Stockholm-based artist SOMA caught our ear with her Don’t Believe Them and we had to dig deeper into her sound and visuals.
SOMA has Kurdish roots, was raised in Helsinki, Finland, and has called Stockholm home for the past five years. She says life basically led her to Stockholm. Making pop in English in Finland is not really a strong prospect, and in any case a lot of the producers and songwriters she was working with happened to be based in Stockholm. When she met her now-partner, who is Swedish, the deal was sealed and Stockholm feels like the right place for her.
– Music, dance and other art forms have always played a huge role in my life. I feel like often we think of expressing ourselves as something that is directed towards the outside world (which is of course one aspect) but in my case expressing in arts would have a bit more contemplative flavour. They were a form of therapy, integration and meditation if you will. I would’ve not used these words when I was 6 years old of course, but the function seemed to be there. And then there is of course the joy! The forgetting of the contracted, seemingly separate self and dropping into the present moment. Add some natural talent and skills into the mix and you’ve got the ingredients for a delicious flow!
SOMA has just released Don’t Believe Them launching this new phase of her music career and we hear there is a lot more music in the works. Two more releases are lined up for the next couple of months and there’s a ton of material waiting to be released, made in collaboration with different song-writers and producers in both Helsinki and Stockholm.
The single has been described as modern disco-flavoured pop carrying echoes of the 80s greatest. But we asked SOMA to describe her sound herself…
– I’d say my sound is a combination of something familiar and something completely new. Rhythm and pulse are words that come to mind. I usually want to talk about the deepest aspects of our humanity but reframe them into a groovy pop-song! At least that’s how I like to challenge myself. I like playing with the lyrics in a way that they are usually telling a story on multiple levels. For example, I might write a song, which seems to be about a guy cheating on a girl. But if one is interested in looking a bit closer, you might find another level where the song is actually about sleep-paralysis!
– I tend to write songs with strong melodies and a wide vocal range. It’s nothing I do with force, it just tends to come out like that. A certain “rawness” and vulnerability is very important to me.
– I also put a lot of focus on “emotional proportion”. In other words, I try to be aware of the relationship and interplay between the lyrics, the vocals, the melody and the instrumental productional elements. If the story and the expression are heavy and dense, the production and perhaps the chords need to give away a little, and vice versa. If the storyline and the production are both very sweet, maybe there’s some room for drama in the way things are expressed through the lyrics.
– There are elements from 80’s disco and electronic music, but my intention is in no way creating a pastiche project. I just pick sounds that speak to me and get my body moving! I have the same attitude when I work with other producers.
In terms of what can be found behind SOMA’s music-making if one is to look deeper, there are many things that are influencing her:
– I draw influences from my current inner life and experience. I’m also drawn towards the power of myths and story-telling. We usually think of a myth as something unreal. But myths are actually symbolically descibing something or a process that have basis in reality, but this reality goes beyond what words can express or the linear thinking mind can grasp. I like to hang around in those spaces and try to capture the essence in between the lines and within the frames of pop music!
– When a new song is bubbling up in me, I can feel it. I often talk about this with my writer friends that I don’t really feel responsible for writing the song. We tend to take credit for stuff that in reality we can’t really fully take credit for. I like to contemplate the level of intelligence that runs through us when an invention, a song, basically any creative impulse, takes place. It’s a cosmic view really! Very beautiful and awe-inspiring to me! We tend to think that “I heard this and that song on the radio” and “saw some film last week that gave me an idea to put these 2 things together” in order to create this new song. I know it might look like that when we think about it in retrospect. But actually, every nanosecond there are infinite possibilities that the deepest part of us chooses from, and we can stop and make up some stories about it, a mental narration describing how it all happened, but honestly it’s a freaking mystery!
– It turns out that 1+1 isn’t 2. 1+1 is X! Or that 1+X = a dance. Meaning that I find it important to liberate myself from thinking that I need to, for instance, listen to MUSIC in order to be inspired to write new MUSIC. Creativity knows no boundaries like that. I could be taking a nap or making a flower bouquet, and PAW! There it is! That familiar bubbly sensation that tells me a new song is about to be born. And all I have to do now is to take the time to sit down and listen.
– Now, it does require some butt muscles and discipline to sit down and do the work. I like to call this phase the “unpacking process”. We can go after inspiration based on the old knowledge of what has worked for us in the past, but as said, in reality who knows where it comes from. In my experience, when a seed of a song is born, it’s almost like the entire song is already there for me. Hanging in the air. My job becomes then more of an interpreter’s or a channeller’s job. Now, the artist’s job isn’t irrelevant of course! The song always needs to come through a person, and each person is different with their individual make-up and set of skills.
– I tend to do a lot of research, too. I don’t think any subject is too far out to be talked about. The inspiration tends to come in a very raw format, so I need to take some time to “uncode” it. Let’s say, for some reason my attention is drawn to hair. I might have deep symbolic dreams about hair. All of a sudden everywhere I look, I see hair. Perhaps a documentary about what straight hair signifies in African-American communities. The seeming obsession about hair removal among women. What does strong and long hair signify for example in Native American culture. What about not having hair? How about the ancient Sumerian view of hair? What is the biological structure and function of hair? With the melange of these influences, guided by my intuition and sometimes including another producer , a song will start to form.
– I don’t listen to that much music actually. But when I do, I know that Motown, funk, soul and disco gets my body moving like no other music! I also like to listen to classical music. I find it very soothing because the structures are so different from pop music. For pure inspiration, I might find myself anywhere in between Rumi’s poetry and Zulu drumming.
Beside musical creativity, SOMA is putting in a lot of effort into the visuals as well, which can be seen from her promotional photos. We wanted to know more about the collaborations that have gone into creating these powerful pictures.
– I feel that the creative impulse overflows easily over to the visuals for me. I guess it has also something to do with how we cognize things. Even though I work primarily with music and sounds, for example singing to me is an extremely tactile experience, which connects me deeply into the present moment and to my body. I’m also aware that I move a lot and dance around when I’m working.
– I consider myself lucky to have met some very talented people already early on in my career, and I use every chance I get to work with them. I love to collaborate with these old friends as well as making new friends as I continue this journey. I think it’s important to explore new vistas and to be brave enough to let yourself to be completed by other artists’ input and to be a source of inspiration to them as well. It’s obvious to me that when a collaboration is successful, the product or the work is so much greater that the parts that make it.
– For example, the cover of the single Don’t Believe Them is part of a collaboration and a photo series between myself, photographer Kanerva Mantila, designer Mert Otsamo and hair and make-up artist Tom Wennerstrand. I’m passionate about trying to include as many layers to the visuals as possible as well as complementing the music with visuals that add yet another dimension. One can admire the photo from a pure technical point of view wondering about the lighting or how many hours it must have taken to braid the massive hair-crown and then braiding it to my actual scalp! But I like to leave some space for interpretation, too. What is perhaps the meaning of the golden skin and the hair? In the original format of the image, one can also wonder about the significance of the melting of the lower body. Sending out a tangible feeling and inviting the observer in are the main focuses when I work with visuals. Everything else is secondary. I use my body as an extension to convey the story or the message at hand, and not so much for projecting a wanted image of myself.
We were also curious about how SOMA feels about the Stockholm/Swedish music scene.
– I’d like to be a more active part of it, honestly! I’m a little bit of a loner when it comes to writing music, at least the first phases of it. And I don’t hang around in bars and such…maybe that’s the issue here. (LOL!) But seriously for a second, when writing music in Stockholm, at least theoretically, the sky is the limit! It’s very exciting times to be a Swedish songwriter. Even if writing and producing music is often times just a lot of hours sitting by yourself in an empty room. I think it’s nice to be part of something like “the Swedish pop music people” or the “Nordic wave” or whatever. It has a lovely ring to it, and you can draw from that energy when you get a little lonely or tired 😉 I’ve learned to love co-writing sessions, though. When the chemistry is right and everyone in the room speaks the same language of music, I get very excited! I have to watch my coffee consumption though during these high-vibe sessions!