Slowly and smoothly erupting onto the electronic music scene is Vienna-based DJ, singer and producer SOHN, boasting silky vocals and minimalist production that reminds us of similar thriving artists like The Weeknd and perhaps a hint of James Blake. After releasing his successful debut single, The Wheel, SOHN continued to establish his glassy, polished sound and technique with remixes of songs by Lana Del Rey and Rhye, collaborations with BANKS and Disclosure, and with a few more singles from his upcoming full-length debut, Tremors.
From the looks of the global buzz, the album is one of the most anticipated of 2014. After getting to talk to SOHN about the intense process of writing and recording Tremors—with little human contact, and deep into the dark hours of the night—we have no doubt that his unique sensitivity and self-discipline will emerge from the album’s sounds. This cool, implacable darkness is characteristic of SOHN’s music so far, pulling listeners in to the same isolated, nocturnal experience that SOHN seems to have undergone while creating the album. It’s clear from his descriptions of the album and his recording process that Tremors promises a self-reflective, soothing float. Before it drops next week via 4AD, you can stream all of Tremors on iTunes.
How does it feel being done with your first full-length album? Are you relieved or kind of sad that it’s over?
I sort of haven’t even had time to think about it. The funny thing is, is that it’s because of the way that the music came out from the beginning, I never really stopped making it, you know what I mean? There wasn’t a big time where I felt like I stopped making music and was concentrating on the album, and then later I actually put out the album. Because I’ve been sort of constantly making stuff, also producing other people, it just became where suddenly I had this window of time to make the album, and then I carried on. So I was doing stuff straight after it. So in a way it’s probably very healthy that I haven’t had too much of a chance to think about it. I would probably get a bit anxious.
I’ve read that a lot of these songs were written at night, and that you worked into the night when you were making this album. Do you prefer making music at night? Can you casually make music or do you believe in this process of intense work and isolation?
It was definitely something that I wanted to explore. I haven’t really ever had the time to do it before, because I never had a studio where that was possible. So, it was definitely on my mind going into making this, that I thought I wanted to explore that. Because I didn’t want too much “logic” and “thought” to go into it, but I wanted it to be based on how I felt. I felt like I could get more into that sort of psychology if I was alone and if it was night time as well. That was the first reason.
The second reason, I wanted to make sure that I would get it done, and a big way to motivate myself is basically that I would arrive at 5 p.m., and then I’d sort of test out how it was working. For the first week it wasn’t coming together at all, and then what I realized is that there was a pattern where after about seven hours or so, I’d get to a bit of a block and think, “Oh, this isn’t really working.” So I’d get there at 5 p.m., so when that happened it would be 1 a.m., which would mean that there’s no public transport. And this is really, truly, the main reason why I worked at night, because I thought that that way, by the time I feel like I can’t carry on, I have to carry on until morning. So I just played a very successful trick on myself. Because what happened was that every night at 2 o’clock, the whole thing started to click and it all started to feel really good and then I’d be flying. So it was a very good bit of self-trickery.
So how long in total did it take you to make the album?
It was about a month total. From sort of going in and deciding okay, I’m doing this now, it was about a month of going in every night basically. Of course that meant that I was very rarely in contact with human beings. I was going to bed at 7 a.m., waking up at 3 and going in at 5. But it was good, it was a very, very intense period which I really enjoyed, actually.
My next question is about this kind of secret profile you keep, kind of like Burial (up until a few months ago, at least). How important is this anonymity to you?
In a way, I’ve got this funny relationship with it, because I don’t really see it as anonymity. I try to be pretty public about my face being everywhere. It’s just simply that for me, that since I started making this music, my name has been SOHN. It’s really that simple. A big part of doing that in the first place was to help me to get into changing myself as a human being. Because at the beginning, when I was making the music, it was kind of a bit of an exercise to help me to focus down my life a lot more. So I was kind of consciously patting down the amount of lyrics that I would instinctively put in, or the amount of melody, and constantly making sure that I don’t go too far with the vocals, and stuff like that.
And that was partially because I wanted to be like that as a person, like I wanted to improve that part of myself, like actually in my private life; to make sure that when I spoke, I had something to say. And to make sure that when I said something it would be something that I could stand behind 100%, and not throw in too much information, or throw in things which actually I didn’t even think about saying so I just said anything. So I made that decision, and as soon as I found myself actually doing that, and I found that it was strengthening me as a person. I just thought, “Okay then. This is a new person.” And I don’t want to think about whatever failings I might have had as a kid or growing up or stuff like that, I just want to create a new person basically. So that’s the reason behind that. I want everybody that I know to call me SOHN. It would be really weird to me if people called me the name I was born with. Very weird.
Cool. So do your parents call you by your birth name?
They call me that, yeah. They’re the only ones that do.
That’s awesome that you did that. I’m kind of jealous.
I’ve actually changed my name a lot in my life, so I’m quite used to it. It was a bit of a thing for me since I was a teenager. So for me it’s perfectly natural, actually.
Speaking of your name, what’s the reasoning behind SOHN? Do you speak German?
Yeah, I do. It was because of the German word. Because I’m living in Vienna, it definitely had a big part of all of those influences which made me choose it. To me it was a great word to call myself, because it did a lot of things. Like “Sohn” means “son” in German, and also as well as that, it’s a very soft-sounding word. This is really important to me, because I wanted to call myself something that was a very blank canvas.
I know you have a big tour coming up through Europe and the U.S. Do you like life on tour or do you prefer chilling at home?
I’m definitely really looking forward to performing. Not really because I like all the travelling around (although of course that is enjoyable) mainly I’m looking forward to not being able to not work on new songs. Like I’m looking forward to not being physically able to do it. I really want a period where I can just sort of reflect on what I’ve made up until now and not be making more. So I get a two month period now, which is just incredible, where I get to meet really great people and get to enjoy these things which I’ve created, but doing it with a really, really loud sound system.
Yeah, I think I’m going to see your show in New York. I’m pretty excited.
Awesome. Yeah, last time was a little bit raggy, because we couldn’t bring the whole crew and stuff, but now we’re bringing the whole crew so it’s going to be amazing.
Where are you most excited to play?
Actually I’m really looking forward to Brussels, because I just saw the venue today. It’s about a 1,000 person venue, it’s kind of ridiculous. I saw it today and they were like “Yeah, you know, Lou Reed’s played here,” and I was just like, “Are you kidding me?”
If you could pick your three most influential artists, who would it be?
Michael Jackson, David Bowie and Thom Yorke. That’s good.
If you could give some advice to people navigating the industry, what would it be?
Do exactly what you feel like you want to do. Listen to advice a bit more than you think you should, and look at that advice and decide if it’s good or not. Just be open to the fact that maybe other people can also help. Musicians can get kind of out control, especially if you’re a power freak like me.