“I Love People but I Also Thrive off Alone Time Because That’s Where My Creativity Comes From”. A Conversation with Sophie Hutchings

“I Love People but I Also Thrive off Alone Time Because That’s Where My Creativity Comes From”. A Conversation with Sophie Hutchings

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Sophie Hutchings is a neoclassical pianist and composer who creates music with such beauty and a calm majesty. From learning jazz notation, to recording in the middle of the night, here she shares her journey and process.
classical pianist sophie hutchings

I’ve had a really hectic few weeks and then this morning I was listening to your music and I had a moment of, ‘Oh, this is exactly how I wanted to start my day’. Beautiful piano music I find so calming. Does it feel that way to play?

It does yeah for sure. It’s funny, when people ask “what were you thinking when you wrote this piece?”… my first instinct is always to say I wasn’t thinking, because it’s almost like this visceral process where you’re always feeling something, but you actually don’t know what you’re thinking.

And I get really emotional after. It’s almost like my emotional side has a solid purging through the piano. When I listen back it’s like having a conversation with a part of me that I wasn’t aware of at the time I was writing the piece. My body is obviously expressing a very strong message, but, at the time when I’m writing it I’m not aware of that.

“you’re always feeling something, but you actually don’t know what you’re thinking”

 

That’s so interesting. One of my questions to you was going to be: “when you’re writing or composing is it more of a thinking, or is it more of a feeling”…

Absolutely zero thinking. I think there’s different schools of approach with composing but because I’m not mathematically minded, I don’t ever think about what key signature, or what I’m doing until perhaps I’m writing other instrumentation. I kind of like that pure beauty… you know because I’m not thinking structurally of anything it’s a very emotive process and a different part of my body that switches on the other parts.

 

When did you start playing piano – was it really early on in your life?

Well my dad is a jazz musician, so we always had a piano in the lounge room. Even though he doesn’t play piano so much, he used to use a piano a lot for arranging and mum said that I used to climb up on to the stool when I was about three or four. And she said she thought it was one of the other siblings playing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and she said she walked around and was like oh I can’t believe it’s Sophie. I was about three or four. Then I started having lessons when I was about five or six, I think.

And then I became a naughty teenager and I was so badly disciplined, and hit a wall where I think sight reading really affected my enjoyment with piano. I had a teacher who encouraged my ear for music. I’m indebted to her a lot because she was the one who saw potential in me and so when everyone was sitting sight reading exams she really kind of zoned in on encouraging me and making sure writing compositions was part of my tuition. It really got me down that I was such a terrible sight reader, and I think there’s a lot of amazing musicians out there in the same boat, who are really amazing composers, but they rely on their intuition. My last release with Mercury KX has a lot of arrangement, so I had to sit down and go back into the sight reading world, but it doesn’t come naturally.

 

And so, do you have a recording setup at home? Is it that you record straight in when you’re experimenting?

I’m trying to do that, because I’ve lost so many pieces over the past! I just enjoy the moment and start writing it and I’ve learned that if you don’t document the moment it’s lost. And so now I have hard drives full of demos that I think I’ve forgotten about, but yes I’ve made a point of documenting my pieces. I do write them out, but very badly.

Actually, my dad taught me some techniques. What’s great about jazz tuition is you can just write out brief chord charts and that’s all I need as a reference and then my muscle memory will bring the rest back. Also sometimes I just use my iPhone and then I’ll play it back and go back to my transcript book and then write the chord charts down, but it’s kind of written out as reference points for myself.

 

It’s really nice to hear how you’ve worked around the challenges. I gave up piano when I was younger because I lost the discipline to practice and then got frustrated that I wasn’t improving. It’s great to learn about these ways you’ve navigated through the bits that were less natural to you.

I always had that passion for music. I really was just crazy about music from a young age, so I think once I got over my teens and letting energy fly everywhere, I got quite disciplined again. I don’t play jazz, I can’t play jazz for the life of me, it just will not come out of my hands, which is weird because I grew up being pumped with this stuff. But I’d also then go into my bedroom and be listening to classical.

When I was first composing it, I was very shy about sharing it. For such an outgoing girl, when it came to music it was like my number one passion, but I was so painfully shy about sharing it with people. I’ve really pushed myself to do that, and I’m so glad I have because it’s been an amazing career path. Now it’s my life, and I still battle with the tenderness of the music but I’ve learned to just embrace being more open with people. 

 

That process to building your confidence to put all your music out there… were there steps where you decided ‘hey now I’m going to upload my first record… now I’m going to send some music that I’ve written onto various people’ or was it just an organic thing?

This is gonna sound really contrived Lexy but I didn’t go searching for it, I didn’t find it either. I had a family friend who was a sound engineer, and he always said, ‘you really should document your stuff, you really should record it’. I would record it in my room just myself. And then one day he kept nagging me and I’m very sentimental so I had this resolve that why don’t you just record an album so that when you’re old and sitting back in your rocking chair you it can at least acknowledge to yourself that you documented some of your compositions. Then it got sent to a record label, a small record label in Australia and then for some reason it caught wind in the UK and then Mojo magazine loved it and it got top five albums of the year in independent record releases.

My passion for music was so strong that every bit of success that came my way I just nurtured it. Even if I’m scared of something I love a challenge and so everything that came my way, every opportunity, I would always say yes. I think slowly it’s just kept growing and growing and I never said no. I also think whenever you challenge yourself it teaches you things along the way. It’s not like I was terrified of doing it, it was just a very insular thing for me initially. Now, you know, I wouldn’t change it for the world, I love it.

 

Obviously the world will not allow it at the moment, but is touring and live performance something that you’re looking forward to going back to?

Absolutely. The challenge of Australia is the live scene, with the neoclassical genre. We aren’t quite in the place that the UK and Europe are. It’s just a little bit slower here, and so as much as I’m really looking forward to touring again… now that it’s been so long, I guarantee I’ll be terrified the first time around. I’m going to need a lot of cheering on!

I am looking forward to the electricity between the audience and yourself. It’s really unique and especially with this kind of music because there’s no lyrics there’s something in the pains between the two of you that I find. It’s so motivating to see people’s reactions and I really have to interact with my audience, because it is this exchange or almost an interchange of energy that, I think is pretty amazing and I didn’t realise that until I started touring more how important that is.

 

It’s so interesting, exactly as you say, because there aren’t lyrics you’re not putting words to the emotions so it’s like people are probably putting their own words, their own emotions that they’re feeling into it depending on their own experiences. It’s a different kind of communication that goes on. 

It’s just like an absorption method you know, like you can sit there and take the music in any way you want, and I think that’s the beauty with instrumental music. It’s almost like it’s got a language of its own. I know as a journalist, you probably roll out words easily, but even though I’m a conversationalist and I enjoy people sometimes I think for me music is my way of communicating and then that goes into the heart of the listeners.

“It’s just like an absorption method you know, like you can sit there and take the music in any way you want, and I think that’s the beauty with instrumental music. It’s almost like it’s got a language of its own.”

Some of the communication I get is people really appreciating that it’s almost like company for going through difficult times. And I can’t tell you the amount of amazing stories I’ve had – people have written to me about giving birth to my music. The other day I had someone write to me, and say they named their little girl Sophie because they spent so much time over the pregnancy listening to my music and then they said they put it on in the birthing room. And I’ve had a couple of neurosurgeons write to me saying that they play my music when they’re doing surgery. Or painters write to me saying that they paint to my music, and I have authors say that they write to my music. I really appreciate that kind of feedback.

 

When I write I find it easy to put words down but sometimes if I’m having an emotional conversation words don’t feel right. So yeah, there’s something in that which is why instrumental music is so calming you can just kind of feel – you don’t have to try and put language to what you’re feeling. Do you set yourself specific times that you have to practice now?

It would sound very romantic to just say I just sit down whenever I feel like it but when you work for yourself on this level… I wouldn’t say my creativity is strategic but I do give it a sense of structure and discipline. I have things that I write down saying okay by this time I need to have accomplished a certain amount and that helps because there are days where I just want to push my piano off a cliff. Those days when I’m feeling like that, it’s amazing that once you do sit down because you’ve been saying okay at 12 o’clock today till four o’clock you are going to do this. And suddenly you find yourself entering the zone. You may not straight away, but you do.

This latest EP it was lockdown period so I wasn’t sleeping I was just doodling around on the piano. If it wasn’t for my manager saying, ‘why don’t you record it’, I was like ah, yes. So I’d say I’m a combination of definitely going with the flow and feeling it, but it’s not like that all the time because it’s my work. I have to have a lot of self-discipline and that requires making a routine. For such a free spirit. I have a lot of discipline.

 

I’m writing something at the moment about dance as the ultimate expression of that. You have to be so disciplined to have the physical training that you need to be a dancer but no-one wants to watch a dancer that is rigid or not feeling anything.

Yeah that’s interesting, I can imagine it’s just the same because there’s so much creativity involved, but you wouldn’t have a dancer just going “I feel like dancing today”. They have to work hard.

 

I know you suffer from Insomnia and I was wondering if, when you’re experiencing that, is that a stressful thing for you or are you able to be accepting of it? How do you manage that for yourself in your life?

It could be very stressful. It’s something that I’ve actually only just started being really publicly honest about. Since I got asked to be a part of this event for World Sleep Day, and I said, you know what I’m actually a really bad sleeper, I can bring a lot to the party. It was quite liberating and I’m just kind of being really open about it now. My saving grace is I’m one of those people that doesn’t need much sleep, but I work really hard to support it in other ways.

I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned is to not let not sleeping stress you out. When you can’t sleep there’s no use panicking about it, because you can’t do anything about it, so I just try and roll with it until I come out of it which can sometimes be a good couple of months. When I’ve got really big recording projects I get really stressed and when that happens to me, I remind myself that when you get up and get going, the next day you usually can manage, but there are days, where I feel like I’ve got vertigo and it can be a real struggle. I always make sure I’ve got a good book on the go.

This latest EP I got up at midnight and recorded to 4:30 in the morning. I was so busted by the end of it, I ran the bath and I got into the bath and I was like I’m crazy. But it was actually an amazing experience. It felt like the World stopped. It’s kind of surreal recording at that time when the rest of the world feels like it’s stopped.

I go through patches, but I think I have a pretty positive nature, so I deal with it pretty well, but it’s not to say that I don’t find it pretty hard sometimes.

 

I get that and I think sleep is such a challenge for so many people.

I think the hardest thing that I find about it and why I’ve never really gone on about it is because, when I have tried to tell people how hard it is they don’t get it. You know they think it’s just feeling tired, but it’s more than feeling tired. The nights are long and you’re just so exhausted sometimes.

 

Yes and our routines are so set up for people who get a perfect eight hours of sleep in the middle of the night between certain hours.

And the final thing I just wanted to ask was where do you go when you’re looking to overcome challenges or just get inspired?

The ocean is my number one. If you’re talking just in general life and as far as inspiration goes, I think, just anywhere where I’ve got a bit of headspace, whether that be in a book, whether that be in a movie, whether that be camping under the stars, whether that be going for Bush walk. Anywhere I can get into my own headspace.

I love people but I also thrive off alone time because that’s where my creativity comes from. That time alone and absorbing things will enter into my subconscious and I’ll make music from that, but just in everyday general life I just find the outdoors… I just love being anywhere I can smell the fresh air.

Sophie’s Latest release can be found on Spotify.

All music is available on major streaming platforms. You can find out more about here via her website and follow her on Instagram @sophiehutchingsmusic

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