Sophie Auster – child of writers Siri Hustvedt and Paul Auster – recorded her first album at home just for fun, using her father’s translations of French surrealist poems as lyrics, plus a few of her own.
It wasn’t going to go any further until a family friend heard it, liked it, and offered to release it on his French record label. Which he did, and the story starts from there. Sophie Auster is performing on the 27th November in Kantine am Berghain and we caught up with her for a chat at her Berlin flat the other day.
indieberlin: So whats going on?
Sophie Auster: So I start here in Berlin, do some radio and promo and I head off on a small tour to then return for the Berghain Kantine show.
indieberlin: You’ll mainly be performing tracks off the new album, Dogs and Men? How do you deal with transforming the recording to a live performance?
Sophie Auster: Yeah it’ll be all off the new album. Some of the shows, like Berghain, are going to be full band and others will be stripped down to two guitars. It works well. All of the songs were initially written on guitar or piano and I always say if you can’t strip a song down then it’s not a very good song. When you have a full band you’re bouncing around more and its maybe more energetic. Acoustic seems more intimate. However I don’t think if you’re playing something striped down it loses its vibe or energy.
indieberlin: How do you feel when you perform?
Sophie Auster: Some of the performances feel much better than others and I think that’s to do with the energy of the people around you. Sometimes they might be distracted or chatty or even too quiet that can also rub off on you. I’ve performed a lot with this new album, it’s like exercising- the more you do it the more you get better.
“I actually got made fun of for my musical taste”
indieberlin: When did music become a big part of your life?
Sophie Auster: It has always been special to me. In the second grade I was into going to the local record store and buying cds. I was into things no one was into at the time. This set me apart from my classmates and I actually got made fun of for my musical taste. Which now people think that it’s ‘interesting’ but at the time as a 7 year old listening to Simon and Garfunkel, kids would think they’re ‘weird’ or ‘old’. It’s funny, as an adult, you notice this conventional taste that is the norm for a lot of children.
indieberlin: So did you study music?
Sophie Auster: I started singing when I was 8 years old and did choir, jazz band and became heavily into performance theatre like musicals and performing in small clubs in New York. So I took lessons around that time and studied voice training, I didn’t go to college I thought music was something I could do regardless. I think the best way is to just do it but there are things that I probably missed too.
“I’ve told people to shut the fuck up”
indieberlin: Any highlights from performances over the years?
Sophie Auster: Seattle was a great show, where you could hear a pin drop out of such a big audience whereas in other shows where people might be talking. I’ve told people to ‘shut the fuck up’ too. I have no tolerance for it any more. Don’t come and pay money to talk through it all. Don’t humiliate me I’ve been doing it too long- the worst is when I see performers trying to perform over it, it’s the elephant in the room I remember Fiona Apple did a concert in Japan for a fashion company. It was at a company party so people weren’t there to listen to her music and she dropped the mic and left.
indieberlin: That’s such a shame, I saw her sing with Blake Mills once and it was the most passionate performance I’ve seen.
Sophie Auster: She’s a very vulnerable performer. I saw her touring her last album and she brought a cardboard cutout of her dog on stage. She cancelled a lot of dates because her dog died and wrote a letter to her fans. I don’t know why fashion companies hire musicians for those parties, it’s not right.
“Don’t try and stick me in a tutu!”
indieberlin: I notice you’ve worked with fashion, too. How do you find combining it with your music?
Sophie Auster: I’m very much intertwined in fashion. Music is my passion and fashion is just fun for me. It’s a world I’ve gotten to enter and skirt the periphery so it’s fun working with brands and playing dress up. As a performer ‘dress up’ is a big part for me, I think about the way I present myself on stage. I’m into dressing to reflect the kind of mood my music is presenting and can give off very different vibes. I could dress as a girl in long flowing dress with hair down or buttoned up in a suit. You can play with gender roles masculine and feminine- clothing is very interesting in that way. I’ve only worked with people I like working with and who will respect my integrity as an artist, who don’t try and stick me in a tutu!
indieberlin: Of course it’s vital who you involve yourself with. How long have you worked with the current band for?
Sophie Auster: I’ve had the band I work with for four or five years and they’re great. For the Berghain show I’ll be performing with some European musician friends.
indieberlin: What should we expect from the berghain performance?
Sophie Auster: I try to turn myself inside out when I perform, give as much as I can give. I hope I’ve given people something when they leave.
Sophie Auster was interviewed for indieberlin by Mike Featherstone.