Current Release: Sonn's new single Rumours with New Zealand singer Lontalius is out now. He also has a new EP called Something Safe.
Two artists that you should know about, Tamu Massif and T.Evann both are featured on my upcoming EP and both make some amazing music that you should definitely check out.
If you enjoyed this interview with Sonn, visit his Facebook page and Instagram account to stay up to date with his music and projects.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I’ve been playing music my whole life. I have been playing drums since I was 9, but I didn't start producing until 2016. Music has just been that thing that I've always been interested in since I was small.
I grew up with my parents playing a big variety of genres but it was mainly 80’s/90/s house music. Growing up with a lot of genres made me want to explore different styles, I've always been listening to people like Paramore and Kings of Leon, but when I started producing I started getting into more electronic artists like Tourist and Caribou. Id say my music now is a blend of everything.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I think I went through a similar process to a lot of people, everything I've learnt has been self taught or by studying other people's work. I think it's important to do that at an early stage to really understand how songs work and what makes them hit the way they do.
Personally, it took a while for me to feel like I wasn't emulating someone else. It took years of sorting through sounds and samples to find out what kind of sounds clicked with me and I had to learn how to use them for what I was hearing in my head.
I think with this new EP it is finally sounding like my own sound, I hope. I still get songs that I like and break them down to understand how they work, and then use what I learnt in my own music to bring my own sound to it.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Basically trying to make everything sound legit and professional. It took me so long to make things sound good. I feel like now I don't really pay too much attention to it because i've sort of learnt to find the beauty in less refined production. But when I was starting out that was my goal.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
Honestly my setup has stayed pretty similar over the years. It started with just my laptop and then slowly I added keyboard and guitars. Even now I'd say it's a pretty small setup, but it works and I'm comfortable using it. My recent and most important addition was the UAD Apollo interface, it helps so much with workflow because there's almost 0 latency when recording which helps me get my ideas down real quick.
Another important piece of equipment for me is my guitar, its such a versatile instrument and allows me to realise my songs before I even record them. I find that it doesn't really matter too much about the gear that I use. I can only really work when I am comfortable in the surroundings that I'm in, and that just happens to be the studio in my home.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
As an artist and a producer I feel like technology is so vital in what I do. Without technology I wouldn't be able to make music as easily as I can now. I do feel like the human element will never be the same when you draw something compared to playing it in. So I definitely use a combination of both, depending on what the song is of course. They each bring their unique feel.
With technology you can create something “perfect”, but sometimes imperfection is the human element which makes a song reach that next level. When I find any sort of imperfection within any sound I tend to lean into it because its hard to recreate imperfections and I feel like thats what makes something unique. There’s a lot of beauty to be found in imperfections.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I try to keep my music a nice blend between software and more traditional instruments like guitars and what not. A lot of my music is written on guitar first and then I bring it into software to be able to edit and expand on the idea. This allows me to focus initially on the songwriting aspect of it and then producing the sound I want in Ableton. This is the beauty of modern software as the possibilities of what you can do are almost endless.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I love collaborating with people, as I feel they always bring something to the song that I hadn't thought of before.
Typically the approach is through email. On my upcoming EP this is how the tracks with Lontalius and Tamu Massif came about. I will usually send them a basic version of the track and then we will share ideas back and forth until we have a song. The process is pretty simple and allows me to work with people all over the world.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I'm lucky enough to do music full time, so there’s never really a schedule which makes it quite exciting.
However typically I'd wake up, make coffee and just get straight to work. I don't put pressure on myself to make a song everyday because I’ve found the creative process for music is always better when it's not forced. But I still give it a shot everyday.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
So for my upcoming EP “Something, Safe” it was about me wanting to have a fresh start and put out music that I felt that represented me. It was something that I had planned to do for a while I just had to figure out the sonic aspects of it to fully realise my sound.
The whole writing process took about a year, often starting out with little loops or a small hook idea and then slowly building from there. I must have written over 30 tracks for the EP and then narrowed it down to 5. I knew that I wanted to make everything sound euphoric and nostalgic, something you would hear in a movie soundtrack but with a certain pop element involved.
Whilst writing I was learning about typical conventions in pop music, electronic music and indie music. The hardest part was finding the balance to make the final sound work.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I often have to be in an inspired mood to be able to write music. I don't think that my mood translates to the type of song I will write but I find usually the songs that come to me most quickly is when I'm super inspired. It’s important for me because it makes me not care about all the little things, it helps me get the idea down fast instead of worrying about the little things and losing the idea.
Inspiration for me comes and goes randomly. When it hits I’ll be able to write a song almost everyday and when it goes there might be a period where I don't write anything for two weeks. I can usually tell when I'm about to burn out and that's when I know to slow down and take a breather. So for me I’ve learnt to not force making a song and fill my non writing time with other activities that inspire me - like watching movies or going for walks.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
I’ve never really approached writing music to be able to be played live. In this current age literally anything you make can be transformed to be able to play live, it just depends on how creative you are and how far you want to push your live set.
Playing live is always fun, it's humbling to see people appreciate your work. It’s still crazy to me to see people come out and support you. I don't think I will ever get over that.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
I feel like sound is a really important aspect of music as it kinda defines you as an artist. I mean it totally depends on the song but typically I choose sounds that aren't too abrasive, I like things that sound warm. Texture is really important to the sounds I chose because I'm not too fond of things that sound too clean.
That being said I try to focus more on the compositional aspect of music, the way different sounds come together to create a song is more what I'm thinking about when I'm writing. A lot of the production process for me is very experimental, I'll sit and listen to the same loop for hours until something clicks. There isn't necessarily an idea that I have from the start. It's more about finding what works.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
Visual and hearing are super important in music, especially my music. Having a visual even if its just artwork allows my music to be perceived in the way I intended as the artwork carries the mood that the track is in. Watching something while listening to music can help provoke emotion which is something I always try to do in my music anyway. It's like listening to music while on a long road trip and looking out the window. When you listen to that song again, it brings back memories and feelings of that time.
I think it's a beautiful experience of senses and that's what I am trying to do with my EP, have that element of nostalgia.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Personally for me music or art in general is escapism. Not to say I don't enjoy political or social art but I find that my favourite pieces of art is one that helps me get away for a bit. This is something I like to bring to my music. If I can help people feel good just for a little bit then my job is completed.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
Yeah it is crazy, I've never really thought about that. I think especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, music has been moving in a very virtual direction with virtual performances and festivals happening. You can still be with all your friends listening to your favourite artists perform, I dont know if it lives up to the real thing but it is pretty close in my opinion.
However I can see that developing even further given the rate that technology is advancing not just in music but in VR.