Julia-Sophie fuses an electronic tapestry with dreamy and evocative melodies. It’s a meditative and exploratory sound that delves deep into the subconscious and possess vast possibilities. The evocative and rippling recent single ‘and you know it‘ that possess shades of Tracy Thorn‘s work with Massive Attack, and the enveloping helicopter beats and spectral vocals of the striking previous single ‘i wish‘ whet the appetite for her forthcoming new EP ‘</3’.
Despite the experimental sounds and structures involved there are enough glimmers of classic songwriting as to be instantly engaging. Julia-Sophie grew up with a deep connection to classic French songwriters like Brassens, Brel and Barbara which forms the basis of expressing her emotions, juxtaposing this with her electronica to help navigate our harsh world.
Residing alongside avant-pop of Bjork, FKA Twig, Grimes and the electronic exploration of Kelly Lee Owens and Hannah Peel, it also harks back to the honesty of classic “rock” music like The Velvet Underground and the poetic lyricism of Patti Smith. This explains why last year’s debut EP ‘y?’ was played in its entirety on BBC 6Music by the likes of Nemone and Lauren Laverne.
Julia- Sophie is a fascinating and refreshing new voice and an artist with vision.
Hi, how are you today?
Peaceful. Calm. I have a quiet day today, which is unusual for me. I’m usually running at a faster pace. I have to consciously tell myself to slow down.
How is lockdown treating you?
Lockdown has been a mixed bag for me really. I’ve had to look after people throughout the whole lockdown which has been lovely but also means that I have had to put my own life and desires on hold and haven’t been able to focus on me and my life so much. At times I have struggled with that, especially when for so many people lockdown meant more time when for me it meant less time. I haven’t had time to relax or really create as much as I would have liked. I guess it is what it is. Life throws your all sorts of curve balls.
You’re of Anglo-French heritage. Where did you grow up and how did that form who you are?
I grew up mostly in Oxford but also lived in France (Lyon) and Spain (Zaragoza). I went to a European school so have never really experienced a typically “English” Britain maybe because of this, I’ve always felt a little like an outcast, an outsider, never truly belonging anywhere. Maybe this upbringing is the reason for me feeling more comfortable sitting on the fringes of society, even one of the reasons that I chose to be a musician? I think however, in essence, that I’m a bit of a lone-cat and like looking in at the world from the outside.
Prior to working solo you were in a band, what are the differences?
For me, being in a band meant that I was able to create a family I would choose if I had the choice. It felt good to be able to enjoy the camaraderie of experiencing life’s trials and tribulations with the support of people. I especially liked this because I’m not necessarily someone who likes to be around lots of people, or naturally goes out of my way to talk to people about how I am feeling. I’ve realised that although I’ve always put myself out into the world, making music, that behind it, I’m quite private, reserved and careful who I talk to, so yes, having band friends in that sense, worked for me.
Being a solo artist for the first time, has meant that I no longer have that protection or family and so find myself alone with my thoughts a lot more. I need this right now as I want to be more open. I am enjoying the freedom that comes with this and also feel more in control of the music as I am able to express myself purely as me, which I like. I have worked with some amazing musicians and am extremely grateful to have had their company, commitment, skills, friendship, kindness and passion, so I never look back with any sense of regret. It’s just that right now, working alone means that I can be supple and nimble with what I decide to do and how I choose to do it.
What’s the music scene like in France?
France has a very different system to England when it comes to being a musician. It’s different because unlike in the UK, in France you officially declare yourself a musician and then have to report back to the government each month the work you have done. If then you don’t play enough to pay your way, you receive subsidies from the state. In principle this sounds great as the government supports active musicians but as a result I found musicians unwilling to play for playing’s sake or create art for art’s sake – there is a shift of focus as to why one plays or performs; it’s more about hours, work and pay. I think that this is one of the reasons why France, as a result, doesn’t have such a vibrant and full music scene like England; musicians just don’t want to play for free.
In addition to this, I think it’s important to say that France has a different relationship and cultural identity when it comes to music. Amongst other genres, most of popular French music was came up from classic French songwriters and not so much in ‘rock n roll’. I think this if for many reasons, but one being is how singing in French sounds, and works. The French language isn’t so suited to rock n roll and unlike English, is a hard language to export. This cultural past as well as the language barrier may also play a part in why French people’s attitude towards music and therefore the music scene, differs to that of England.
Having said this all this, there is an increasing number of art collectives popping up (check out Banana) and record labels who are exporting French music.
France may be slowly being influenced and inspired by English (and probably German) music scenes and I find this very exciting. None of this is to say that French music can’t be exported or incredible, don’t get me wrong, as there are certainly great lesser known and hugely famous French artists and musicians who have and continue to make it outside France. Bands and acts such as Phoenix, Air, Daft Punk, David Guetta, Chris and DJ Snake, all of whom I highly recommend.
How would you describe your music in five words?
Electronic. Pop. Hurting. Vulnerable. Honest.
Are your songs inspired by personal experience or observation or a mixture of the two?
All my music is inspired by personal experience. I used to write through observation, or more a mixture of the two, but I’ve reached a point in my life where I want to live and be as honest to myself and others as I can be, and so it is important for me to do reflect this in my art.
When did the songs on your impressive new EP “</3” start life?
I wrote and recorded the bare bones of each track on “</3” not long after “y?” was released and then spent the following six months tweaking them, re-writing lyrics, working on the arrangements and refining the production.
Did you have an idea of the sound you wanted to produce or did it evolve through experimentation? I hear a lot of different elements pieced together.
I was really keen not to pigeon-hole myself too quickly and so chose consciously to approach this EP differently. With “y?” all the songs had been neatly written from start to finish before starting to record, with “</3” I came to the studio with nuggets of ideas and with holes that I wanted to fill out during the recording process. I wanted to know what it felt like to actually create during the recording process, and feel my way around the moments, feelings, sounds, write on the fly, keep it impulsive and go with the flow. I also wanted to explore a different palate to “y?” in terms of sound, so I bought myself some modular stuff and explored different beats. I was curious to ‘feel’ my way through the music and make the recording process part of the creative process. I guess this is why the ep maybe sounds more experimental.
Who did you work with on the EP?
I work with a good friend of mine called B. We hang, drink tea, chat shit and it seems to work somehow. B’s very private and doesn’t want me to talk about them so I’m afraid that’s all I can say.
‘I Wish’ is very evocative with that propelling rhythmic track set against the vocals. It really is really affecting. Is that what you were aiming for?
I guess so. Yes. At the time I wanted to create a track where people could lose themselves as I felt that the songs on my first ep were more rigid and classic in terms of song structure. I was thinking about how my music might go down in a live setting and so wanted to make something for people to enjoy, dance to, lose themselves to in an almost trippy, outer body way.
I pushed myself in terms of creating pace and movement in the beat and then chose to play with softness and heart, to find emotions and feelings which I created through the use of my voice, the lyrics and free flowing melody. I often think how we, as humans, are thrown into this cold concrete world, into a machine with our souls and individuality constantly under threat. It’s hard to be human these days. In my music, I try to and want to remind people of our fragility, and why it is so, when the backdrop to our lives is mostly concreted and mechanical.
What inspired it? It sounds existential in the themes – were you trying to capture a moment or a mood?
Apart from the reasons that I’ve given, thinking back, I was also listening to a lot of James Blake and Thom Yorke’s solo work and I listen to them because I love the way that with their music feels free. I always feel like I can hear the creative process when I listen to their records and I so wanted to try and capture this process myself. So in some ways this was my attempt at trying it out for myself. The soft, slow, fragile vocal above a chaotic, propelling beat. I like the idea that just because we are soft, open, fragile and vulnerable, it does not mean that we can not also be strong, aware and certain.
“and you know it” has some more downtempo electronic and trip hop textures interested with jolts of melody, I read it was inspired by a fight with a partner, were you trying to capture/make sense of the conflicted emotions that came with that?
I don’t know about making sense of my emotions at the time, that would involve me thinking about it all. It was more about me just sitting with a feeling and writing about how I felt in that moment. If I had thought about it, I think I would have filtered my bitterness and anger more. I was angry and hurt in that moment, for better or for worse, I wanted to show my true unfiltered self.
Which artists do you admire? What would be your dream collaboration?
I am always discovering new artists who inspire me, and right now I have been obsessively listening to Sofia Kourtesis, Kelly-Lee Owens, Hannah Peel, Ela Minus, Maria Uzor and Gemma Cullingford (both from Sink Your Teeth and who are releasing solo work this year).
I am a big fan of women who are out there pushing sounds forward and who are being role models for other women such as myself and who we can aspire to and be inspired by. I would love to collaborate with all of these artists.
Are you hoping to play shows this year or is it just waiting and seeing given lockdown?
I have done a few live-streams and will be doing some around this release. I’m meant to be playing in London with Ajimal in June and have also been booked for AYL festival. I absolutely love performing and playing live. Pre-lockdown I had only done four shows and things were just starting to get moving, but lockdown brought that momentum to a halt, so I’m excited to get back on it. I really miss the energy that you get in a room when you play live and I miss it. I also love to travel and meet people, so yes, I’m gong to do my best to keep moving and playing live as soon as I possibly can.