Within every punk, there’s a kid who just wants to be loved. Armed with loss, heartbreak and a voice that cries for help, multitalented French enchantress Soko is the kind of rebel who gives out kisses instead of black eyes, who steals hearts instead of wallets, and gets trashed on tea instead of liquor. However, she won’t hesitate to wreak havoc and cartwheel on stage whenever she can, alternating between playing reverbed-out electric guitar, bass, keyboard, and drums and singing her heart out with total abandon.
Once a soft-spoken singer-songwriter, Soko’s music quickly caught up with her untamable persona. Three years after her debut album “I Thought I Was An Alien,” she has revamped her once innocent yet morbid folk into an insolent follow-up record, “My Dreams Dictate My Reality,” due March 2015. Produced by the legendary Ross Robinson (who also produced her favorite band, The Cure) the album features the hypnotic duet “Lovetrap” with friend and lo-fi wizard Ariel Pink.
After seven months of fine-tuning in Robinson’s home studio in Venice Beach, Soko’s essence was distilled into a potion of dreamy 80’s goth-inspired lullabies and a touch of California sun. The main ingredient, her unapologetic openness, alchemizes each track into the most disarmingly honest lyrics of all time. “ I started writing a lot after i saw Inception, this movie completely shook up my brain and had me having crazy tortured dreams for months. I wanted a more upbeat record, still dreamy, and dark, but I felt more comfortable by surrounding myself with more moody, gothy, punky sounds. I played all the bass on the record, which was a first, and got a Fender VI barritone guitar that I was obsessed with. I put a lot of chorus and reverb on everything and was imagining I was Robert Smith’s child in the 80’s and then poured blood and wrecked my soul to give the truest performances in front of the microphone. Ross Robinson was “the only person I could imagine capturing these moments.”
Soko is finally the rebellious teenager she never got to be. In the past year she hacked and bleached her mermaid hair into oblivion aka her “illegitimate daughter of Andy Warhol” look, swapped hippie for “white goth,” snogged a complete stranger for the viral “First Kiss” video then watched her pivotal relationship ballad “We Might Be Dead By Tomorrow” skyrocket to the top of the Billboard charts. She played the voice of a computer’s human sexual surrogate in Spike Jonze’s Her, collaborated with Anton Newcombe from Brian Jonestown Massacre on his upcoming album, alternately sang and screamed on Ariel Pink’s album Pom Pom, and wrote and sang on several tracks on Theophilus London’s Vibes including the panty-melting “Smoke.” Rather than glide on the successes of an explosive year, Soko blazes forward, D.I.Y.ing her own album art and directing and producing her own music videos.
A professional lover, Soko entrusts her inner-being to all who cross her path. Whether opening for Foster The People on their US arena tour, or in her preferred setting: intimate venues, she radiates pure emotion. She confides in her crowds, effortlessly inviting the audience to join her into the journey of all her joy and pain; it even feels safe to cry with her. The free-spirited energy of her live shows parallel her romantic life, where she loves regardless of gender or social convention, existing purely in the moment. At her show in New York earlier this fall, while performing a new track “Who Wears The Pants,” the gay rights anthem she jokingly refers to as “the most lesbian song I ever wrote,” she screams “EVERYBODY TAKE YOUR SHIRT OFF,” and dances topless in striped suspenders and creepers, with a live rat on her shoulder, in a sea of people eager to shed their inhibitions. Stripping off clothes is tame for the introspective poet, who regularly strips her defenses before crowds, singing:
“I thought I was a witch, was I responsible for the death of all the people that I loved the most?”— Ocean of Tears
Being a sensitive punk is no small task. For Soko, everyday is an exercise in balance.
“I’m completely torn between needing to be strong and steady in my life, but then doomed with the curse to be a hypersensitive crybaby 24/7 and write all about the torment of being so. I’m an absolute control-freak, workaholic. I get depressed if I’m not constantly creating. I’ve always written from a place that feels vulnerable, about things that feel absolutely vital to me. Whether it is trying to understand what’s really going on in my head and heart, question my life’s purpose or enquiring about my fear of death. I want my songs to be a true reflection of my quirky mind, almost like taking a musical picture of what’s in my head and then pouring blood and sweat and tears all over my tracks so that it captures the feeling of my soul, cracked open and damaged goods.”
My Dreams Dictate My Reality brims with angst, shouts, and beautiful chaos throughout, but it’s clear from Soko’s pleas for redemption on “Temporary Mood Swings” that her volatility is the product of being “the victim of her own desire.” On “Peter Pan Syndrome,” she expresses a hyperawareness of her own mortality, her voice charged with a fiery resistance to growing old. Her intensity expresses more of a need to revert than revolt. Before she became a twenty-something punk, Soko was a self-assured adult at sixteen, courageously leaving her French village outside Bordeaux all on her own. She pursued an acting career that would eventually earn her César nominations and the Best Actress award at Mar Del Plata International Film Festival for her performance in the film Augustine. Her bold venture out into the world was the culmination of a childhood spent as an outsider and struggling to comprehend the losses she faced at an early age. Soko’s upcoming album is as much a confrontation of that dark past, as a manifestation of a new reality.
“All I wanted to do was be a carefree child and live a normal childhood but I got smashed in the face with a lot of people dying around me. My dad, my grandparents, so many people in my family. It was almost like having your childhood stolen, forcing you into having to deal with too many responsibilities and having too much awareness of things you shouldn’t worry about as a kid, such as mortality. So I grew up too fast too soon…now I’m claiming my childhood back. The record is a lot about that: allowing myself to dream of a better life than what reality has to offer.”
Soko has poured every last ounce of herself into the project, seizing up all the unhappiness and darkness from her past and translating it into ecstatic and uninhibited performances. The opening track, “I Come in Peace,” is her manifesto of survival, casting a halo of acceptance over the gallery of losses and pains she endured. My Dreams Dictate My Reality is a requiem for past selves, inviting listeners to join her as she makes peace with her old demons. The tracks seem to flow from her veins, and the experience is intoxicating to behold. Robinson may capture it best: “For Soko, it’s music or death.”