Interview: Sophia Knapp
Published on May 9th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
Former Lights/Cliffie Swan front lady Sophia Knapp recently released her debut solo album Into The Waves, a sublimely luxurious and literate take on spectral, Kate Bush-like pop, so Rocksucker fired her over some questions to find out a little more about it. First, though, check out the record’s beautiful closing track “In Paper”…
Were the songs on Into The Waves all written fairly close together, or do some date back further than others?
The songs in Into The Waves were written over a period of a couple years. Sometimes melodies will haunt my mind aimlessly for a long time, trailing around like souls with unfinished business. Then I’ll suddenly find the words that match, they seem to come out of nowhere. It’s exciting when that happens, like solving a crossword puzzle.
The album’s production has a very authentic sort of retro sheen to it. Was this something you set out to achieve, or was it a happy accident?
I wouldn’t call anything we did an accident. We were inspired by albums from a variety of decades and genres, but also structured the recording according to what each song needed. For example, using sequencers from the late ’90s with fingerpicked acoustic guitar on “Spiderweb”; makes sense right? If by sheen you mean quality, that was something we intentionally chose to focus on. All the little details serve to anchor the record.
It’s very different to the kind of music you’ve made in the past. Is this the kind of thing you always wanted to do, or did your fancies just change with time?
I notice many threads that connect my past and present work, though at first glance it may seem stylistically different. I have always loved pop records with a capital P, and wanted to make them myself. I like records that seduce and kidnap the listener – like John Cale’s Vintage Violence, Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates of Dawn, Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love. With this record I wanted to build my own time machine to an imaginary destination.
You’ve spoken of your love of David Bowie, so I have to ask; is that an intentional reference to “Sound and Vision” in the “ooh ooh” melody in “Close to Me”?
Nope, but thanks for pointing that out. D’oh!
Bob Brockman and Bill Callahan both feature on the album. What are they like to work with?
Bassy Bob is a joy to work with. So generous with his knowledge, so on point. You’d think he would be intimidating cause he’s so cool, but instead he puts everyone around him at ease and just delivers. He has an effortless quality to his playing.
Bill is full of surprises.
Is it too early to ask whether you’ve started thinking about the next album yet?
I have some concepts marinating in the dome. The writing never stops, it’s a side effect of living.
Do you plan to do more with your art in the future?
I do. The past few years were beyond tumultuous, and I feel like I may be close to reaching my cruising altitude. So I can apportion less energy to reacting, and more to creating. Part of being an artist is figuring out how you naturally make things, and it takes a while to discover that outside of the academic setting. Like, how do you have a studio practice when you’re a touring rock musician and aren’t in one place for more than two months at a time? The only way to find out is by doing it, no school can prepare you for that.
Which is your favourite Dungen album? Very underrated band.
Stadsvandringar. I love that album. I don’t speak Swedish but I can sing along to the whole record in gibberish. Talk about a time machine, that record is like stepping into a high contrast photo of a sun-dappled forest with rainbow lens flares from National Geographic 1971. It feels good.
Are there any obscure and/or up-and-coming acts that you’d like to recommend or give a shout-out to?
GDLK, Good Luck Music a.k.a Noah Murphy is extraordinary. He composes pop ballads on omnichord, which is a very goofy instrument but he somehow makes it sound beautiful. His songs are very slow and have unexpected key changes which I’m a total sucker for.
I’m also a big fan of Alana Amram, who played bass in Cliffie Swan. She is the real deal: singer, lyricist, presence. We’ve been friends for a long time, since Lights’ fetal days, and she just keeps getting better. My favorite song of hers is called “Show Pony”. It’s such bittersweet perfection, it gives me the chills. Look it up people!
Finally, if you were forced to spend the rest of your days in solitary confinement, but were allowed to bring the entire works of five different artists along to tide you over, whose would you choose?
Right now I’d say Chopin, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Carly Simon, and anything Phil Spector ever was involved in if that counts as an artist. But ask me in an hour and I’d have a different lineup for you…
Sophia Knapp, thank you.