Nine years after her debut album and one abandoned attempt in the studio later, Sophie Auster has released her second album, Red Weather. The good news? It’s been worth the wait.
By Caitlin Smith. Photographed by Justin Hollar
With her arms crossed and head tilted, Sophie Auster scans the well-stocked bookshelves of the cozy home in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, that her photoshoot has just wrapped in. “I’m always so curious about what people read,” she says, her dark green eyes bouncing from one title to the next. “Oh, there’s my dad,” she casually says, pointing not to an actual person—or a photograph even—but to a book: Moon Palace by Paul Auster. It’s not uncommon for the 25-year-old to encounter her parents’ work this way (her mother, Siri Hustvedt, is also an acclaimed novelist) and, though Auster chose to study literature at Sarah Lawrence, she’s embarked on a different path than her parents. Just a few days prior to our conversation, her self-produced EP Red Weather was released. And, like a true musician, she’s already begun work on new material.
As we exit the house into the chilly autumn evening air and head across the street, littered with leaves, to a café Auster, dressed in wide-legged black slacks, a large wool coat, and a slouchy knit beanie, takes the last few drags of her cigarette as she recounts the song she began writing last night. “It got really emotional,” she says with a smile, mocking her own heaving sobs, and then laughing heartily, shaking her head.
The eclectic Red Weather is quite a departure from her self-titled debut album that Auster recorded when she was 16, the lyrics of which were garnered from her father’s English translations of French surrealist poems. The album, something Auster says she did “for fun,” was quite successful in Europe. “My songs were always dreamlike and kind of quirky,” she says, now tucked into a chair in the corner of the café, slowly stirring sugar into her Americano. “There’s a little bit of that, but it turned into a real love loss record—the struggling within a relationship and the ups and downs of how you’re feeling. A lot of it was very cathartic and also very…angry,” she says with a slight cringe. “But, you know, that’s what it’s good for. What else are you gonna do with those feelings?”
Auster’s first attempt at recording the album was with producer Barry Reynolds (Rufus Wainwright, Marianne Faithful, Antony & The Johnstons, Grace Jones), whom she met through her former music manager and often writes with. But shortly after they began recording in the studio, Auster’s instincts told her things were going in the wrong direction. “It wasn’t that I wasn’t working with great people,” she explains, “it was just that we had two different ideas about what we were going to do. I realized that everyone had a different vision for it and that I had no idea what I was doing, so I was like, ‘I have to stop this and figure out what I want.’” What she wanted was to self-produce. So, taking a step back from her first shot at recording—and without a manager, label, or a distributor—she reassessed her plan of action and returned to the studio, armed with her band and a concept for the album. “It was my first time being in the studio as a producer with a bunch of people looking at me going, ‘So, do you like this? Is this good? Is this what you want?’ I wanted to make a very organic record that had had an earthy feel to it with some grit,” Auster says. “I wanted some contrast.”
Auster got her contrast with songs like “Run, Run, Run,” in which she channels Fiona Apple, with rich vocals, a dark flute melody, jazzy beats, and brooding lyrics like, “I made up my mind/ I kept it up for the longest time/ Alone and undone/ I’ve kicked him off and/ I left my baby howling,” and with “Square Moon,” a sultry, meandering Nick Cave-esque tune, with breathy percussion, and a legato croon in a noticeably deeper, more mature alto than that on her first album.
“I feel like I grew up this year,” she says, clutching her cup of coffee close to her chest then taking a pensive sip. ”I think I used to be so nice that I would let people walk all over me a bit and I wouldn’t stand my ground. I learned that you can be decisive and know what you want and tell people what you want without people thinking you’re a bitch. Knowing what you want and how you want to do something is respected,” she says. “And I’m proud of doing that.”
Stylist: MICHELLE RENEAU
Hair: NOAH HATTON
Makeup: KRISTI MATAMOROS