“I wanted to scream but no words would come out of my mouth.” Soko is describing a dream she had last night with the accentuation of a radio actor. Not being able to talk is a pretty alarming thought for the Bordeuxborn artist, who, at full throttle, must come close to challenging the 600-words-a-minute world record, and thrives on the ability to express herself through music and acting.
“That feeling when you’re scared and you can’t scream or say anything and you go mute, it’s the worst, I have to be able to speak.” Or was the dream actually this morning? Lately, hours have begun to leak into one. But treading that line between dream and reality is nothing new for Soko (short for Stéphanie Sokolinski), whose sophomore record was literally titled, My Dreams Dictate My Reality – a mantra she fully tries to observe, having moved to LA just two days after doing so in her sleep.
Following her dreams by listening to her dreams: it’s a formula that makes sense, and it’s one that has stood her in good stead so far. To date, Soko is a César-nominated actress (for her role in the 2009 film À l’origine) and a critically acclaimed musician with two carefully articulated records under her belt. And yet, having just returned from Cannes to promote her two latest films – The Dancer and The Stopover – there’s nothing cookie-cutter about her, no media training, no rehearsed quotes and no pretences; a conversation with Soko is as honest and irresistibly mischievous as a tête-à-tête with a childhood friend. Since upping sticks from her hometown of Bordeaux at the age of sixteen in pursuit of an acting career in Paris, Soko has carved her own path and followed her gut instinct. The one constant throughout? “I always try to live in the moment, I want to savour every single moment, the highs and the lows.”
Soko: Sorry I’m late. I just finished doing the biggest French TV show and there was a drama with the host’s dog, so they were running an hour late. It’s a show that older people watch, like I’m doing so much press and I’m telling my mum that I’m doing this and that, and she doesn’t care at all, but then she was like, [puts on a posh voice] “You’re doing that show? Oh, that is de-lightful.”
Alex James Taylor: [laughs] She’ll be telling everyone to watch it. How does it feel to be back in Paris having moved to LA now?
Soko: Well I do live in LA, but last time I was there was in July, which feels like forever ago. I enjoy being wherever I am when I have to be there. I’m very much always trying to be happy in the present and not itching to be somewhere else because I feel that the key to happiness is being there in the moment.
Alex: It’s your birthday next month and you turned 30 last year. Are you one of those people who see turning 30 as a scary milestone?
Soko: Oh yeah, totally. It’s super big and it’s like, holy shit, what have I done with my life? I still don’t have a house, I still don’t have kids, and all my siblings had several kids by the age of 30, and what am I doing? I’m not married, but hey, I’m making music and living life and making movies and I’m a workaholic [laughs]. So I decided to look on that side of things. But definitely I was like, “I need to start worrying about having money and a house where I can actually live for more than two weeks at a time!”
Alex: Your records and movies are your kids, they take less looking after.
Soko: [sarcastic tone] Yeah right. It’s more like I’m my own kid. I have to manage my own emotions constantly. Don’t be needy. Don’t beg for attention from people who don’t deserve it [laughs].
Alex: So high maintenance [laughs]. I’m just flicking through this zine you made, Sextagram [earlier this year Soko made a zine containing explicit Instagram DMs she’d been sent], there’s some great ones in here.
Soko: I get a lot of direct messages on Instagram and it’s funny what people project on you or what they think they’re allowed to say just because it’s the internet and they think it’s not real and you aren’t going to read it. I started screengrabbing ones I thought were really funny and posting them on my own Instagram, then this magazine in LA contacted me like, “How many of those do you have?” And I was like, “I’ve got like hundreds of them.” And then as soon as I started posting them I was getting loads more, so people thought it was ok to send me pictures of their butts and tits. They’d ask me on dates, ask me to take their virginity, ask me to make out with them whilst listening to The Smiths.
Alex: Going by your music and lyrics you strike me as more of a love note signed-witha-kiss type of girl rather than a nude selfie type. Would you call yourself an old-school romantic?
Soko: [laughs] Cute, that is totally me. Absolutely, a completely old-school hopeless romantic. I’m all of that. I think love is the most beautiful thing, I really enjoy the whole experience, so I like making the most of it whilst it’s there; making it beautiful everyday.
Alex: Through your music you rather candidly express your emotions, and especially in your debut album, I Thought I Was An Alien, you very openly discuss your depression. I went to go see the new Nick Cave film recently…
Soko: I really need to see that, I haven’t had the chance yet!
Alex: It’s so brilliant, I’ve never seen him look so vulnerable, but he’s also as witty and inspiring as ever. But he was saying that the music he wrote after his son died wasn’t cathartic at all and it didn’t help him come to grips with the situation, he didn’t see it like that, he was just doing what he does. He makes music. Do you see music in the same way or does it actually help you?
Soko: No it doesn’t help at all. I’m pretty aware of my emotions as they arrive, so I always kind of know where I’m at with it all. Making music is just kind of like… If I turn emotions into a song then I go, “Ok, here I’m looking at it and I agree that this is all that is true about me right now and is exactly how I feel and I want to remember this forever.”
Alex: So for you it’s diaristic?
Soko: Or like photographs. So you look back and you’re like, “Oh, this is what I was feeling when I was 22, and 27, and 31, and 42.”
“I think love is the most beautiful thing, I really enjoy the whole experience, so I like making the most of it whilst it’s there; making it beautiful everyday.”
Alex: So how’re things going with your third album? How far along are you?
Soko: It’s just at the beginning really because I’ve not had the chance to do much music recently because I’ve been busy doing movies. I spent the whole month of August in New York just writing music and that was amazing and I wrote a lot and recorded a lot and it was great. But that was more of a trial to see who I wanted to work with and I still need to actually block dates for that. The movies are doing really well so we’re literally invited to present it all over the world. I’m kind of torn between just wanting to go and write music, and also thinking, “Well, how many times in your life do you get free plane tickets and hotels to go and see the world and talk about something you’re passionate about?”
Alex: Can you write whilst you’re travelling or do you need to be in a calmer environment?
Soko: I can’t write when I’m travelling, especially because when I do movie stuff it’s non-stop press all day. Here’s my schedule: wake up at 5am in Belgium and do press, then go to Paris to do one thing and then back to Belgium, spend twelve hours there and then back to Paris before heading to Lyon. And before I go to Lyon I have another super-big TV show, then the next morning I’m in Paris again and have seventeen interviews in one day. I think that’s all correct [laughs].
Alex: Wow, that must be exhausting. Do you find the interviews a bit like Groundhog Day?
Soko: Well, I’m pretty open and I’m not the kind of person who’s like, “So I have to say this and this and that, and I have this amount of time.” I always try to answer sincerely and always try to be in the moment.
Alex: Do you know which direction your new music is going to go?
Soko: Because I’ve been so busy I’ve mostly been listening to music to go to bed lately. So I want my record to sound like something that is soothing and you can go to bed with. So maybe more shoegaze and still dream-pop and post-punk, very minimal and simple but still very emotional. Because I’m an old school, hopeless romantic [laughs], I want it to sound like that moment when you’re laying in bed and looking into someone’s eyes, that very moment that you’re like, [whispers] “I think I’m falling in love with this person and I don’t know if I can say it or not.” I want it to sound like that moment when everything smells good and feels great and everything is awesome and it’s so special.
Alex: If you can bottle up that feeling you’ll be a millionaire. Dreams are a recurring theme throughout your musical output. Do you dream a lot?
Soko: Yeah, a lot. Because I’m having very short sleeps right now I get like four hours of sleep and have quick naps, so I go into dreams so fast. My last dream was this morning on the train, I fell asleep from Brussels and dreamt that I was taking a cab and then we were lost and while I was looking at the numbers on the street and trying to figure out where we were with the cab driver, someone else that he knew was robbing the car and I wanted to shout, “Don’t steal my computer, don’t steal my shit!” I wanted to scream but no words would come out of my mouth. I was like [makes a noise like she’s lost her voice] and it’s that fucking terrible feeling, I woke up feeling like I’d been stolen from. That feeling when you’re scared and you can’t scream or say anything and you go mute, it’s the worst, I have to be able to speak. I woke up and I was like, “Fuck, what does that mean?” Maybe it meant that I’m repressing things that I’m not saying or feeling, or because I’m doing interviews, I’m being stolen from and I’m not really saying what I want? I don’t know, I started going way too far into it.
“…with every single dream I’m like, “What does it actually mean? What is my subconscious trying to tell me?…”
Alex: You always try to read into your dreams?
Soko: Oh yeah, with every single dream I’m like, “What does it actually mean? What is my subconscious trying to tell me? What do I need to watch out for?” I take signs from dreams all the time. Like when I moved to LA, I did that two days after I had a dream that I was living in LA and when I woke up I didn’t remember anything, I just knew that I had to move to LA, and I did two days later.
Alex: It’s a bit like Yes Man, just doing everything your dreams tell you to do.
Soko: It’s literally how I live, that’s why my second record is called My Dreams Dictate My Reality. It’s actually true.
Alex: Do you tend to remember your dreams? I sometimes wake up and jot down little words on my phone’s Notes app.
Soko: Yeah, I do that sometimes, or I had a little dream journal that I kept by my bed but I’ve been travelling so much it’s been hard to keep up with anything, any part of my routine is so hard to keep going when I’m travelling, even meditating. You’re supposed to meditate twice a day, twenty minutes in the morning as you wake up, and I’m like, “My call time is 5am and I slept three and a half hours. I’m not going to meditate for twenty minutes.” When I wake up I have a twenty-minute break to pee, I’m not giving that up [laughs].
Alex: To pee or meditate, it’s a tough choice [laughs]. Were you a daydreamer as a child?
Soko: I didn’t have a lot of friends, I was really good at school and was always lost in my own world. I have five brothers and sisters and they would always be in the garden doing things all together and I was kind of the black sheep of the family, always in my own room and writing and drawing and not wanting to socialise too much. I’m still pretty much the same.
Alex: You left for Paris when you were sixteen to pursue acting, which is pretty similar to the path Loie Fuller took [Soko plays Fuller in her new film The Dancer], she went from the US to Paris to pursue her career. There seems to be quite a lot of similarities between you and her.
Soko: Yeah, except that I was the worst dancer ever and I had to overcome that, which wasn’t easy. I love a challenge and obviously making the portrait of an amazing artist whose life we know very little about and has been completely forgotten was a big appeal. Plus, it was being directed by another super talented girl [Stéphanie de Giusto] who I loved and wanted to work with already, she could’ve offered me any part in any story and I would’ve accepted it. Then it turned out that she was writing me into this amazing story about Loie Fuller and it was incredible because it’s the portrait of an artist, which I’m obviously very touched by and drawn to because that’s what I do. So there’s similarities there, like we’re both really passionate and passion is love and suffering, that’s what passion means and that’s exactly what it is to be an artist, you love what you do so much but it takes a lot of suffering and that’s why it becomes honest and vulnerable and vital. That’s something that’s very true to me and the character, she was a multimedia artist already, a true pioneer doing experiments with lights, bringing electrical lights into theatres and she was the first person to ask to turn off the lights in the theatre and she did lots of experiments with chemicals, working with uranium to make her dress glow more. She had so many hats, doing her own costumes and choreography.
Alex: Watching the film you get a real sense that she was so focused in her vision and she knew exactly what she wanted and pushed as hard as she could to achieve her goals.
Soko: Yeah, sometimes it’s just clear, like suddenly you know what you’re meant to be doing.
Alex: I didn’t know too much about Fuller before watching the film, I’d mainly heard of her because she inspired Alexander McQueen’s FW06 show, the one with the hologram of Kate Moss.
Soko: What? I don’t even know about that. I’ll have to look it up.
Alex: Some people labelled Fuller as an actress…
Soko: Nobody really saw her as a dancer, everybody saw her as a performer. She wanted to be known as an artist, or actually, she didn’t even really want to be known. She wanted to create something that was so magical and also so unreal that it allowed people to imagine and dream and sympathise about what it was she did, she never wanted to be seen, she didn’t like her body, she had zero self-confidence and didn’t want people to know who she was. Stéphane Mallarmé claimed her as his muse and he wrote a lot of beautiful texts about her but she thought that when she met him, he was sort of disappointed to really meet her and who he was getting to know as a person because she didn’t live up to what people’s dreams imagined she was, because her life was very normal.
Alex: That’s really poignant, she created this thing of beauty that elevated everyone’s expectations to such a high level that she struggled to live up to it.
Alex: And your own shows tend to be very spontaneous and unpredictable, you often change set lists and even band members between gigs.
Soko: [laughs] Well, that was when I first started and I’ve come to realise that, for my band’s sanity, knowing what we’re playing is very helpful. I like to move from instrument to instrument for each song, mainly the instrument I wrote the song on, so to make smoother transitions I do arrange it with my band now. Alex: I saw you last year at 100 Club in London and it was so much fun, it was one of the few times I’ve seen people walk out of a gig with huge smiles across their faces, usually people are too cool for that. Soko: [laughs] Aw, that’s so nice to hear, thanks. That was a very special show for me too, especially because it’s a very historical venue too, every one of my favourite bands has played there, so I was feeling a bit threatened, [puts on a pirate voice] those walls do hold some tales. [laughs] Maybe that’s why I got topless, that helped [the gig ended in a semi-naked stage invasion]. Alex: [laughs] That always helps. How would you sum up the year so far from your point of view? Soko: It’s been a very transformative year for me, especially since I turned the big 3-0 [laughs]. I’ve done a lot of work on myself, I’ve been in touch with a lot of my feelings and done a lot of therapy and I did that Hoffman Institute experience that completely changed my life and my relationship to my family and friends, that was incredible and one of the highlights of my year. I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time trying to work on being the best person I can be, and I feel like I’m really getting somewhere.
Interview originally published in HEROINE 5.
All clothing by Gucci.