Ann Sophie’s path to Eurovision has been rockier than most. In early 2015 a German broadcaster organised a club concert. Ten undiscovered talents battled for a wild card that would get them into the German national Eurovision final. Ann Sophie won.
Things also went really well during the televised Our Song For Austria show. Ann Sophie beat six other contestants and steamed ahead into the last stage. Finally, only two contestants were left: Ann Sophie and a singer named Andreas Kümmert. After voting, the presenter announced that Kümmert was the winner. But – live on TV – Kümmert refused the ticket.
So Ann Sophie got to go instead. At Eurovision she sang Black Smoke – ending up with zero points. After being dragged from victory to defeat, Ann Sophie reacted gracefully, by singing an alternative version of the winning Swedish song (Heroes): ‘We are the zeroes of our time.’
Now she is back to writing her own songs. A frank conversation about starting over and letting go of the past.
PART ONE: ABOUT WRITING AND STARTING OVER
The first thing we noticed on your tumblr page was a tiny story, written by you.
I love writing, but I haven’t really had the courage to post more. I carry my little notebook wherever I go. I write about what I’ve experienced and about the way I observe the world and people. And then I have another journal for small monologues. I love writing my own lyrics as well.
Have you always liked writing?
I wrote a bunch of poems when I was younger. But poetry back then was something so sacred to me that I only showed it to my mom and my best friend. Until I started combining writing with my music. I should start doing more, I guess. The thing is… I’m struggling a bit with my webpage, because I kind of have to start again, from the beginning. Sometimes I think nobody reads my stuff online, so I’m holding back. I probably shouldn’t, but it’s difficult. Starting all over is a big challenge. I need to have a lot of faith and forget about my experiences.
Does it really feel like starting over?
It’s not really starting over, but it’s letting go of the past. I was with a label during Eurovision, now I’m without, so I have to do everything by myself. I organise my own concerts, I design everything myself, I have to organise working on the new album. It’s great, but it’s a lot of work and a lot of tension.
Did you know, during Eurovision, that your label would do only one album?
No. They promised me a tour, a second music video, a second single release. They promised me all kinds of things, but then they just dropped me. That was very difficult. I thought a lot about talking about this, but so many young people who strive to be an artist just don’t know what reality can look like. They see the 1% of famous singers on television, and they are not aware of the 99% of artists, struggling and working their asses off. Nobody talks about how hard it is, and we need to let them know it’s not always a life to aspire to. I’m lucky in so many ways, but at the same time: being an artist is very, very tough. I think if I ever get successful again I will talk about it, definitely.
You say: if I get successful again. Does this mean your success is gone?
Well, fans might still think of me, but they don’t see what I’m going through. Two years ago I had three teams doing everything to make things happen for me. I was going to events, I was on every German television show. And now, yes, people still recognise me on the streets, but I’m always surprised by that. Hell, this was two years ago, how can you still remember? My fans are really loyal. They show up at my concerts, they sit and listen and they want more. I am so grateful for that, because if I didn’t have them I don’t know how I would carry on. But on the other hand, I am also grateful that it all turned out this way, because now I can really do what I want to do. Find my own music style. My songs mean a lot to me. On my last album, which was with Universal, most of the songs weren’t written by me. Something was missing. How can I sing truthfully and honestly if I didn’t write it? People want to be close to a singer, I think. They want to know what’s going on inside your head.
Some songs on Silver into Gold, the album you made because of Eurovision, were taken off your first album, Time Extended.
Yes, they were written by me, but produced by someone else. I loved what he did, it was great music, but it also wasn’t 100% me. I want my music to be the most authentic thing I can give to my fans. My music should sound exactly like me and until now it hasn’t.
What would be your new musical direction?
Singer-songwriter, jazz, soul… I organised a concert, all by myself, last year, in Hamburg, and that was a big step for me, because I was able to overcome my fear of sitting down at the piano in front of the audience and play like I do at home. I lived in New York for a while, and I used to go to the same bar, over and over, to watch the artists perform. I always thought to myself: I want to sit on a stage like that and play my own music. It has been in my head since then. And now, four years later, I finally had the courage to do it. So, after that gig I wasn’t just proud, I also felt independent. Even my friends, afterwards, said that they felt close to me that night.
After that show you did another one – in New York. Was it in the same bar you used to go to?
No, it was at a different location, but it was amazing, right in the heart of a vibrant community. I was so nervous, oh my god. It was insane, but I wanted to achieve it, and I did. They asked me to come back, and I will, obviously. Afterwards I played at a radio station, here in Germany. And I’ll continue to play the same set in small shows. If I get more money, I can make things bigger. I definitely want a cello in my music. So at some point there will be a cellist with me on stage.
Are you working on new songs?
I already have eight to ten new songs, and for now I want to pick the best ones and find out what they need to sound like. Of course the songs vary, but when it comes to style there should be one musical message.
What style would that be?
Away from the big sounds, away from pop.
Because I can’t stand the artificial hoo-ha, it’s too loud, you know, I can’t listen to it anymore. I want something pure and honest and raw. Something you listen to when you have a glass of wine and reflect on past days and past relationships. Everyone is busy, everyone is always on their phone, everyone is going going going. I want my music to calm people down. At my concert, this one guy said to me: ‘Ann Sophie, this was the first time in a long while that I was able to close my eyes while someone was playing.’ That was a great compliment.
The lyrics of your songs can be very personal. On your YouTube channel you wrote about high school, about feeling like the odd one out, about being afraid in crowds. And now that same girl is sharing her experiences with the world.
Yes. It was very difficult for me to be in school. I was always an outsider and people were gossiping about me all the time. Now that I’m a bit older, I know that they only did that because of their own insecurities. I’m not afraid of being honest and so I’m not afraid of the truth. If it sounds ugly, it sounds ugly. I just don’t like this superficial kind of life, you know. I need real stuff, so I write about what’s inside my heart. And I believe that there are a lot of people out there who were outsiders as well, because to some extent we’re all the same.
If you look back on that feeling of being an outsider: did it damage you or help you?
Of course it damaged me, definitely. And I still think I don’t fit in, wherever I am, all the time. I always feel a little out of place. But then again, exactly that feeling brought me to singing. I wanted to create my own little world, where I felt safe and where I felt I belonged. So now I think I love being different. The greatest thing I can achieve is for other people to think: cool, this girl is not like the rest.
Do you still see people from high school?
Rarely. I do have one close friend that I’m still in touch with, but the others? I’m done with that time and I’m done with those people. That sounds harsh, but I think in life it’s important to enrich yourself with new friends, new circumstances and new stuff. Sometimes, old friends grow with you, and that’s beautiful. But others stay the same, and that’s something I don’t want.
Would you ever write about those times?
See, the thing is, when I write, I never think of what to write about. When I sit down at the piano, I play chords, a melody pops up in my head and that melody writes the lyrics. At that moment, my ego doesn’t exist. My emotions write the words.
If it’s, like you say, intuition that writes the lyrics, don’t they get too vague?
Well, emotions aren’t vague, are they? The melody creates the words. Some words fit to the melody and others just don’t. Obviously, while I’m writing, I try to keep the meaning clear, I don’t want the song to drift in different directions.
Your new song, Mastercard, has an original title.
Thanks. I’m so proud of this line: I was your Mastercard. Gold and rich. You swiped me all the time. Until I ripped. I freaking love it. Yes, that will be one of the songs I’m gonna work with.
You lived in New York for a while. Would you like to go back?
Right now I really want to build my base over here, in Germany. I think that’s very important. My whole family is here, my friends are, my university is. Still I would like to live in New York again, but also, for example, in London, where I was born. But first I’ll have to focus and then, at some point, it will all come together.
In some of your songs you talk about ‘fate’.
That’s in a song about a guy that I loved. Oh, I was so in love with him! It took me three years to finally let him go. Three years, that’s insane! But yes, I do believe that if things are meant to happen, they will happen. And if things don’t work out, at least it leaves you with beautiful material for a song.
But what would be your own role if what happens is in the hands of fate?
You’ve got to make situations happen, and you have to know what you want. If your message is clear then things will fall into place. For a while I was… I don’t know.. I was doing far too much. Until I understood that I had to be humble, I had to focus on the few things I really want to do and I had to be honest. Because we’re great liars when it comes to facing ourselves. There are so many voices and so many people telling you who to be and what to do. But at the end of the day it’s never about what other people think. And then you have to act on the chances that life gives you. I mean, I don’t see myself sitting on Mount Everest for three years, saying: ‘Oh, if things are meant to happen, they will.’
But what does this mean at this moment, for you?
For example, last year I saw the Swing Dance Orchestra in the Laeiszhalle, here in Hamburg. They play like Benny Goodman, like in the twenties. And when I heard them I said to my friend: ‘Next year I will be on that stage.’ So I sent a mail to the director and indeed, last December, I sang with them.
So, what does a person have to do to create these opportunities?
Well, you have to have balls. Because people can tell you no. But if you don’t ask, you never will get a yes. Sometimes I risk too much. But I always think to myself: you’ll regret it if you don’t try. Of course making mistakes and being hurt and all that stuff is not really nice. But at the end all these things make you really, really strong.
Isn’t it also a matter of money?
Yes, it’s a funding thing. I mean, I’m a very lucky girl, my dad is my biggest fan, I always had his support. And I also have some savings. I want to be able to pay for stuff myself. The first years of building a business are always kind of a hassle. You just have to be very patient and I’m the most impatient person in the world. I’ve gotten better at it though, but yes, listening to your heart is very hard, also because it doesn’t scream – it whispers.
(to be continued)