While visiting America for the first time, Philine Sonny exposed herself to the shadows which lurk behind the glistening camera lights of blockbusters, Instagram photoshoots and music videos. In them were ordinary people, shoved out of the spotlight and living in neglect, stripped of their voice and worth. Prompting Philine’s natural ability to criticise toxic social milieus within her sound, she coined the track “People” — writing a narrative for the people who cannot do so for themselves.
As an accompanying music video starts to pan areas of desertion and derelict, Philine’s soft vocals trickle down a minimal soundscape, concentrated with an empathetic tone which helps to deliver the underlying message of the track. While singing of the views of countless people sleeping on the streets and in the backs of cars, Philine wonders when people will open their eyes to the issue, rather than trying to keep it a secret.
Despite the sombre sentiments of the track, the chorus drops into a euphoric melody — encapsulating Philine’s unwavering hopefulness and positivity. Having demonstrated this through much of her early work, we cannot wait to watch Philine conquer her field and the world with finesse.
To mark the release of her latest track, we spoke with the artist about the journey which brought her to “People”, and her first-ever concert which will take place in April. To stream the track and for the full interview, head below…
When did you first encounter your love for music?
There wasn’t really that one moment, I think. But I remember, when I was 11 or 12, a few months after I started taking drum lessons, I was in the car with my dad and the radio was on and suddenly I noticed things about the music that I hadn’t before. I started analysing what I was hearing and tried to play along, tapping on my thighs and stuff. That never stopped, so that must‘ve been a moment where something clicked.
You dedicated your third single “Oh Brother” to your brother and childhood. Was there anyone in particular who influenced you to make music growing up and/or was, was there any aspect of your home life that was musical?
My parents both like to listen to music and my dad kind of became a DJ in his free time, but besides that not really. My mum wanted my brother to learn how to play the guitar and bought one for Christmas but he never touched that thing. Eventually I picked it up when I was old enough.
Were you exposed to any artists akin to you growing up? Who were your musical influences?
Whenever my parents’ friends came over, we would play SingStar, either the “Allstar“ or “German Pop Rock“ edition, and that‘s basically the kind of music I grew up with. When I was older my dad introduced me to Biffy Clyro and I loved it. But I’d say the first artists that really influenced me to the point where you can hear it in my songs are Ben Howard, Bruce Springsteen and Sam Fender.
In a variety of images online you’re holding a guitar, when did you first start playing and how did this impact your life?
I began playing more and more on my brother‘s guitar when I was 14, I think. I taught myself to play my favourite songs and at the beginning, I didn’t really care about playing the guitar – I just simply needed something to sing to. At some point I started checking out guitar players I liked, looked up what gear they used and loved that I finally had a hobby and something to be nerdy about. Playing acoustic guitar opened the door to songwriting for me but when I bought my first electric guitar and my pedal board, it opened up a whole new world of sounds and possibilities. I still don’t consider myself a good guitarist though and I don’t think I know too much about it but I learned that that doesn’t really matter anyway.
Has your style of music evolved from when you first started writing and playing?
I’d say my songwriting has gotten better but it hasn‘t really changed that much. The style of music is mostly about the production, I think, and since the first thing I produced was this EP, there hasn’t really been time for me to change my style yet.
How would you define your sound in one word?
Organic maybe? One word is tough, though.
I love how conscious you are of the intricacies of mental health and this translated into your debut single “Lose Yourself” beautifully, how do you what your fans to feel when listening to your music?
I want them to feel encouraged to call it what it is and not be afraid of it. When you start talking about your mental illness it can become easier to recognise it is not part of your personality which for me was an important step. But this is only my experience, it is different for everyone of course. Anyone suffering from mental illness should not be afraid to talk to a professional about it. I’m pretty sure there are more people in my life who have been to therapy than people who haven’t, it is very good and very normal!
What was involved in the songwriting process of “People”?
I‘ve been thinking about this sense of home that you have for some places that aren’t really treating you well. I wanted to write about a small, miserable town and at first, I was just collecting scenarios I thought could happen in a place like this. So in the end, the people I am telling stories about in the song also show the bigger picture and actually tell the story of a whole town or people’s relationship with their hometown.
I love that you are passionate about the homelessness problem in the USA, How was your experience shooting your video for “People” around this theme? Also what ‘change’ do you want to be elicited from this vídeo?
It was my first time in the USA or L.A. and it was weird because you’re kind of familiar with your surroundings even if you’re from Germany because you’ve seen it all before in movies or on Instagram or music videos and stuff. But what was intense for me to see and what we wanted to capture in the video, is that you only get shown half of the reality. On one of my first days there, I walked across a bridge from where you could see Santa Monica Pier, all lit up and pretty, but in the parking lot right next to it there were countless people sleeping in their cars, people living on the sidewalk, sleeping on the beach. It’s like they were ignored because it would mess up the picture if you’d noticed them. I think it makes people uncomfortable thinking about this for too long and I can’t exclude myself here, but this is absolutely no way to treat people. I don’t have a solution to the problem but I hope as a first step we could try not to close our eyes to this.
You have a concert on the 23rd of April, are you excited? What do you love most about performing?
I am, it will be the first concert ever with my band. I’ve never really played with a band before, so that’s scary! After these two years, it has gotten very clear to me that without the connection you build with people when you play live, it all seems surreal. Performing makes every other part of the job as a musician worthwhile. Whenever I came home from a show, I always knew exactly what I wanted to do next, what songs I wanted to write and how I wanted them to feel live.
What can we be looking forward to, from you in the future?
I wrote lots and lots of songs over the past two years which I am now starting to record. They’re even more honest and personal than the ones on the EP, I don’t know if that is a good idea though. Also, I‘m gonna be playing a few more festivals this summer that haven’t been announced yet, I am really looking forward to that!