I first saw Sophie Auster in a Swiss-based film called The Zurich Affair (2021). She played the German poet and author Mathilde Wesendonck, who was the love interest of German composer Richard Wagner and allegedly the woman responsible for the break-up of Wagner’s marriage. At the time I didn’t realise she was also an accomplished musician. It was a pleasant surprise. In short, Auster was sixteen when she recorded her first record. She soon after found fame in Europe and even appeared on the cover of the Spanish issue of Rolling Stone magazine. Now 34, after navigating a life in and out of the spotlight, Auster is back with a new EP called Dancing With Strangers. I recently reached out to Auster on tour in Europe to briefly chat about her music career and her new infectious three-track EP. Here is some of what we talked about.
Sophie, let’s start from the beginning. What was it about music that you were so drawn to that you knew you wanted to make a career out of it?
I started singing when I was eight years old in the school choir, and one day, our conductor walked through the lines of children and listened to our pitch. She singled me out and made me sing the song in front of the entire class. I was terrified, but after I managed to get through the song, she made me the choir soloist. I think being told you are good at something you didn’t even know you were good at, made me feel special. This teacher started giving me lessons after school and I fell in love with music and performing. As I got older I began writing my own songs and performing at small jazz clubs around New York City. When I was sixteen years old I recorded an album with a Brooklyn based band, One Ring Zero, and together we collaborated on a collection of songs. I didn’t intend for it to be for public consumption, but a friend of the family heard the album and said that she knew someone who know someone who might be interested in releasing the record. Two years later, the album; meant as a stocking stuffer, came out on Naive Records via France. I began touring and playing shows abroad and dived into the turbulent waters of the music industry.
What have you not yet accomplished musically speaking that you feel you’re working towards? Moreover would a return to acting be something that you would still like to do?
I feel I have a lot more to accomplish musically. I’d like to do more collaborations, make more records that stretch me further, and continue to grow as an artist. I would also do more acting if the project and timing is right!
Music enthusiasts and audiences, especially in Europe, adore you. Tell me a little bit about how you managed to woo them?
I think the foundation I built as an artist, and continue to build, started in Europe. My first entrance into the public eye was in Europe, so it just kind of stuck. I also believe that I have a sensibility that leans more towards a European palate.
You wrote a column for Vanity Fair in Spain. What was that experience like? What sort of topics did you write about?
The Vanity Fair column was extremely fun. I was able to exercise my thoughts on current issues specific to my generation and flex some political opinions. It was a true feminist column that dived into questions about sexuality, social media, and romance.
Your three-song EP Dancing With Strangers is your first new music since 2019. What have the last couple of years been like for you? What did you learn about yourself?
After the release of History Happens at Night in 2019, my last two song EP, I began submitting tons of material to my old label. Then the lockdown happened and the music industry went into a tailspin. I ended up leaving the label and trying to figure out if I wanted to submit my songs to another one. I decided that I’d rather release these songs on my own and get them out into the world without being held up by bureaucracy. I think that the beginning of lockdown was easier for me than when the world started opening up again bit by bit. It was easier to just lock myself in my room and write all day, because there really wasn’t anything else to do. When restrictions began to lift, I immediately started dreading having to negotiate the business side of my life. Which, as all musicians know, is a huge part of doing this job. I suppose I learned that I adapt to situations well and I go with the flow easily, but that stress sometimes catches up with me.
I understand you wrote Let’s Get Lost during the onset of the pandemic. Tell us a little bit about its origins and how it eventually turned into this moody and anthemic song?
Let’s Get Lost is an ode to losing oneself in a night out and trying on a new character. During the pandemic I really missed the spontaneous interactions I have with strangers and people I meet while I’m out or on the road. These moments give life color, joy, and excitement. So, I wrote Let’s Get Lost about this feeling of throwing yourself to the wind and not caring about what tomorrow might bring.
You have previous said that Hey, Girlfriend is the most personal song on the EP. What emotions does it stir within you?
Well, it’s very literally a letter to an old friend of mine. I lost touch with her after many years of being thick as thieves and I miss her a lot. It’s one of those friendships where it became clear that my efforts to stay close were rebuffed. So, you eventually stop reaching out and the friendship disintegrates. Singing this song is cathartic for me. It’s like the ending to the relationship that never had its final chapter. Now the book is closed.
The Fall is a fun electronic dance-inspired track that come almost out of left field for you as a songwriter. Can you tell us something surprising about it?
During the pandemic I was doing weekly instagram live shows and I’d have my audience write in and request covers. I think this was actually really great for my songwriting and flexibility as a singer, because I was learning things really fast and getting inspiration from songs, I either didn’t know, or had to remember. I was listening to a lot of Candi Staton at the time and I really wanted to write a new disco song. That’s how the fall happened. I wanted to feel free and write a song I could perform live and have the audience get up and dance.
I love that we can’t pigeon hole you into one style or genre of music. It a wonderful strength to have as an artist. How important is it for you to have that freedom to experiment?
I think very. I think the connective tissue in my music is my voice and I like to experiment with sounds, producers and genres. I think it’s important for me to keep my work and approach flexible.
I love the ease at which you play guitar. Do you have a preference or leaning towards electric or acoustic guitars? Moreover, is the guitar your primary source which aids you in songwriting?
I write everything on guitar. I’m actually thinking of making a little acoustic EP before I start work on a new album.
I understand you are playing at the Oslo, London to kick start your current tour. What sort of welcome to do anticipate from your English fans? What can we expect musically?
I hope a good one! I’m playing with a trio set up with synth, keys, drums and tracks. Rehearsals have been really great, so I think it should be a great show!
Sophie, before I let you, one final question. If you could only listen to one musician or band for the rest of your life, who would it be? And why?
It’s an impossible question, but I will say The Beatles?
Sophie Auster’s new EP Dancing With Strangers is out now. Listen on Apple and Spotify. For more information on Sophie Auster, including her current European tour dates, check out her website. Follow Sophie on Twitter | Facebook | Instagram. Watch on You Tube.
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