DL | Vinyl
Lioness, the debut album from Berlin artist Stony Sugarskull, is a fierce, feline mix of psychedelic, punk, shoegaze and kraut-rock fitting of its title.
Stony Sugarskull, previously tipped in Louder Than War’s new bands list, is the sonic project of Dr Monika Demmler. Credited as the first to combine healing sound frequencies with rock, the album functions in part to expand on aspects of her doctoral research in metaphysics and music philosophy. While it works as a straight up chunk of rock and roll goodness, blending shades of Marianne Faithful, My Bloody Valentine and Mazzy Star into its own new beast, Lioness also has emotional and theoretical concepts at its core that make it interesting to delve into further.
Demmler describes the album as being arranged ‘according to a breakdown we are currently still suffering and the reorganisation of this chaos’. This conceptual structure gives it a tangible and visceral journey for the listener whilst also providing a strong set of songs in their own right.
Beginning with spiky, playful rockers House on Fire and Careful, Lioness comes to a frenetic midway climax with Electrified and Empty – both epic and ambitious (literal) centrepieces to the record. Electrified in particular is the standout track for me. A strange and beautiful combination of shouty femme-punk and Mike Garson-esque piano that ends in a noisy, discordant collapse.
The second half of the album is a much quieter, more thoughtful affair and Demmler’s vocals really shine on songs such as Turtles and Butterflies. Closing track Veronica is a stripped back and sweetly melancholic jewel. Lioness has both a toughness and a warmth at its heart – shifting in gear from loud and punky to ethereal and dreamlike is a range that’s hard to pull off with such success.
I spoke to Monika about Lioness, the healing powers of sound and how to reach post-chaos harmony.
LTW: Lioness is in some ways a very immediate rock record, but the structure is quite unusual with many of the slower songs together in the second half. It also feels quite traditionally ‘old skool’ with a clearly marked A side and B side. Was this purely a conceptual decision?
MD: The record is designed to be heard in full as a story or experience in which you are allowed to lose or immerse yourself in. On the A side, a climax is reached with the B side going back to a beginning. It is designed as a listening experience, a magical story which you can dream upon yourself and hopefully communicate with your inner voice and realise things for yourself you haven’t been conscious of before.
LTW: Healing sound frequencies are used in the composition of the album, can you tell us more about what they are and how you discovered this technique?
MD: I’ve discovered the huge power of sound frequencies within my 5-year long research with my PhD. Sound frequencies, measured in Hz, can help you ease your mind, stress levels or the energy you surround yourself with. It’s the magic of metaphysics. I’m reaching such effects with distortion pedals, synths or other creations of sound which you can call in its entirety a sound bath.
LTW: You have said that Lioness represents ‘the female who fights for a positive change and protects the weak’. What kind of positive changes would you like to see and is this on a global or personal scale?
MD: For me, coming from a philosophical background, I embrace the changes we’re going through as I did not expect to be alive when this would happen. As I already showed with the music on Lioness, a breakdown was supposed to happen – it would be loud, noisy, as every change is not a comfortable process. We’re on the verge of a new age, finding a healthy synthesis between the benefits of ecology and the positive aspects of technological progress. During this phase, parts of our traditional system will break away or struggle to continue the way it was. On the record, you’ll find a new beginning on part B, the resurrection in which a return to nature is emphasised and truth, which I often equal with beauty, comes to light. Human beings are becoming more conscious.
LTW: A near death experience on the German Autobahn kickstarted your journey into music. This seems very in keeping with the crunchy, kraut-rock side to your songs, was it something that consciously informed your musical choices on the record?
MD: Not really. My music journey started already when I was a kid as I’m born into a music family – I’m a grand-grand child of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – and music has always played a role in my upbringing. I started to learn a new instrument every other year when I was a kid. The accident might have just given me more insight in placing more emphasis on art. It helped me to overcome the trauma from the car accident and it became more conscious to me that life can be very short.
LTW: How do you see your musical and theoretical concepts evolving in the future?
MD: With the creation of my next album PRiNCESS, I would like to make a little princess that catches the rainbow of the beautiful experiences to this storm we are going through, a sequel to Lioness. Beauty is truth, even in times of pain. Songs will be based on melodic ideas from some of my not so common instruments – the accordion or the zither, a typical Bavarian instrument which I learnt as a kid – and I will embed songs in certain healing sound frequencies. The official release for PRiNCESS is set for summer 2021 with an exclusive live performance. I imagine it from an ancient cathedral, I love the ethereal sound you can create there.