Sophie Barker’s distinctive and critically acclaimed vocal range, paired with her emotional song-writing skills, have yielded world-wide chart-topping singles, million-selling albums and music collaborations with artists as diverse as David Guetta, Zero 7, Groove Armada, The Egg and Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins).
Perhaps best known as one of the trio of original Zero 7 singers, alongside Sia and Mozez, Sophie’s long-awaited 3rd solo album, ’Break the Habit’ took 4 years to record but sees her more comfortable than ever in her own skin.
Undoubtedly her best work to date, the LP effortlessly flows between her upfront live sound, finely-honed from intense touring and appearances with her band at festivals and venues across the UK and USA, and more atmospheric, mood driven electronica.
Produced by Alex Pilkington, and written by her, with collaborations from Alex, Paul Silver and her band, the album pours out of your speakers like honey. The hypnotic tremolo guitar and soothing vocals of ‘Break The habit’ collide with a timeless low slung drum groove to kick of proceedings, then ‘Start Me’ drops the listener into a haunting world of dream-pop.
The first single, ‘I Do It to Myself’, ups the tempo, as jangly guitars and synths drive this sexy strut of a song into the esoteric harpsichord breakdown, before the effortlessly catchy eponymous chorus hooks you back in. A stunning and totally justified cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Gold Dust Woman’ confirms the breadth of Sophie’s vocal range, before the electronic loops, edgy synths, analogue fx and melancholic vocal delivery of ‘Let’s Start Again’ nail the atmospherics on the second single from the LP and sumptuous outro.
Sophisticated and stylish, packing a punch and full to the brim of lush sonic surprises, it’s another stunning album from this sultry songstress.
Sophie Barker’s new solo album Seagull reintroduces her with a more plaintive sound than before. And she talks about the new album - released on indie label Ho Hum Records - with an incredible excitement: “It’s like serendipity calling and coming together through the most natural of sources.”
Some of the songs on Seagull first surfaced in 2006, so it’s been a long old ride. Sophie’s ideas came together on her reflections - of how the world was changing, and how she was trying to situate herself within it. "Seagulls were coming into the city, and I kept imagining their view. Everything was upside down.” It's the idea of a city being overly busy during the daytime, and its creativity only coming alive at night - and about trying to connect, be it emotionally or romantically. Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull - a fable centred on an experimental seagull with a thirst for knowledge - was also an influence.
It’s that same desire to break away, a quest, that took this album so long to surface; it took that long to block out the distractions in order to find the light. During 2007 and 2008, Sophie had tried working with a variety of people - different producers, different live bands - but it just wasn't working: “There was a point when I wasn’t sure whether this album was even going to come to fruition.” That frustration finally lifted when she met Alex Pilkington and Mark Tucker, who co-run Ho Hum Records and also produced the record.
“It brought a great sense of relief and synchronicity - I’d found the producers and band I’ve dreamt of for years. ” The band is made up of life-long friends, “a newly-formed collective of amazing people enjoying music and playing with their own feeling” - including Sam Johnson and Laurence Clack of Lucky Elephant. Her faith persisted way beyond her patience, and she is simply thrilled that everything has finally come together.
“The magic I’m feeling now is similar to what I felt at the beginning of Zero 7,” Sophie adds. She’s had love, lost love, felt disjointed from the city in which she was born and even helped set up The Rainbow Collections Children’s Foundation, a charitable foundation set up to help raise money to rebuild a school in Kenya. She spent time in Africa with children who would walk 1.5 miles to school for the sense of community it brought, rather than the chance of access to running water and food. It gave her a new sense of perspective, one that’s easy to spot on Seagull - the album’s themes return to Sophie’s fascination with the imagination; dispelling the negatives, and focusing on what you have got rather than what you haven’t.
“We need to give, and love - and do it over and over again,” Sophie asserts. “And with my music, it just comes straight through, with no room for contrivances.” Sophie Barker’s songs follow a minimal process, entirely stripped back of artifice - as soon as she came up with a lyric or melody, she headed straight for the studio, and entire songs followed.
The music on the new album is as sincere as she’s ever been, with ideas flowing through from their embryonic stage to the current. The addition of light, deft touches added by Ho Hum in the studio add a certain brevity - spot the Motown-esque licks, the Joni Mitchell leanings and the occasional trip-hop beats. The open and honest way in which the sparse verses build up to a heart-wrenching chorus on ‘Say Goodbye’ show Sophie’s emotions running clear: “I believe in the idea of connecting with many people, and having many soulmates. It’s about loving to your fullest, and then constantly having to let go; you just have to reconcile.” Elsewhere, the jaunty ‘Bluebell’ - bursting with vivid, summery imagery - sees the mood moving swiftly forth from the goodbyes elsewhere.
Seagull is about trust, love and emotions turning over themselves. It’s about understanding those close to you, and letting yourself go. “It’s about being real and being true - being natural,” Sophie explains. “I’m not a hippy, it’s just a back-up for when things don’t go the right way.” This album marks Sophie out as an independent spirit armed with a fine collection of perceptive, soulful songs - a fitting conclusion to its many years in the making.