“Being a loser in Europe is easier than being a loser in America”

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Sophia kennedy was five when she moved from Baltimore, Maryland, to a small village near Göttingen in central Germany. Her mother had always wanted to raise her three children outside of the United States, and when she married a German, that decision made sense. Kennedy and his brothers had agreed to continue speaking English at home in order to maintain their sense of American identity; once they started kindergarten, their young “soft” brains quickly learned German. “The other kids would get mad at me if I spoke English because they thought I spoke badly of them,” Kennedy said, “so I always had that guilty feeling when I spoke English.”

Now 31, Kennedy has forged a career singing in her native language – and there is no more guilt. His self-titled debut album of 2017 was a hit in Germany, and his mind-blowing, piano-heavy songs were played on the radio and used in movies there. The record marked a positive Pitchfork see again and some features (“Sophia Kennedy made the best pop album you’ve probably never heard of” published a title in the Cut), but otherwise remained very little known in the English-speaking world. This has distorted Kennedy’s sense of identity somewhat because she feels her music is more American than German, she said during a video call from the Hamburg apartment she shares with her partner – although she doesn’t necessarily feel German or American: “I just think I’m a person with a certain history, of being born somewhere and then moving somewhere else.

This sense of confidence in one’s own movement – of not being afraid to stay outside the box – is apparent in Kennedy’s music, which is a totally idiosyncratic mix of dance and alt-pop. His debut album was an unlikely release on DJ Koze and Marcus Fink’s Pampa Records, a label better known for house and techno than pop on the piano. However, his bizarre lyrics, which combined a childish simplicity (“Build me a house”) and a disturbing concern for the realities of modern life (“Be special”), suggested that it was never going to be an obvious solution anywhere. His second record, Monsters, which will be released on May 7 on independent Berlin label City Slang, is equally haunting. Kennedy for the most part left the piano behind, turning instead to a cheeky synth production, but his lyrics bolster his status as an outsider: “Our mothers are crazy / Because their mothers are crazy / Our fathers are crazy / Because their fathers are crazy, ”she sings casually on“ Loop ”.

Kennedy wrote one of the new songs, “I’m looking up”, after her father died of cancer in 2019. “I tried to write a song not necessarily about him, but about how to deal with death in a psychedelic way,” she said . After a slow build, a synthetic rocket goes off – then the runway breaks down and, over and over again, Kennedy sings, “Please give me a sign /Ich bin so allein“(” I’m so lonely. “) The riff is a touching and subtle indicator of Kennedy’s relationship with his father – who remained in the United States after the family moved to Germany – both physically and linguistically: the rhyme is formed from two different languages, but it is close and tight.

Kennedy moved to Hamburg for college and found minds related to Golden Pudel, a small club known for its’ 90s hip-hop scene that was, by the time Kennedy arrived there, the best techno in town. She was fascinated by the hypnotic qualities of electronics and their seeming infinity. “Club music has a function: it has to be played at night, and it’s a special thing,” she said. “Club culture is a very European way of coming together.” The purpose of electronica would also talk about Kennedy’s work as a theater composer, his main job until the release of his debut. In the theater, “if the actress needs to sing,” she says, “then you have to compose a song. But that’s not all: it’s also about what lies beneath the stage and how it can support a certain atmosphere. The idea that music can be functional – used to tell a story or evoke a mood – lives on in Kennedy’s solo work.

And while the sounds of Hamburg became an important influence on the music of Kennedy, living in Europe also was imperative for his development as an artist. “Being a loser in Europe is easier than being a loser in America,” she said. She means “loser” in the German sense, she says – the Germans use the same word, but maybe it’s a little softer. “I’m not saying that every artist is a loser, but you have to have this time to develop as an artist. Doing this includes failure. You have to develop yourself, and I think in America it’s all about the money and where your family is from. It’s more difficult there and there is more competition.

It took a long time for Kennedy to get to know his singing style and, at first, being in the studio “was like being in a lab.” Her voice is rich, which she describes as “singing” at times, and rap at others. That his voice is bold when his words are vulnerable is not, for Kennedy, a contradiction: “Be sure of himself and be insecure – they don’t have to be the opposite of each other.” I want to trust things that I don’t trust. I wanted to have this powerful, confident tool, and use it to say something uncomfortable. ”

That his tone is sincere while his words can be playful, and at times downright absurd, is also no conflict for Kennedy – as both elements are attempts to establish the truth, in their own way. “You can sit down and write a song about strawberries and that’s great,” she says. “You don’t have to write a song about your relationship with your dead uncle. I think you can deepen yourself by writing a song about strawberries. I also think you can write a song about strawberries, but actually, you write about your dead uncle.

“Monsters” releases on City Slang on May 7th



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