I know Sophie Auster from college - we both attended an elite liberal arts school, nestled in the safe embrace of Westchester, NY. We both paged through leather-bound copies of Barthes and Mann and sipped fair-trade coffee in hushed screenings of Bunuel and Godard. I'm still embarrassed, actually.
Since then, she's gone on to pursue a music career, first with Brooklyn's One Ring Zero, and now she's out on her own, crafting introspective folk-rock that would make Fiona Apple jealous. Most people get distracted by the fact that she's the daughter of Siri Hustvedt and Paul Auster, and you can imagine how annoying that must get after a certain point. She's very much her own force, and has proved as much through her music, her self-titled 2005 debut, and the slew of indie films she's acted in.
So when Sophie reached out and asked us if we'd premiere her new single, I jumped on it. Go Gryphons!
Here's a stream and download of "Run Run Run," the first track on Red Weather, her upcoming release on Lost Colony:
The other day I sat down with Sophie to chat about writing, nostalgia, and the upcoming release of her new record:
Noisey: So I haven't seen you in a while, probably since college. What have you been up to since then? I remember you were touring in Europe all through school.
Sophie Auster: Yeah, that was of those really really lucky things that I didn’t even realize how lucky it was at the time. I’d go over there and play some really big shows, and it was just me and One Ring Zero, two guys from Brooklyn. It was pretty wild when your eighteen and a freshman in college, it was a very strange experience, but when it died down I knew I really wanted to do my own album. Since then it’s just been trying to figure out how to do that. So throughout college I just started writing a lot and taking stabs at performing here and there and writing with different people.
What are your ideal conditions for writing?
I actually write pretty well in transit. I write on the train. I write pretty well in cars. Sometimes when I'm watching old movies I like to write down some of the phrases and work from there.
Have you seen anything good lately?
Yeah, I was watching a movie with my mom last night called "Shadow Of Doubt." Not Hitchcock's "Shadow Of A Doubt," but a movie from 1934 about a guy who falls in love with an actress and then the producer gets killed. It's a murder mystery comedy sort of thing.
So you just focus on the phrasings and euphemisms and what not?
Yeah I think anything can kind of inspire something whether it’s one phrase from 1934 or a bad mood or going to a museum, whatever it is. Like in the film last night, people kept saying "have a million laughs!" Nobody says that anymore.
Do you think that the 30s were a better decade for art and music?
I think even if you look back to some of the work that was coming out in say the 30s to the 70s, there was a cultural language that was on a different level. There was a way of making things that you couldn’t do now.
Personally, I get really sick of the nostalgia trip. I don't think that kids in any other generation were looking at their parents music and art and saying "Man, they did it so much better back then."
Yeah, well, I always say a C-movie from 1950 is an A-movie today. They just turned out better things back then. I think that the kind of music that I’m making is definitely current, there is something current about it. But it's an eclectic mix of the things I’ve listened to and grew up doing. Natural influences, subconscious things that have come together in the aesthetic I’m trying to build. I grew up singing a lot of Gershwin and standards, things like that. I listened to a lot of Roberta Flack, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and these kind of female singers. Their voices influenced me a lot.Then I got this 60s compilation with a lot of girl groups, and the Beatles, and then it was Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits. And the Fiona Apple record that I listened to non-stop when I was 12
Do you find the current state of the music industry depressing?
Yes, definitely. There's just too much out there, there’s too much to chose from. That can be a good thing sometimes when you discover people who are just independently putting themselves out, but at the same time I feel like things just get lost in obscurity and theres nothing to give anyone a platform. I think that’s really tough, all of the sudden you’re competing with people who are YouTube stars and have a million hits. I actually met with a couple labels and I had put up some demos and they said “You only got a hundred hits in a day? Nuh Uh. No one’s gonna even look at that, we want people who're already established and have created their own fan base.”
Isn’t that the labels' job though?
That’s my point. Traditionally that’s the labels job but there’s no real nurturing an artist anymore it’s kind of grabbing onto a sure thing and elevating it. And that makes a lot of the work at the forefront pretty disappointing. There’s just so much garbage out there. It’s a cultural problem with everything that is being given to people right now,. The movies we watch are so over-stimulated, it’s like all these images going bam! bam! bam! It’s so quick. Plus people are watching the most disgusting television being shown right now, like Real Housewives or whatever.
OK, let's talk about something more fun. Can you tell me a little about Red Weather?
Yeah. This turned into a real love and loss record, which is not something I anticipated. I always thought that I wrote about quirky things and tried to be a storyteller rather than a breakup songs artist, but it really turned into that. It boils down to a love and loss record.
Were you bummed when you made it?
I was angry and sad at different times. I generally find that anger and sadness are pretty good inspirations for writing. You get a cathartic experience. If you’re making music and you don’t channel it into something, than what is it good for?
Do you feel connected to New York City at all with your music?
Yeah for sure, I grew up here and haven’t lived anywhere else. But I speak pretty good French and I feel like New York is kind of the exception in America for Europe. I don’t really feel like an expert, I feel like I blend in well. But Brooklyn is becoming a weirder and weirder thing. Now the French are talking about "Brooklyn Cuisine." Like “Ah, the Brooklyn cuisine is the best, there’s such good food in Brooklyn!” I brought two French friends to a pizza spot and they thought it was the best food ever. I guess everyone is fascinated with the foreign: if that's a burger and fries then hey, why not.
Red Weather is out on November 13 through Lost Colony. You can pre-order it right here. And if you're in New York, Sophie is playing the roof of the Standard East Village on Sunday, November 11. Follow her on Twitter for info on how to RSVP.
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