Interview: Sophie Cooper

I’m intrigued as to how the songs of Our Aquarius were written. Did they often start as songs for a single instrument and voice, or were those layers of drones and FX present during the initial composition process?

Every track on ‘Our Aquarius’ started out with me experimenting around one point. That could have been some words, a new effects pedal, a chord progression or a melody. I tended to improvise around that element over and over until I could work out where it was going next.

All the pieces were composed and then recorded with the exception of ‘Palembang Hantu’ where the main guitar line was lifted out of a longer improvised session I’d had and then I worked out how to fit in the words. Most of the drones and effects were recorded live in sections then stitched together; I only really overdubbed vocal parts.

In most cases I knew my end product would be a ‘song’ but I didn’t want to approach them with that as the starting point necessarily.

How was the album recorded? There’s a cosy, cocooning feel to the record that suggests that it was put together at home – or at least, somewhere really comfortable.

Everything was recorded at home in the spare room. Come to think of it, it was mostly recorded sitting on the floor because I’ve got a really low and uncomfortable sofa in there. I did tons of it without a mic stand so had to do stuff like sellotape the microphones to chairs then sing in really weird angles so I could hold my guitar at the same time so actually it wasn’t comfortable at all!

The one field recording on there is from Indonesia. My Dad and I were out walking and we met these kids who wanted to practice their English so they made it onto this record.

What’s that clattering percussive sound running throughout “The Moon Hit Me In The Face”? Is it one of the “weird Indonesian drums” you speak of on your website?

They are these drums my sister gave to me at Christmas, she lives in Jakarta so I assumed they are from Indonesia but who knows. All I know is they sound pretty good through a Memory Man and that’ll do for me.

There are some gorgeous waves of feedback on the record, including a beautiful myriad of tones that drifts in three minutes into “Finger Trace Song”. How was this generated? It’s one of several moments where the sound appears to slip out of your control and move of its own accord (at least, that’s the impression from my side!).

That would be the old hand held fan on the hollow body guitar trick pinched from my friends ‘Chora’. It’s really easy, switch on the fan, hold it near the guitar strings and off you go! I’d decided what the chord changes would be before I started the recording but there’s always an element of surprise when working with this type of sophisticated music equipment.

Reading through your news blog, it seems that your creative process is very collaborative – you’re constantly engaging with new people and new experiences. Do you make a conscious effort to push yourself into new challenges, or do they seem to find their way to you?

Honestly, I’m not that into collaborating at the moment, on music I mean, but it doesn’t mean I would stick to this if someone approached me with an idea. I have collaborated with a lot of people in the past but I just need to prove to myself that I can write alone at this point. When I would be into collaborating is if it didn’t lead anywhere, if it could just be for the sake of enjoying and playing music, not making a record. I used to do this a lot but it doesn’t seem to happen as much anymore, I miss it.

I’m all about the new challenges and I love change. I try to set myself out a new music challenge every year; this year was to play abroad, which I’ve done. Next year is to release some music on vinyl. I’m not a format snob, at all, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a nice big picture on the front of a record that I’ve made.

Harmonium drones (at least – I think that’s harmonium?) crop up on the record a fair bit. Can you recall the artist or piece that first generated an interest in drone?

It’s a Shruti Box from India and it’s quite addictive to play. I’ve really tried to remember my first drone memory but I can’t recall anything specifically. I played the trombone in wind orchestras for years when I lived in Stoke so I imagine that an interest in long drone tones came out of that. There was something magical about collective playing from the perspective of sitting in the middle of a brass section that I will never forget.

What can you tell me about Stewart Easton’s artwork for the record? I hadn’t seen the artwork when I had my first listen to the record, and I was taken aback by the boldness and simplicity of the image. It’s really great.

I checked out Stewart’s artwork after meeting him at Woolf Music festival, where I performed last year, and I fell in love with his cross-stitched macabre children particularly. I asked him if he’d draw me a girl who was on fire and that she be kind of happy about that fact. The cover is what he came up with and I love it.

What are you listening to at the moment?

Right now I’m listening to a rendition of Bach “Art of Fugue” on YouTube but aside from that I’ve just got the new Kemper Norton and Lutine discs from the Front and Follow label. I’d love to play some shows with both of those bands! I’ve got an unreleased record from a friend of mine which I’m just in love with, the new Weyes Blood LP, S.T.L.A by Gordon Ashworth, Ignatz with full band LP on Ultra Eczema, pretty much the whole of the United Bible Studies back catalogue which was kindly gifted to me over the summer, Mellow Candle, all sorts.

What’s next for you and your music?

My plan is to record 10 – 12 song demos and then get them pro-recorded by my friend at Golden Lab Studios in Manchester but they aren’t lined up for a specific release yet. I’ve done two demos already and have lyrics for about 8 others. Recording professionally will be a totally new way of doing things for me but I’m up for the change. I know I want to incorporate some brass onto this recording at some point, I’ve played trombone for 20 years now and don’t use it enough so it’s time. I’ve got a pal who is letting me use his studio space to practice in so I’m hoping to get this all done before next summer.

I definitely want to do another tour next year probably somewhere in Europe. I loved, loved, loved going to Ireland this year so might see about going back there again to check out a bit more of the place. We’ll see.

 

Sophie Cooper’s website – http://sophiecoopermusic.com/

Sophie Cooper’s Soundcloud – https://soundcloud.com/sophie-cooper/