soko and her friend jonny from the drums discuss mental health in the music industry
The pair had a chat about navigating their way through the music industry and adult life, and we listened in.
With a couple more films and a lot of travelling under her Gucci belt, musician/cat/couture grunge merchant Soko is in New York working hard on her new record. Newly solo, wonderfully outspoken frontman of and genius behind The Drums, Jonny Pierce is about to release his first solo album - still under his band name - Abysmal Thoughts. Like the rest of us, they've both been through their fair share of shit and have learnt to deal with their various issues in various ways as they navigate the music industry and their adult lives. A few days ago, Jonny called Soko for an overdue catch up. i-D listened in.
Soko: Jonny! Thanks for the record! Thanks for sending it to me. I've been listening to it a lot.
Jonny: You have?
Soko: Of course! I walk everywhere and it's a really empowering record to walk the streets of New York to, you know? On headphones, it's like your little voice in my head telling me all your insecurities and troubles that I relate to so much.
Jonny: When I think of this record, I think of people in my life that make themselves vulnerable by being really open about how they feel. I count you among those people. It's really rare. You and I both have these pillars of individualism that constitute who we are, but in between those pillars, sometimes it can feel like a total shit show so we have things we can really rely on.
Soko: Like what?
Jonny: Like songwriting. And I try to live in the spirit of thoughtfulness and empathy and compassion. I guess this record is much more reflective. I'm looking inwards. All my records before were looking out with a pointed finger, like who can I blame? You ruined me! You hurt me! You left me!
Soko: If you look back at all your records, what do you think? I look at my first record I Thought I Was An Alien and think, this is so not me, I was so young. I get embarrassed. I can't believe how naive I was. On the second, My Dreams Dictate My Reality, I was trying something but I was very vulnerable. Now that I'm making my third, I'm like, fuck! This is it. This is exactly what I was trying to do that whole time.
Jonny: It's very rare when it's all right there at the beginning.
Soko: But there are a lot of things in your music that are very consistent. Not that it hasn't evolved, but I feel like I can make a playlist of songs from your first, second, third and fourth albums and people wouldn't really know which are from which because it's very cohesive.
"Sad music is what I'm drawn to, because when I'm happy, I wanna feel the wounds of other people." Soko
Jonny: I've always had a thing for bands and artists who have their own identity like that. I think there's a lot of pressure on artists these days to show their variety instead of just showing their art. It's like, oh, you've gotta collaborate with A-Trak and then you've gotta write twelve songs with Charli XCX and everyone is pulled in a thousand different directions. I won't listen to other music when I'm making my record, only my old records, because I want to stay in this world that I've created.
Soko: Really? That's crazy. I love that. It's funny because I discover a lot of music while I'm making records. I've always done things on my own, and for the first time, I'm bringing people in and even writing with other people. I've found a true intimacy in these moments.
Jonny: For my first album, The Drums, we were a four piece but I'd written and recorded everything on my own. That's something I never said to anyone, that I was actually the one doing everything. I had grown up with abusive parents, so I didn't really have a family unit, and I think -- with the help of some therapy -- what was actually happening was that I was pulling these people into my life. I wanted this band to be like a family. A lot of songs on that first record were very escapist and whimsical. I was almost writing from the standpoint of somebody else.
Soko: Someone who hasn't gone through so much?
Jonny: Exactly! But on the second record I became more vulnerable and lost a member of the band, on the third record I lost another, and now the fourth album is just me. It's my chance to really go for it. Each record has gradually brought me closer to myself. There's nobody else to represent. It's all about vulnerability, you know?
Soko: I think that's why we're both fans of The Smiths. You can hear all of that in Morrissey's voice and lyrics. Sad music is what I'm drawn to, because when I'm happy, I wanna feel the wounds of other people. It makes me so happy that people go out and show their real selves. Since we both have trouble with depression, do you find that now that you're older, you have ways of dealing with things?
Jonny: When I'm feeling like I can't get out of bed, it's because I'm not expressing myself. I look at it like, you have a depression and anxiety tank with all these valves and if we don't turn that handle and let some steam come out, it's just gonna build up. I feel so lucky that I'm a songwriter, and I can get it out that way. I really feel for people that don't have that outlet, but we can all listen to others and try to learn, grow, and express how we feel.
Soko: You've said that if you're comfortable you never write your best songs. I push that to an extreme degree - I've not had a home of my own for eleven years now. That's my way of constantly keeping myself on my toes. You know, I'm going to Italy tomorrow and then coming back to New York in three days to work on my record and I don't know where I'll be sleeping. I hate it. I used to love it, but I hate it.
Jonny: What price do you pay, do you think? By constantly travelling?
Soko: I don't know, but what saves my life is holding onto a little bit of routine. Finding routine is so important. I turn my phone off at night. I do transcendental meditation. The first thing I do each morning is gather my thoughts and set an intention for my day. I've been dressing in a lot of bright colours because I wanna take the darkness away from me. You said your record is about your divorce and yourself, so why did you decide to have your boyfriend on the cover?
Jonny: I thought about it, and I guess it would be appropriate because it's my second debut in a way, essentially a solo album. But I had just met him and I couldn't get over how beautiful he was and I decided that I wanted to make him a cover boy. It's really a coming out record even though everyone already knows I'm a flaming homo!
"Now it's almost like, if you're not queer then you've got to work extra hard to get press." Jonny Pierce
Soko: Has your dad ever heard your music?
Jonny: I've never asked him. Both of my parents are pastors of a born again church. I turned out to be gay and they have a very hard time with that. That's a source of my depression too. Your relationship with your parents is your most primal, and even as a kid I was really tormented. I remember thinking that I'd figure things out as I grow up, and I feel like I'm healing but sometimes I wake up and it feels more raw than ever.
Soko: What does Head of the Horse mean?
Jonny: Oh, it's a play on words. I grew up in a town in upstate New York called Horseheads, and that's where everything happened.
Soko: I feel like your dad needs to hear that song. My story is completely different, I lost my dad when I was five and I felt very lost when I was a kid. But last year I did a therapy that basically heals the child inside of you and it was incredible. I called my mum and my step dad and I stopped seeing them as parents and started seeing them as human beings.
Jonny: With my album, I feel like I need to get it out and then I want to walk away from it, because blaming your parents for every mistake means that situation still has control over you.
Soko: I love my low, broken voice, but you are a boy that sings with your female voice a lot. On this record, I feel like you're embracing your female side. I think that's a great quality.
Jonny: I went to a speech therapist once and she told me that I was talking at a register lower than I naturally should. I was doing it because I was scared to be gay, I was worried what people would think of me, that we wouldn't take off if the press knew. Now it's almost like, if you're not queer then you've got to work extra hard to get press. I'm really grateful to be in a space where I don't have to edit myself, and I really wanna hear your record because I think you're in a similar space. Are you dating right now?
Soko: I've actually been celibate the whole time I've been making my record, purposefully. I've just been really wounded and felt like I was always dating the same kind of person that just wasn't right for me. I was always being cheated on. But now I feel like I've doomed myself.
Jonny: How do you feel? Is there a difference between feeling alone and feeling lonely?
Soko: I feel both. At first it was just a month of celibacy and it was great! I'm a very sexual person and all of my sexual fire was bottled up and would come out through lyrics and music instead. I get so obsessed when I like someone. I'm like, this is so cool! I wanna get married and have babies and be together forever.
Abysmal Thoughts is out 16 June
Soko image Axel Filip Lindahl
Jonny Pierce image courtesy of the label