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BYT Interviews: Sophie Auster
November 13, 2012 | 9:20AM

Brooklyn native Sophie Auster’s ‘Red Weather‘ drops today, so in anticipation of the release, I chatted to her over the phone Friday afternoon; the performing arts prodigy told me about her experience self-producing the record, plus we talked everything from Soul Cycle to dreams to Cher’s tweets. In other words, you definitely want to read this. Do you know what else you definitely want to do? Snag a copy of ‘Red Weather’ RIGHT NOW and follow Sophie on Twitter and/or Facebook to stay in the loop about upcoming performances and releases. In the meantime, please enjoy Internet-eavesdropping on our conversation, yeah?

How’d you fare in the whole Sandy situation? I see via Twitter that you escaped to Brooklyn; did you go to your parents’ house?

Yeah, yeah. My basement at my apartment was flooded and they’re redoing the whole downstairs, but minus throwing out some old shoes and having a big dry cleaning bill, I’m actually fine. I actually left last Sunday even before things got bad, and it was really good I did. So yeah, I was just in Brooklyn sleeping until noon at my parents’.

So where do you live in Manhattan, then, that it would’ve been flooded?

I live on the border of Tribeca, so right down there.

Oh, yeah, well then that makes sense then. Yeah, I’m in Bushwick and we were kind of totally spared. It’s kind of crazy.

I know, some people were really affected in Brooklyn, but then other neighborhoods were just totally fine. I mean, my parents’ house was totally fine.

Yeah, I did walk to the Lower East Side, though, just to see what was going on over there since the trains weren’t going, and it was crazy; like, I knew it wasn’t going to be awesome over there by any means, but it was just insane.

It’s so crazy when you’re in your own little cocoon, and then you venture out to the city or whatever. I walked from Park Slope to Williamsburg one day because I felt like I needed to get out of the house, and then when I finally made it back to Manhattan, I was like, “Oh my god.” It was just crazy.

I was going to ask you, though…you grew up in Park Slope, right?

Yeah, I did.

So when did people start leaving the free stuff outside their houses? Because I don’t understand…or I mean, I DO understand it, but it’s just like, there it’s such a huge concentration of people doing that!

In Park Slope? Honestly, forever. Since I was a kid, everyone leaves like, old books out, old shoes that no one’s going to take…I don’t know, it’s like a little weird tradition, at least in Park Slope.

Yeah, because I mean, I haven’t really noticed that too many other places. Or, I’ve seen it a few other places, but it’s just so heavily concentrated there that I was wondering about it.

Yeah, I never really thought about that, but there’s always stuff on the streets and on the stoops. (Laughs)

Okay, so ‘Red Weather‘ is out on Tuesday, which is super exciting! Now, you self-produced that one, right?

Yes.

And so (maybe not even from the self-producing aspect, but just in general) what was the most challenging part of that experience, and/or the least challenging for you?

Pretending I knew what I was doing. (Laughs) I had to learn a lot as I was working on it, so it was kind of learning that way. I’ve been writing for a very long time, and have had a lot of ups and downs with how I was going to make a record, who I was going to make a record with, and so actually the process started about a year before I decided to go into the studio and self-produce. I went in with a producer and started recording, and I realized that I hadn’t really figured out the kind of record that I wanted to make. So I stopped that entire process and had kind of a life-changing decision, because I left my manager, decided not to work with a producer and decided to just venture out and really do it by myself. Which was kind of intimidating, because I’d never produced anything myself before. So that was definitely challenging, but I think at the end of the day it taught me so much, and I’m pretty proud of what I did. I think it was a good learning experience for me.

So then do you think in the future you’ll probably take that role on again for yourself?

I think what it helped me do was work better with someone else. I actually went back into the studio after I finished this record and I recorded another record, so I have one coming out now and then one slated for another release. And I actually had my musician friend who plays in my band to help produce it with me, and it was a really cool experience; I felt like the experience of doing ‘Red Weather‘ really helped me with this other effort as well.

Right, totally. And if you had to describe the record in one word, what would you choose?

One word? That’s so tough, man! (Laughs)

Maybe I could give you like, three words. Would that help?

Sure, why don’t you give me three words and I’ll pick one.

Okay. Umm…yeah, I can’t even…this is even harder for me. Yeah, I don’t know. For me, if someone asks me to describe something in a limited number of words, I kind of treat it like a Rorschach test; like, it’s the first thing that pops into my head. I mean, we don’t HAVE to limit it to one word, I just figured I’d pick your brain to see.

I mean, the first word that springs to my mind is ‘opposition?’ I know that’s really weird, but…

No, I think that makes sense.

Okay, fine!

So that’s the one. That’s the one we’ll stick with. Now, in terms of how you write (and I don’t know if anyone else will be interested in this, but I always am), do you jot things down in a notebook, or…what kind of writing utensil do you use? Things like that.

I have stacks of notebooks, so I definitely believe in writing things down. I do that, but I think that it’s taken on various forms. I mean, for example, on my old CrackBerry I have tons of lists of song ideas that I write on the train, so if I don’t have a pen and paper on me I tend to put little notes in my phone or whatever I can kind of get my hands on if something comes to mind. It definitely changes; I don’t necessarily have a routine. I mean, I have notebooks, I have my computer, I have my phone…it changes depending on what I have at hand.

Right. Okay, and so I have to ask you about ‘Stealing Summers,’ because I’ve spent some time in Argentina. Did you enjoy being in Buenos Aires?

Oh yeah, I loved it. I was there for about a month, and I think that was kind of one of the attractions to the film, just being able to stay there and work there and get to see the city. I mean, what’s really cool is that in the movie we’re American tourists who move down there, so I actually got to experience being able to see all these new places through the character, you know?

Right. So where did you stay when you were there?

I stayed in the center, but I was at a kind of hotel slash apartment living place that had some of the worst food I think I’ve ever had. But the apartments were really nice and clean, and then of course you’d travel around the city and eat amazing food.

Totally. I mean, I definitely got sick of it because there’s so much pasta and things like that…

Oh my god, I got so fat! (Laughs)

It’s like, pasta, steak chocolate, pizza, croissants…

I gained like seven pounds or something, I ate so much meat! By the end of it I was like, I think I need to become a vegetarian! I kept thinking, “How am I gaining weight on a movie set? Aren’t actresses supposed to be all really skinny? And here I am, fattening myself up like I’m on vacation!” (Laughs)

Well talking about this reminds me of a time when I was down there and had the craziest, most lucid dream I’ve ever had (probably too much Malbec), and I read somewhere that you’ve said you have really vivid dreams. SO, I was going to ask you what your dream themes have been lately…

Oh, that’s interesting. I’ve had very inspired, creative dreams as I’m on the brink of releasing this record and I’ve been writing a lot. I’ve had these really strange, vivid, kind of almost mystical dreams as of late. And they’re definitely inspiring; I’m like, “Wow, how the hell did you think of that?” (Laughs) Yeah, but they make for great subject matter for songs, for poetry…whatever you’re working on. If you have a vivid imagination and a vivid dreaming life, I always feel it’s really great to pull on that. I feel like I’m creating Buñuel movies in my subconscious or something when I go to sleep. (Laughs)

Well that’s pretty impressive!

I know, I have a very impressive dreaming life. I can’t even take credit for it; it’s just my weird head.

Yeah, well as long as there’s no eyeballs being sliced open a la Buñuel, I’d say that’s pretty good. I was also going to ask you about what it was like to sing in Coco Chanel’s apartment…that sounds pretty cool!

Oh yeah, that was cool. It was like a little museum; obviously they set it up like that, but it’s just a really aesthetically beautiful place to be, and she had so many cool little artifacts and statues…just really pretty. You do feel kind of a sense of history when you walk in. It was pretty funny belting out a song with guards hanging around, but it was fun! (Laughs)

And it was Glamour that asked you to go there, right?

Yeah, yeah. I don’t know what girl would turn down a free trip to Paris, so… (Laughs)

Now, you have done musical literary projects before…

Just one, when I was sixteen.

Well even though it’s obviously been a while since then, I think you should do it again and start singing tweets. Like preferably Cher’s tweets.

Cher’s tweets? Why, are they hilarious?

They’re kind of hilarious in a weird way, because she’s being really serious, but things are always spelled crazily and I feel like they’re always in all caps or whatever…they’re just kind of really funny. My friend Alex does a pretty good impression of Cher, so we get him to entertain us by just kind of reading these tweets aloud in a Cher voice.

“If I could turn back time…” (Laughs) (Note: Sophie sang that in a Cher voice, and it was awesome...)

So speaking of Twitter, I saw that you do (or have done) Soul Cycle, so tell me about that! What is the deal with that?!

God, it’s so funny because you put things on Twitter and you forget that there’s a wider audience reading this stuff! (Laughs) Yeah, I’ve started going. It’s a pretty pricey thing to happen to get into, but it’s fun. I try to be thrifty with my exercise classes, but I actually really like it; I feel like it really kind of releases stress. It’s pretty extreme, but, you know, I’m young, so I can do it! (Laughs)

So is the music that they’re playing during the sessions good at least?

You know, it’s like a lot of remixed pop tracks and stuff like that. I have a pretty wide tolerance for lots of kinds of music, I’m not a musical snob I would say. It’s not the kind of music I’d listen to walking down the street, but for a class it kind of gets the job done.

Okay, so if you WERE walking down the street, then, listening to your own music…like maybe even today; have you listened to anything today that you could tell us about?

Yeah, I was listening to Edward Sharpe today; I think it’s a really fun album, and that, for me, is a great album to walk down the street to since it kind of puts me in a good mood, you know? I don’t necessarily want to walk around listening to sulky music all the time. I was also listening to Ray Charles and Nancy Sinatra…you know, kind of good walking music. (Laughs)

Yeah, I’ve been listening to a lot of Nancy Sinatra recently, and just a lot of like, sixties French pop.

I know, I was listening to…do you know France Gall?

Yeah yeah yeah!

Yeah, it was actually the first record I ever got; it was a gift from my uncle, I think I was seven or something, and I still listen to it. Every time it comes on my shuffle I’m very happy.

Yeah, obviously that ye-ye movement was primarily in France, but also in Spain, and there’s one girl called Jeanette, and I think she’s British-born but her mother was Spanish, so like, her accent is not fantastic, but she sings all her songs in Spanish. And so she did this one that’s in this movie called Cria Cuervos in Spanish, Raise Ravens in English. Have you seen this? It’s kind of incredible.

What year is it?

It’s from the seventies, but I don’t know exactly what year.

I’ve heard of her, but I haven’t seen the movie. I should check it out.

Yeah, yeah, it’s really good, but especially the song! So next I wanted to ask you, are getting recognized on the street at all, and/or are you getting any…I hesitate to say “crazy,” but maybe “interesting” fans?

Well, I think you get more of that on the internet, definitely with things that you post on your website or your Facebook page; with these kinds of things you definitely kind of get crazy people writing in to you. What happens to me sometimes is that people will think that they’ve seen me somewhere, because I’ve done some magazine press, and all the fashion stuff that I’ve done a lot of people see. So I’ve gotten a few people going, “Don’t I know you? Are you in a magazine?” and I’m like, “Maybe?” and they’re like, “Oh, I knew it!” So that’s kind of the extent of my recognition. If something has just come out, then I’ve gotten a few things. Besides that, I mean, no, not really.

Well, enjoy that while it lasts! Speaking of fashion, though, you’ve done quite a few things here and there; I saw the Vogue shoot, and that was cool…

Yeah, that was nice.

Yeah, I mean, how do you feel about those sorts of things, though? Obviously people have done a pretty good job of talking about your musical career and sort of incorporating that into, you know, what your go-to shoes are…

I know, I mean, I think that it’s a balance. You want to keep the focus on the work, and you want to keep it serious, but then there’s also…I mean, they’re also opportunities that so few people get to have, and I’m always a firm believer in having fun with things that come to you and feeling grateful for these lovely things. Like, to have your picture taken by Craig McDean…he’s such a great photographer, and that’s just really cool and nice. As long as it’s not, “Oh, here’s this girl!” and you turn me into something that I’m not, then I’ll feel bad. But as long as it’s focused on the work and you have a good balance, then I’m down! (Laughs)

Of course, of course. So if music wasn’t in the cards for you for whatever reason, what would you do?

If music wasn’t there then I’d probably spend my entire focus on being an actor.


That’s cool, though. I feel like the two are very interconnected, just in terms of maintaining your stage presence and being able to read an audience, so that makes sense.

Yeah, they’re definitely connected. They’re different, but they’re definitely connected.

Right. Well so we’re really excited to come to the album release party on Sunday…

You’re coming to the party? Oh, good, it should be fun! You should buy a T-shirt, I have these fabulous T-shirts that have just come in… (Laughs)

I’ve seen these! So tell me about them, because they look very comfortable.

Oh, they’re so soft! I get crazy with every detail of something that I’m working on, so they’re like, vintage-inspired with a ripped collar and, you know, I go to the extreme. I just feel like if it’s something that I wouldn’t wear, then I wouldn’t do it. Like if you don’t want to wear it, read it, see it, then there’s really no point.

I know, and it’s crazy to me when people aren’t of that mindset. But yeah, so we’re super excited for that, and then you’ve already said you have something else in the works music-wise, but what else should we expect from you coming up? I mean, are you more shows, or…

Yeah, I think the plan is to do a tour and to play around New York some more. Some people don’t like it, but I actually love the performing aspect of doing music. So yeah, my hope is just to keep playing a lot, and tour the record, keep going, release the next one, hopefully make some money…we’ll see. (Laughs)

Totally. Do you have a favorite venue to play in New York? It’s kind of hard to pick since there’s very different vibes for each one.

Yeah, there’s a lot of different vibes. For small things, Joe’s Pub is good; people buy tickets, they listen…no one’s there to talk while you’re performing, so that’s always a good thing. I also find that Mercury Lounge is also a good venue, because people pay to get in, they want to see you. I mean, I’ve played at some really tiny places where people are having an entire conversation in front of you while you’re trying to sing or play or whatever, and it can be really disheartening, I have to say. (Laughs)

Yeah, I actually get really upset when that happens, too; it can ruin the experience for all parties involved! But anyway, do you have any final words for New York and/or the universe?

Buy the album on Tuesday! (Laughs)

And the comfortable T-shirts!

And the comfortable T-shirts! They’re so cool! (Laughs) And if you miss me, you can just look down and see my big face on your shirt. So there you go.

Hear that? There you go! So get out there and snag Sophie’s amazing ‘Red Weather’ for your very own, and while you’re at it, grab a very comfortable, very excellent, very Sophie’s face T-shirt.

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