Time and distance often having a cooling effect on the memory, but in Sondra Sun-Odeon’s case, they gave her the tools she needed to sharpen the knife. It’s been seven years since her debut album Ætherea, and with her newest offering she steps firmly back into the musical orbit. “Roses in the Snow” is five minutes and 47 seconds of intense meditation on grief and anger, but ultimately also a reflection of healing – a hot bath in which soak an addled mind.
“Roses in the snow / I gave you everything,” Sun-Odeon sings, striking an eerie tone and timbre right from the start. The driving guitar and drumbeat create an unusual dissidence with Sun-Odeon’s soprano vocals, reminiscent of Kate Bush’s soaring, witchy style. The song is a kind of rumination on those first lyrics, the repetition swirling out of control near the finish, where we’re enveloped in a guitar solo that winds and crashes its way to an ending.
Listen to AudioFemme’s exclusive stream of “Roses in the Snow” and read our interview with Sondra below.
AF: Tell us about your childhood. You’ve said your family was pretty poor and “had no stereo or radio growing up“. You were introduced to the piano and learned to play from Chinese opera videos. Did that restrictive musical lens help foster a curiosity in you about other kinds of music?
SSO: My parents were poor immigrants and my sisters and I are the first generation of the family born here, so we didn’t have much beyond the basic necessities growing up. My parents didn’t see the necessity of things like a stereo or radio, but at the same time, they felt it was important for us all to have piano lessons, for some reason! So my first experiences with music were actually the classical music I was playing in orchestra (I also played violin at school) and on piano, as well as the music of Chinese opera videos my parents would watch, which I was fascinated with, mainly for the costumes! I would not call these lenses restrictive, however—they probably aren’t typical for someone making the kind of music that I do right now, but I think my experiences inform a unique perspective on music and what my brain likes to hear and write.
AF: It’s been seven years since your debut solo album Ætherea. Did the development process for your new album take time, or were there some scrapped projects along the way?
SSO: I actually started recording some of these songs in 2013 with my Brooklyn band, but some relationships within the band deteriorated during these sessions and I also was dealing with personal trauma, so recording came to a halt when I decided to leave NYC to tour solo.
After touring the country and bouncing back and forth between LA and NYC for a year, I desperately needed grounding and found myself in LA, unable to move back to NYC like I had planned. I needed space to process the really fucked relationship I had been in and completely detox from what felt like an addiction to a relationship in which I lost all sense of who I was, with a person whose behavior toward me was at times disrespectful and took advantage over me. During this time, I did a lot of personal work, undergoing an intense emotional/spiritual growth spurt from having crawled out of a deep hole of depression and shattered delusions. It took three years before I could get to a point of even wanting to hear some of these songs again (because they were largely written about experiences I’d had in this very fucked relationship).
I had been severely disconnected from my own self as an artist while working in the NYC fashion industry, and I needed to bring my life back into alignment with my values. I became a yoga instructor and committed to healing myself and expanding my artistic practice. In the time since the last album, I’ve explored performance beyond the band format – performing my written prose and long-form poetry along with vocal manipulation live. In the first year of being in California, I played a lot of 12-string open-tuned acoustic baritone guitar inspired by Robbie Basho and have an EP of those songs I’ll release someday. I also composed and performed an hour-long vocal/instrumental drone piece called “Unsilencing” at Basilica Drone earlier this year, that is based on a song from the album, Drowning Man: An Invocation for the Demise of Patriarchy.
AF: How do you go about writing a song? Do you normally start with a subject in mind or does the music come first?
SSO: Most of the songs are written in the moment of feeling deep emotion and come fairly instantaneously. It’s usually a feeling that comes first, the music, then the words. But sometimes, the music comes first—a phrase, a melody line. My songwriting process is changing though; instead of waiting for the strike of emotional spontaneity, I am taking a more compositional approach lately.
AF: “Roses In The Snow” started as a reaction to an out-of-body experience you had. Was it a kind of sleep paralysis?
SSO: No. The experience came from deep emotional distress. I felt my soul and consciousness wanting to leave my physical body and hovering above it because of the psychic pain it was in; I was in profound trauma from having just ended a pregnancy amidst the crumbling aforementioned relationship.
AF: Your upcoming album DESYRE continues in the tradition of Ætherea by featuring an astounding lineup of collaborators including Thor Harris (SWANS), J.R. Bohannon (Ancient Ocean), Lia Simone Braswell (A Place to Bury Strangers) and Mary Lattimore. Why is it important for you to feature other artists in your own work?
SSO: I love working with the energy, ideas, and talents of the many incredibly talented friends I’ve been blessed to have in my life. Working together to create something larger than yourselves is one of the most satisfying endeavors in life. It’s also way more fun to share the creative process with others. What a gift to be able to collaborate with others, to be present to the expression of who they are via how they hear/see and contribute to your work!
AF: What musicians are you currently listening to?
SSO: I don’t listen to music when I’m writing because I like to keep my mental canvas blank, but when not in writing mode, I mostly listen to music by friends, like John’s (J.R Bohannon) beautiful solo guitar work, Mary Lattimore’s music (which I play heavily in my yoga classes), Lia’s solo project Lalande and her band APTBS, Thor & Friends, Jolie Holland. I’ve also been enjoying Aldous Harding, the newest Low album, Tim Hecker, Arca, and Natalie Rose Lebrecht’s new album of late.
AF: What are you reading?
SSO: I just read Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. Ooof, chilling! So dark, so brutally insightful. She’s a genius. Also, heavily reading all things Rebecca Solnit these days. Currently reading her book Men Explain Things to Me. Also, Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Anger.
AF: What do you hope an audience member takes away from a Sondra Sun-Odeon performance?
SSO: I hope they are moved in some way to feel something, anything.
Sondra Sun-Odeon’s second full-length album Desyre is out November 22 and is available for pre-order on Graveface Records.