Sophie Hutchings is guided by her instincts. As a young woman, immersed in a highly musical Sydney household, she bided her time, absorbing the music and art of her father and brothers, but herself refusing to play her own ruminative piano compositions beyond the safety of her bedroom.
When her own innate talent finally got the better of her, Sophie came to an uncomfortable truce with the practicalities of professional music making, sacrificing her solitude for the performance stage and recording studio.
Sophie’s latest album, Scattered On The Wind (Mercury KX), is perhaps reminiscent of her own trek across the Thar Desert. It’s an elegant, transcendent meditation on surrendering to the unknown.
ZoneOut presents Sophie Hutchings in her own words.
Growing up I was probably the most gregarious member out of a big household of kids. My father was a professional musician, and he used to have rehearsals at our place. My brothers also loved to play. We had a massive music room where they would have all their school friends over and play. The house was a noisy cacophony of music.
I grew up being very influenced by my older brothers. One of my brothers was in art school. My other brother was doing photography, and they were both really into the indie rock scene. So it was either really noisy indie rock from my brothers, or blaring jazz from my dad. But I always, always gravitated towards instrumental music.
It’s funny, I was in all the school plays, always the front lead role at school drama, incredible class clown, not afraid of the camera. But I was so incredibly shy to play music. You could not get me to play music in a pink fit. Never. I said, ‘No, no, no, no’. Wouldn’t play with the family. Wouldn’t perform in front of anyone. Just terrified. Just refused to do it.
I was just writing music in my bedroom, not playing in front of anyone. And then I accidentally fell into what I’m doing now, and I had to force myself to be okay with being on stage. I had to really fight that urge to run off the stage for a long time. It was really hard.
PAINT ON A CANVAS
When I compose, it’s an indulgent process, I guess, because I find that part the most natural and the easiest. I feel like I’m not even almost aware of what I’m doing. So there’s this sense of purity and freedom. The first stage when I’m writing is that kind of natural, visceral kind of composing, where the process almost takes control of you.
Then the second stage – which I’ve learned is the hardest for me – is the disciplinary stage. You start thinking of arrangements, and structure, and what direction you’re going to go in. And then the really practical part, putting the arrangements together, working with a team of musicians. And that’s the part I’ve had to work really hard on.
I know a lot of people talk about music being mathematical, but I don’t relate to that at all. For me, writing music is like being an artist who just splashes abstract paint on a canvas. I never have this grandiose plan. It’s just a blank piece of canvas and it’s just go for it and let’s just see what happens. I’ve tried to work other ways and it doesn’t happen.
ARE YOU HAPPY? ARE YOU HUNGRY?
I wrote all the string parts and vocals on Scattered In The Wind in less than two days. I’ve spent so much time working with [cellist] Peter Hollo and [violinist] Jay Kong, that I was very much writing their parts from their point of view. They have very unique styles, Jay and Peter. As soon as Peter starts playing a note I feel like I know what he’s going to do next
And because they’ve offered so much of their time, I like to give them a little bit of freedom here and there. I’m always asking, ‘Are you okay with that part?’.
It’s different when I work with session musicians. There it’s more like ‘There’s the score. This is what you’ve got to do’. But I still get a bit motherly, ‘Are you okay? Are you happy? Are you hungry?’.
I’m obsessed with ambient, repetitive music. It’s soothing, it’s comforting, it’s engaging, but it’s also not demanding. It just taps into an area of emotion with people that other music doesn’t.
It’s also taken me back in time. There’s this really amazing documentary called Latcho Drom. It’s about the origins of music, how music has traveled. It starts in the Thar Desert in India (which I trekked through), goes up into Afghanistan and Romania, and ends up in Spain. The film has no talking whatsoever, it’s just all music and following the landscapes. That film had a really huge impact on me.
Follow Sophie Hutchings at www.sophiehutchings.com