Beyond traditions: SOKO on the modern family
As she releases her Oh, To Be a Rainbow! embroidered T-shirt with COS, the indie French musician and actor opens up about motherhood, queer love and the need to fight for trans kids’ rights.
With three cult albums, two César acting nominations and ‘a three-and-a-half-year-old human to raise and take care of nonstop by myself’, Bordeaux-born, LA-based SOKO (she/her) has been stacking up the life achievements. When we chat to the 36-year-old in her Highland Park home, she’s contemplating what’s next for both her and her child, Indigo. ‘I’m recording on and off’, she says, ‘but I'm also trying to potentially move back to Paris’. For someone who feels like the embodiment of the cool French girl in California, the proposed move comes as something of a shock. Why would she leave a place she admits she’d love to stay living in? ‘Most of my work has always been in Paris’, she explains. ‘When I was single and not a parent, it was super easy to go back and forth and live in LA, then go back and forth and work in Paris, but now that I have a kid and they're going to school, it's a lot harder in LA.’
So after 14 years on and off in the States, SOKO is readying herself for a return to the motherland. She shows some trepidation about how a single, queer mother will swap liberal LA for Paris, but if any French woman has made an effort to change people’s values and normalise lesbian love, relationships and families, it’s SOKO. As a singer, she’s consistently used her music videos for tracks such as Let Me Adore You to share intimate footage of herself kissing, cuddling and having fun with her same-sex partners. And beyond that, she’s shown herself caressing her beautiful, naked baby bump and sharing a bed with her lover and child – acts that are still deemed shocking in some corners of the world.
‘Why should we only ever see a man and a woman kissing? It’s important for me to make a statement and show what life looks like for me and other people.’
For SOKO, it was always essential to use the soft power of music, videos and film to show non-cis-het forms of love. For her, sexuality and gender should all be fluid. ‘I’m gay. I'm lesbian. Sometimes I'm bi, but mostly I'm a lesbian and pan. I'm queer. I actually just don't really care about gender. In terms of life experience, it has been much easier for me to have partnerships with women or people identifying as women. But that's not to say that it couldn't change.’
As she releases her Oh, To Be a Rainbow! embroidered Pride T-shirt, we catch up on the song that inspired it, the fight to protect trans kids and the need for LGBTQIA+ history in schools.
ON HER ALT GAY ANTHEM
‘What inspired the track Oh, To Be a Rainbow! was that I wanted my own version of a gay anthem: something that would be a good reminder of all the things it takes to be the full spectrum of a rainbow. You need to have a full range of emotions because rainbows are made from sun and rain. Everything in between is magical. It's about accepting who you are and your feelings, accepting good days and bad days and accepting that the magic comes from a balance of both. It’s the queer and indie version of a gay anthem and is not out there in the pop world. I used that line as inspiration for the T-shirts and I was like, “Oh, I want to do cross-stitch embroidery”. I really wanted it to be old style, vintage looking and to be super bright, colourful, playful and childish. I wanted it to look like it's been made by your grandma who's accepting of all the queers. I did this for a little child to be like, “Listen, you could be whatever”. That was the idea behind it.’
ON HER GROUNDBREAKING VIDEOS
‘Let Me Adore You was partly filmed when I was pregnant and with my ex-partner, Stella. I didn't have any examples of any of this growing up. I had no idea. I had to figure it all out by myself. I loved that when I did put this video out, I had so many comments from people saying, “This is what I want”. Young people being like, “I never knew this existed”. That's why I'm not shying away from that. Because why should we only ever see a man and a woman kissing? It’s important for me to make a statement and show what life looks like for me and hopefully other people. Just being transparent and normalising what my life looks like.’
ON NOT REALLY COMING OUT
‘It happened quite organically. I kind of always knew, I had a little crush on my best friend when I was 10. As for coming out, there was no awareness about gay people. I didn't know what coming out meant. We don't have a word for it in French. So at that time I had no idea that I had to come out or reveal something. I remember one day, my mom, when I was like 19 or 20, was like, “Hey, if you have a boyfriend and you want to bring him over this summer”. And I was like, “Well, I don't have a boyfriend, but I have a girlfriend”. She was like, “Oh, well, yeah you can bring your girlfriend over”.’
ON PRIDE’S NEW FIGHTS
‘I’ve never really done Pride. I really dislike crowds, so a march or a music festival is my nightmare. It really gives me anxiety. I do some marches and write some signs, but it's more in times of absolute crisis. And I've never done a, “Let's go to Pride and have fun and celebrate that I'm gay!” That's not my idea of celebrating and having fun. But there are always going to be fights to be had. The things happening right now against trans kids in the US is insane. Not teaching about gay history in school is insane. That places in the world are still so insanely conservative and punishing people for being open about their gender or sexuality, there's still a way to go in so many areas. I feel super privileged that I don't go to jail for who I am in this country or in France.’
ON MODERN QUEER FAMILIES
‘The good thing about being a parent in California is that you can never assume that a man and a woman are together or that a man and a woman with a child mean that they're the mom and the dad. I like that you don't live life assuming things based on heteronormativity. I like that freedom. I like that I'm not the only queer parent at my school and I love that I have this community of so many queer parents around me. I feel super accepted and normal. Moving back to Paris, I'm a little scared, because when I talk to the schools there, it feels like they’re still a bit behind. Because in general LA is so inclusive and supportive of all sorts of families, I don't have many challenges about me being a queer mom. I'm super lucky that I found a great community in having Indigo in a super cute, tiny, all vegan, organic school that is all about feminism and inclusivity. The other day Indigo came back from school and was like, “Mommy, do you know the three Rs?” And I said, “What is that?" He's like, “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle”. I'm like, my goodness!’
‘In California, I like that you don't live life assuming things based on heteronormativity. I like that freedom.’
What would be your summer soundtrack?
‘Indigo and I have a “good vibes only” thing that we do every morning. We wake up and listen to Parcels, an Australian band based in Berlin. Their music makes me super happy.’
What would be your perfect summer holiday?
‘Costa Rica. I love the jungle. I love tropical rain. I love the monkeys. I love the beaches. I love the tropical fruits. I love the sloths. I love it all.’
And what would be your holiday read?
‘Probably some self-help book about being a great parent or being a great person or overcoming some challenges. I'm reading a book called Reclaiming Pleasure. It’s a sex-positive guide for moving past sexual trauma and living a passionate life.’
Best summer festival moment you've had?
‘My best memory of going to a festival is probably a few years ago going to see Radiohead, my favourite band in the world, play a perfect set at Coachella.’
What's your style?
‘Baggy shorts and baggy vintage T-shirts. And socks and sandals.’
Words by Stuart Brumfitt
Photography by Collier Schorr
Styling by Esther Matilla
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