There is not much else to do, right now, than cry. A cathartic burst of violent, ugly tears can work in a pinch, but might I suggest as an alternative putting on Soko's latest record, literally called Feel Feelings, and staring out the window for the full 46 minutes? It makes for a more productive grief session. (Don't feel guilty: as the title of one track declares, "Being Sad Is Not a Crime.")
The French musician and actress released her third record in the midst of everyone's lockdown blues, and though recorded in the Before Times, it definitely anticipated our current mood. Directed by Gia Coppola, the music video for "Are You a Magician?" depicts Soko alone at home, daydreaming about an imaginary lover. You'll probably find yourself acting it out this weekend.
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Coppola and Soko met in Italy, hitting it off during a fashion week party and encouraged by Coppola's mom to continue the friendship. PAPER got them both on a Zoom call to talk about Feel Feelings, lockdown life and their collaborative process.
Gia Coppola: Where did we meet?
Soko: I think we ended up meeting at a Gucci party, but I'm not sure.
Gia: It feels like we've known each other for so long.
Soko: I think I met you and your mom together, in Milan. I'd heard so much about you. They said I had to meet you, we were going to love each other! So we met on the dance floor, at that Gucci after party. And working with you on the video was also one more step into getting to know how your brain works. And how very detail oriented and visual you are. It was such a great layer to add to my understanding of who you are and how highly creative and intelligent of a woman you are.
Gia: It was second nature, I came over to say hi and visit you, then it was like, let's do this.
Soko: Very easy.
Gia: And you brought so much to the table, your vision and your taste, so for me it's fun to walk through that as a filmmaker and see what inspired the song and the history behind the song.
Soko: When we were exchanging ideas, I knew I wanted to play two different characters. Because on the record I was exploring a lot of voices, because I feel like in life we all have very different voices. I talk to you a different way to how I'd talk to my baby or my girlfriend or my parents. But also I was wanting to explore a genderless voice. And that song really definitely had that.
Gia: You know what song I just listened to on your album that I love? The French one.
Soko: Oh, I have to make a video for that one! I have an idea I'll talk to you about, we'll see of you like it. But I think you will.
Gia: Figuring out how to film at this time, that's the thing that hasn't been figured out yet.
Soko: And I have to figure it out before the album comes out! My label is like, "What's the idea, what's the idea?" But I have some ideas for using a large studio where no one needs to really be in contact, maybe that could work.
Gia: It also seems like for films they're doing these kind of biodome productions. But I think a lot of other stuff will be very candid looking. Through the Zoom lens.
Soko: We did this video about one person being stuck at home, and her imagination running wild, and her creating a partner for herself because she's feeling so alone. And that was right before quarantine!
Gia: We were on the pulse. Before we even knew it.
Soko: So that's kind of what the video is about. Loneliness, and how you fantasize about a different kind of love or relationship. And where that can lead you. Fantasies are so far from reality that they get to be a little bit deceitful sometimes. I wrote this album at the Hoffman Institute because I'm fascinated by therapy and taking time to better myself. People are always talking about your skincare routine, or your workout routine, but what about your mental health routine? What do you do to take care of your mental health? And I find that absolutely equally as important, and so I had been hearing about Hoffman and had been wanting to do it for a really long time. So I did it and it was incredible and right after that I knew that I was going to start making my record, and Hoffman just made me feel like I didn't need to value my worth based on whether I'm in a relationship or not. So I decided to go celibate to focus on my record.
Gia: Were you pregnant at the time?
Soko: No, not at all, it was back in 2016 I think. So I was going to come back to LA and start recording and writing, but I didn't want to go back to my lingering unresolved scars and wounds. So I went to New York and needed a clear and fresh start, and went celibate for a year and a half. Made my record there and couldn't even think of going back to old patterns of chaotic and unhealthy toxic relationships. I needed a clear break to have more self love and some boundaries of what I think a healthy relationship looks like for me. And how to stop going towards things that are obviously not healthy from the get-go. And put all my focus into music. And it made my relationships with people I was working with so much deeper. That's how I made this record. I wanted to be a lot more present and connected to the people that I was with. They make you go without a phone for a week, so I was trying to practice turning off my phone when I was working.
Gia: That's beautiful. So do you feel like that was the most enjoyable record you've made, because of being so present?
Soko: Yes, very much so. Depriving myself of flings and being driven by sexual energy and wanting to feel, you know?
Gia: It feels very pure and holy.
Soko: Yes, and the record's called Feel Feelings because finally I wasn't numbing myself with distractions and escapism.
Gia: There's no other energy. That's really cool.
Soko: And that's why, I think, the songs are very vulnerable. Very much about trying to capture the present moment and exactly what I'm feeling in the moment. The past two records I was writing about the past and how I used to feel, trying to solve the past, but I felt like that was dealt with and I could be more present in the music. Also, this was the first time I didn't have imposter syndrome in the studio. I don't know if you can relate to that?
Gia: What is that? Someone else was telling me about that. I don't know what that means.
Soko: It's that little voice saying, "I shouldn't be here, I don't know how to do this." But now I know this language, I know how to communicate, I know how to make it all happen and bring the right people in the room. This is what I do. Before, working with other people, I felt like they were making it happen. Whereas now I feel like I am. And it wasn't based in reality before, it was just how I felt.
Gia: I have that all the time. I'm still walking through that, trying to find my confidence.
Soko: I feel like when I go on a movie set, because I do both acting and music, I always feel like I can't do this anymore. The first day I'm paralyzed by anxiety. Then a few days in I'm okay.
Gia: It's such an ebb and flow, given different challenges you face, you face it minute by minute. Especially with filmmaking, there's less opportunities to practice.
Soko: How many days do you feel like you need on a set until you feel comfortable?
Gia: I don't know! Even being in this quarantine, some days I feel like I could do this forever and I love it. Other days it's like, when does this end. Even if you're comfortable and with people you love. Just a constant question, gauging where you are and what you're feeling. It's so cool knowing that this album you've made is wholly yours. Thinking about the songs in its entirety, there's such a mood to it. That's you.
Soko: Yeah. That was my mood at the time. That French song, "Blasphemy," that was so brutal to write it.
Gia: It's my favorite! Why?
Soko: Because it was about a relationship that I knew I fucked up.
Gia: Of course I don't speak French, so I don't know what you're saying.
Soko: The whole song is saying like, blasphemy, your name is bleeding, waking up every day to an empty bed, knowing that you know the map of someone's body by heart, every detail, and it's both very sexy and very dramatic.
Gia: You kind of pick up on that melodically. A sexiness and a heavy drama, but also a playfulness.
Soko: It's definitely how can I survive without you, how can I take one more breath? Very French. Very, very French. I usually write in English because I live most of the major events of my life in English, but this is something that happened in French.
Gia: Do you dream in French?
Soko: I don't know. People ask me that all the time and I don't know. I don't really remember dialogues in my dreams. Does anyone speak Italian in my family?
Gia: Not really. I feel like that part of my brain can't function in that way.
Soko: If you learn it, you could!
Gia: I'm having such a hard time focusing right now.
Soko: What is causing that, do you think?
Gia: I think because we're more surrounded and tethered to devices now. Have you been writing music now?
Soko: I have not. Not since this record. I haven't had one second. I finished mixing this record when I was pregnant, and then it was mastering and doing the artwork. Every single time I do an interview, Indigo storms into the room! It's hard to get alone time. Since quarantine we have a really good schedule. Stella takes care of Indigo, then I take Indigo, then we all eat together. So that's been great, but most of the time we're just so tired. It's exhausting. I don't know if you've experienced this, but because I'm doing promo for the record, I have to put myself out there. I'm being asked to do live videos, your beauty routine, what do you eat, what do you drink? But I'm not a blogger. I don't want to be doing this. It's not me. I had to do a live show, but I barely had time to rehearse.
Gia: It forces you to be off the cuff. Not think about it too much.
Soko: That's what I ended up doing, but then it sounds like utter crap! I have this really shitty microphone, that's from, like, Radioshack, that I plug into an amp that isn't really working, into a mic stand. I ordered all these things from Amazon but they arrived too late, so I had to do with what I had. I'm not a sound person, not a technical person, I don't know how to make a beautiful video in my house that looks fun and enticing.
Gia: I'm curious about all those Disney musicals and things. They must have some really expensive special program.
Soko: I don't get it! I can't deal with any computer anything. Have you done anything that has put you out of your comfort zone recently?
Gia: No. I feel like I've been really mellow. I have to be really sensitive with myself. I want to do certain writing, but I feel so exhausted. So just a little bit per day, and that's enough. My attention span is not what I thought it would be.
Soko: Do you have a schedule?
Gia: I'm very into this thing called Bullet Journal, this YouTube sensation with very detailed journaling. It helps to make lists.
Soko: I'm a lister. I make lists a lot, I love crossing off lists, I get such crazy satisfaction when I do that.
Gia: I think it's cool with music videos during this time, it's forcing people to think within the box they're in, and remain creative. I've been hearing different ideas that are exciting, although the camera quality won't be pretty.
Soko: I want to hear all these ideas, Gia.
Gia: I'll tell you.
Photography: Cameron McCool
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