Introducing Interview: Fiona Soe Paing

With her debut album out next month, innovative artist Fiona Soe Paing has already been receiving acclaim from the likes of Mary Ann Hobbes and Tom Robinson, and wowing crowds with her unique live performances.

Influenced by artists such as Bjork and The Knife, Soe Paing creates an utterly beguiling, and entirely original sound, filled with off-kilter vocals and haunting electro vibes.

We caught up with this intriguing artist to find out more…

Hello, please introduce yourself!
I’m Fiona Soe Paing. I live in the wilds of Aberdeenshire in Scotland, and produce and perform experimental electronic music, which I sing in a mixture of Burmese (that’s the Soe Paing part!), English and improvised vocals.  I’m more interested in developing an authentic sound that is true to who I am, rather than trying to fit into genres,  and I’m not particularly technically minded, with the result that it’s taken me about ten years to develop what I’m doing to a stage that I’m happy enough to release an album!  When I was in the process of writing the album I was traveling a lot, and so had to rely on using my laptop to work on rather than having any hardware gear to carry around, and so I work solely using the internal synths in Logic, as well as my own voice. I worked with various bands and as a vocalist when I lived in London and Brighton then lived in New Zealand for a couple of years. Now,  I’ve finally come back to Scotland, and concentrating on getting the album out and doing live shows.  

Your music is definitely on the avant-garde end of the spectrum, what similar artists are you inspired by?
The major obvious one I think must be Bjork, as she has been so uncompromising in her trailblazing. I’m also very influenced by The Knife and Fever Ray, as well as PJ Harvey. I’m basically inspired by anyone who is doing something different from the norm, who is sticking their neck out a bit… But that’s not to say that I don’t really love a good pop tune too though!

What other non-music influences can we hear in your music?
Having trained as a dancer before I started making music,  I think that’s made the rhythmic and groove element key to what I do. I also love the power of cinema in the fusion of sound and image, and always thought of my music as a more cinematic thing rather than just straight “songs” .  

Tell us about your forthcoming album Alien Lullabies?
It’s an audio visual collaboration with animation artist, Zennor Alexander, who has taken my music and created an animated video for each of the tracks. When we were working on the visuals, we started realising that there was a definite theme and even a narrative running through the songs when they were put together with the images, and so we just started emphasising  and developing that more, with recurring characters and repeating imagery, so that the whole thing has eventually developed into something more like a short film, rather than a straight album! The themes are all around loss, longing, childhood nightmarish fairy tales and feelings which are caught between yearning for something in the future and nostalgia for an idealised past – all that kind of depressing stuff!

The imagery for your video ‘Behrot’ is interesting, what’s the story behind that?
All the vocals on the track were first take improvisations… When I was listening back and trying to make sense of it,  I thought that the spoken vocal in the introduction sounded like a platform announcement in a deserted railway  station somewhere in Eastern Europe at three in the morning! So we went with that idea, and Zennor developed a video with the doll figure on the spooky train journey, going nowhere, and eventually crashing in the wilderness. As I said – all that kind of depressing stuff!

Please tell us when we can see you live and what your live shows are like?
I’m doing a couple of Scottish music festivals this summer, at Belladrum and Doune The Rabbit Hole – I think the Doune show will really fit in well with their surreal, Alice in Wonderland theme!  There’s also going to be an album launch gig in Edinburgh, at the Citrus Club on 25th August.  The live shows are like a cross between a surreal cinema screening and a live gig, with my live vocal performance alongside Zennor’s projected animated film, and my audio soundtrack.  I also throw in a couple  of theatre and performance art elements, but I’m not giving away any spoilers!

Huge thanks to Fiona for answering our questions!

Alien Lullabies, the debut album from Fiona Soe Paing, is out 29 August on Colliderscope.

Mari Lane

Mari Lane

Editor, London. Likes: Kathleen Hanna, 6Music, live music in the sunshine. Dislikes: Sexism, pineapples, the misuse of apostrophes.