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SOKO
INTERVIEWED BY MILLA JOVOVICH
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JUSTIN TYLER CLOSE
 

I have known SoKo for about five years and one thing I realized when I was writing my questions down was we haven’t really had the opportunity to hang one on one that much. So it was very exciting thinking of what I wanted to talk about, the perfect opportunity to ask things I’ve never asked before. Saying that, my thoughts tend to shift between two very different directions: there is the side of me that wants to understand more about her relationship with her own talent, the spontaneous and prolific lyricist and singer, as well as, the acclaimed actress. Then again, being a mother, I am interested in her childhood. I always want to know how talented people “found” themselves. It was good to have an excuse to finally get personal.

MILLA JOVOVICH—I moved out of my parents’ house when I was a teenager and heard you had too. What made you want to leave home so young?

SOKO—I lost my dad when I was five, and was then confronted with adult reality, way, way too young. So at ten, I already felt like an adult, was vegetarian, cooking for myself – because my mum only cooked meat – and felt very much like a grown-up. I was already dreaming of life alone, in an apartment by myself; dreams of independence.

I ended up moving to Paris by myself before my sixteenth birthday, started this crazy acting school and after six months I started booking acting jobs. I was totally independent and I guess that’s what I always wanted. Now I look at sixteen-year-old girls, and think I would never let any of them live on their own! It’s crazy!

MJ—I started acting when I was just a kid, mainly because my mom was an actress and I was following in her footsteps. Why do you think you gravitated towards acting?

S—At five, when my dad died, my mum was so overwhelmed and sad and alone, it was very hard for her to face my very vocal sadness too. So she was trying to keep me busy with as many occupations as possible that would keep me away from over-thinking deathly thoughts. I started theatre class, once a week, amongst all the other tennis, horse riding, swimming, judo, piano activities, and very soon after that I was telling everyone, “When I’m a grown-up, I want to be a storyteller.” At that point, I only thought it meant acting, now I’m trying to do that with a lot more mediums. 

MJ—I was surprised to read that you had dropped out of school. Especially seeing how well read you are and how lyric-centric your music is. What made you want to leave, the lackadaisical teachers or unwanted/negative attention from other students? What triggered you to not go back?  

S—Ha, I did. And it felt so good. I just hated school. I didn’t graduate, which my mum was really ashamed about, especially because out of all my brother and sisters, I was always the one who was the best at school, no difficulties; I was always a very fast learner. In the end, all my siblings ended up graduating but me! Also, I’m really not a competitive type, and I feel like school encourages people to be very mean-spirited in that sense. I never had any friends, was always alone, and feeling terribly unfitted. I was a very good student, always very studious, sometimes I felt like I already knew all that teachers had to teach me so I was very bored most times. And I didn’t feel like being a kid. I wanted to be an adult. So quitting school was the beginning of “real life,” and not being told what to do, what to like, what to think anymore. And just freedom to be whoever I wanted.

MJ—When did you find yourself drawn to making music?

S—I started piano lessons and music theory at five. I absolutely hated it; would never practice, especially because my piano was in the living room, and each time I wanted to play, my parents would get mad and say it’s not the right time. So I never got any good in my seven years of lessons. Then I went to that art school where we had music class, and I was the worst ever. I hated singing in front of people. I hated the songs we had to study. It was not inspiring at all.

But then I started to become an absolute music nerd, totally obsessed, making playlists all the time. I was just acting, and very bored with the actress lifestyle; always facing rejection and feeling like you can’t create anything on your own. And I was always writing secretly. At nineteen, I started writing stories that had melodies, and I would ask my little brother, Max, to write guitar parts for it. It was really fun, but nothing serious. Then I felt compelled to start learning guitar, bass, drums, and started writing my little songs on my own. Step by step, it became something absolutely vital.

MJ—I read that you have done shows on your own for up to three hours at a time and don’t use set lists. You seem very spontaneous and improvisational; describe one of these extended concerts for someone who hasn’t experienced it.

S—Haha, yes, that was ages ago though. It was really fun. I would go to crazy countries that I’d never been to before by myself, and would go on stage not even knowing what the first song I was going to play was. I had my keyboard, guitar, and drums and would just play whatever felt right. Loving intimate shows, low light, very quiet venues; loving to make people cry with sad stories; making the audience a big part of the show.

I felt very brave at that time, I guess, because it didn’t feel so serious. Now, I like playing with my band and make shows a little shorter. I still talk a lot between songs and I still have no clue what most shows are going to be like. I just find it a bit boring when I see bands play in autopilot, the same thing every night, and it doesn’t feel very special. I like making things special and unique every night!

MJ—I find your music haunting and very lyric-oriented. When did you first realize that writing was such an important part of your life? 

S—Ha! I guess that’s probably because I am very haunted myself. I always write as a way to remember. I have a terrible memory so I feel like if I write what I feel in a song, I will for sure remember it forever. I write my dreams; I write poetry, random thoughts. It almost feels like backing up my life onto a hard drive, so that I can get more space for new adventures, stories. Sometimes I go into total autistic mode even around people and stop talking to them in the middle of intense conversations just because I need to write things down. It gets weird!

MJ—Why do you write in English? Do you ever write in French? If not, why?

S—Well, I live in LA, most of my friends speak English, and I live most of my biggest life events in English, dream in English, so it would be hard for me to “translate” them into French. 

MJ—Your lyrics are incredibly in the moment, vulnerable, and at times humorously irreverent and even self-deprecating. For instance, the title of your album I thought I Was an Alien feels like a confession. It implies a feeling of separation or isolation from others. Do you feel like you couldn’t connect with people growing up or that you were always trying to prove something to others? What made you feel like an alien? 

S—I’ve always wondered as a child if I had been adopted, or abducted. I felt like I couldn’t understand or connect with my family, and most people. I always had really intense dreams about my family being animals or aliens, and E.T. was my favorite movie. So I guess that conditioned me to somehow feeling like that. I wasn’t trying to prove anything to anyone. I think I was just absolutely lost in my own bubble most times. It must have been hard to connect with me, ha! And for the rest, I tend to live my life always feeling vulnerable, and true, and very open to whatever may come my way. So I guess that translates into my lyrics; they’re always very honest and personal and dark.

MJ—Is this album a “confession” or do you write from other people’s perspectives as well? Being a critically acclaimed actress, you have the ability to play other characters; do you use this talent when you write music?

S—When I started writing songs, I was writing as characters just because I didn’t know any better, and when people would tell me, “That’s exactly how I feel,” I felt like a liar. I didn’t want to go out and tell lies to people. I wouldn’t call it confessional though, because I usually only write for myself, not thinking that anyone will ever hear it. But it’s more like if I was writing a letter to myself or to someone, telling them exactly what’s going on in my head, and all my dark secrets and emo thoughts.

MJ—How strong of an influence is film in your music or vice versa? Do you need to “take time out” from one and do another for a while to feel re-inspired?  

S—I’m very monomaniacal; I can only do one thing at a time, and I’m very obsessive. So when I do movies, I’m absolutely full on doing only that, and not even touching any of my instruments. And when I do music, I don’t even want to hear about making movies. It just gets too distracting and confusing. And I need a lot of focus in whatever I’m doing. I’m always fully committed in whatever I decide to do.

MJ—What is your song-writing process? Do you write anywhere or do you need privacy? Do you start everything on a guitar or do lyrics come first?

S—I always write big statements in my book. Whatever is strongly on my mind; the last big one was “Temporary mood swings” – maybe coz i was on my period – and I thought, “That would make a cool song!” I thought about it a bunch, and one night, in Paris, sat on my organ with a glass of red wine. I had had insomnia for about a week (it always starts with insomnia!) and then, all the lyrics, chords, arrangements, melodies come out within minutes. And then the song is done; never going back on it; never re-working the lyrics. So it always comes all at once. I’m always in a sort of trance when it happens, and nothing in life is more important at that moment than finishing this song!

MJ—You received a César nomination for your role in À l’origine. Did it surprise you or did you feel there was something special about that particular part? How did you prepare for it? 

S—Wow, that was ages ago. I can’t even remember. The direct Xavier Giannoli is amazing. I guess I was just stoked working with him. This year I won best actress at a festival in Argentina for my role in Augustine, which was a lot of work, and had left me with many scars. That was my first time winning anything. I didn’t even know there was an award thingy, and I was by myself and a bit lonely at the festival, so I left. Then they called me to come pick me up and said I won the award and I was back in LA. Ha! Typical me – the only thing I ever win, I’m not ever there!

MJ—what was it like working with Spike Jonze? You wrote a song for the movie as well. Is it different writing music for a film? Also, is it strange doing a voice for an animated part?

S—That was for his movie Mourir auprès de toi; it was just a few words. When I recorded the voice and the song, I hadn’t even seen the movie! I also did a voice in Her, Spike’s new movie, and same thing – I did that without seeing the movie either! I love writing for movies. I wrote the beginning and end credit of Augustine too. I want to do more of that.

MJ—If you were a movie, what would your title and tagline be? 

S—The Lonely Heart: a tale about love, loneliness, and everything in between.

MJ—If you were a book, what would your opening line be?

S—“Once upon a time.”

MJ—If you were a garden, what kind would you be and what would you plant in it? 

S—I would be a wild garden from Alice in Wonderland. And I’d also have a lot of cherry blossom trees and also all the craziest fruits and vegetables growing in there.

MJ—In ten songs, what is the perfect playlist for SoKo?

S—Unloveable by The Smiths

Penelope Tree by Felt

The Beast by The Only Ones 

Jumping Someone Else’s Train by The Cure

Friday Night, Saturday Morning by The Specials

Start! by The Jam

Tally Ho! by The Clean

Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. by Simon and Garfunkel

Blue Moon by Big Star

Age of Consent by New Order

MJ—You told me you were recording here in LA at the moment, can we expect another record next year?

S—Yes! I’m recording in Venice. Ross Robinson is producing my record. I’m having the time of my life. I still don’t have a label though. So I’m not sure when and how I’ll put it out, but what matters for now is just making it!

MJ—How has your writing evolved since you started? How will your new album differ from I Thought I Was an Alien

S—I guess I Thought I Was an Alien was really intimate and sparse and dark and self-reflective, and sort of almost too emotional. I was always a wreck after playing these songs live; always crying on stage. This new album will be called My Dreams Dictate My Reality. It’s very different. A lot more goth/punk rock, no acoustic instruments; very eighties sounding; a bit more structure in the songs; more chorus; more delay; more fun, I guess. At least, I’m having more fun playing these songs, but the lyrics are still pretty raw and dark. Themes go from being haunted by dreams, to refusing to grow up, to fearing death. 

MJ—Do you feel your connection to music is stronger today than before? And if yes, in what way? 

S—Yes. It always grows stronger, and fonder. I always dig for more music that always inspires me to write more. And it’s always more and more vital to me, and just imposes itself as the only thing that makes me truly happy and is never deceitful!

More—
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