Q&A with Sophie Brous – 2005 NJA finalist

Step up, Ms Brous! Melbourne singer Sophie Brous answers our relentless questions with perfect grace and reveals an interesting taste in lyrics.

When did you start singing and why? For example, was there a ‘moment’ when singing came to you as a calling or vocation?
I tend to think that every person can sing from birth, so I’m not sure there was a definitive moment when I ‘started’ singing. I began performing and acting at around 11 and always gravitated towards improvisation. Then I began learning singing at the same time and it seemed natural to reconcile my interest in improvisation with using my voice. From there I suppose I just grew more and more absurdly committed to music and felt like it was the direction to follow.

Which musicians (singers or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?
I don’t listen to much vocal jazz at the moment but singers such as Kurt Elling, Betty Carter and Sarah Vaughn have always killed me, so to speak. Their musicality and harmonic sensibilities are so rich and sophisticated. What they present is just so consolidated and decisive and was a real kick for me down the path of contemporary jazz voice.

Other than that, the music of Cat Power, Keith Jarrett, Bob Dylan, Beck, Bjork and many others have inspired me a monolithic amount. In various ways, they teach me how to view music as visceral expression, and to get down and dirty with musicmaking.

What do you look for in a rhythm section?
I really look for a sense of camaraderie in the bands that I am a part of. I have grown up with close friends and members of my family who are involved in rock bands and I’ve always admired the total commitment and joint vision that goes into the music they make. I suppose similarly I look for players who share a certain interest or aesthetic outlook and have an open-mindedness and creativity to feel comfortable jumbling different musical styles under the understanding that we’re making contemporary jazz music.

Plus they should be good looking, obviously.

What are your favourite lyrics, and why?
Lyricists such as Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Billy Holiday, Kurt Weill etc etc all really affect me. In music such as jazz it can be difficult to balance the musical complexity with compelling and truthful words, but some contemporary jazz singers such as Patricia Barber and Kurt Elling have been doing some amazing work that seems to do pretty well at finding a good balance. ‘Shutup Ya Face’ by Joe Dolce has some rich text also.

What are you listening to now?
I listen to a lot of instrumental jazz such as late 60’s and recent Wayne Shorter, 70’s Miles Davis, The Bad Plus, MMW, Keith Jarrett The Andrea Kellar Quartet etc but also spend a lot of time seeing local music that’s being made in and around Melbourne town. I feel like I’m educating myself at these gigs just as I would be if I were listening to overseas players on CD. I think it’s really important to support the scene of which you are an active member. Players such as Jamie Oehlers, Julien Wilson, Gian Slater, Steve Magnusson, Scott Tinkler, Aaron Choulai, Eugene Ball and many others all get me excited about making music.

What do you hope to get out of the Wangaratta competition?
Competitions are strange things to enter into. From experience I’ve learnt to go into them and do what I do without expectations of taking away the chocolate filled key to the city. I’m excited to have the chance to play in front on the collective cross-armed cognoscenti of jazzbo lovers around Australia and to be amongst 9 other wonderful finalists doing their thing for new vocal jazz. Competitions are an opportunity to try and synopsise what it is we do in just two or three songs. Most of us have at least two sets to make clear what it is we’re about; here we’re given a few minutes. Those sorts of constraints can teach you a lot about the music you’re making.

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