interview: sophie hanlon
Move over Alice. There’s a new visionary in Wonderland. Her name is Sophie Hanlon, a 20-year-old theatrical singer/songwriter with an imaginative lust for fiction, fancy dress, soulful blues music and poetic lyricism.
She left the Mother Country at the age of 14 for Australian shores and has begun to carve herself out a niche in the Sydney music scene with the release of her cleverly titled EP AuthenTrickery through Quarterpipe Records and the recent announcement of a string of live shows early next year.
When I first encountered Sophie on the Sydney streets for our interview I apprehensively thought she was holding a vintage baby-sized coffin in her hands, but soon found out it was only an Indian droning box, just one of the many instruments this talented songstress likes to dabble with. She quickly forgave my paranoiac absurdity and shed some light onto her fairytale world of live performances, studio time, spiders and artistic finesse.
You’re proficiently trained in piano, flute, violin and guitar plus you’re the singer and songwriter of the band, do you find it hard to juggle all hats at once?
I’ve always done it. As a kid I’d go to school with everything in tow; my violin, my flute, my guitar and my gym kit. It was difficult trying to juggle everything from school to a social life and of course there was the disruption of moving half way across the world, but as cheesy as it sounds, music is not just a part of what I do it’s honestly all that I do. If I didn’t have music I’d probably be a complete no hope living out on the street.
Critics have found it hard to correlate your sound to that of another artist, if you were describe your music to a stranger on the street, who would you compare yourself to?
It’s always been tricky to pinpoint my sound exactly. I’d say I’m quite imaginative and creative and I don’t like to pigeonhole myself but Kate Bush is certainly a big influence, I think she has an amazing voice and being of Irish background myself I can relate to her in that way too. I also respect powerful female singers like Patti Smith and Grace Slick who aren’t afraid to sing loudly and show passion and pride in being an artist. I have a lot of bluesy male influences as well like; Howlin Wolf, Robert Johnson, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix.
You’re obviously deeply inspired by revolutionary artists of the past and the influential mark they left on the musical world, what messages are you trying to put out there as an artist through your own lyrics and sounds?
I want people to kind of realize what’s going on in the world and rather than be a moaning preacher I want to unite people and create a particular vibe. I feel that as a generation we are yet to establish a zeitgeist, a spirit of the age and I hope to be one of the people who enables that. But apart from that I want to convey a message of lighthearted fun and release from the seriousness of everyday life. That’s why I like to play with characters in my songs and onstage I like to dress up in costumes, dance and go crazy because at the end of the day people are there to have fun.
Your first official tour is coming up early next year, what can audiences expect from a live Sophie Hanlon show?
At the moment I’ve clocked on to this whole collaborative idea so with the two support bands I’m going to get them to come up on stage with me for certain songs and play together. I’d be happy to bring audience members up on stage too, who knows what’s going to happen! The support acts are Phoebe Star and The Black Paintings; I chose those two because I liked their expressive energy and passion. With our energy combined on the night it’s going to be total entertainment and excitement.
What’s the first gig and the best gig you’ve ever been to?
The first show I ever went to here in Australia was a Yellowcard, Green Day and My Chemical Romance gig. The best gig I went to was Blur at Glastonbury Festival last year. That show was really heartfelt and united; we were all one with Blur. Damon Albarn got down on his knees and started crying whilst thanking the crowd. I love when acts genuinely thank their fans, I can’t stand when people are like “yeah whatever, see you later I’m a rock star” and run off. You wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for the people on the floor.
Do you think Australia is a good place for a solo artist to launch a music career in comparison to England?
The more I think about it the more I realize that it is. Originally my plan was to leave Australia as soon as I hit 20 and try my luck in England, as many Aussie artists have done, because it is technically the place to be; with a bigger, buzzing music scene and more enthusiasm. But I think I’d rather be a big fish in a small bowl than a small fish in a big bowl. I’d like to establish a name, a fan base and more confidence for myself here first and then take it over to England so I’ll have more of a presence.
How did you get recognized and signed by Quarterpipe Records?
It was through an interview I did with local newspaper The Leader after the release of my EP AuthenTrickery (Sept 1st 2010) and also the EP launch I had at the Brass Monkey in Cronulla. Quarterpipe Records liked my style so they offered me a digital distribution deal, which has turned out really well as you can buy my songs on MySpace now.
Are you content with an independent label signing or would you eventually prefer to be signed to a major label?
I think that independent labels are definitely the way to go and I want to do as much as I can independently before I get anyone major on board because the more people and the more money involved the more complicated it gets. At the same time though, I feel the idea of “indie” itself today has become commercialized and almost inexistent. But I stick by saying that I would never like to become sold out by a major label and would like to retain the authenticity and genuineness that I have as an artist.
What was it like working with producer Cameron Potts from Dead Letter Chorus on your EP?
Great! Cameron did such a great job and had many so many ideas, like adding in the electric, synthy drums to the track “Alice in Wonderland” to give it an 80s feel. It’s really important to find a producer with whom you can bounce ideas back and forth and work well with. If Cameron and I hadn’t been on that same wavelength we wouldn’t have been able to create what we did.
Is “Alice In Wonderland” your personal favourite track off AuthenTrickery?
Definitely! It really encompasses what I’m about with the whole fairytale theme. Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland story has always resonated throughout my childhood and my life so far. I love the way you can view it from so many perspectives; whilst there is vibrant childlike elements there are also dark and adolescent themes that come through.
Are you constantly writing new material for the debut album?
To be honest I often have to stop myself from writing so much. I already have enough material for a complete album but I’m going to hold off recording it whilst I do this tour and promote AuthenTrickery. I’ll be showcasing some new material at my upcoming shows though.
Any ideas for an album title?
I’m thinking of calling it “I, Spider”. I’m fascinated with the power and fear a small spider can wield over a big human. For the album cover I’d imagine me kneeling down with a top hat and a crazy outfit on holding a red back in my palm (obviously it’d be photoshopped otherwise I’ll end up killing myself) but I’ll be staring at it and the reflection in my eye would be of the spider.
You can witness Sophie Hanlon casting her live magic over audiences on her upcoming tour in February 2011. See tour dates below and click to buy your tickets!
Check out Sophie’s MySpace page here!