Seeing Faces (2008)
Night Shift (October 2010)
We chat with Sarah K Panton and Derek Schuurman, two members of the international, experimental collective Soki2u on the release of the 3rd Soki2u EP, ‘Night Shift’
Hi, how are you?
DS: Hugely relieved after receiving a fantastic review on Indie-Music.com for our October 2010 EP, “Night Shift” last week (4th November).
Would you mind introducing yourselves and telling us what instruments you play?
Sarah K Panton, singer/songwriter (SKP for interview purpose) and Derek Schuurman, keyboardist/songwriter/singer (DS for interview purpose)
How long has the current band line up been together?
DS: We started in 2006 as a fluid collective of solo, independent, unsigned musicians, of various nationalities and based in a number of different countries.
SKP: I guess since 2006. This is a new incarnation for me. It’s Sarah K Panton part II. My current material is the result of working with a number of different artists.
How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t yet heard you?
DS: Certainly eclectic. Many different genres come into the melting pot that is Soki2u’s output. Perhaps Indie-Music.com - among others - described it most aptly in their review of our 2007 EP ‘Vortex’ as sounding ‘something like the soundtrack to a David Lynch B-movie’, probably a reference to the mixture of dark, forboding songs and far lighter tracks some almost with a jazzy edge to them.
SKP: Every artist I work with brings something different to the party. My work spans a number of genres - from smoky jazz to left-field electronica and alternative rock.
What have you been up to recently?
DS: We’ve just finished an 11-track EP called ‘Night Shift’, which features many, but not all, of the musicians who were on our 2008 EP, ‘Seeing Faces’
Night Shift is far shorter though - a semi-conceptual collection of tracks, just over 39 minutes. Sarah K Panton opens and closes the EP with tracks co-written with Nigel Homer and has another in the middle of the album; Mart Giebner did the title track and a second track with respected poet Inua Ellams reciting a moving poem over Mart’s instrumental acoustic guitar song ‘Third Cup of Coffee’; I contributed a dance club remix by NYC-based producer The Invisible Kid of my originally ambient track ‘Complicated Lust Life’ and a conceptual two-part song with Charl Jean Bouwer called ‘The Story of a Soldier’; the talented South Korean musician Burn did one of the album’s most popular tracks, a grungy Alternative rock song called ‘Dusty Bird’ and she also did a moving instrumental ‘Cold Wind’. Parisian soundtrack composer and our webmaster David Floc’hlay did the very Lynchian ‘Elephant Serenade’, and finally, popular UK musician InstinctiveXpression (Caleb Cox) contributed a Dub Mix of his track ‘Turn To Space’, also regarded by many as a highlight of the EP.
What can your fans look forward to in the next 12 months?
SKP: loads of new sounds
How did you meet each other?
DS: I met South Korean guitatist/singer/producer Burn when she was busking in London about 8 years ago, well before Soki2u was formed. We then lost touch so I placed an ad a few years later on the London-South Korean Society website, and in early 2009 she called me up which was awesome. Guitarist/singer Charl Jean Bouwer was my god-daughter’s brother-in-law for six years so it’s almost like a family connection. I met guitarist/singer Mart Giebner after seeing a few of his gigs at the Virtual Acoustic Club in north London and was so impressed not just by the depth of his material but by the way Mart relates to his audience. His niceness always wins them over and he inevitably gets the most raucous applause. David Floc’hlay and I met on Myspace, because of a very strong and long-standing common interest in the work of David Lynch. We later met up in Paris which was great. When I was looking for more female vocalists, I saw singer/songwriter Sarah K Panton’s advertisement on the Bandmix website, and she sent some demos over on MP3 which I thought were brilliant.
How did you come up with your name for the band?
DS: The name came up as a joke originally – ‘Soki2u’ is a sentence crammed into one word i.e. ‘sock it to you’ or ‘calling a spade a spade’. We first had the name ‘Northern Lights’ and even started a Myspace page under that name, but the same afternoon, I discovered to my horror that there was another collective in the UK which already had that name, so we had to come up with something else immediately...
Sarah K Panton
Did you always want to be in a band?
DS: No – bands are much too intense - it’s almost like being in a marriage. Rather than being a band, I’d say Soki2u is a fluid collective of independent, solo musicians: each is involved in other projects and most of us have full time jobs and/or are studying. Currently only 4 of us – Sarah Panton, Ran Wang, InstinctiveXpression and I – are based in London. The rest are scattered around the globe in France, South Africa, Australia and South Korea.
SKP: No I always wanted to be a singer, but ended up being in bands.
What music did you listen to while growing up?
SKP: Donny Osmond, Jimi Hendrix, Abba, Pink Floyd, George Michael, Kate Bush.
How long have you played your instruments?
SKP: started singing at about four years old.
What were your first music making experiences?
SKP: I went on a trip to London at about twelve years of age and they used to have booths on Railway platforms where you could make your own floppy record, so my big sister, a friend and I went into the booth and screamed for one minute.
Are you self-taught or did you have lessons?
SKP: self taught
What is your current equipment?
SKP: Garage Band
If you had an unlimited equipment budget what would be on your shopping list?
SKP: I would have the best recording studio in the world including a top producer, engineers, superb musicians and a chef
Do you use the same equipment live as you do when in a studio?
SKP: no, I’d probably use the in- house microphone
Do you have a set routine when writing and recording or does it depend on each track and the inspiration?
DS: Sometimes I will write a few songs in a brief period of time, and then for years, nothing. Music usually comes first, along with a vague idea of what the lyrics are about – the lyrics and the feeling of the song is usually sparked off by some event. Sometimes I can do a piece of music and record it, and then only years later write lyrics for it.
SKP: I have used the same working method on all three of my tracks on this album: I ask the musicians (in this case Nigel Homer and James Pickering) to send me short pieces of music – something to spark my imagination. I prefer pieces that don’t include obvious verse and chorus changes because I find that very restricting - sometimes the more left-field the music, the easier I find it to work with. I then set my computer to ‘record’, totally immerse myself in the sound and let the song take me to where it wants to go. I never write lyrics beforehand - both the words and the melody are totally improvised. The melody lines flow naturally – it’s a very organic process. I love working this way: it’s so exciting to see what emerges from within. I often find that my lyrics issue from some deeply hidden truth that I would normally consciously avoid speaking about.
Which software/recording process do you use?
SKP: Garage Band
DS: We used Reason for many of the tracks, certainly mine, Charl Jean Bouwer’s, Ran Wang’s and Mart Giebner’s title track.
Would you sign with a major record company?
SKP: certainly I would if the offer, in my opinion, was a reasonable one.
Do you have any new recordings planned?
SKP: yes I am working on a few projects at the moment.
How much involvement do you have with the arranging and production of the songs when recording?
DS: For the first two albums we had full control. There is a noticeable difference in quality between Vortex (2007) and Seeing Faces (2008), yet Vortex – which was nowhere near as clear and crisp in quality – drew generally better reviews in terms of production quality...
For Night Shift we outsourced the EP to Faustuss International, where the tracks were re-mastered by Arthur Rathbone Pullen, who has a BBC documentary soundtrack under his belt. A reason for this was to experiment in terms of working with engineers who we didn’t know from before – and who would therefore view the material from the different musicians – recorded on a variety of different programs/equipment - completely objectively, and re-master all those tracks through the same equipment.
The objectivity aspect was one advantage, but while file- sharing on the internet has forever changed the music industry, I feel that if we ever do further recordings, an engineer re-mastering tracks for such a widely scattered and divergent collective’s EP, would need to be based in London, where a few of us currently live. This is so that we could physically sit with them if need be, and listen to tracks acoustically and with headphones, and perhaps guide them to an extent – which is how I am used to working.
Is the production side of things something you’d like to get involved more in the future, maybe working with other artists?
Sarah K Panton works with various artists – for her contributions on Night Shift she co-wrote two songs with Nigel Homer and one with James Pickering. Mart Giebner occasionally collaborates with other artists, such as Inua Ellams on the track ‘Third Cup of Coffee’. I collaborated with NYC-based producer and musician Daniel Lee/The Invisible Kid for the club remix of ‘Complicated Lust Life’. Generally however most of us write, arrange, play all the parts and record our own songs independently but they are mastered collectively.
Charl Jean Bouwer
Do you find the process of recording enjoyable and does it get easier the more you do?
SKP: yes I do enjoy the recording experience although, because of the way I work, it can bring out some uncomfortable feelings at times.
DS: I love it. A few of us, myself and David Floc’hlay in particular, are studio-based. Others such as Mart Giebner and Ran Wang are completely at home on the stage in their solo capacity. When we recorded the ‘singer-songwriter’ style tracks of musicians such as Mart Giebner and Charl Jean Bouwer, we could sometimes easily get three songs down in a day. Others, like David and I, may labour for months one of our tracks, because of multi- layered, complicated arrangements including sound effects, etc.
Do you try to capture your ‘live’ sound on recordings or do you think that the ‘live’ sound and recorded sound should be different experiences for your fans?
DS: It depends on the song completely: you can have – as we have done in some cases – completely different mixes or variations of some of the more complicated songs. The acoustic singer-songwriter pieces, like those by Mart Giebner and Charl Jean Bouwer, easily translate onto stage. Others, like some of my own, would be very difficult to replicate live because the arrangements can be so layered and filled with special effects.
Do you any favourite tracks from your album?
DS: Everyone has their personal favourites. It’s impossible to choose, since I made the selection, with input from David Floc’hlay and Sarah Panton. Sarah’s favourite for instance, is Mart’s title track, ‘Night Shift’, while I would say mine is Burn’s ‘Dusty Bird’, which would otherwise have been the title track. But interestingly, everyone I have given copies of the EP to has selected different favourites. A friend of mine who has always been supportive of the work of Soki2u, Paddy Bush – a brilliant producer, professional music critic, musicologist, instrument maker, musician (and also brother of Kate Bush), sent me two extremely upbeat emails enthusing about the closing track of the EP, Sarah K Panton’s ‘When Its Over’. The bulk of his compliments pertained to Sarah’s vocal work and ‘non American accent’, but he also enjoyed the subtle and intelligent instrumental arrangement by Nigel Homer, particularly the percussion, which is not at all overbearing, just gentle and easy-going.
Who are the main songwriters for the band?
DS: Each person writes, arranges and performs his or her own songs and records them independently. For our ‘Night Shift’ EP the songwriters are Sarah K Panton, Mart Giebner, Charl Jean Bouwer, David Floc’hlay, InstinctiveXpression, Burn and myself. So, 7 in total. Guest collaborators are Inua Ellams, Nigel Homer, James Pickering and Daniel Lee/The Invisible Kid.
Do you have a method for writing songs?
SKP: music, then improvised vocal, then lyrics
DS: Usually music first, but it can be the other way around. Sometimes both in the same week, at other times it may take years for a song to be developed. I know Mart Giebner for instance, took almost 15 years to finally complete his song ‘Night Shift’.
Do you write songs only about personal experiences?
SKP: Sort of
DS: Yes, but sometimes there are broader issues woven into a piece which may have been sparked off by a personal experience.
Do you find song writing easy or difficult?
SKP: sometimes it’s easy when I’m in a good space, and at other times it can be pretty painful
Is there anyone who you would like to collaborate with on writing songs or performing?
SKP: Mark Ronson
Who are your favourite songwriters?
SKP: Kate Bush
DS: Elliott Smith, Kate and Paddy Bush, The Radio Dept, Martin Grech, Pink Floyd, Sigur Ros, Angelo Badalamenti.
Which countries have you gigged in?
SKP: UK and America
DS: On Friday 22 October Mart Giebner did a live performance of Night Shift and promoted the EP on an Australian radio station. He has gigged in the UK extensively as well as in Australia.
Which countries would be at the top of your list to tour?
SKP: France (I think they might like me)
Who would you like to tour with?
How do you promote your music and get your music out to new fans?
SKP: Internet and Soki2u
DS: via internet music sites, music magazines (notably Indie Music.com), Youtube and various radio stations.
Do you use any websites like ‘Reverbnation’ or ‘Soundclick’?
DS: Yes, but apart from having a page on those sites we haven’t done any marketing with them or rather, we have not yet utilized their services at all. It comes down to time being a huge hand-brake for most of us.
Do you think such sites and the internet are good tools for independent and unsigned artists?
DS: Well, making the internet work for you is the only way forward nowadays, isn’t it? I was saying to Sarah earlier that I read a recent quote from Stevie Nicks where she spoke about how the internet has ‘killed the music industry’, and that while she is financially sound – as are many other similarly- established musicians – she fears for musicians who have not yet had a breakthrough. It’s common knowledge that many of the big record companies are in trouble...I’ve heard it from people I know at the top of such companies.
With all the various websites out there for independent and unsigned artists, is there still something that is missing from them that you think would benefit the lesser-known artists?
DS: I’ve seen these websites come and go within the short time Soki2u has existed. Take Bands Unsigned UK run by Phil Greenwood, for example: it was the UK’s biggest site for unsigned musicians, and we had 4 songs reach No 1 on their Top 30, and they also gave Soki2u their only ever ‘Platinum Award of Excellence’, for our conceptual 2007 album Vortex. They gave us the most fantastic reviews for our albums and singles. Suddenly the site vanished, then briefly resurfaced, only to vanish again. It’s a real shame. Myspace, in the opinion of many, has ‘had its heyday’, so it’s a difficult question to answer.
Perhaps it should be answered with a question posed by Sarah’s partner Christian Audas, who co-wrote her tracks which featured on the ‘Seeing Faces’ EP: ‘How does one get out of the great miasma of unsigned music – a lot of which is fantastic – and then get that breakthrough?’.
How do you relax?
SKP: go to the Heath
DS: Spend time chilling out with friends.
Have you ever entered any ‘battle of the bands’ competitions?
DS: No – Bands Unsigned UK tried hard to push us to do it but I always refused. I didn’t want to go up against other acts in a competition like that, even though Phil Greenwood felt we stood a strong chance.
What are your day jobs if you have them?
DS: I work in specialist nature-based travel as well as guidebook writing and environmental (forest conservation) campaigns; Mart Giebner is a male nurse usually doing night shift work (hence the song!); Charl Jean Bouwer has started at entry level doing draughts work while he studies architecture; David works in IT and Project Management in Paris and Ran Wang works for a company doing translation work as she is fluent in Chinese and Japanese.
Would you like to be full time working musicians or are you happy with things as they are?
DS: Of course!
Has your music been used on any film soundtracks?
DS: Yes. All David Floc’hlay’s work is used on the soundtracks of his brother Stephane’s, which are dark, Lynchian-type short films made in France. They used one of my tracks, ‘A Circle of Sorrow’ from the ‘Seeing Faces’ EP, on the soundtrack of their film Cissenar, and David’s ‘Elephant Serenade’ on our 2010 EP ‘Night Shift’, is the main track on the same short film.
Is it something you’d like to get involved in if the opportunity came along?
DS: Absolutely – there is more money in soundtracks than any other field of music as far as I am aware. However we’ve also dabbled in the kind of music which is the least rewarding, financially, i.e. dance club remixes – an example being the track Complicated Lust Life, which was originally a 3 minute ambient track but which was taken apart and remixed by NYC-based musician/producer Daniel Lee aka The Invisible Kid, into a stomping 5-minute club mix which stayed at No 1 on the Dancefix Top 50 for six months in 2009 and two months in 2010.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
Yes – you can visit our website www.soki2u.com on which you can hear our new EP Night Shift, as well as see our Youtube clips, Indie-Music reviews and more...We’d love to hear from you, and are also grateful to Somojo for the support during the last year.