Today we’d like to introduce you to Solvej Schou.
So, before we jump into specific questions, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
Words and music have always been my release, and a way to express loss, soul, vulnerability and survival. Born and raised in Hollywood, I’m a longtime hybrid writer and indie musician based in Pasadena, Calif. I’ve been fiercely belting, singing and writing since I was a kid; writing songs, playing guitar (I play a light blue Thinline Telecaster and 1990s black Stratocaster) and performing since I was a teenager; and working as a professional writer since college. My music is inspired by the likes of Patti Smith, Janis Joplin, X, Sharon Jones, Pretenders, Etta James, Bikini Kill, Aretha Franklin and PJ Harvey. Women of grit and substance.
Following my fuzzy, bluesy and Americana self-titled debut solo album (just me on it) in late 2014, and the full-band single “Friendship” in 2015, my digital and vinyl 2019 album Quiet For Too Long—my first full-length full-band solo album—is personal, political, loud, passionate and garage-y rock ‘n’ roll. It dives into issues ranging from American identity, police brutality, anti-immigrant fervor, gun violence, gender equality and being a saucy woman to mortality, depression, grief, social justice, love and David Bowie’s death. The album is available digitally through Apple Music, Amazon, and Spotify and digitally and on limited edition red vinyl online through Bandcamp.com. It’s also been available on vinyl in L.A. area stores including Sick City Records, Amoeba Music, The Bloke, Videotheque and more. “It’s a record that reflects this current political climate: If your nerves aren’t charged and tingling by the end, your emotions at tipping point, you aren’t paying attention,” wrote Brett Callwood in LA Weekly’s album of the week review of Quiet For Too Long in 2019.The album’s “distillation of frustration, sadness and occasional joy, alongside real world issues, into sheer poetry is a real gift, and a much needed one right now,” he wrote.
Grief runs through the veins of my family history. Since childhood, I’ve soaked in the chutzpah of my Jewish-Polish Holocaust survivor late grandma (my mom’s mom), who came to the United States from war-torn Europe as a refugee after World War II and settled in Los Angeles. Her relatives, including her 6-year-old son and her siblings, were murdered by the Nazis. My late mom who was born in a German relocation camp post WWII and came as a baby to the U.S. with my late grandma and grandpa—died of cancer when I was a kid. My dad immigrated to the U.S. from Denmark. My family built a life here in Southern California as immigrants, and I’m the feminist American product of that. I pull from my grandma’s strength when I sing.
Growing up in Hollywood, I surrounded myself with creative friends and teachers while going to L.A.U.S.D. public schools throughout L.A., and I used writing and music to express sadness and anger over losing my mom. I also listened to, danced and sang along to my dad’s albums (Jimi Hendrix, Talking Heads, X, Prince, Lead Belly, Pretenders). My dad’s skills as a singer and guitarist, and my late mom’s skills as a singer and pianist, inspired me to sing. I flocked to guitar stores on Sunset Boulevard, like Guitar Center, a block away from our place.
As a teenager, I was a part of L.A.’s Riot Grrrl-fueled music scene of female artists, influenced by my best friend being in Riot Grrrl, and I was also a part of Highland Park’s art and music scene at Chicanx/Latinx cultural hub Regeneración (co-founded by Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de laRocha) because of a friend whose artist sister played a huge role there. I played L.A. shows solo and in the feisty rock duo Bitch & Moan, at places like the Whiskey and the Roxy. I later brought my music to indie rock scenes in NYC (while getting my bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing at Barnard College in Manhattan) and played in the Williamsburg, Brooklyn all-female garage rock trio Racquet after college. I was briefly in the rock band the Lassiebeat in Copenhagen, Denmark. Moving back to L.A. to get my master’s degree in journalism from the University of Southern California, I fronted the L.A. psych rock band Naughty Bird, before focusing on playing solo. I was also entrenched in NYC and L.A.’s revival ‘60s Mod scenes.
Music, for me, is both physical and emotional, internal and external. I first started writing songs by turning my poems into lyrics, and to some extent I still do that and have written a lot of songs lyrics first. I also truly believe that creativity—no matter who you are—is for everyone and that each person has a story, and a story to share. Writing, for me, has always been more intellectual and cerebral than playing music and takes immense concentration. Words are silent on the page but can conjure up movement, sound, emotion. Music is life force: sweat, soul, visceral expression. When I perform, singing forcefully, unleashing with my heart and my gut, the sweat pours down my skin. When I write, I go inward.
Tell us about what do you do, what do you specialize in, what are you known for, etc. What are you most proud of? What sets you apart from others?
I’m proud that as both a professional writer and as a musician I’ve always passionately pursued what I do, and believe in the power of words and storytelling. My work as a writer includes former staff and senior staff writer-reporter positions at The Associated Press and Entertainment Weekly to freelance work for AP, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Billboard and other outlets. Since late 2016, I’ve worked as Pasadena-based ArtCenter College of Design’s staff senior writer in Marketing and Communications, writing articles about creative and talented artist and designer ArtCenter alumni, students, faculty and staff.
Throughout my writing career, I’ve interviewed and have written about musicians including Aretha Franklin, Brian Wilson, Karen O, Chrissie Hynde, Patti Smith and Ringo Starr, and I contributed original essays on Patti Smith, PJ Harvey and Sharon Jones to the 2018 anthology Women Who Rock: Bessie to Beyoncé. Girl Groups to Riot Grrrl. I’m also on the steering committee of the L.A.-based collective Turn It Up!, seeking gender parity in music. Words and music have defined my life.
My late 2014 solo debut album was recorded by awesome Dan Heck in Alhambra and Mark Mastopietro in Echo Park in L.A., and mixed, engineered and mastered by Dan Heck. My 2019 album Quiet For Too Long features me on vocals and rhythm guitar, with very very talented bassist and back-up vocalist Chelsea Jean Speer-Guzman (VesuviaSonic, Modern Time Machines, Chelsea Jean), lead guitarist Eric Hasenbein (12 dirty lovers) and drummer Bryan Bos (Goldenboy, Moonwash, Crossed Keys). It was recorded, mixed and engineered at Station House Studio in L.A.’s Echo Park by wonderful Mark Rains (Alice Bag, Death Valley Girls, Sex Stains) and mastered in Hollywood by Marsh Mastering’s accomplished Stephen Marsh (The Donnas, Ozomatli, Los Lobos). Artist Delbar Shahbaz painted a powerful portrait of me for the front cover, based on photography by Stella Kalinina, and my amazing husband Dave designed the back cover. Newly defunct longtime record manufacturer Rainbo Records pressed the album to vinyl.
The album’s title comes from a line in my song “America,” the first song on the album. I firmly believe in the First Amendment right of freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion and freedom of peaceful assembly. Speak out. Protest. Quiet For Too Long. Don’t turn away and remain silent in the face of bigotry, xenophobia, racism, sexism and injustice. And I never take my right to vote, as an American, for granted. VOTE!! Speaking out is something I’m proud of too.
I also love the capacity of music to be a visual art form, and I’m proud and grateful to work with down-to-earth and talented L.A. directors and artists. Directed by Alex Godinez, the 2015 fiery black-and-white music video for my unapologetic song “Cruel Hearted Woman,” from my debut album, was inspired by PJ Harvey’s 1993 “Man-Size” video and was filmed at Bedrock.LA in Echo Park. Directed by Ted Newsome, the 2019 music video for my song “Flicker Away,” from Quiet For Too Long, features me in red, with a red background, letting my hair, face and body go wild. The song is about pushing through anxiety, depression and doubt, as a woman, and being free. I wrote it looking at the San Gabriel Mountains off in the distance while at home in Pasadena. “Pity and sadness / That clenched knot inside your chest / That fills your body / With the will to sink down / Don’t do it, don’t do it / Don’t disappear that quickly / Step into the warmth of the mountains and live.” A music video for my song “No One Can Take Our Love”—about love for my husband, but also about the universal theme of love in the face of hate—from Quiet For Too Long is set to debut in 2020.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
As a solo indie musician, I do so much myself. I’m my own manager, record label, promoter, administrator, social media manager and more. Amid working a full-time job separate from my music, I’m like many solo indie musicians who toggle different layers of responsibility. It can feel exhausting. I had a hand in all parts of my album Quiet For Too Long being made and promoted, from producing the album and working with the album’s engineer Mark Rains to driving back and forth to Rainbo Records to get the album pressed to vinyl to communicating with the great musicians who played me with on the album to taking my album to sell on consignment at record stores (like kick-ass Sick City Records) across L.A. County and working with a really great female-fronted L.A. music PR firm, Fly PR, run by publicist Ilka Erren Pardiñas, who helped me so much.
It’s vital to remember that even though I’m doing a lot myself, I’m not alone and that friends, family, my husband and a larger community of incredible artistic, literary and musical women (Alice Bag, Evelyn McDonnell, diA, Lucretia Tye Jasmine, many more), stores, radio stations, media outlets and people in L.A., and in my world beyond, have been helpful and supportive. I try to remember never to give up. I always go back to the purity of words and music, and being with my Telecaster at Pasadena’s Summit Rehearsal and Recording Studios, or at home, thinking about lyrics and melodies and singing and playing my heart out.
What role has luck (good luck or bad luck) played in your life and business?
I honestly don’t believe in luck. I believe in hard work, soul, strength and chutzpah, and good timing can also play a part. I’ve been through enough high and low points with both writing and music to know that life always carries the weight of both: joy and pain. At the end of the day, you need to keep pushing, keep fighting and keep believing in your right to a voice, creativity and survival.
- Website: www.solvejschou.com
- Bandcamp: https://solvejschou.bandcamp.com
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/solvejschoumusic
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/solvejschoumusic
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/solvej_schou
- YouTube: www.youtube.com/solvejschou
Alyson Camus; diA; Liza Anulao; Audrey Pettyjohn