Interview: Sophie Johnson-Hill

Monday 27 September 2004
reading time: min, words

"Everyone from OutDaVille was so passionate about music that it didn't matter where I was from"

Sophie Johnson-Hill is a singing sensation in Nottingham. She originally started out as a choirgirl for St Peters Church, but her love of hiphop, her beautiful voice and her willingness to experiment musically led to a place for her in the Notts hiphop crew OutDaVille.

Since they split, she has joined up with Dealmaker Records and has just released her first solo EP 'A New Dawn' with Non-Thespian's Dwyz on production. Surely nothing can stop her now. Well... erm maybe.

You're taking a 6-month break from singing. What are the reasons for this?
"A few months ago I discovered I had a cyst on my vocal chords, which is probably due to singing, stress and not taking enough care warming up."
"The whole of my ep was recorded since the cyst  developed and it's given my vocals a more sexy huskier sound. But I miss my top range and a 6 month break might mean I get those high notes back without a risky operation.  Music is my therapy and half a year of no singing is going to feel like hell.  I'm going to be bursting with melodies when I get back on that mic. Believe!"
The white label is finished and out. What are your thoughts on it?
"I'm so crap at blowing my own trumpet. I'm really happy with the white label. It's my first ever solo release so I'm obviously proud.  It's the first time I've embarked on a project with Dwyz, who produced every track on the white label and my forthcoming ep.  Dwyz has been brilliant to work with because he's such a talented producer and he's so experimental and different.  I think our styles really complement each other."
"The track New Dawn really just gave me the chance to vent all my feelings about the shameful state of the music industry right now.  Bounce your head couldn't be more different. I just wrote about my walk into town to pick the beat up from Dwyz. Simple as."
Take us back to the beginning of your career.  How did you originally hook up with OutDaVille?
"Big Trev was looking for a choral singer to feature on an outdaville track and I happened to be shaking my ass at a hiphop night in notts at that time. Within a few weeks after that night he'd managed to track me down.  I featured on a track called `Take a Journey' which went out on a white label as Outdaville vs Sophie Johnson-Hill." 
"My vocals couldn't have been further away from the usual RnB type chorus's that you can find mixed up in most hiphop tracks, and that's why we were all really happy with how `Take a Journey' was received by everyone.  I never expected air play off my first ever track, in fact it was Scorzayzee who rang me telling me to switch on Radio 1 because Westwood was playing out our track. It was an amazing feeling. Good memories!"
It must have been quite strange all these kids from St Anns and you coming in from a church choir background...
"Yep, it was a really different experience for me but I never felt out of place.  Big Trev runs the community recording studio in such a way where you can't help but feel comfortable.  How is it possible to be creative in a place where you don't feel relaxed?  Everyone in that building is so passionate about music that I guess it didn't matter where I was from, what I looked like, or about my musical background, we all had a common interest and that was to make more music."

Do you still see your old OutDaVille colleagues around much? Any plans to work with any of them again..?
"Of course I'm always bumping into them all, this is Nottingham we're talking about!  I doubt I will ever stop calling Big Trev and picking his brain about this and that.  I have so much respect for that man and everything he's doing.  Scorz will always be a special friend to me, I love him lots.  I talk to lee every now and again when I need to smile. I've been working with karizma pretty much since we all went our separate ways from Outdaville and he's featuring on my EP `Blue Stone Therapy'.  But yep, love them all and would love to work with every single one of them again, Ya hear me Nick?  Where's my beats at...?!"

What other musicians or artists are you feeling in the Notts scene?
"Steve Pinnock is an incredible guitarist; you cannot begin to imagine what this guy can do with a guitar. You have to see it to believe it. Non Thespian, If I could muster up a tenth of the energy that they throw at you in every live performance then I reckon I could live for six months with no food and water. Foz. I swear to god he's swallowed a couple of decks and an entire orchestra. There's no other explanation for all those noises he can make. The Elementz....  Actually there are so many artists in Nottingham that I'd happily pay good money to go see do their thing."

What other musicians and artists are you feeling generally?
"Agh! How long do you have?  I'm a versatile girl.  Bach, Taskforce, Nina Simone, Bryn, Jehst, Ella Fitzgerald, Norah Jones, Nas, Tarkan, Aim, Nitin Sawhney, Louis Armstrong, Chilli Peppers... I've got Jill Scott in my cd player now."
Tell us a bit about Dealmaker Records
"Dealmaker records.  Love em.  They're like a talent sponge rolling through the country, soaking up any artists, dj's, graffers, breakers, musicians and anyone oozing with creativity and soul, and giving them a means to do what they love.  Just what the industry needs."

What was the last film you saw?
"I saw one last week but it was overdubbed in Turkish and to be honest I fell asleep half way through it.  I know Russell Crowe was in it, if that's any help."
What was the last song that you heard that you wished you'd sung on?
"A track by a guitarist going by the name of Antio Forccione.  I wish I knew the name of it, but I'm blonde so what can ya do?"

Who are your biggest musical inspirations?
"I'm inspired to write not so much by other people's music as by other people.  My emotions move me to write.  A single thought or even just a word can spur me into my next song.  A photo, the sound of my heels on the pavement, the hum of the fridge, a dripping tap, a smell that sparks off a memory, my tears, someone's laugh, a simple drum loop, witnessing an argument, anything and everything makes me get out my lyric book and start scribbling."

If you couldn't sing then what else would you do with your life?
"Act, write, direct, dance, animate, compose, fly, start a new religion, make papier-maché monkeys, take over the world."
Where do you go out in Notts? What's your ideal way to spend a night in the city..?
"I don't go out at the weekends in notts.  You can only escape the nasty attitude in certain bars and you have to experience that negative atmosphere to get to them.  It's not what I'm about.  I prefer to go out midweek and I try to vary it too. For example two nights ago I went for the first time to a salsa night with my sister.  Wine, salsa, high heels and sophie is asking for an interesting night. But I like wax, dogma, the social, pitcher and piano, bar schnapps, bluu and the broadway."

Are you single at the moment? What kind of things do you look for in a guy?
"Errr...yep ...ish. I've got my eye on someone.  I look for honesty, intelligence, good sense of humour, in touch with their child side, creativity, smiley eyes, kissing lips and nice hands.  I like tummies."

What was the last thing that made you really happy?
"New shoes... that's such a pants reason to get happy I know but retail therapy really works on me."
Is there anything else you want us to mention in the article?
"Watch out for my `Blue Stone Therapy' EP. I've really put my heart and soul into it."

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