Hard to believe that it has been nearly four years already since we were introduced to both Sophie Burberry and Little Bark, through the bravely two-faced anagrammatic double album ‘Hope Is Rubbery’. Her fresh, often whimsical vocals apart, it was the input of synths that most strongly linked the album’s two parts and it is synths again, some of her own creation, that she has built her sophomore ‘USB’ album upon, as Burberry happily explains to James Manning.
“It’s in those quick moments that we find our humanity.” Little Bark, real name Sophie Burberry, passionately relays an idea by influential filmmaker Werner Herzog that informed both the making of her sophomore album ‘USB’, and her own creativity.
“As soon as we spend too long thinking about something, we lose it, because the humanity is that spark, that core thing that happens. I suppose that idea permeates through my entire record.”
Released almost four years after her debut album ‘Hope Is Rubbery’, ‘USB’ (which stands for ‘Unique Sonic Broadcast’) is an album built on a love of vintage synths and cinema. Taking inspiration from the dark ambience of Swedish electronic artist Fever Ray, science fiction soundtracks, and with nods to David Bowie and Brian Eno, Little Bark’s sonic broadcast is cinematic in scope and emotive in impact.
Opener Modern Love is bombastic and lush, while second single Arpeggiator is a foreboding, twisted number that could easily score a Lynchian take on Blade Runner. Pulsating, electronic interludes enhance ‘USB’’s mesmeric charm, and clocking in under 30 minutes it is a strong, original body of work without filler material.
Sipping a cup of coffee at Conch Records in Ponsonby, Sophie is animated and cheerful.
“My songwriting style is quite image-based, and I try to let it all go and let it be,” she smiles.
To create the thematic consistency of a soundtrack she completed the writing in a short burst over two weeks, a tidal, organic process.
“The lyrics just were what they were, I didn’t re-think them,” she explains. “It’s quite unconscious, but you have to open yourself up, or else you’re going to create something within a confine that people will see right through.”
With the help of producer Stef Animal, the album was recorded over a series of fortnightly stints, in Auckland and Wellington.
“We’d take six months, do two weeks, another six months, do two weeks, maybe another three months, do two weeks. We probably did six or eight times of that so it would have taken three months full time to make.”
Stef Animal’s aid and production was vital to Sophie’s vision for the album.
“Stef just let me keep on going because I needed to. You can’t reach your own potential unless you have someone else to push you, and also express themselves within that work. That’s how you learn.”
The raw atmosphere of ‘USB’ came from a love for lo-fi production and by avoiding formal recording studios.
“We’d just get an empty shell of a room because I don’t believe in hi-fi production, I can’t stand it in records,” Sophie quips. “I like the production on old ’80s stuff like the Pet Shop Boys, because you can hear the vintage synths. It hasn’t been cut cold and it hasn’t been done with these snazzy amps cutting out half the frequencies in it.
Trained in classical music as a child, Sophie became discouraged about performing following a severe stage-fright bout at the age of 10, and says she was put off again through high school by male-dominated music classes. After completing a degree in biochemistry, genetics and molecular biology, she returned to Victoria University for courses in sampling and sonic arts.
“I just sort of picked up whatever I needed to and took it.”
The new album cover features Sophie’s face faded in white, deliberately intended to keep audience interest solely on the music.
“I’m quite a staunch feminist,” she asserts. “And I feel like women are selling their bodies and sexuality, and I don’t believe in that. I actually did gigs for ages in masks because of it, but the audience couldn’t connect with me.”
She beams when talking about her love for synths. She writes her own synth blog and has published posts on the Korg Polysix, the Roland Juno 6 and is planning one on the Korg MS-20.
“I like synths because they have their own temperaments,” she explains. “I could understand their mathematical realms, there are so many different variations that you can create just with one synth, with years of creative output.”
Nord’s Wave is one of her favourites because it allows users to input sampled synths and create their own. Many such self-created synths are featured throughout the album, arranged with that same organic, rough-around-the-edges mentality.
“Half of our synths were just a single line in where the stereo line is. We’d go back over the tracks and hear clicks and be like, ‘Oh well, just bury that in there, who cares?’ she laughs. “It stops the creative process if you worry about how it’s all going to sound in the end.”
With the sophomore album ticked off, Little Bark’s future plans include a NZ tour and a visit to New York for the post-CMJ audiences.