It’s rare to read an interview with SOPHIE that’s not prefaced by “in a rare interview.”The phrase doesn’t seem quite accurate when I meet with the Scotland-born, LA-based record producer, singer, and songwriter to discuss her record OIL OF EVERY PEARL’s UN-INSIDES, which came out last month. Maybe what’s trying to be expressed is the feeling of being in the presence of a rare talent, which she is. She’s also down-to-earth (another favorite general interview tic), checking my hubris regarding efforts to rarefy her. “Perhaps you might be more sensitive to those things than the way I was feeling,” she tells me. That could be. I’m sensitive to the oeuvre of the trans female genius. Listening to SOPHIE on one of the album’s early singles, “Faceshopping,” I thought, Finally. A song for when I’m hiding less to save face than to save up for one.
The rare part, which I may be tuning into as a dog-whistle dismissal of what SOPHIE has had to do to thwart the narrative from outpacing the music, is in part a reaction to the video for the album’s lead single, “It’s Okay to Cry,” released last fall. It was the first time we saw SOPHIE, who had previously employed other artists to appear onstage while she remained shrouded in full pop-star regalia: topless, face prostheticized, rained on. “I think it's kind of ridiculous that you need to do a video that's a close-up crying in the rain for people to know that you're a real person,” she says.
When I ask her about her use of the word real on “Faceshopping” (“I’m real when I shop my face”), I want to speak about how the definition has evolved for girls like us. We were children when Paris Is Burning offered up what it could mean to be real, to be those who could “walk out of that ballroom into the sunlight and onto the subway and get home, and still have all their clothes and no blood running off their bodies.” What, I feel provoked by her music to ask, is the price of blooming in our current and changed world?
“Let's smoke a cigarette for this,” she says, though we really shouldn’t be smoking. But what’s a rare cigarette going to do?
Thora Siemsen: What sort of images did you gravitate toward growing up in Glasgow?
SOPHIE: Pretty similar things that I look at now, to be honest. A very watered-down version of science fiction. The synth-pop artists of the ’80s were very informed by J.G. Ballard stuff, and sci-fi was actually representing a vision of the future, I think, at that time. For me –– this was pre-teens, nine, ten years old –– it was more X-Files. After that, I got really into Matthew Barney and Cremaster Cycle and the distortions of form and gender and material and shape. I loved Amanda Lepore and Nan Goldin's stuff. I would say they were pretty important images.
TS: Do you come from a creative family?
S: No, I don't. As my mum says, "Don't know where she gets it from." She just can't imagine where it comes from. I think my dad may have been in an earlier life, but I would never know that side of him. He had brilliant instincts, taking me to raves when I was very young. He bought me the rave cassette tapes before I went to the events and would play them in the car and be like, "This is going to be important for you."
I said I wanted to quit school when I was nine, ten years old. I wanted to be an electronic-music producer, and obviously they didn't let me and I had to go through with the whole thing, but he definitely had some instincts that were really important to me. I think there is a creative aspect to that, certainly an ability to see into the future and not be about some bullshit nostalgia. Not someone that's like, "Sixties, ’70s, this is the real rock and roll." He was always like, "That was rubbish. Electronic music's the future."