This Conversation with Soko appears in the newest print volume of Gossamer which will be out in a few weeks. Pre-order your copy here.
I feel like if you grow up near the ocean, it’s impossible to live anywhere that you don’t see a body of water. I’m from a small town near Bordeaux, between the countryside and the seaside. It’s really, really beautiful. No matter how far I go in the world, I always feel like Bordeaux has the best beaches and the nicest water.
I spent a little bit of time in Vancouver last year because I was shooting a movie there, and everywhere I looked, there were mountains and water and trees. I was working on a movie called Little Fish, and it was my first time playing a musician in a movie, which is weird. I like doing roles that have nothing to do with my life, because I find it more rewarding and challenging.
I use acting as an escape and to challenge myself in discovering—through a character, a story, and a director— parts of myself I wouldn’t otherwise get to explore. Each experience and each movie requires a bit of soul-searching and, in the end, makes me feel a little bit closer to myself, even if it’s something I didn’t necessarily like doing. If I have to play a soldier, or a character that’s more violent than I am in my life, I’m so relieved at the end of it. I really, really, really don’t like violence, and it makes me appreciate that I’m able to live my life the way I do. Living in someone else’s life for a moment gives me more context for the experience of my own.
I’m super obsessive. I have to wear red underwear or red socks or red shoes when I’m working—especially on music—because of that movie The Red Shoes. It’s a technicolor film from the ’40s about a ballerina. It’s about the struggle of artists, and how to balance being passionate, creative, and devoted to your work while also having a personal life. It’s tragic. It ends in tragic suicide.
Wearing red shoes or red socks or red underwear reminds me that I have to focus fully on work and not to let any of my personal turmoil in. It’s a reminder to be the fullest version of myself. It also helps that red is my favorite color.
Now that I have a baby, everything is always a tornado. I’m constantly cleaning.
Ever since I was a kid, like 10 or so, I’ve always organized my closet by colors and patterns. Everything was always set up like a rainbow: from white, to yellow, to orange, all the way to black. Then all the stripes together, all the plaids, and all the florals. That’s been going on for a while.
I’m a pretty neat person. I lived out of a suitcase for 12 years straight. I didn’t have a home. I had a storage unit in L.A., and I had friends that I would stay with there, or in New York or Paris. I was working so much that it was very hard for me to settle down in one place. And because I didn’t have a house for so long, the only thing I could control was my suitcase. It was very organized. I was always extremely helpful, constantly cleaning up after myself and them, making sure I didn’t leave any of my stuff in their way. I wanted to make myself as small as possible in their space—and as helpful as possible, so that they’d feel like it was a bonus to have me there, and not ... you know.
I did that for 12 years! It was rough, but it definitely gave me a lot of freedom to not be attached to places and things. The minute I settled down and got myself a house, I was like, Okay, I want this to be very organized and very neat and not messy. Now that I have a baby, everything is always a tornado. I’m constantly cleaning.
Acting came first for me; I started when I was 16. It was mostly doing extra work, with the occasional one-liner every now and then. It was a very slow build. There was no big reveal, or big lead in some super awesome movie.
I started making music because I thought I needed more balance in my life and the ability to express myself more creatively. I wanted to be more independent and to have my own voice. I hadn’t yet been offered any parts that I felt were remotely close to what I felt I needed to say or explore, so I started to make my own things and share my own stories. Making music gave me a lot more strength and independence. It also had this snowball effect—it made my acting career more interesting.
My baby is what gets me out of bed every day—at 5:30 a.m., if not earlier. Being a mother has been amazing. It’s also been nonstop craziness. I raise them with my partner. I use the pronoun “they.” When they were a baby, I felt weird saying he or she, because it doesn’t matter.
Before having them, I was a total workaholic. I love Mondays, and people are always like, “What, are you crazy?” But I love them! I get to make all the phone calls and be like, “Where are we with this? Where are we with that? When is this getting delivered? Has this been done? What can I do to move things forward?” I’m extremely proactive in that way. But when I’m not working, we go kayaking, we do baby dates, we go to the park. We go to the ocean. We eat delicious vegan food. We bake vegan cookies.
Indigo has been vegan since they were born. I’ve been vegan since I was 19, and vegetarian since I was five. I don’t remember ever liking the taste or texture of meat. And then, when I was five, my father died.
I think being aware of death and what our bodies become once they die just was a little more than I could handle as a kid. I wanted my dad’s body to be immaculate forever. I had these thoughts of digging up his grave and being able to kiss him, and say hi. And then someone told me, “He's going to be eaten by animals in his grave.” And I really didn’t want that to happen. They tried to make the point, “Well, you eat animals, so they eat us, too.” They thought it was a smart way to make me understand nature. But it had the opposite effect, because I was like, Well, I’m not going to eat animals anymore so they don’t eat my dad. And that was that.
I started smoking weed when I was 28, which is terribly late for most people. I’d been sober forever. Now I’m sober again. I’ve never smoked cigarettes, and I don’t drink alcohol either. I did until I was 19. I started going out when I was 13, so I had a few years of partying a little too much.
All my friends in L.A. knew that I was sober, and that I’d never tried weed. But it’s always been around me—it’s just so much a part of life in L.A., especially now that it’s legal. But it’s been extremely accepted for ages. One night, all my friends were vaping one of those old Volcano things, with the plastic bag. They kept passing it to me, joking that it was my turn.
I had been having conversations about it with my best friend—I was staying with her at the time. She was like, “You should try weed for creativity. You have been stuck with your record, just try one puff, half a puff. Do it in a creative surrounding, somewhere you feel safe, and have all your friends around you, and see if maybe that gives you a good experience.”
And it did! It was really playful, and I felt extremely safe. When I did it, everyone was like, “What the fuck? You can’t do that. Soko! You’re sober!” I was like, “It’s fine.” I got extremely high. It was the best first time I could have ever hoped for, because 20 of my closest friends were there.
I started smoking weed when I was 28, which is terribly late for most people.
I remember being drunk when I was younger, and not knowing how to get back home from the party and throwing up—all that shit. It was so dramatic and chaotic and I didn’t want my experience with weed to be anything like that. We laughed so much that I was like, Okay, I get it, maybe I should try again, and this time I’ll write music. So I smoked a tiny, tiny bit during my second album. I never smoked a whole joint to myself or anything, but one little puff every now and then.
I had very few songs written when I started recording this album—purposely, because I always have such crazy demo-itis: I record my idea, then I beat myself up trying to nail it in the studio. This time around, I wanted to record that first rough idea of the song right away so that it would be more genuine and more vulnerable. I went in the studio wanting to be extremely present and completely dedicated to the record.
The album is called Feel Feelings, and it really dives into all of them—the wanted, the unwanted, the shameful, the ones where you know you’re guilty. I wanted to write all the songs about all these feelings all at once. I was so focused, and I was surrounded by people that I loved so much. I didn’t have that imposter syndrome anymore.
Because I was smoking a bunch when I started recording it, I wanted the record itself to be high.
Because I was smoking a bunch when I started recording it, I wanted the record itself to be high. I wanted it to be super mellow and sexy and groovy, like floating-in space high. You can listen to it when you wake up in the morning, or when you go to bed, or when you’re driving in your car. It’s a mellow ride that has happy sounds, but very personal, vulnerable, and sad lyrics.
I recorded most of the vocals while pretty high and I can definitely hear the difference. This is me being honest right here. I feel like it’s a deeper part of me. It feels very natural. It doesn’t feel like I’m trying too hard. I needed that disconnect to be able to have more freedom and not judge myself too much, or for it not to be too contrived.
Putting myself 18 years forward, and how I’ll handle things like this with my child, if the feeling is, “I want to explore new stuff,” fair and good, but I would just want to make sure that they know not to abuse it and that they don’t do it as an escape from their reality. My wish for them would be that they are in tune with their reality and their emotions enough that they don’t feel like they have to escape.
I started taking CBD long before I started smoking weed. I take CBD every time I fly because I get so much anxiety on the plane. It’s my go-to for sleeping and anxiety. If I wake up in the middle of the night, I can hit a CBD pen to try to put myself back to sleep. I feel like it’s such a natural way to use the plant’s medicine that’s been given to us. We can still use it for all its benefits, but it doesn’t make us high.
While recording Feel Feelings, I started drinking way too much coffee. I would start with two cold brews in the morning and then be super hyper, with tons of anxiety. I’d give myself the shakes and everything. I’d get to the studio, all hyped and pumped and ready to record, and then realize I needed to calm down in order to be on everyone else’s frequency. So I’d smoke one puff, then I’d be like, “I’m too sleepy and high, so I’m going to drink another coffee.” It just got a little bit too crazy, the ups and downs.
My therapist was like, “You complain about your anxiety, but you take things every day that give you anxiety, like coffee and weed. You’ve got to get rid of those things first.” So I did. And I felt so much better.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Soko photographed by Cecy Young at the Sinner Hotel in Paris, with hair by Julie Bennadji and makeup by Regine Bedot. If you like this Conversation, please feel free to share it with friends or enemies.