Sophie Koh has returned with her third solo album. We caught up with Sophie to ask her about her latest music!
You’ve already release two albums that have had a fair amount of critical acclaim, did this make you feel any pressure when putting together your latest album?
Not really. I’d stopped listening to what people or radio stations expect of me a long time ago. It’s been 4 years since the last album and like every album, I try to create something different from the last, for my own sake. I grow up each time and my ears and influences change dramatically. But as a result, sometimes listeners and fans might be a bit confused about which genre I fit into…but I like that.
This album sees your music move towards a more electronic sound, what inspired you to take this musical direction?
I’d always been a big fan of pop with an electronic undertone. That kind of 3 and half minute well-produced hi-fi and groovable production. I was keen to use electronic motives to create the grooves. My first ever taste of western music was Madonna. Before that, i only knew classical piano stuff. We had just moved from Singapore to New Zealand and I fell in love with Madge. ‘Express yourself’ must be the first pop song where I memorised all the words. My first two albums were perhaps more acoustic guitar driven pop but I became sick of playing guitar and didn’t want to hide behind it on stage either anymore!
My main production aim for this 3rd album was to create a groovable vibe but still within a singer/songwriter world. Brad Wood (Liz Phair, Smashing Pumpkins), my producer was the king of keyboard synths and glitchy samples. I really wanted to utilize his knowledge and just go to town with it. But obviously keeping it within a personal earthy world.
There’s also a wide range of styles with everything from bright pop tunes to more sombre songs, was it your intention to produce an album covering such a range of emotions?
Yes! When I listen to other artists, I absolutely hate albums that sound the same from start to finish. I have low attention span myself when listening. For me, variety is key. Why stick to the same vocal delivery, the same subject matter, the same tempo across the record. The more colourful the better.
It’s also the result of my recording process, always in spits and spurts. I went to LA four times over 2 years to put these 11 songs together. I went through a bit of ups and downs during that time. Maybe that rubbed through too. But this is how I’ve always recorded though. Slowly and in chunks, taking it away and sitting with it for a while, then coming back to it a few months later.
What made you pick Oh my garden as the title track of the album?
In my head, Oh My Garden is a world of colourful bright flowers. Nice imagery to fit the vibe of these new tunes! My last record ‘All Shook Up’ had a bit of a sombre feel to it and wanted this new one to be happier and brighter!
Where did you get the idea for doing the Lo-Fi video clip in a supermarket?
Well, Lo-Fi video clip is one of the proudest things I’ve ever done actually because it was such a simple idea but whole cast and crew made it something special. I didn’t have a huge budget so I was keen on a one-shot clip. I was also dead-set on some dancing! I had joined an amateur dance class and wanted my dance mates to be involved somehow as they are awesome people. My director suggested we’d need aisles of some sort, to keep the shot interesting and we came up with a supermarket! We only hired the supermarket for a few hours at midnight and nearly ran out of time as we blew their speakers. We only did 2 takes! What a fluke that one take actually worked!
In Lo-fi you sing “only playing vinyl or the MP3”, do you think the compact disc is on its way out?
I still love CDs and still read liner notes. I agonized over the my own CD artwork but it’s sad that I reality, people don’t buy CDs anymore. Few of my friends have thrown away their entire CD collections and saved it all digitally. I was horrified. I’m not quite there yet.
You’ve said that your single I understand is one of the most personal songs you have written, is it hard to have something so personal being put out in the open like that?
Gosh no, not at all! It’s the most liberating thing you can ever do. I’m just so lucky I have a forum to share my inner thoughts like that with total strangers and it’s so special when they ‘get’ it. It’s the most powerful thing you can ever do as a songwriter.
Was it hard to do the “rotating” video for I understand?
I enjoyed it all and only realised how mental the whole thing was AFTER we had finished. The video shoot was physically and mentally demanding. It looks so deceivingly simple but for most of the filming (10 hour shoot) I was actually hanging , gaffer-taped to a rotating device. I had to get my back corrected at the physio a few days later. The directors wanted my face to go through gravitational changes and stress, without me acting so they turned me upside down. The hardest part was being underwater, upside down, hands and feet tied, plugs up my nose, couldn’t see with no fight/flight reflexes left. I nearly choked the first take. I could hear the directors yelling ‘get her out, get her up NOW!’. Yikes, still can’t believe we did it. Here’s a groovy behind-scenes vid of how we did it!
What was it like to appear on Neighbours?
Haha, I had joked for years that I could be THAT ‘token asian chick’ on Neighbours. So when I was called, I nearly choked with laughter and excitement. To cameo on Neighbours as ‘myself’ and to play my own song ‘Anywhere’ with my OWN band was even more amazing!
Are there any other TV shows you’d like to feature on?
I’ve always wanted to give Playschool a go! Wouldn’t mind a cameo Mad Men either, just so that I can gush over Jon Hamm..
You appeared on the tribute album to Neil and Tim Finn, if you could be on any other tribute album what would it be?
Would LOVE to do a Peter Gabriel tribute.
Are you still working as an optometrist?
Yes sometimes! I just came back from a few weeks working in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands with Fred Hollows Foundation. That’s a totally different long conversation! Some strange but wonderful experiences. I brought my guitar along and did an impromptu performance on Honaira FM in Solomons.
How has the album tour gone so far?
We finished our album tour at the Alice Springs Festival, playing under desert skies. My band was smoking hot and we celebrated the end of the tour with some break-dancing at the local pub. It’s been an amazing tour. It’s been a lot of work behind the scenes as I pretty much booked and tour managed everything. The trials and tribulations of an independent artist! I don’t think most people will ever realised how much time goes into organizing even just one show, let alone a tour. The highlight was our album launch at Northcote Social Club. I don’t think we’ve ever sounded that good as a band. I nearly cried with happiness when the curtains were drawn. I am just so proud of my band who are so super talented.
What do you plan on doing once the tour is over?
I am so SO many ideas right now. Finally have a bit of time to brainstorm the next album and hit the manuscript. Really don’t want the next album to take another 4 years!
Check out Sophie’s website to find out more.