Sofie is Not a Conjoined Twin.
As Sofie Fatouretchi readies her second studio album, the eclectic Stones Throw signee discusses childhood, musicianship, and a made-up lactose intolerance that almost got her mom into trouble.
PHOTOS: ETHAN LOPEZ
“It is weird, you know?”
The artist-slash-musician Sofie Fatouretchi smiles upon being asked about her relationship with Stones Throw Records, the longstanding indie label to which she has been signed since 2019. As a teenager living in Vienna, Austria, she developed an ear for the label via acts like MF DOOM, J Dilla, and Madlib. Some years later, at 19, she was made aware of a job opening posted onto its Twitter account.
“It said they were ‘looking for students in California to come intern.’ And I was like, ‘Well… I’m a student; I’m maybe not in California, but I was born there,’” she tells me, semi-laughing. “That was the only part I actually lied on, in my application. You had to check these boxes, like are you a student in California; I was just like ‘eh.’”
But, with both the slight lie and a noteworthy level of IT experience helping her case, she was temporarily accepted into the Stones Throw family. And – several revolutions around the sun later – she has blossomed into one of the label’s most eclectic young signees, continuing a legacy set in stone by the very artists who first inspired her years ago. “One of the cool things about working at the label was that they’d frame all these cool pictures of their artists and hang them on the walls,” she recounts later, a grin steadily creeping onto her face. “I was walking down the hallway when I got there last week or two weeks ago… and there was my picture framed!”
“There’s so much that I know formally, or have been taught- it’s almost impossible to extrapolate what you’re thinking from this knowledge that you have.”
As we chat over Zoom today, Fatouretchi is chilling in a residence somewhere in Los Angeles. Just recently, she flew back to the United States from Vienna for two reasons – the first being to film a music video in Las Vegas, and the other being to work on her second studio album. Born in Palo Alto, California, the musician has been made accustomed to the kind of fast-paced international lifestyle she currently leads since youth. When I ask her to take me through a bit of her geographical footprint (“Oh, you want the whole low-down?”) she walks me through it as if she has told the story every minute of every day for the past twenty-something years: “My mother is Austrian, my father is Iranian; they were working in the IT industry at Apple before it was really lucrative; after some financial mishaps – well, I wouldn’t say mishaps – difficulties, we moved to Seattle; we would go back and forth between the U.S. and Vienna – I spent one year in Vienna in the fourth grade, for instance – and then when I was twelve, my family moved to Vienna permanently; then I graduated high school at sixteen; I stayed in Vienna for a while; but then at nineteen, I moved to LA for an internship at Stones Throw Records; I was offered a job after the internship ended; I took it; I moved there; then a few years later, I moved to New York to open the Boiler Room offices there; then I was in London for two and a half years; then I moved back to LA; and then I ended up moving to Vienna.”
Although it all seems to come out as one breath, there are nuances to such widespread latitude that Fatouretchi is well aware of. For one, she says, having spent a good portion of her youngest years in Austria allowed her to – especially under a father who made it a strict rule – easily deflect internalized prejudices targeted towards her as someone of Middle Eastern descent. It was upon her move to America, albeit, that she quickly learned the distinction between racism that was situational and disregardable, and racism that was systemic and perpetual. “In Austria, even though there’s maybe more, like, at-face racism in terms of just old racist people existing and being rude to your face, the system you live in isn’t as racially discriminatory,” she says, sitting back on a couch.
On the other end of the spectrum, the crux of having been acclimated to a lifestyle of constant movement through developmental years manifested itself in a childhood lying habit she fostered throughout grade school. “We would move every two years, and I would just reinvent myself,” she tells me, matter-of-factly. “I was such a big liar as a kid. Not in a malicious way, but, like, out of boredom. The teacher would be like ‘Write an essay about where you were born,’ and I would be like the Stanford University Hospital sounds so boring, so I made up the story that I was a conjoined twin, born on a train… more because I had a really active imagination, and less because I was (mischievous).” Of several such falsehoods she recounts during our conversation, some of the most particularly striking ones include a lie she told her teacher about owning eight pet horses, and an on-a-whim tall tale about being lactose intolerant that she formulated to avoid drinking milk at lunch. “It could have just been as easy as me being like ‘I don’t want to drink the milk.’ But I was like ‘I have a lactose allergy, and’- you know. The teacher got really mad at my mom. She was like ‘You should have filled that out in the form!’”“(The contract a teacher ends up undergoing) says stuff like ‘you want to educate students to be functional members of society,’ she recites, head propped up against a resting fist. “But, like, what does that entail? Whose definition of functional, right?”
Presently, Fatouretchi finds herself on the other side of the classroom desk. As she works on a teaching degree that she has been able to pursue more and more actively since the pandemic, she has been granted the opportunity to teach classes ranging from high school to university levels, with subjects taught including Philosophy, Psychology, and English Linguistics. Something she cites is that in the adult world – especially in education – one is deterred from being imaginative. When I ask whether she has ever found herself going against this grain in her teaching, the answer is a straight no (there are certain contractual obligations that come with being a state-employed educator) – but a duality she brings up in conversation entails the idea that good teaching grants students the tools to formulate opinions for themselves, whereas less effective teaching sees the opinion of the educator forced upon helpless constituents.
“(The contract a teacher ends up undergoing) says stuff like ‘you want to educate students to be functional members of society,’ she recites, head propped up against a resting fist. “But, like, what does that entail? Whose definition of functional, right?”
For Fatouretchi, one foundational experience in which her own definition of ‘functional’ – not the one given by society – was at play came in her very first violin class at four years of age. At the Suzuki School of Music, first-year students were exclusively taught to play by ear. Those who had perfect pitch were quickly weeded out from those who did not. “I think in my first recitals I’d be playing (Johann Sebastian) Bach, and my teacher, Ms. Nakamura, would just be surprised at the improvisation I lent it, that still matched the piano accompaniment,” she narrates. She’s leaning back in a couch near a window now, reflective and deliberate. “I’ve always had, like, fun with it. She was a great teacher because she’d leave those liberties for her students – she’d be like ‘this is really cool, that the student is doing that,’ whereas the Conservatory (a more prestigious school of classical music Fatouretchi would later go on to attend), I think, drills any kind of creativity out of you.”
Her present-day musical output, if anything, is beyond reflective of such creative autonomy. Sofie’s debut LP Cult Survivor was released via Stones Throw this past June. In a direct testament to something she mentions mid-interview about the label’s longevity being in part because of its refusal to cater exclusively to its hip-hop-oriented fan-base, the record is packed from sleeve to sleeve with blurred line after blurred line: ‘Georgia Waves’ sees her channel the swampy Southern blues melodies of Otis Redding; opening track ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame’ features a chorus-pedal-boasting DIY guitar solo presented shamelessly in its informality; ‘99 Glimpses’ sees flashes of the Cocteau Twins’ haunting, funk-adjacent approach peeking through cracks in the surface. All in all – much like its creator – the record is an ambiguous entity of organized disarray, somehow managing to make the most sense out of the least sensible elements.
The most defining element of Cult Survivor’s recording process, Fatouretchi tells me, is that the album itself was never really meant to see the light of day at the onset. In 2018, Stones Throw founder Peanut Butter Wolf would often ask her what she was doing in Vienna, to which she would reply that she was working on music. After Wolf would go on to prompt Fatouretchi to send the songs over, upon hearing them, he would eventually muse to her that she had an album’s worth of content. What we hear on Cult Survivor is actually a considerable reduction – out of sixteen tracks originally recorded, only twelve made the cut. “I think the fact that I had the freedom to do this without the idea in the back of my head that this was going to be a record that was going to be released- I think that was very good, because it really helped me to not be too speculative, or critical, of what I was making,” she suggests. “And I think that’s really important as an artist… initially.” She breaks into a laugh. “After you get over that burden of something being out – which, maybe is just a burden for me – it becomes very different.”
The recording process of Fatouretchi’s second studio album is shaping up to be particularly divergent from that of her debut. Our originally-planned interview, scheduled for yesterday, was pushed back to this afternoon because she had spent the entirety of the day recording in her Los Angeles studio with no breaks – at the beginning of our conversation, even, she took it upon herself to apologize for the raspy voice she exhibited as a side-effect. “Honestly, much longer than for album one,” she replies, when I ask what the work for this record has looked like thus far. “I think for album one, with a lot of the music you’re hearing, that’s the first recorded version of the track – there’s no second version, unless I muted vocals or something. With these current songs, there’s like seven or eight iterations, at least. And from that, that’s what’s being mixed, and of these mixes, there’s maybe like twelve renditions each… it’s been a long process, honestly.” Hoisting a glass in her left hand, Sofie explains that going into Cult Survivor, her approach was very much contingent upon a burning desire to ‘band-aid’ the album – put a wrap on it as quickly as possible – before she could hear it enough times to grow detrimentally self-conscious. “That being said, I do regret there perhaps not being more time spent on certain songs- just with the level of production, and time spent, on the second record,” she thinks aloud, now. “But you know, I hope at least that it’s something people can view as progression, or development.”“This ruthless person inside me wants to do everything, and schedules an abysmally tight month or so,” she started. “Then my other, meek and submissive self gets through it week by week.”
The sentiment is reflective of an even deeper one Fatouretchi tackles both as a gallery artist and a contemporary musician: creating for oneself, versus creating for mass consumption. The predicament is to a greater extent musical for her than it is artistic. Through painting, she says, she seeks to escape having to adhere to any form of preconceived language or definition – an element that music is difficult to both create, and commercialize, without. “I’m probably the least knowledgeable in a lot of my art classes,” she says of her studies at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. “I was talking about this with my professor, who is a fairly established German artist, and he was also saying something like the more you know, the more that ends up being a language by which your work is defined. And I also really notice this in my music, in that there’s so much that I know formally, or have been taught- it’s almost impossible to extrapolate what you’re thinking from this knowledge that you have.”
A majority of Fatouretchi’s gallery pieces functionally do, in the context of her professor’s phrasing, exist outside of any one language. In one painting, an indecipherable number of organic bird-like forms appear to flutter against an equally ambiguous background one can only assume evokes sky. In another, exhibited in Justice, Vienna in 2018, the foreground of the composition is adorned in what looks to be a forlorn family of dejected people, either filing into, emerging from, or doing something otherwise in relation to a faded teepee-esque semblance at left. For even the select few that give viewers as much as a subtle hint at a reality that makes sense, Fatouretchi’s art blurs the line between conceivable and incomprehensible, toggling the limits of language until the construct of making sense no longer has room to breathe.
Yet, as far as music, not as much liberty is granted to artistry as a whole – especially when the limits posed by knowledge within itself are crossed with a field-wide predication upon financial gain. Even with an artist of Sofie’s caliber, certain monotonous elements of the music industry writ large prove unshakable. “My first album really wasn’t strategically calculated at all, because I didn’t really make it with the sense that these songs would ever see the light of day,” she tells me. The question at hand is about finding a balance between the two aforementioned modes of creation (for oneself and for mass consumption): How much of your output is strategically calculated, and how much of it is you translating your brain onto a canvas or recording? “I can’t really say the same for my second record. I think there is- now that I know what the process is like, it’s almost impossible to un-learn certain information I’m now privy to, whether that’s how long an instrumental intro should be in order for it to get Spotify playlisted or something else… and it kind of sucks that you have this knowledge, because it makes it really hard to not consider it when you’re making music – at least in my case it does – but mostly, I think you want your music to be heard and enjoyed by many people. And with that comes a certain semblance of financial success.”
The seemingly most prominent current frontier of Sofie’s doing-for-self versus doing-for-others dynamic finds itself in education, where doing for oneself would be parallel to pursuing creative endeavors free of coursework, and doing for others would be more aligned with allocating a significant portion of that time to school. For Fatouretchi, the duality has eminently played out over the past few weeks – over which she has had to juggle studying for several final examinations with working on the follow-up to Cult Survivor, cultivating close contact with family, keeping up with a blossoming DJing career, and maintaining a creative energy easily sapped by the mundane. “It’s honestly kind of stressful; I wish I was done with school already,” she says, breaking into a pained chuckle. “There is some time pressure on for me to finish my record, and I usually use my free time from school to work on music, (and) to work on art.”
From any external standpoint, one is led to wonder whether Sofie can win the war she seems to have waged against time. The battle is one she has been fighting long before our chat. In a 2018 interview with the Vienna-based culture magazine PW, she said, asked how she managed to prioritize such a vast number of different enterprises: “It’s pretty difficult for me. A lot of the times I end up feeling like a jack of all trades but a master of none.”
Going further, she went on to mention an innate duplexity that informed – and seemingly still does inform – her vibrant way of life: “This ruthless person inside me wants to do everything, and schedules an abysmally tight month or so,” she started. “Then my other, meek and submissive self gets through it week by week.”
Yesterday, Fatouretchi’s ruthless side appears to have been in command. Mere days after shooting a music video in Las Vegas, she found herself dedicating a full twenty-four hours to the crafting of her newest project. Even with the purpose of the day’s session being primarily bent on mixing and mastering, she sang her voice to a scratchy rasp. She put aside all extraneous activities – including this interview – to immerse herself in a creative zone made less and less accessible by the growing demands of additional responsibilities.
Today, however, with her album halfway finished, the opposite side of her persona – a chill, introspective, tranquil character – rightfully takes a well-deserved forefront. It’s around 10:30 AM in Los Angeles when our interview starts. Earlier on in the day, she tells me, she spent a good portion of her time video calling friends and family.
“It was fun!” she recounts, grinning widely, early on in our conversation. “It was really fun.”
As Fatouretchi continues to grow as both a human and creative being – embracing a network of her own, whilst remaining warmly committed to artistic networks she’s fostered at Stones Throw Records and NTS Radio – it is evident that a humble gratitude toward the process is what keeps her firmly anchored, so much so that challenges growing just as persistently as her climb seem to indefinitely disintegrate in the fizz of her self-made reality.
The final question I pose to Sofie is a poorly-paraphrased derivative of a once-viral Tweet that made me think about distinctions between now and then. When I ask what an interaction between her current self, and the four-year-old violinist that grew up to become it, would look like, she takes a few seconds to ponder before telling me that she doesn’t know.
With an album due out soon, a teaching career set to launch, and an already-groundbreaking legacy in music to be built upon, there will be a lot of time for Fatouretchi to figure it out.
For now, though – if we can be sure of anything – it can absolutely be checked off that she does not own eight pet horses, is not lactose intolerant, and, perhaps most of all, was not born mid-train-ride as a conjoined twin.