Sofie Royer


Once upon a time we asked Sweden’s self-proclaimed national bard and watered-down sad clown Elis Monteverde Burrau if he could talk to the Pierrot of modern day Vienna, renaissance artist and pop music phenomena Sofie Royer and the rest is not history, but some kind of cautionary tale… 

Nuda’s Nora starts the Zoom meeting five minutes late and we talk about food poisoning in Paris, we talk about fever, a lot of people got food poisoning (and fever) in Paris. Nora leaves the meeting. Behind Sofie Royer I can see a piano and a bookshelf. In the bookshelf I can see… yes, it’s true, I can see some books. I can also see a crucifix, and a lot of small things that I can’t describe any better than that they look like really nice, well arranged, small things of huge ritual meaning. Behind me you can see a painting of my tiny family (three is a magic number) made by Swedish artist Amanda Hellsten, and a portrait of a spooky, Tim Burton-esque little girl that my wife found in a shitty thrift store. It’s made by unknown. I wear a blue Yung Lean merchandise shirt, Sofie Royer wears a brown, classy blouse. I think it’s called a blouse. I don’t know.     

ELIS: Hello Sofie.

SOFIE: Hey, how’s it going?

ELIS: It’s been a chaotic weekend, my daughter has been sick, and I was at this pathetic party last night for Swedish “cultural celebrities”, so I’m a bit hungover and delusional, but my daughter’s fine now, and I’m quite fine.

SOFIE: I’m glad to hear it’s okay.

ELIS: How are you feeling? Nice to meet you, my name is Elis, by the way.

SOFIE: Likewise. I’m good, I’ve been back in Vienna for a few days… 

ELIS: I’m sorry I just have to block out the sun here.

I leave my computer for my window. I block out the sun.

SOFIE: Oh yeah, sure. No worries.

ELIS: Spring came to Sweden the last day, then it was snowing all night, but now the sun’s back, it’s really beautiful. 

SOFIE: Ah, crazy, it’s been really hot here in Vienna. I mean warm, it’s fucking February.

ELIS: It’s quite hard, reading about you online, to know where you’re situated and stuff.

SOFIE: I live in Vienna; I’ve been living in my apartment for five years now. I mostly split my time between Paris and Vienna, that’s it. There’s nothing else. I used to live in Los Angeles like six years ago, and before that I lived in London and New York, and then Los Angeles again, so I moved around a lot. I was born in Palo Alto which is like northern California. My father is Iranian, my mother is Austrian, and they had to move back and forth because they had job difficulties, you know, green card… they’re not American citizens, you know, it was always very volatile, sometimes their green card was fine, sometimes it wasn’t, sometimes they had a better paying job in Europe, you know… I’ve like bounced around a lot, actually this apartment is the longest I’ve been in one space. Even if I lived in the same city I would have to move. So, this is really nice for me. Laughs. Really ideal.   

ELIS: Sounds nice. Is it expensive to live in Vienna?

SOFIE: Not so much honestly, especially not compared to Paris.

ELIS: Paris is really expensive.

SOFIE: Berlin is also expensive, everybody says that Berlin is cheap but it used to be, it’s not anymore… but also, I want to say “Vienna is ridiculously expensive, don’t move here”. Laughs. I don’t want it to be a cultural capital of any sort…

ELIS: Yeah, don’t move there!

SOFIE: It sucks! It’s boring. Laughs.

ELIS: I’m going to accentuate that in this text. Don’t move to Vienna. I was there once, actually, maybe 24 hours, with my ex-girlfriend, we did a short stop on an Interrail trip-thing. It felt like you had to go there. It was a crazy experience… we went to a museum where they have all the Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele stuff…

SOFIE: Yeah, the Leopold Museum.

ELIS: …it was nice. And then we went to drink beer and we met this American man who was dressed as Santa Claus. I don’t know if he’s still there? He said he was a legend in Vienna, he had the Guinness World Record in hitchhiking, I think, and he wanted to take us to this Marxist buffet where you could pay as…

SOFIE: As much as you want, yeah.

ELIS: That exists?

SOFIE: Yeah, Deewan. Laughs.

ELIS: Because it felt like he was tricking us into some kind of horror movie situation, so that’s nice to hear. But yeah, I know nothing about Vienna. How’s the contemporary culture?

SOFIE: It’s really hard to place because… it’s not necessarily a capitalist center of the world. There are reasons why cities like New York or Paris are so affluent because there’s means of production and cultural value there, like in terms of, I don’t know, fashion houses, brands and so forth, and I don’t believe Vienna possesses anything comparable, it’s not driven, at least, by the same kind of technocratic way of operating. There’s no industry in that sense here, which can be frustrating as a creative, as a musician, artist, whatever, but on the other hand I feel like it almost allows a sense of being able to produce things outside of that kind of sphere or pressure, which is why it makes it inherently culturally exciting for me. In comparison to a city like London which in the ten past years since I left it almost has had an unprecedented oversaturation of production of art. Like exhibitions, you know, whatever, I mean, I guess it’s cool, but I feel…

I was looking at Mathieu Maloof’s stories the other day and he was ranting on about how art inherently should be exciting. The whole purpose of art is to be something that excites people, and the problem is the production thereof, he was kind of linking it to Instagram, a highly addictive app, but nothing exciting ever happens on it. It’s super fucking boring, you know? I feel the same way with art, everyone’s excited in a sense that they want to be producing it, they want to be part of it, but the works per se, and the content that’s being delivered is either virtue signaling or super boring… I get excited about stuff that’s been in the past and there’s stuff happening now that I’m excited about, it’s not that there’s nothing, but I think there’s a lot of output, and the quality thereof is not very good. Laughs. I sound like an asshole. It’s not my intention. It’s also a very personal thing you know, everyone has their own opinion about stuff.

It’s super fucking boring, you know? I feel the same way with art

ELIS: I had some prepared questions…

SOFIE: Nobody wants to know what I think about the cultural discourse at the moment, please interrupt me!

ELIS: Maybe they do, maybe they do.

SOFIE: I don’t think that anybody needs my hot take. Laughs.

ELIS: Sweden needs it.

SOFIE: What’s it like in Sweden? I’m curious.

ELIS: Sweden is such a small country in a way, I don’t know, it’s quite boring, but still, it’s exciting at the same time, it’s hard to pinpoint, I just feel so disgusted by being a “poet”, the scene is so small… Yesterday I was at this party, I told you before, that’s why I’m so hungover, but there you have, in the same room, the most famous writers that everybody loves and me, who writes like “pseudo alt lit poems”…

SOFIE: You don’t feel like you compare to them, it’s that what you’re saying?   

ELIS: No, I feel like it’s too easy or something, I feel like Thomas Bernhard or something, I want to kill everybody in that room, but I still need them and their money and their grants and their attention. It’s tricky to age as a poet or artist and still be true to yourself or alternative or whatever when the culture is so small. I don’t know.

SOFIE: Is there a crossover between Sweden and Norway?

ELIS: Not so much. Have you been to Sweden or Norway?

SOFIE: I’ve been to Oslo.

ELIS: Oslo’s really expensive, by the way, but yeah, the thing is like we don’t speak each other’s languages even if we could, we’re so lazy! I can read in Norwegian and Danish but nobody else would do that. And they don’t translate the interesting works.

SOFIE: The only reason I’m asking is because in 2022 I got really obsessed with Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle books. I couldn’t put them down. It was like crack. I was like, “I can’t stop reading!”

ELIS: Did you read all of them? All six books? That’s an amazing effort.

SOFIE: I’m like a sucker for a diaristic style. Marcel Proust, Anaïs Nin, if somebody wrote a diary you best believe I’m reading it! Of course!

ELIS: That’s funny, because I noticed… I follow like a lot of, quote-unquote, “trendy New York people”… and last year everyone was reading Knausgård. I was like, “what is this?” We read those books when they came out and it was this big thing, everybody had an opinion about it, and back then there was another climate in the media, so the “right position”, if you were young and leftist or whatever, was to hate Knausgård, but of course everybody loved him in secret… and now it’s the most common thing. It has no edge, saying that you like Knausgård. A couple of years ago that was edgelord stuff.

SOFIE: I just thought it was really good.

ELIS: They’re great books.

SOFIE: Maybe it was because it was translated recently, that it had a resurgence, I don’t know. But anyway, go ahead, ask me your questions.

ELIS: Well, one of my questions was about your favorite authors and stuff.

SOFIE: Oh my god, I love reading, I just can’t get enough of it. I grew up as an only child that didn’t have a TV, I wasn’t allowed to watch movies, I was also two years younger than everybody else I was in school with, because I skipped kindergarten and then the first grade, so I was wildly unpopular. I was such a huge know-it-all; it was a mess. So, my favorite thing to do was just read, and still, I don’t know, it’s such a constant companion of an activity, I could do it whenever. I used to be such a big fighter against digital books or whatever, but then recently, especially since I’ve been touring, I started using the Kindle app on my phone, and now I’m just, it’s nonstop… It’s bad. 

ELIS: That takes discipline?

SOFIE: No, I can’t help it. There’s nothing forced with reading a book. Literally it’s really addicting to me. I don’t discriminate either, as a teenager it’s not like I was reading highbrow literature, some of my favorite stuff was this American series called Sweet Valley High which is about these two teenage girls, blonde twins living in Sweet Valley, California, and they go to high school, super banal stuff, but it was like a mega series and it was really popular. At every single American garage sale in middle school, I would be able to buy these books, so I read them out of order, which sucked, there’s like hundreds of them. It’s not like I’m just reading perfect intellectual Pierre Bourdieu, Adorno all the time or whatever the fuck. You know?

ELIS: Which books are you reading right now?

SOFIE: One is Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature, which I have to read in German, just for school. Then the other one is Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, a book that I read a long time ago and I was like, “oh my god all that he’s saying in this is so accurate for right now”. Then I read Shampoo Planet by Douglas Coupland, also really good. And then Stephanie LaCava’s I Fear My Pain Interests You.

ELIS: It’s cool that you are reading Douglas Coupland.

SOFIE: He’s one of my favorite authors.

ELIS: He was really big for my parents, in the 90s, of course…

SOFIE: Gen X guy, yeah. 

ELIS: I was so fascinated by those books. I read them really young. They were available. Like mother’s milk or something. Both ironic and…

SOFIE: Yeah, I read them too as a teenager and he was one of the few authors in my library that was contemporary and that… like eight books of his were out. Previously, I don’t know, unless you were a really old author, Salinger, whatever, Fitzgerald, there wasn’t like, you know… there was this system on the school computer in which you could look up different books. If I liked an author I wanted to read more, and usually they had only written one book. Which is also totally okay! Totally fine. Laughs. You’re lazy assholes. 

ELIS: You have to write a lot of books to be a real writer! Maybe we’ll come back to reading later. They have some kind of theme for this issue of Nuda Paper, “Saga”, I believe. This is just to get that into this text or whatever, but I was wondering, because I think that word “saga” has different connotations in our languages… in Swedish “saga” is pretty much the same as “fairytale” or “children’s story”, but the word’s a bit darker in English, no?

It’s not like I’m just reading perfect intellectual Pierre Bourdieu, Adorno all the time or whatever the fuck

SOFIE: The definition I most strongly associate it with is actually from German, “saga”, like old wife’s tales, like myths almost…

ELIS: If I read to my daughter at night, she’s two years old, then I’m like, “now I’m going to read a saga”, there’s nothing heavy about it, it’s a very childish word. Do you ever think of your songs in terms of sagas? Or stories?

SOFIE: Yeah, ultimately, I guess that also draws back to the point we were saying about reading or enjoying stories or whatever, like why do we enjoy stories so much? It’s because it proves either as an escape from reality or it’s a way of being able to express an experience or an emotion, you know. I do think there are little stories being told in my songs, sure. Sometimes I write a lyric without much previous thought behind it, I’m not sitting there like, “this is a super deep experience that happened to me and these are the words I’m going to choose for it”.

I may write something because I think it’s linguistically interesting or I think it sounds melodious, I think the word combination is interesting, whatever, right? And then what’s happened to me in the past is that sometimes the stuff I’m singing about, I’ll be singing it on stage and all of a sudden, I’m like, “oh my god the lyrics make so much sense!” That sometimes messes me up a little. And the worst example of that… the song Feeling Bad Forsyth Street, there’s this acoustic version that I was set to record on the release day of my album Harlequin in Los Angeles.

I was at my record label’s office and they do this series that’s called The Dungeon Sessions, whatever, so they have this Rhodes piano and I’m performing an acoustic version of the song and a few hours before that I had just find out that one of my closest friends and collaborators on the record had died. And the lyrics to the song, I wrote them a long time ago and there’s an alternation in the chorus, one is “you are not a person I will ever see again” and the last chorus is “I’m not a person you will ever see again”. I just kind of wrote, you know, not with any particular person in mind, not with any particular meaning in mind, and then as I was singing it, I was like, “oh my god, I’m never going to see my best friend again, that’s never going to happen, they’re never going to see me again, I’m never going to see them again, they’ve died”, and I was like, “oh god”. I’m a superstitious person so perhaps I imbue a lot more meaning and depth in these things than one should. I’m like, that’s like, you know, an interesting development.

ELIS: It’s quite spooky… I also wanted to ask, speaking about Knausgård before and autofiction or whatever… it sounds like your songs, when you write them, they’re not “autofictional”?

SOFIE: Some of them are. Some of them totally are. Some of them, one to one, are like, “this is what I did last night”.

ELIS: Some artists and writers get really mad if you bring up the autofiction question, but I have no imagination, I can’t make things up, maybe I can play with words and language, and that makes some poems more absurd or whatever, but I can only write what I do and see. I have no imagination whatsoever.

SOFIE: I wouldn’t say that. I think in order to be able to make art or write you have to imagine making it. You have to imagine doing it. Regardless of what you write about. You don’t have to write about some abstract, asinine scenario, simply the act of being able to transpose whatever life experience you’ve had into a documented creative form, that’s already imaginative!

ELIS: Yeah. Maybe it’s a false contradiction. I’m a sucker for those… but that’s true. I was going to ask if you think that you have a “good imagination”.

perhaps I imbue a lot more meaning and depth in these things than one should

SOFIE: But see, this is also the thing, you can go through reality experiencing your life and have a really high imagination at the same time… maybe you’re just not experiencing reality at face value, you know? Like, if you’re a person that tends to dream a little bit or whatever like… oh sorry, one second. Maybe it’s the postman.

Sofie walks away from her computer and talks in German with someone at her door. She comes back.

SOFIE: What was I saying? Do you remember?

ELIS: Something about going through life dreaming.

SOFIE: Yeah, being imaginative. I think we can go through reality and still be creating our own saga or whatever, because we’re dreaming about life or we’re fantasizing about it.

ELIS: You have a song on Harlequin called Schweden Espresso.

SOFIE: It’s a bar. That’s why it’s called that.

ELIS: It’s a bar?

SOFIE: It’s a bar in Vienna.

ELIS: I love that song. I love the whole album. That song is very ABBA, in its sound.

SOFIE: Really?

ELIS: It’s very Agnetha Fältskog in ABBA.

SOFIE: The two big comparisons I get a lot are The Beatles, which I never really listened to, and ABBA whom I really like. I think ABBA are wonderful, melodic songwriters.

ELIS: Pop music.

SOFIE: One second.

Sofie walks away again. I can only hear her voice, speaking in German. I imagine some kind of Austrian postman on the other side of the door. He looks very Austrian. In my mind.

SOFIE: My postman loves dropping stuff off at my house that’s not for me, he’s like, “the neighbors are out, can you take them”. Is it my responsibility? What do you mean? Laughs. But, yes, ABBA. It’s not a direct reference and Schweden Espresso is a bar that’s really cute, but honestly, I wrote the song and then I’ve literally never been back.

ELIS: It’s a good title, I was like, “what does this mean, what’s a Swedish espresso, is it a thing?” We drink coffee, but not espresso, it’s a very weird couple of words next to each other. But, speaking about sagas or whatever. In that video, you play with Las Vegas weddings, right? 

SOFIE: Exactly.

ELIS: What’s your thoughts about marriage? I’m married myself; I love the ritual, I love being married, and the wedding was the best day of my life.

SOFIE: As society has progressed and as we’ve lost religion, as religion like exited the room, I don’t know who fucked it up… like Hobbes right? I mean, it was great you know, people now think the world is round or whatever, but I think a lot of rituals in terms of practices within a society have left, and marriage is one of those last rites of tradition, rites of passage… I’m very interested in rites of passage. The bildungsroman or whatever. I think marriage is one of those things. Honestly, it’s a nice ritual union between two people. Maybe I have extremely conservative views, but everything’s been so… I don’t know, everything has like lost its meaning, to some degree obviously it’s very beneficial because maybe the original meaning wasn’t, like, good, right, but I still ultimately feel like erasure is worse than reimagining something. I like your sentiment about marriage, I think that’s really sweet. It should inherently be something nice and traditional, and ritualistic. 

ELIS: It’s a great music video, anyway. It gives an eerie new feeling to this marriage in Las Vegas trope… In your other videos, the ones I’ve seen, there are people you know in them or you’re singing in front of Jesus in a church, like in the video for Klein-Marx. I love that song as well, I was going to ask about it, it’s a song I don’t understand because I don’t speak German, but it’s almost my favorite. I don’t know why. I don’t want to Google translate, it feels like blasphemy or something.

SOFIE: Yeah, don’t ruin it. It’s better not to know. It’s a song about me committing suicide. Laughs. It’s a song about me throwing myself from the Klein-Marx bridge.

ELIS: I had no idea. I thought it was about Marxism and something small, small Marxism.

SOFIE: There’s Große Marxerbrücke which is the large Marx bridge, and then there’s a small Marx bridge. I have to cross the small Marx bridge every day.

ELIS: One of my questions was, what’s that song about? But then I was like “do I really want to know?”. Now I feel like I wanted to know.

SOFIE: Sorry, spoiler.

ELIS: It sounds depressing, thinking about killing yourself.

SOFIE: No, it’s funny! Actually, it’s a really funny song, because this bridge is not very high and there’s water underneath it.

ELIS: You wouldn’t die if you jumped?

SOFIE: It’s kind of jokey. In the music video I’m singing in a church because it’s a sin to commit suicide. And then I’m crying on the bridge. Laughs. And the bridge is not very high. I mean, you would injure yourself. I don’t recommend jumping off it! I’ve not done it, so I don’t want to convince anybody to do that.

writers get really mad if you bring up the autofiction question, but I have no imagination, I can’t make things up

ELIS: What’s your first language, English? (og: English is your first language?)

SOFIE: No, actually German. I mean. It’s kind of hard. German is my mother tongue, my mother’s Austrian, however I did grow up in the US, so both languages have a similar placeholder, however conversationally and also in terms of diction I would read way more in English and I would converse way more in English, the only place I was able to speak German for most of my life growing up was at home, before we moved to Vienna. And even in Vienna I ended up attending an English speaking school.

ELIS: So, you were reading more in English?

SOFIE: Way more, but I’ve read a lot in German, you know, the sentence structure is a lot more interesting in German. It’s a lot harder, it would be like “Michael who comma insert a paragraph bla bla bla bla bla bla comma closed bought a bicycle today”, and by the time you get to the end of this paragraph you have no idea, you forgot the beginning of the sentence. I think you can have a lot more fun with the language, it’s not linguistically cohesive, so a lot of coherency is lost, but you’re also allowed a bit more freedom, like you could… words like gesamtkunstwerk, all these words that are like co-opted into the English language. You can have a lot more fun in German. You could put like four words together.

ELIS: Unheimlich. When I read German writers in translation, Thomas Bernhard or whatever, there are sentences that are like two pages long… How can you even translate this?

SOFIE: I really love it. My favorite, maybe even number one, or that’s not true, but number two, is Arthur Schnitzler. A really great, great writer. I’ve read everything in German. He’s really good. Oh my god. You know, like… he’s written some famous ones. He’s written some famous ones that got translated into English, they all have like famous names in English, you know Traumnovelle? Dream Story?

ELIS: I’ve never heard of it. Maybe this is my personal “Americans discover Knausgård” moment… Speaking of writers, you’ve said something about the Holden Caulfield-ification of your existence. What’s your relationship to Salinger and The Catcher in the Rye?

SOFIE: I just love him so much. When I was talking about Schnitzler, and I almost said he was my number one and corrected myself, my number one is Salinger, for sure. And I know that’s so fucking annoying and pretentiously basic.

ELIS: No, it’s cool. It’s the best book! What are you gonna do!

SOFIE: My favorite thing he’s ever written is his collection of short stories. It’s so good. They all kill me every time, like A Perfect Day for Bananafish… I don’t think I’m ever going to read or write anything as good as that. When somebody asks me to explain my affinity for it, the interesting thing is that I’m not really able to. It’s not a long story, it’s not particularly convoluted, it’s like “he shoots himself, so what?” The first time I read it I wasn’t acquainted with the characters and the Salinger universe or whatever, because he’s created like a real universe, you know when science fiction nerds are like “oh, this character appears in this story”, Salinger does the exact same thing! And that’s what’s so cool about it. You find all these different people popping up everywhere.

ELIS: I totally understand that people got obsessed with his books. Like Mark Chapman who killed John Lennon. He loved The Catcher in the Rye, right? I totally understand that… but your Holden Caulfield-ification is not that dangerous, right? You’re not radicalized?

SOFIE: No, I think what I mean by that is that I almost feel permanently trapped in a coming of age, that’s really the sentiment that I’m trying to convey, and I’m like, “when will it end?” When will that precipice of this imaginary threshold, that I believe to be there, when is that there? Is it there when you have children? I don’t know. Is it?

ELIS: I thought it would be, but I’m still feeling like I can relate to what you’re saying, and maybe there’s a bridge from that to you working a lot with the Pierrot, and the clown figures, is there?

SOFIE: It’s really interesting because that’s also a character that’s completely ageless, he is just moved… and “he” I say kind of genderless because women have portrayed Pierrot, he’s kind of like nonbinary, whatever, you know? My personal hot take on gender is that I think you should be able to, in contexts like this, say “he” and it shouldn’t mean anything. If I say “he” for Pierrot I don’t necessarily mean that he’s male, okay. So, anyway, Pierrot is like this character that’s moved through history and time, he’s transcended that, and he’s still around. And it’s not like I’m super original for portraying Pierrot, if anything thousands before me have done so, I’m just holding the torch. Laughs. 

ELIS: I also have a fascination, maybe more of the Joker Clown Guy TM than the Pierrot or the Harlequin or whatever. I don’t really know why it’s so fascinating, but it draws you in…

SOFIE: Yeah, it draws you in.

I almost feel permanently trapped in a coming of age

ELIS: I hosted a big gala event the other week, the Scandinavian Design Awards. It was a crazy job, it was good money, but it felt really insane. It was in the main hall of Stockholm City Hall, it’s called the Blue Hall, and they have these stairs…

SOFIE: You felt like the Joker going down the stairs?

ELIS: Yeah, actually, I can show you… 

I leave the computer to go and get my Joker mask. It’s like a morphed, strange version, it’s like both Heath Ledger’s and Joaquin Phoenix’s Jokers at once. I don’t know. I love it.  

ELIS: I bought this mask and I asked the people hosting the event, “can I dance down the stairs like Joaquin Phoenix in Joker?”, and they were like, “no, we have press from Italy here, this is a very serious event, you can’t dance like the Joker”.

SOFIE: Oh my god. 

ELIS: I thought it was a brilliant idea.

SOFIE: You should’ve not asked. You should’ve just done it and then asked for forgiveness.

ELIS: I know. I also bought this really cheap costume that I couldn’t use… people in New York, “trendy people”, they didn’t like that Joker movie? I was listening to Red Scare and they hated it? I loved it. What did you think about it? Or are you more of a Heath Ledger head?

SOFIE: Honestly, I never had strong emotions on the film either way. I didn’t think it was bad, but I didn’t think it was good. It was an enjoyable watch and I never thought about it again.

ELIS: That’s a perfectly nice answer, but people were talking about… speaking about Holden Caulfield or whatever, the incelification… people were talking about Joker in terms of it being a dangerous movie.

SOFIE: I saw people on Twitter were trying to cancel The Catcher in the Rye. I think everybody’s misunderstanding The Catcher in the Rye. I don’t even think Holden Caulfield is particularly “incely”. He has several dates; I think girls really want him. I think he’s a desirable person, his gripes are more with the performance of self and everyday life, it’s giving a little bit of Erving Goffman. I think he’s really struggling with wearing the near of performance that everybody expects him to in day-to-day life. Like attending school when he considers it totally banal, or the phony conversations his friends have and their aspirations to enter a secure, domestic life or whatever. He’s just questioning society and questioning these things. I don’t think he’s an incel hero. That’s just how I would read it. And I think people that complain about it in that sense, they probably haven’t even read it. It’s probably like a book that they were told to read in school and they don’t remember much about it and then they make up their own opinion about it. I don’t know.

ELIS: Going back to the Pierrot. You named your album Harlequin and you’ve been performing on stage in this full make-up, that you also wear on the cover. Are you still doing that or was it just for the album? Will you continue being in this universe?

SOFIE: It was just for the album and I don’t do it every show. I would feel a little weird doing it sometimes, but in settings where it was, like, cool and appropriate, like at a cabaret for the album release, I did it. But in the video I sent you, with me playing the acoustic piano in the dungeon, it would’ve been totally insane to have it on.

ELIS: That would’ve been more Joaquin Phoenix style.

SOFIE: Yeah, that would’ve been a little bit disturbing. But whenever there’s been an interesting stage that’s lent itself to it, I’ve done it as a part of promotional things for the record. Also, it was exciting. It was really fun. 

ELIS: There’s a classic freedom with the whole pantomime thing.

SOFIE: And it’s interesting. I was doing some research about the Marcel Marceau school of mime in Paris, and mimes really had to do everything, they had to be able to box and do ballet, because they wanted to, with the smallest amount of movement, convey as much emotion as possible. And that really strikes me as very fascinating, because there’s not many jobs where you have such a wealth of knowledge and then the job itself is considered quite goofy. Laughs.          

ELIS: They really were renaissance artists in that sense. You’ve been called that as well. There’s a connection right there. I showed my daughter a couple of your music videos. I was doing research and she was sick at home. The one she really liked was Baker Miller Pink.

SOFIE: That’s my favorite video.

ELIS: She was mesmerized, she just sat there. She thought it was some kind of twisted, enigmatic children’s show or something.

SOFIE: Amazing. I love that.

ELIS: It was like a dark saga. She was drawn into the screen, mouth open, quiet for three minutes. Can you say something about that video?

SOFIE: That’s my favorite one I’ve ever done. I wanted to shoot at the Circus and Clown Museum for a really long time.

ELIS: It’s in Vienna?

SOFIE: It’s in Vienna. And I never managed to go, because it’s only open on Sundays for like two hours and… first of all there were a number of lockdowns during the past years, but I also had a phase where there was no way that I would be in any shape or form to be anywhere on Sundays at noon. Then that phase stopped and the only thing I would do on Sundays was go to church, so this museum was just out of reach, like, it was not in the same stratosphere. It was physically impossible for me to ever go. Laughs. And then my now boyfriend, he visited me in Vienna at the time we were just first seeing each other, and I was like, “we should go to this museum, I always wanted to go, I want to shoot a music video there but I haven’t been there, so I don’t even know if that’s possible, but let’s go”.

So, we went and it was just great. Immediately we talked to the owner who was lovely. He runs it with his brother. He’s a teacher, his brother is a postman and they’re just super fascinated by circus and clown memorabilia. The circus in itself played a very big part in both Vienna and Paris, you know. It was a real cultural thing, like doing an act, it was really something entertaining for the people or whatever. And yeah, later that summer we bought a bunch of film in Berlin, because I had a concert there, and for some reason there was a supply chain shortage, it was hard to get hold of like fucking Kodak, and then we filmed, I think it was July, end of July. It was really cool, really nice, my boyfriend shot it, he’s a photographer and director.

ELIS: You got access to the whole thing?

SOFIE: Yeah, and we didn’t have money for a team or producer or anything and people are like, “wow, you have so many outfit changes and makeup and stuff” and I’m like, “I did everything myself”, it’s not like it was a big production. And this guy, the owner of the museum, had all these sets in there already, so it was really fun to be able to use them. He let me borrow historical costumes for the video. The ballerina dress is from the fifties. He really likes us. Actually, he has a cameo in it, he’s the older gentleman that welcomes me into the museum.  

ELIS: That’s fantastic. I love it.

SOFIE: You have to go. It’s free entry.      

ELIS: I’m going. It sounds like Mecca.

SOFIE: It’s really cool. And he says it’s actually really hard to get a hold of this stuff because people that work in the circus business, they treat their costumes like a cook would. It’s just a uniform for them. It’s what they wear at work and it gets dirty and they throw it out. It has no cultural or artistic value to them, almost. Their mentality is like, “these are my work clothes; you guys want my work clothes?” That’s so cool, isn’t it?

ELIS: It’s very cool. I think, in this text, I’m not going to name the museum because I want to gatekeep this, like don’t go to Vienna.

SOFIE: No, I think please mention it, I want them to get as many visitors as possible. Don’t gatekeep it. They’re very nice.

ELIS: What’s it called?

Sofie writes the name of the museum in the chat, but now I choose to gatekeep it anyway. 

ELIS: It was interesting when you talked about the circus’ role in Europe, thinking about the circus as a scene for avantgarde or whatever, giving the circus more respect in retrospect or something… but yeah… are you finished with this clown thing?

SOFIE: I don’t know what’s going to come for the next album, I really don’t know. I’ve been working on the songs but yeah… it’s not like a lifelong thing, I’m not going to become a clown or whatever. It’s been really fun, it’s been, like, great to perform, doing that for album two, but… yeah…

ELIS: You’re working on a new album?

SOFIE: Yes. There’s a new single coming out this year. Very soon.

ELIS: Can you say something about it?

SOFIE: One thing I realized when I was on tour playing shows was that a lot of my most popular songs are very slow and kind of sad sounding, and the stuff that I personally find the most fun to perform was the more dance-y, upbeat stuff. Why don’t I make a record that reflects that and see how that goes? I want to play around more with making pop music, and not like pop in the sense of how pop music sounds today, rather like an alternate reality. You know, like an alternate universe popstar. It’s not like I’m on a major label. It’s not that I have a crazy amount of traction in that sense. I think I still can have a lot of freedom and experiment. 

ELIS: I discovered your music last year and then I listened back. I saw the video for Feeling Bad Forsyth Street because I follow THE ION PACK on Instagram… it’s a bit embarrassing, but I’m really interested, like sitting in Stockholm, just following all these accounts from the “Dimes Square Bullshit Scene” or whatever, it’s fascinating and repulsive at the same time, but I love it.

SOFIE: Totally, I understand, I understand what you mean.

ELIS: But then I was like “this is really good pop music, why haven’t I heard this on the radio?”

SOFIE: Yeah, that’s what makes me sad because… you know when people meet me or whatever, before having listened to my music, they think I make weird, avant-garde, subversive music, and I’m like, “why?” It’s so much harder, honestly, to make nice sounding shit that doesn’t suck, and what pisses me off… as somebody practicing as an artist, as a painter, I spend a lot of time in these spheres where I go to openings and there’s like a musical act, right? But the musical act is somebody playing an instrument very badly. Very, very, very badly, but “that’s cool”. Like not being able to do shit, “that’s cool”, right? And I’m like, “you’re not fucking John Cage!”

And this is what confuses me: why do institutions, the only ones that potentially could make a real difference for a small-scale musician like myself, award the positions of who’s like a “culturally relevant” artist/musician who gets to perform at a biennale, why is that reserved for music that has to be subversive? And I’m by no means generic enough to break through to a traditional radio sphere, so I almost feel like I’m at this precipice where I’m not mainstream enough for the mainstream, but I’m also not subversive enough for the subversion.   

it’s not like a lifelong thing, I’m not going to become a clown or whatever

ELIS: You’re in a limbo state. Sounds frustrating, but maybe it gives you a kind of freedom? Speaking about scenes and stuff as well. You’re not in New York, you’re in Vienna, in your own world or something. What do you think about belonging to different scenes? That can be suffocating as well, right?

SOFIE: I think so, I’m sure it is. Obviously, I would enjoy and like more success. I’m not one of those artists that are like, “oh, I’m happy to toil in unrecognition for the rest of my life”.

ELIS: If I write a poem, I’m going to write it the way that I want to, but I still want it to be a huge, fucking success.

SOFIE: I have met artists that are like, “I’m making art, I don’t really care about being known”, and I’m like well, I think inherently that part of the human condition is to want to share and connect and relate with people, especially if you’re making something like art, it’s interesting to see people’s different reactions to it. I really enjoy it, I think it allows me to be able to reflect on what I’ve done in a really different way and recalibrate for whatever I’m about to do next. If you’re just creating in a void, you get lost, you know? It’s directionless and aimless. And I almost feel like people that are having this conversation, “oh, it’s so egotistical to think about the self as an artist”, that’s the wrong conversation, that only implies that you are being egotistical in the first place, as if to even consider that your art wants to be shared is an egotistical thing! Ultimately, it’s nice to be able to share and connect with people, it’s not really about yourself, it’s more about art in general, right? It’s super non-egotistical in fact, it’s very communist! My art must be distributed to every single human alive! Laughs.       

ELIS: It’s the way Marx was thinking. Small Marx. Okay. Some short questions to wrap it up. I was thinking about the saga theme again. Did your parents read you sagas when you were a kid?

SOFIE: In Austria there’s something very popular, the Brothers Grimms’ Fairy Tales, and my mom was forced to read these growing up, and she found them so horrible that she went through really great lengths to protect me from them, because they’re everywhere. Everybody hears about the guy with the long fingernail or the guy that fell into the ocean, the guy that cut off… you know, they’re really dark. My parents shielded me from them.

ELIS: They were canceling the brothers Grimm?

SOFIE: They were canceling fairy tales, like this is bullshit.

ELIS: They didn’t read censored versions of them? Like they are doing now with children’s books.   

SOFIE: No, they thought they were cruel and horrible, you know, so I never really got to read so many of those. I mean, I did read children’s books, I think, I’m sure, you know, but never these fairy tales. Also, never Cinderella or Disney stuff, it was like a big gap in my knowledge. When I went to school people were like, “oh, Bambi!” or whatever, and I’m like, “what?”

ELIS: You didn’t have the same references. Laughs. I’ve heard of the brothers Grimm, but we read more H.C. Andersen, maybe you’ve heard of him? Danish stuff. It’s also pretty dark. Also, Swedish folklore, it’s very gritty. Like the original Swedish Santa Claus is like something from True Detective season one. The word “saga” in Swedish really should be more of a dark word than it is… but, yeah, some more short questions. You’re a classically trained violinist, right? Have you seen the movie Tár?

SOFIE: No, I haven’t. If a movie comes out and everybody’s talking about it I either go and see it right away and be like, “oh yeah, that’s true”, or I’m like, “I’m so tired of hearing about this, I literally don’t care”. And Cate Blanchett, this is a really unpopular opinion, but I’m so tired of this same type of actress, like Tilda Swinton, Cate Blanchett, these people are kind of the same to me. They feel the same, they kind of look the same, it’s kind of overacted, older white women acting. So, I’m like whatever, maybe I will go see it, maybe I won’t.

Like not being able to do shit, “that’s cool”, right?

ELIS: I was just wondering if you had some kind of insight into the world that the movie depicts. How old were you when you started out with classical music?

SOFIE: I started playing violin at three with the Suzuki method. Most children whose parents want them to play an instrument start really young and then it’s kind of just deciding whether they continue playing it or not, and I did. I was pretty good pretty fast, by the time I was eight years old I was really good. Good enough for me to continue doing it, for my teachers to see that there was real potential. I was a lazy musician, I was really lazy, I didn’t like practicing. When it was time for the recital, like the season recital, I would always make the pianist sweat, I would improvise bars of Bach, because I didn’t like what was there and I couldn’t be bothered to learn it. The only time I really kind of buckled down and maybe applied myself, and applied my talent, was when I was thirteen and I really wanted to get into the conservatory of music. I had applied at thirteen and was rejected so it became like a thing, “I have to get in”. I got in at fourteen and it’s an interesting world.

Then I started playing professionally, I was in the young philharmonics, and just out of curiosity, you know, when I moved back to Vienna, I wanted to see if I could still play the classical circuit, because I never stopped playing violin, but I did stop playing in orchestras obviously, I moved to L.A. at twenty. I remember going to the rehearsal, I had gone out all night before, I had maybe slept two hours, this is like four, five years ago, and I was like, “I’m probably not going to get in, I don’t even know if I want to be doing this”. I had just freshly moved back to Vienna; I was really just trying to prove something to myself. And I played one and a half paper of the piece, which was quite long, it was like six pages, and they were like, “thanks, that’s enough”, and I was like, “yeah, I thought so, it’s fine”, and they were like, “you have it!”, and I was like, “oh shit, oh thank you”. This is like a harrowing instance, the people walking out before me were crying because they didn’t get it, and they’re adults, grown people… and then I started playing for a year and it was nice, but you earn no money, the hours are really taxing, a lot of rehearsal hours, and then Covid happened and I never rejoined after covid.

ELIS: Is that door still open?

SOFIE: I don’t think I could be a soloist. I think I would have to practice, practice, practice, practice and you must have started younger to be a soloist, but for sure I could play in orchestras and teach or work as a session musician. I play all the string arrangements on my record myself, they’re not terribly complicated, they just sound nice.

ELIS: Pop music.

SOFIE: I always do this. They’re actually not that easy, but I always discredit myself in every interview I’m like, “it’s chill”. I’m so sorry.

ELIS: I’ve read that you don’t like the epithet “singer”?

SOFIE: I still don’t. When people describe me as a singer-songwriter I literally gag. I’m a musician and a producer. I only started singing two years ago. And to call me a singer-songwriter almost throws… I feel like… but my own label calls me singer-songwriter, it’s just what you do, it’s just the nature of the music, I guess, I don’t know who the fuck is making these rules! 

ELIS: What’s hardest, calling oneself a singer, a DJ or a poet? Musician is better?

SOFIE: Musician is better.

ELIS: Do you think of the body as an instrument, then?

SOFIE: Of course, yeah. 

ELIS: You do ballet as well? 

SOFIE: Yeah. I did it a lot when I was younger and then recently, I started a lot of things during quarantine. I had so much fucking time on my hands. I was like, “I’m going to become Mike Tyson”, “I’m going to do ballet”. I was curious to see, could I still dance on point? What are the limitations of your muscle memory from when you were a teenager? But then I’m like, and this is what I mean, I feel like I’m stuck in my teenage self, because I’m just reliving…

ELIS: Maybe that’s a nice way to end it. I hope Nuda will be happy with this. You’re taking photos for them? 

SOFIE: Yeah, I’m supposed to already have been taking them, but then I got food poisoning so, I think we’re going to take them in a few weeks.

ELIS: Are you doing the Harlequin make-up or no?

SOFIE: For some. I really want to overdeliver, because the theme is really interesting, so we have some interesting stuff planned, my boyfriend and I, he’s going to take the pictures. It will be fun to be able to work together, because he shot the music videos and it’s easier than working with a stranger. We really want to shoot them, and it ties it to saga, at the hotel where Oscar Wilde died. It’s reputedly haunted by him. It has a very beautiful backdrop too.

ELIS: When I take press photos, I always feel so corny. My wife is taking them now, it’s much better.

SOFIE: Much better!

ELIS: And you can choose.

SOFIE: Yeah, they never let you choose.

ELIS: They make you like black and white and you look all fat and stuff. I’m going to convince Nuda Paper to publish some photos of me as well in this piece. It was nice talking to you, let me know if you’re coming to Stockholm. You should do a concert here sometime.

SOFIE: I would love to. I really want to do a bigger European tour as soon as I can.

ELIS: Then I’ll be there in my Joker mask in the front row.

SOFIE: Lovely.

PhotographyKyle Keese
InterviewElis Monteverde Burrau