Interview: Australian pianist & composer Sophie Hutchings talks about creating her soundscape

Ahead of her Melbourne Recital Centre show this Thursday, we caught up with Australian composer and pianist Sophie Hutchings to chat about her new EP Candela, the composing process behind her serene recordings, and find out how her Sydney show went last week!

What are your earliest memories of the piano? Were you experimenting or enchanted from a young age and if so, what composers or musicians motivated you? 

I only have blurred recollections, though my mother tells me I was three when I first lifted the lid of the piano and started tinkering “Mary had a little lamb.” I do have a vivid memory of our family piano in the lounge room though which I very much gravitated towards. I loved the physicality of it and the layers of sound it made.

There was a lot of music bellowing 24/7 in our home. I always loved listening to music and enjoyed the variety. As a child I did particularly love the themes from Alice in Wonderland and Fantasia. Never the less it wasn’t so much music or composers that fully drove me. I think it was more ideas and subject matter at the time that encouraged my imagination. Site reading was a frustration for me. My teacher would give me themes to compose music to as part of my homework and I naturally embraced this as it allowed freedom of expression and belief in myself.

There is such an ethereal soundscape to your work that feels inspired by nature, is nature or the surrounding environment a motivator for your composing? Do you always use the same work and recording spaces?

I do love getting out in nature.  The visual aspects and sounds that one absorbs feed and encourage introspection, even if vague. That sort of domain gives your creative head space room to breathe, then it’s channelled in a subliminal way as there’s no definite contemplative process when initially writing for me.

The composing environment has always been within my home; however, the environment always differs depending on where you are at.  I’ve worked in a few regular studios. One of my favourite’s is Oceanic Studios. It’s very relaxed and has a lot of musical bric-a-brac that lends itself to spontaneous creative use.  It also has this huge high window across the top that allows this beautiful natural light to seep in at certain hours of the day.

What can you tell me about the writing process of your most recent EP Candela? What inspired you during this time?

It was very much an ongoing journey from [2017 album] Yonder which was all about long journeys and letting go of the restraint of time.  We have a lot of expansive terrain in Australia.  I love road trips and view the stretch as an opportunity to day dream. Taking in the existence of things seen from afar that you feel yourself slowly nearing and passing you by before your eyes draw upon more of the unknown beauty that lays ahead.

Candela was a sleepy version of this, recorded in the dead of night between 1-3am in my home with an improvised approach. It’s got a more hushed nocturnal air about it.

Are there any genres or bands that your fans may be surprised you listen too? 

I’m a huge fan of Gamelan music, Classical Indian Raga and Old Classical Persian music. On the other end of the spectrum I really love Ethio-Jazz and good atmospheric experimental grooves be it old or new. DJ Shadow is a favourite. I also love Tears for Fears! Does that come as a surprise?

Do covers of songs make their way into your sets? Are there any surprising covers/pieces you love to play during shows or when you’re alone? 

I’ve only ever done covers when I’ve been involved in a project that has approached me and asked me to do so. It’s not something I naturally gravitate towards however when I have done I’ve really enjoyed the process of infusing your own musical persona into the unique world of someone else’s original piece, so you never know they may just creep into a set sometime.

What can we expect from you in the future? Have you got any plans post-Candela yet?  

This year has been more about collaborative projects so there is a few recent releases I’ve been involved with. There’s been a little unknown something hanging about from my Wide Asleep album that will shortly unfold as part of the new 180g vinyl re-pressing. I’ve also been writing a new album which I will start to expand, shape and work on upon my return from Europe.

Your music inspires relaxation and serenity, when you perform are you in a stressful mindset that forces you to stay alert or can you let yourself daydream and be lulled into the piano movements?

Entering your own world is the ideal place really. I think I’ve tended to experience a little bit of both. As much as I’m an outgoing person my music has always tended to be the more introverted side of me, so it took me a while to get used to sharing this with people in a live setting. I guess it’s like anything though, the more you do it, the more you become comfortable and enjoy sharing that part of you with people. It becomes something you value which is why I like to try and interact with my audience after a show.

You played a show in Sydney last week. How was the gig at The Newsagency? 

The Newsagency is a very unique eclectic kind of venue. It’s a bit ‘New York underground’ which I think is great. Sydney needs that.  It’s like a big vintage Grandmothers lounge room, so the atmosphere is very relaxed. It was full, yet cosy.  All the lights were off which made a for a very settled, calm atmosphere and Anatole set a lovely mood with his opening performance.

Sophie Hutchings is playing one last Australian show at the Melbourne Recital Centre with Braille Face on August 30th before heading on a European tour. For information about her music head HERE and to purchase tickets to the show you can head HERE.

Lachlan Mitchell

Since 2011, I have been a staff writer, photographer and videographer for the AU review in Sydney. I contribute across all branches of the site including music, arts, food & lifestyle, tech and travel and create pieces that incorporate a mix of writing, photography and video.