People have always been fascinated by monsters. Although they do not really exist (at least there is no real proof of it) kids are scared that one might lie waiting under their beds and many adults read stories or watch movies featuring mythical creatures. Fire-breathing dragons, multi-headed hydras or the likeable cookie-monster, the list of monsters imaged by humankind is long. But monsters are not always physical creatures, they can also be metaphors for problems and small wars people fight in their daily lives. The German-American singer-songwriter Sophia Kennedy uses this multi-faceted term as the title of her sophomore album Monsters.
Creative work as a monster
“The title refers to the process of making the album, which is always an intense experience for me. I really overexert myself while making music – that’s why it takes a lot of time for me to complete a record. Monsters was a fitting title in the end because every track seemed as if they were little monsters, wanting to be tamed. Each track is a cosmos of its own. The title describes the process of creating those tracks quite well – each song dealing with its own conflict and problems, which also can appear to be monstrous.”
The album’s cover plays further into the metaphor of creative work being like a monster. In the image she’s is sitting on a piano chair in a studio whilst staring at her phone. Next to her, the grand piano opens its big mouth full of sharp teeth. Although the instrument could be a dangerous monster, Sophia does not pay any attention to it and looks at her mobile device instead. Nowadays, it has become easy to not fight your monsters anymore but rather avoid them by spending time in the digital world.
The digital world
“There is a lot of room for interpretation. The cover is a still taken from a small trailer I made for the album. I wanted to create a surreal scene of a rather cliché moment: A singer-songwriter, wearing a suit in a recording situation. It’s a kind of twist on a more or less conventional understanding of being a musician, because in 2021 you don’t necessarily need an analogue instrument like a piano to write songs anymore. This also reflects my personal conflict in music making. I’m always shifting between acoustic instruments and manipulated computer sounds and electronic textures. The world’s examination in song-writing partly happens on electronic devices and not necessarily only by playing a real instrument.”
When Sophia was five years old, she moved from the USA to Germany. Therefore her “real” life, as she calls it, happened – and still happens – in Germany. Although her hometown Baltimore is far away from Hamburg, where she currently lives, she still has a deep connection to her roots – to manifest and perpetuate her beloved family members, Sophia started recording and filming them from an early age on. She even recorded phone calls, a habit that allowed her to use an old recording of her grandma on Dragged Myself Into The Sun.
Hidden vocal samples
“I’ve recorded the voices of close family members throughout my whole life. When I was a teenager, I took a camera with me wherever I went, trying to capture everything because I knew that one day my loved ones would not be around anymore. Especially when I was in the US, I tried to record and capture as much material as possible, since I was separated from my family there so often. My grandparents were lovely and very entertaining characters, who I loved deeply. I loved talking to them on the phone and would sometimes record those phone calls. My grandmothers voice at the end of Dragged Myself Into The Sun is not the original recording, though – I edited it for the song, but to me it was important to weave excerpts of her voice into my music. As for on my debut, where there are also hidden vocal samples, their voices have remained a part of my music.”
Her grandmothers voice is not the only sample Sophia Kennedy uses on Monsters. On Francis, a song about a privileged narcissist, monkey screams appear in the last minute. A meticulous listener will realize that it’s Sophia herself imitating the animals. “The idea of placing monkey screams at the end of ‚Francis‘ was important to me. They lift the drama the decline to a dark and humorous level. The song is about a privileged, narcissist drowning in self pity – although he’s got all the possibilities in the world. The exaggerated monkey-screams push the hysteria I was looking for to another extreme.”
This dark and dystopian undertone runs through most of the album. One song, which immediately puts the listeners into an apocalyptic state, is the single Orange Tic Tac, the first release of the record. “Orange Tic Tac describes an apocalyptic scenery in a exaggerated, comic-like way. The storyline is set in a city, doomed to destruction – with an fiery orange sky above, yet also there’s this ghostly crooner who only sees the beauty and simplicity of things: a perfect day to spend outside.”
Orange Tic Tac is not only a prime example for Sophia Kennedy’s album due to its apocalyptic lyrics. It also mirrors her unique way of writing and performing her music. Throughout nearly four minutes she slips into different personalities, which come with unique vocal styles – one time mysterious and aggressive, the other time solemn and cheerful. Experimenting and using her voice in different ways is a trademark of Kennedy’s music.
“Before I record a song, I ask myself: Who is singing this and who am I singing it to? I experiment a lot with my voice and try to take on different perspectives. For example, I use my it as a tool to be direct and confrontational and then I strive for a softer, intimate, and nostalgic approach. I like using my voice in a versatile way while trying to remain sincere and truthful. I am not a voice-imitator or an actress playing different roles. To me, it’s more of a natural process.”
Sophia worked on her self-titled debut with the producer and musician Mense Reents, known for his work with the German indie punk institution Die Goldenen Zitronen, before – and their collaboration continues on Monsters. Although the two musicians are also partners in life and therefore spend a lot of time together outside of work, their partnership works out pretty well. “One could think that our musical partnership wouldn’t work out since we are so close – but we are good at arguing and also at making up again. Mense has a huge impact on me and my music – I feel very lucky to be able to work with him.”
With Monsters, Sophia Kennedy masterly circumvents the famous problem artist often have when releasing a second album after a celebrated debut as they struggle with measuring up to the listeners expectations. The thirteen tracks fuse different facets of her artistic repertoire and show that her musical journey is just starting. The listeners can only be keen to see, which new vocal and musical style the singer will develop in days to come. And of course, what kind of hidden monsters she will tackle on future releases.
Monsters by Sophia Kennedy will be released on May 7th via City Slang.