Photo by Myles Pettengill.
You won’t see SOHN’s face on the covers of his singles or his upcoming debut album, Tremors, released on April 7th. The Vienna-based producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist depicts his project through images of mountains, glaciers and snow, visually representing the sheer sense of space present throughout his music. His is a quietly intense brand of electronica, atmospheric and emotive, with swirling layers of chopped-up vocals underscored by nimble drum machines and pointed synths. Even at its most anthemic, like on recent single “Artifice,” SOHN’s music inevitably transmits its singer’s gnawing anguish and inner pain. His distinct mixture of analogue instrumentation and progressive production techniques has kept SOHN in high demand as both producer and remixer. As well as collaborating with rising singers Banks and Kwabs, the South London native has reworked tracks by Lana Del Rey, Disclosure, and Angel Haze, imbuing them with a haunting minimalism that is uniquely his. We chatted with this rising artist about late-night songwriting, the meaning of the album title, and his favourite remix.
In your video for “Bloodflows” and in artwork surrounding the project you use images of mountains, ice and snow. What role does the natural world play in your music?
In Vienna there aren’t any mountains, but you can drive out 30 minutes or so and you’re immediately hit by huge hills and mountains. I had this feeling of wanting something spacious at the time when this music first started coming about. Mountains in particular are a recurring theme throughout my life. I find them so important because they remind you that you’re small. That’s become a motif in my mind. Whenever things become uncomfortable, get to a mountain. The mountain’s been here forever and you’re only here for a short period of time, so your problems seem a lot smaller.
Your upcoming album’s called Tremors, which came across in the music as a metaphor for emotional tremors and upheaval.
It is a reflective album. It’s not an album where you’re inside the emotion at that time, more like a reflection on the past. That was why I ended up calling it Tremors, because I was focusing on the vibrations of tremors that shook long ago. That sums up what the album is. It’s a reflection on the fact that things which have had a large impact on my life reverberate, like the aftershock of an earthquake, and that you can always feel them years after. Things that affected you emotionally are there for life–you never lose those tremors.
In songs such as recent single “Artifice” and breakout single “Bloodflows,” you pitch your vocals to sound like tremors in themselves.
I started doing that stuff only out of the fact that I hear things that I want to happen and can’t work out how to get an instrument to do that. I do it with a vocal because I can just sing it in and shape it how I want it. I really have enjoyed changing the throat shape of vocals using different tones in my voice: just a small section, not the straightforward sung parts but the more chopped up bits. I find it interesting to take something so human and so physical and just mess it up. It’s almost like turning into another human.
You produced the album completely nocturnally. What brought that about?
It was actually a trick that I played on myself to make myself do it. I went in at night so I couldn’t get public transport back home, so that I’d just work. I’d arrive around 6pm and stay until 6am. It’s the only way I could’ve got it done. I was touring in November , so the month of October was the only time to sit in and do it. It was enforced work mode. A lot of songs got written in that last month period: they didn’t exist before that.
Your songwriting process seems deeply personal, but you’ve also worked on songs for a lot of rising UK artists, such as Banks and Kwabs. Is the process different?
It’s easier to write for others, because you don’t hyperanalyse what you’re doing. You just make music and someone else is in the room so you just vibe off of them. You get an enthusiasm that you can’t get alone, because when you make something incredible in a room with another artist they’re jumping up and down and it spurs on the whole process. When you’re alone, you’re internally jumping up and down, but you don’t get that sort of backup from the second person.
You’ve also produced a lot of high-profile remixes, such as your reworking of Rhye’s “Open.” How does that compare?
Remixing is a totally different thing. It only comes in via request, and generally it’s a very fast process. I’ll make a point of not listening to the song before, just take the vocal and get rid of everything else. Then I’ll reconstruct it as if I were making that song. You can achieve a result very quickly, while with production it’s slower. A lot of the production sessions I did with Banks and Kwabs were mostly spent songwriting. It’s a bit more of a painful process. You try and find something that works lyrically and melodically whereas with a remix that bit’s already done.
One of my favourite remixes of yours is your remix of Angel Haze’s “Echelon (It’s My Way)”. Do you want to pursue more hip-hop production?
I loved working with a rapper, and I’d love to do more of that. I’m getting some interesting possibilities starting to happen and I’m just going with that. Something that you get with hip-hop that you can’t really get with remixing or producing singers is that aggression. Working with that aggression in collaboration with my sound is great. You get some really nasty, growly darkness going on.
Apart from more hip-hop, what’s next for SOHN?
I’ve got no idea. At the moment I’m working so hard that I haven’t got my eye on that at all. I’m in LA right now and I’m going into different sessions with different people almost every day. At the moment I’ve just been trying to meet more and more artists and producer who I click with. I’ll be doing SXSW then the tour for the album lasts for the whole of April and the whole of May. My calendar literally says that I don’t have a day off until the end of May. There’s no such thing as a weekend. It’s mental.