Q & A with Sodastream

Written by Julie Leighton

Sodastream are an Australian duo consisting of Karl Smith (vocals, guitar) and Pete Cohen (double bass, backing vocals). From 1998 to 2007 they toured regularly across Australia, USA, Europe and Japan with support coming from John Peel, Moby, Rough Trade Records and VPRO in Holland. They began working together again in 2013 and are about to release – Little by Little – their first new record in ten years. Julie Leighton from Amnplify caught up with them recently and asked them all the hard questions.

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Sodastream

Sodastream

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Karl and Pete, congratulations on your latest album Little By Little which will be released in Australia on February 13th and in Europe and the USA on March 3rd. It has been 10 years since your last album release and I’m sure your fans can’t wait to hear your new songs.

What can fans expect from the album launch at Northcote Social Club on February 24th?

It should be a great night at the NSC! We’ll have old friends Ben Mason and Last Leaves in support, so it is always nice to bring together people who we have gigged with (as fellow musos and as audience members) a lot over the years.

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For those who haven’t seen you perform live before, what’s a typical Sodastream gig look like, and how will this one differ given the special occasion?

That really depends on where we are and what the setting is. At the core of Sodastream is the acoustic guitar, double bass and two vocals, and we often perform and tour as a duo. We’ll alternate instruments to include piano, musical saw and harp.

Given this is a launch, we’ll have some guest musicians up on stage including Marty Brown on drums and Jenny Thomas on violin. They both played on the album recording.

Our shows are pretty intense, ranging from some very quiet moments through to full bore ones.

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You’re playing your first Australian show on February 24 at the Northcote Social Club. Can fans expect a mix of music from your earlier albums and latest release? And are you looking forward to playing live and “getting out of the house” where you performed live for your fans on Facebook?

Haha! We have done a few live online streaming shows in recent years and are getting more used to working with that format. We are pursuing it because it seems our fans are equally distributed around the world, so we have people tuning in from all corners of the world. The weird thing though is finishing a song and there just being silence. So we are looking forward to being in front of a crowd and exchanging the energy that goes along with a live show.

We’ll be playing a mix of songs from our whole back catalogue. Its getting hard these days to decide which songs to play and which to leave out. Now we understand why people like Bruce Springsteen play three hour sets!

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Sodastream

Sodastream

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Do you have plans to tour the album more extensively?

Yes! We are playing in London on March 24 for a festival organised by a label we used to work with there. Then off to Italy for a week in early April, and heading to Perth at the end of April.

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You toured regularly across Australia, the USA, Europe and Japan between 1998 and 2007 and recorded several LPs and Eps. You regrouped in 2013. You mentioned on your live Facebook performance that since your break you have both become fathers. Did you continue to make music during the break and how has fatherhood impacted your lives, both personally and professionally?

We both remained quite active during that period. Karl released a solo record and formed the band Lee Memorial, which Pete later joined. Pete was in Khancoban for a couple of years and worked closely with Luluc on their first album.

Fatherhood has had a massive impact on our lives. We were previously so laser focused on our music careers, but now we have much more perspective, and many more things to juggle. There are so many cliches about parenthood that we could roll out here because they are all true. But in terms of the intersection with our music, we now seem to have a new appreciation for the opportunity to make music together, and that people are interested in hearing it. We used to be immersed in that world so it seemed normal and perhaps we took it for granted. But now we know that it is special opportunity that not everyone has, so we want to make the most of it.

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You have utilised “crowd funding” to finance a limited-edition vinyl release of Little By Little. You initially pressed 500 copies and there are only 99 copies left. Your live Facebook performance on November 27 last year illustrates the close relationship you have with your fans. What is it like to enjoy such a close rapport with fans and does their enthusiasm for your music inspire you to continue writing, recording and performing?

Without wanting to downplay things, there are still plenty of copies still available overseas – we only had a couple of hundred shipped to Australia, and over 70 were presold through the crowd funding, which was a great result.

When we reflect on our initial 10 years in Sodastream, we had a few “red pill, blue pill” moments where things could have taken a turn that would have made us more commercially successful. But we are pretty sure that that road would have given us less opportunity to form genuine, close bonds with so many of our fans. We were often crashing on their couch after a gig, or hanging out at the bar before we played. We all grew up together in a sense, and through the modern age of Facebook etc, we are all still in touch and continuing the journey. That feels amazing and really inspiring. When we head to London in March we’ll be playing with an American band The Butterflies of Love who we toured with a lot, and seeing so many of the fans we hung out with repeatedly over the years. And likewise in Italy, we’ll be revisiting many people and places that became dear to us over years of touring there. All that feels much more valuable that anything pure commercial success could have afforded us.

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Sodastream

SODASTREAM – Little By Little

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Karl, with respect to the inspiration behind your first single, Three Sins, you have talked about the way society tends to label suicide bombers, paedophiles, arsonists and other alleged evil doers as “monsters”? Michael Moore, documentary filmmaker, theorises that labelling people as “monsters” contributes to societal fear mongering. What is your view on this?

Yes. I have to say I agree with Michael Moore on that. That was kind of the point of the song really. It was an attempt to humanise the people who so many people see as monsters. Everyone is an amalgamation of their life experiences – both good and bad. So if we peel off the layers and try to understand how someone might act a certain we are more likely to be able to make a positive difference in their lives.

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Pete, when you and Karl performed Let It All Turn Black during your live Facebook show, you played the saw. I guess any kind of implement can produce musical sounds. What motivated the saw playing and have you ever played it on other songs?

There are a few other songs featuring the saw – Keith and Tina from the EP Take Me With You When You Go, Michelle’s Cabin from the album Reservations, and Saturday’s Ash from the new album.

I stumbled across the saw in a dusty little music store in Amsterdam in 1999, and it took me a few years to work out how to actually play it properly. One thing I like about it is that it is so light to carry – the opposite of lugging a double bass around the globe! But like the double bass, there is a lot of fluidity in the instrument – there are no frets, it can sound sweet, or you can make it growl. That is what I love most about playing music, and the songs we write – we explore all the extremes of where music can go.

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I have learned that song-writing is an intensely personal process and that everyone has a different way of getting from the first hint of an idea to the completed piece of music, and every song develops in a different way. Do you use a similar approach when writing new material or does your process differ from song to song?

Every song is a little different but they usually start with a little melody, a chord progression or a lyric. You never know when they’ll pop into your head so I always carry a notebook with me. I also spend a lot of time singing into my phone – sometimes that’s in the car, at the station or just walking down the street. I find that as long as I try to capture the idea at the source I can flesh it out later. I try to stop what I’m doing for a few minutes and develop the idea enough to be able to play it over in my head through the day until I get home.

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Your music has been described as Indie Folk. Would you agree with that labelling of your music style or do you find the categorising of music in terms of genres somewhat limiting?

Labelling is hard. Indie Folk is as good a label as any others we have ever been able to think of. If it helps people find it, then that is a bonus.

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Do you have any favourite songs you like to perform?

Constant Ships and Keith and Tina are a couple that come to mind as they are both pretty dynamic and fun to play.

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Sodastream

Sodastream

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Is there a venue or festival in Australia or overseas that you would love to perform at?

We often talk about how we would love to play at the Melbourne Recital Centre.

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Do you ever play any covers? 

Frequently! We pretty much always do a cover at launches and special shows, either as a bit of fun, or as a tip of the hat to a musical hero. At our 2013 shows we covered Never Tear Us Apart and Friday I’m In Love. We are working on another cover for the album launch.

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What has been your biggest challenge as a band?

Balancing life on the road when we were touring intensely over a 10 year period was pretty full on. We never really had much money, and were working very crappy jobs in between tours. Our relationships and friendships often had to take a back seat. Sometimes it felt like we were on a runaway train that we couldn’t get off, because our releases and tours were always booked about six months in advance. And then finally getting off that train when the time came required quite the adjustment.

But we have no regrets, and wouldn’t change a thing. And we are lucky to have emerged from that period with our health intact and friendship strong, and the opportunity to keep making music together.

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Has there been one particular moment in your musical career that you’re most proud?

It’s hard to call out one. But being so strongly supported by BBC DJ John Peel, and to have been featured in his Festive 50 for 1998 and to have played a Peel Session is quite a standout, and all the more special since his passing. He was a hugely influential figure, and in a sense we owe our musical career to him hearing something special in our sound and backing us.

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What else do you like to do besides music?

Work wise, Pete is a technology consultant, and Karl runs his own content, copywriting and editing business. We were lucky to find career paths that still have a creative element to them and pay the bills.

Other than that, these days family life is all consuming, so we are usually changing nappies or negotiating with a toddler!

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Thanks guys for the chat.

 

Click here for tickets to Sodastream’s upcoming album launch

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AMNPLIFY – DB

February 4th, 2017

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