16th Annual Artist Survey: Sophie Auster | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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16th Annual Artist Survey: Sophie Auster

Auster on #MeToo, Childhood Birthday Parties and Vacations, and Climate Change

Mar 27, 2019 Web Exclusive
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For Under the Radar's 16th Annual Artist Survey we emailed some of our favorite artists a few questions relating to the last year, plus some fun personal questions. We asked them about their favorite albums of the year and their thoughts on various notable 2018 news stories involving either the music industry or world events, as well as some quirkier personal questions. Here are some answers from Sophie Auster.

Auster is a New York-based singer/songwriter and also the daughter of authors Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt. Her new album, Next Time, is due out April 12 via BMG.

For our annual Artist Survey we emailed the same set of questions to musicians about the midterm elections, the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh, Kanye West visiting the White House, the #MeToo movement a year later, mental health conditions in the music industry, whether or not they have Flossed, childhood birthday parties and vacations, which Muppets character they are most like, whether or not they are going to The Good Place after death, and much more.

Top 10 Albums of 2018

1. Aaron Lee Tasjan: Karma for CheapThis album has the classic rock roots that I love, combining flavors of Bowie, McCartney, and Elton John, while being kissed with pop pixie dust.
2. Janelle Monáe: Dirty ComputerThis album is full of surprises including Brian Wilson guesting on the title track to contribute his signature Beach Boy harmonies. I also love how unapologetically feminist and outspoken she is.
3. Brandi Carlile: By the Way, I Forgive YouA beautiful country-pop album about being a mother and a woman today. Her lyrics are very personal and cutting.
4. Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats: Tearing at the SeamsThis album is rooted in the soul music I grew up idolizing. The album wears its influences proudly, taking cues from soul legends like Otis Redding and the soul inspired rock of Leon Russell.
5. Kamasi Washington: Heaven and EarthI like that this album feels utterly familiar yet new. I think that is an amazing balance to strike for any musician and composer.
6. Blood Orange: Negro SwanDev is a friend of mine and he never ceases to impress me with his dogged work and collaborations. He brings the pop of Prince up to date and does something original and fresh with his writing and arrangements.
7. Adrianne Lenker: AbysskissThis album reminds me a lot of Molly Drake's album from the 1950s that she made in the family home. Molly was Nick's mother and her self-titled album is utterly haunting. Abysskiss has an equally haunting tone. Not to mention how similar Lenker and Drake's voices are.
8. Arctic Monkeys: Tranquility Base Hotel & CasinoI've listened to Arctic Monkeys for years and I really love the arrangements and lyrics on this album. The whole album reeks of booze and sex and I really like it.
9. Jeff Tweedy: WarmTweedy's side project from Wilco revealed a more intimate side to the singer/songwriter. It reminds me of what Jackson C. Frank might sound like in 2018.
10. Mitski: Be the CowboyThis album feels like St. Vincent and Björk had a baby. A very pleasing pop combination.

What was the highlight of 2018 for either you personally or the band? What was the low point?

I think the highlight of 2018 was signing my record and publishing contracts with BMG and knowing that my album had found a home and would be coming out into the world with support. The low point of 2018 was realizing how much social media work I have to do!

What are your thoughts on how the U.S. midterm elections have played out? What do you think the results mean for the Democrats' chances of taking back the White House in 2020?

If 2018 has taught us anything it's that there is a lot of tough work ahead. I was on the ground canvassing during the midterm elections and it was dogged work. We have a big challenge ahead of us in Alabama which leans 27 points more Republican than the rest of the country. I know that the GOP will be working to see if they can sway states partisan lean. If they do, then it will be nearly impossible for the Democrats to win the majority. But I have hope and I was encouraged by the work we did during the midterms. Fingers crossed.

Despite compelling testimony from Christine Blasey Ford and sexual assault allegations from other women, Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in a Supreme Court Justice and many Republican women didn't believe Ford's story. What does this tell you about the general state of the #MeToo movement in 2018? 

This tells me that we have a long, hard, road to go. When the leader of the country is not only a misogynist, but also sexual abuser of women, there is an insidious effect on the powerful men who surround him. People are still brushing abuse under the rug, but I think that the #MeToo movement has given men and women a platform to speak on and I think it continues to be a powerful movement that will continue to grow.

A year after the #MeToo movement, do you feel things have gotten better or worse in terms of issues of sexual harassment, sexual assault, and misogyny in the music industry?

I think progress has definitely been made. The movement has shed light on years of misconduct and abuse of power. I think the main triumph of this movement is that people are starting to wake up and realize that this kind of outrageous misconduct has serious repercussions.

Be honest, did you Floss in 2018? (Meaning the dance craze, not the dental care.)

Not once.

Which Muppets character are you most like and why?

Kermit the Frog. Because, it's not easy being green.

Are you less of a fan of Kanye West now that he's visited the White House and has in other ways supported President Trump?

Yes. I think Kanye needs to wake up and use his platform in a more constructive way.

Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit tragically took his own life this year. What should be done to improve mental health conditions for musicians?

This is a very tricky question since it's hard to know the individual circumstances and the diagnosis of Scott Hutchison, although I know he battled with depression. I think often people in the public eye are not taken care of properly because their livelihood depends on exhaustively touring and promoting their songs. I think it is vital for any performer to have people around them that have their best interest at heart and don't just see them as a moneymaker. 

In 2018 there were more dire predictions about climate change and we witnessed some of its likely effects firsthand with various deadly storms and forest fires. What should touring musicians be doing to better offset their carbon footprint? How bad do you think it needs to get for governments and corporations to take stronger actions to fight climate change?

To reduce your carbon footprint on the road, musicians can choose to tour in an electric or hybrid vehicle. They can also try and reduce garbage on the road by not using plastics and being careful when they dispose of trash. They can also try and be careful with how much water they are using. Governments and corporations will have to come up with tax schemes to generate new revenue for investment in and incentives for renewable energy, replanting trees, and carbon removal technologies. And we need to have people in power who are for these innovations.

Are you ready for artificial intelligence and a more automated future? Some predict that it may come sooner than we think and will lead to massive job losses.

I think like any technological innovations, we have to be prepared to think about job losses and how to prepare to replace them with new ones. But I do think that for entire job markets to shift takes a long time.

What's your favorite birthday party memory from childhood?

When my parents hired a magician for my seventh birthday. He made me levitate.

What was your favorite family vacation as a kid? What was your least favorite? 

My favorite family vacations were in Brattleboro, Vermont. I was completely free and had a lovely young woman who took care of me named Billy Joe. Since my family never took a lot of vacations, I don't think of a least favorite.

What's been your most surreal experience in the music industry?

When I met Garland Jeffreys. I grew up listening to him and he became a hero of mine. He then showed up at my Joe's Pub show a couple years ago. I freaked out!

When you die, do you think you're going to the Good Place or the Bad Place?

Definitely the Good Place.

What's the best advice you've gotten from an older or more experienced musician and what's the best advice you've given to a younger or less experienced musician?

"Embrace the weird." Barry Reynolds told me that when we were writing together. I took it to heart and I have embraced what makes me quirky and unique. I think the best advice I've gotten from a less experienced musician would have to be "Keep doing what you're doing." Simple, yet very encouraging.

In the Trump era do you feel that it's a responsibility to make political music and/or speak out about political issues or do you think it's better to provide your listeners an escape from the never-ending bad news feed?

I think that is a question of personal taste and whether or not you, as an artist, find the political climate inspiring. I have recently written a song about Trump, so I guess that answers the question!

If you were to have a hip-hop side-project, what would your rapper name be?

Lil Super.

Who from your youth (such as a former bully, an unrequited love) do you most hope pays attention to the fact that you're now a successful musician?

All the mean middle school girls who teased me!

www.sophieaustermusic.com

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