Sophia Kennedy’s music sometimes sounds like a soundtrack to a world disintegrating, hanging on by a thread of memories, it combines the glamour and the morbid charm of tin pan alley show tunes from the 1960s or 70s and yet it fully embraces the deconstructed modernism of club music. Her new album Monsters, is full of plot twists, moments of prettiness dashed with paranoia. The title itself, is a self-ironic, comic-like commentary of being an artist trying to tame own creations like “monsters” gone wild but also a nod to a generally threatening tension in the world. Monsters is pop music teetering on the verge of ruin.
Kennedy’s creative approach has always been unusual. Growing up in Germany after her family emigrated from Baltimore, she developed an ear for off-centred songcraft picking through her mum’s record collection: Whitney Houston and Simon & Garfunkel at first, Karen Dalton and the Velvet Underground later. With no equipment to hand, she started recording audio on a camcorder, blurring the lines between music and her other passion, film. Obsessed with the work of John Cassavetes and 70s horror films like Carrie, Kennedy moved to Hamburg to study film and ended up making music for theatre productions. Her involvement in the local creative community led her through the doors of the “Golden Pudel”, a techno nightclub. Immersed in Hamburg’s dance music scene she met Mense Reents, a musician best known for his work with the celebrated house act, Die Vögel. The pair formed a writing and production partnership, and would make Sophia’s eponymously-titled debut record together in 2017 which was released through DJ Koze’s label Pampa.
One step further is where Kennedy has taken her sound on Monsters. It’s full of hints of a former life, abstract melodic turns, instrumentation that shouldn’t work, but does, wrongness that’s right. “Seventeen” is acid-washed Americana with creeping sub-bass, closer “Dragged Myself Into The Sun” is a full-on left hook, drones stacked like lasagna and pumped with steroids. There is pop centre pieces like “I Can See You” and the velvet-lined anthem “I’m Looking Up”, dealing with grief and death, recalling the rawest edges of Krautrock and, for Kennedy, nods to Baltimore artists Panda Bear and the strange currencies of Animal Collective.
1. In 2003 I spat from the Empire State Building
2. I recommend eating pistachios with the shell
3. I stole Sven Väth’s bottle of Champagne at a Festival
1. What is the biggest inspiration for your music?
Machines that make weird sounds & harmonies that touch my soul
2. How and when did you get into making music?
It just stuck to me like hot glue, like a dog never leaving my side
3. What are 5 of your favourite albums of all time?
I love all albums
4. What do you associate with Berlin?
5. What’s your favourite place in your town?
6. If there was no music in the world, what would you do instead?
My drivers license
7. What was the last record/music you bought?
Jessica Pratt – Quiet Signs
8. Who would you most like to collaborate with?
With someone who brings me food and is nice to me
9. What was your best gig (as performer or spectator)?
Can‘t really pick one – but whenever I feel that the music really comes alive on stage – those are the best moments.
10. How important is technology to your creative process?
11. Do you have siblings and how do they feel about your career/art?
All of my seven sisters hate what I do and never answer when I call
Photo © Ben Jakon