Sophe Lux & The Mystic: It’s Like A Fever
“Sometimes it’s uncomfortable and weird,” says Gwynneth Haynes, discussing the creation of her new recent album All Are One. The record marks Haynes’ solo debut after a decade of fronting the Portland, Oregon-based Sophe Lux. With that group she issued records such as 2002’s Plastic Apples and 2006’s Waking The Mystics. The music demonstrated Haynes’ uncanny ability to create songs that were both memorable but filled with dramatic tension and unexpected turns.
A writer or two may have connected dots between Haynes and Kath Bush or Toyah Willcox, maybe even Bowie and Peter Gabriel. But the songwriting was more imaginative and far-reaching than any comparisons could suggest and Haynes’ sense of humor shone through via “Marie Antoinette Robot 2073 (a Rock Opera)” and “God Doesn’t Take American Express” (from Waking The Mystics).
For All Are One Haynes tapped longtime collaborator Larry Crane (She & Him, Pavement, Cat Power) for the project and was determined to avoid themes of dystopic presents or futures and so immersed herself in the writings of Rumi, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and others as she crafted songs that are driven by delightfully strange characters and musically settings that travel the distance between art and pop with uncommon ease.
Though her transition from a band member to solo artist really came into view in 2012, some of the material dates back a decade. “They’re sort of the orphans that were rounded up,” she says, speaking from her Portland home. “Others were more recent but all of them were put through the filter of this solo project. I started with this notion of, ‘How can I do this on my own?’ Not just in the studio, but also, ‘How can I got out and perform this on my own?’ It involved a great deal of learning about electronic technology, computers.”
Though being unfamiliar with some of the technology she was using provided its set of challenges, there were also many moments of liberating discovery during the writing and recording process. “I didn’t know it was possible to do this kind of record with electronic layers and programmed drums and without a band,” she says. “I feel gratitude for having worked with such talented musicians but I was so curious about how to do this by myself and seeing how independent I could be.” She adds, “It was an experience filled with tremendous frustration and a great deal of humility. There’s still so much for me to learn.”
She points out that there was a combination of deliberation and spontaneity within the writing. “I did think about what I wanted to put out into the world,” she notes. “I wanted to be more careful and aware of what I said because I feel like the ideas you put out there get spread around. I wanted to be more conscious and conscientious about dealing with themes that went along with my values. I wanted to write about things I’m curious about and things I wanted others to ask questions about.”
She continues, “I looked at dystopic themes and said, ‘Well, what else is there? What if we thought differently? Why does it have to be dystopic and apocalyptic?’ I thought I could write about social justice and spiritual oneness instead.” That’s where the aforementioned reading list of King, Rumi and others appeared and became invaluable sources of inspiration. “I wanted to see if I could reflect some of their own ideas in my work,” Haynes says.
She used the writings as springboards for the characters that appear on the album, whether the robot shaman of the title piece or the futuristic alien child who sends a message to earth (“Love Comet”) or high priestess retrieving a lost soul (“Your Wonderland”).
“That child looks back on us with a sense of sadness and soulfulness,” she notes, “looking at our human condition and what we’ve done. It was about asking the same questions but through different characters and different lenses. I don’t know if people are going to delve that deeply into it but it’s there if they want to.”
In addition to the thoughtful nature of the lyrics is Haynes’ sense of dramatic tension within the songs and her ability to immerse herself in the characters who speak through her lyrics. Her abilities in this area, she says, come in part from having grown up in a creative family. Her older brother, Todd Haynes, is a film director and writer, whose work includes I’m Not There and Far From Heaven.
“We were kind of Vaudeville kids,” she says. “We were those kids who were constantly putting on plays for our parents and making up songs, lots of creative play.”
During a spell in New York, Haynes adds, she became enamored of performance art and directed some performance art pieces. “That world always felt like a comfortable place for me,” she says. “It’s like the Oscar Wilde quote: ‘Give a man a mask and he’ll tell you the truth.’ Something really powerful happens when you have a persona to speak through. If gives you a freedom, it gives you a permission. It’s much easier, for me, to go places in costume or with a mask on than just being my own self.”
With persona and character both fully part of her writing and performance vocabulary, Haynes says that the creative process itself is almost too swift-moving to track. “It’s like a fever,” she says, “it kind of comes over me and then I just dive into that place. I’m very instinctual in that way, not really a planner or conceiver. From there I’ll get the basic template and vibe and then refine it.”
In addition to becoming more acquainted with studio gear and a wider range of instruments, Haynes has also recently immersed herself in the world of video production for the first time. Making a video for “The Love Comet” involved finding a character to portray the futuristic child who sends the comet on its way. “I started playing around with glue and masks and then, all of a sudden, I said, ‘That’s it! He’s real!’ The character came together in a very different way,” she says, “because I had started to make my own masks and my own costumes. Before this, I’d rent costumes, all that stuff. This whole process of doing it on my own was very cool.”
Haynes adds that, along with discovery, there are also moments of uncertainty but that that those, too, can help the process along. “You have those moments of doubt, that insecurity and you have to live in it for a moment,” she says. “You ask yourself, ‘Am I completely crazy?’ There are moments when your faith is challenged or your belief is challenged and you just have to keep showing up.”
Sophe Lux & The Mystic’s All Are One is out now.