaking. But I wanted to show people what it looks like to be a new mom and still be creative, make a living, have a life.
MV: At one point in the video, Indigo sobs as someone takes him from your arms. How did that moment feel?
S: He was nursing, but we had to shoot. Performing is what I do, you know? I told my crew, “Let’s just shoot this.” It was just us capturing the moment as it happened. It’s hard to watch for people who aren’t parents, but when you have a baby you’re just like, “Yeah, dude.” And anyway, crying is okay! That’s what the song is about – no matter your age. [laughs] I say all of this, but of course the second we stopped the camera, I ran to cuddle him.
MV: Are you surprised by the way your career has evolved? Did you expect to end up here?
S: This album has made me feel so very accomplished. When I was ten I had all these massive dreams, but I’ve already outdone them, I’ve outlived them. So what do I do now? How do you make up new dreams?
The release of Feel Feelings is currently postponed due to current global events.
Follow Mara Veitch on Instagram