Dreamy, ambient, downtempo – there are plenty of words to describe singer/songwriter Sophie Barker’s sound. But Barker doesn’t suit labels.
“My new album, Break the Habit is – I suppose – about me embracing myself as a ‘solo artist’,” she says. “I hate that terminology by the way, I loathe labels. But I know you have to have a certain channel, to help people to understand it all.”
Although best known for her work alongside Sia with British band Zero 7 (Barker co-wrote and sang the band’s biggest hit, Destiny, and several singles including the haunting In the Waiting Line), Barker has never sat still. She’s since collaborated with artists such as Groove Armada, The Egg and Grooverider, and is now concentrating on her solo efforts. Break the Habit, her third solo album, dropped this January.
Barker’s first Asia tour is kicking off with three shows in Hong Kong, including an album launch party tonight in Studio 9. And, alongside her latest material, she’s bringing her long catalogue of greatest hits with her.
Hong Kong Free Press chatted with Barker to find out what’s in store, and whether she ever wishes people would stop asking her about Zero 7.
What kind of performances are you planning for your Hong Kong shows; are your sets stripped back?
We used to do more acoustic-y things, but in the last couple of years we started playing more dance festivals. So it’s a bit more electronic [than it used to be] – we’re moving away from the folky sound.
Your new album is called Break the Habit – where does the name come from?
Break the Habit is about a time in my life. [2011’s] Seagull was about seeing what was about to happen in the world. This album is about how we as human beings start to move towards breaking the things that are no longer good for us – whether that’s relationships, work, lifestyle, whatever. The point is moving forwards.
There are so many people struggling to keep alive, lots more suicide and depression. I have unfortunately experienced a lot of that in the last few years and this song [title track Break the Habit] is about witnessing, being more healthy and having the courage to let go. Everything is possible, if you let it go. Life wants you to evolve in the best possible way.
The new album has been four years in the making. What has the process been like? It sounds like a lot has happened in your life between Seagull and Break the Habit.
I have definitely had a year of hell, but it has been one of the most enlightening times of my life, even if it didn’t feel like it at the time. There are so many expectations of what you should achieve by a certain age, but it’s such a load of rubbish.
Being a woman, there is a certain coming of age when you’re expected to have kids. When I got to that age I thought “oh wow, I don’t feel like that age” It’s hard when things haven’t quite worked out in the way you thought. But, having come through that time, I realise I am doing exactly what I am meant to be doing. It’s been a profound time.
What is your relationship like with Zero 7 and Sia now – your name is so closely intertwined with the band. Do you ever wish people would stop mentioning it?
I adore them – Henry, Sam, Sia and Mozez and the whole crew. It was an incredible experience. I absolutely don’t want to pack that away. I understand it was a very powerful thing for a lot of people and it was a magical time. It’s difficult, like Sia has broken away and is [a name] in her own right now, and beyond.
But, when you are in between, you’re not famous enough to [just] be Sophie Barker without the attachment of Zero 7. Zero 7 was a great experience and I feel very proud of it. If that is what allows me to play in different countries, then that’s great.
Your new album is about breaking habits. What is your worst habit?
I love a good chat!
Studio 9 Hong Kong Friday 24th March
Album launch. Here we come SE Asia.So excited!
— Sophie Barker (@TheSophieBarker) March 22, 2017
Sophie Barker in Hong Kong, Mar 24, 25, 28, various venues. For more information and tickets click here.