There's something alien about French musician and sometime-actress Soko. It's not that she's otherworldly, though. She's definitely human, a French transplant hailing from Los Angeles. It's her demeanor — a soft-spoken, enigmatic air with a rough-around-the-edges delicacy — that's magnetic. To put it bluntly, she's simply extraordinary.
Soko's second full-length LP, My Dreams Dictate My Reality, is an elegant, melancholy mix of New Order and Robert Smith, with hints of Siouxsie Sioux. If sung by anyone else, tracks like "I Come in Peace" and "Peter Pan Syndrome" would come off as insincere. But, there's an earnestness to Soko's delivery. There's a real feeling that doesn't come off as gimmicky or disingenuous. Call it an alien sound, but it's a rare thing to come by in this age of repurposed 808 beat songs telling everyone to throw their hands in the air.
That's not what Soko's here to do. She comes in peace to do what music should do at its core: help others feel understood in whatever they're going through. And, Soko does pulls it off like any French Girl would — effortlessly.
Let's get right into it: Why delve into the '80s New Wave sound now?
"I think my first record was such a sad reflection of what I was. It kept me in a box. Every time I'd sing a song from it, I'd get real emotional. I wanted to get out of that. Most of the music I listen to is The Cure and The Smiths, Depeche Mode, and post-punk bands. So, the guitars and bass sounds I was drawn to made sense. They made me feel whole and a lot happier. It was kind of just random that the whole thing had such a clear signature sound. It was not at all a conscious decision to make an '80s record. I wrote the songs and all the arrangements. It just so happens that they were inspired by the '80s."
So, the sound is more poppy, but what about performing them? I've always wondered what a musician goes through when they're performing a song live, like, say "Keaton's Song" —
"I cry all the time when I play that song."
Where do you go when you do that? Do you separate yourself from the lyrical content? Is that even possible?
"I can't separate myself. I'm fully committed to everything I say. I'm too true, too real, too raw."
Definitely. There's a sort of freedom in that release. Speaking of freedom, as a French citizen, how did the #JeSuisCharlie movement affect you?
"That was really rough. The whole thing happened a block away from my house. I was doing promo that day and when the news broke, I thought it sounded silly. I thought it was a joke. But, then everyone's conversation switched. You could not not talk about it. You'd jump into a cab and the driver would be all, 'Did you hear about…?'
"I have a weird thing with actuality, because since September 11...I was so traumatized by that. It terrified me so much that I just stopped watching the news. I started to think about what I was dedicating my life to. I'm more sensitive and want to talk about feeling. I feel like this is what I do best. So, instead of being ignorant to what was going on in France, I figured I should try to change people's life a different way. I want to make them feel understood in their emotions."
It's everywhere right now, I know.
"Extremism in anything is the worst thing ever. I'm a vegetarian, and people will ask me if I'm offended if they eat meat around me. I've been asked if I hate homophobes and I'm just, like, 'I don’t hate anyone!' If someone has a problem with it, that's not my choice. If I can open their mind a little bit, great, but I'm not going to shove my beliefs down people's throats."
You don't have an agenda.
"But, I can write songs about it and tell people to stop being hypocrites, though."
Like in "Who Wears The Pants"?
I know you say that you once were an alien. How do you want to disrupt the music scene? You say you come in peace, but what are you bringing with?
"Oh man. That's funny you picked up on the alien thread 'cause a lot of people don't. Anyway, I write from such a personal place, and I don't know any other way. All my emotions are so raw and it's all over the record. I don't want to hide behind anything. I didn't rush this record and I feel like that's why it sounds the way it sounds. It wasn’t pushed or rushed. It was cared for and cradled."
What are your thoughts on the stigma around bisexuality in pop culture?
"I just did an interview for a gay women's magazine in France. They asked me something about lesbians who are anti-bi. I had no idea people like that existed. It's weird to me. Everyone is all about fighting homophobia, but then homosexuals are straight-o-phobic, or bi-o-phobic. It's like, 'Stop being a fucking hypocrite about it! You want people to tolerate you for not being like them, but then you go and do this.' You can't march for equal rights and then not tolerate someone who isn't like you."
What about acting? How does that play into your career?
"I like to shake things up, but I'm also sick of being broke. I'm spending all my money on music. In order to play a festival I'm super passionate about, I have to fly an entire band from Europe to the States. It's not doable."
That's a reality I didn't know existed.
"It fucking sucks."
But, you're so passionate about music that you're going to do it.
"I do it! I fucking do it. I'll try to book other gigs. With movies, however, it's so scheduled; you shoot from here to here, you get that much money. It's more certain. You get taken care of. It's good."
Are there any particular roles you're attracted to?
"Anything that feels challenging and comes with a great story is what I love. That, and a great director. I'm doing four movies this year and they're all completely different. Well, one is contemporary. This girl named Nina Ljeti directs it. It's her second feature. She wrote and directed it."
I love that it's a female director.
"Yeah! Actually, three of the four movies are with female directors. They all feature super-strong female characters, too."
Do you mean these women don't need men to find themselves?
"Yes! This one with Nina, I star alongside Jena Malone. Nick Zinner is scoring it. It's called Things You Missed While You Were Gone. Then, I'm doing a movie about two French girls coming back from war in Afghanistan. It takes place during the government-imposed three-day retreat to some paradise, fairytale land, five-star hotel on the beach in Greece to brainwash you and make you forget all the horror you've seen. It's like therapy to leave your problems before you go back home."
My Dreams Dictate My Reality is out now.