Mark Henry Phillips is one of those artists who’s work you’ve likely heard, but whose name you might not recognize. He got his start as a composer and sound designer, most notably scoring the first season of the hit podcast Serial, as well as working on films like Cutie and the Boxer and Teenage. More recently, he’s served as producer, editor, sound designer and composer on Homecoming, a scripted narrative podcast featuring Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac, Amy Sedaris, and David Schwimmer.
So now that you’re familiar with Phillips’ name, it’s time to learn about his moniker: Sono Oto.
While Phillips was building his career in the sound world, he spent six years slowly working on an alternative indie pop album as Sono Oto. Alongside drummer Nick Kinsey (Elvis Perkins in Dearland) and guitarist Sam Cohen (Apollo Sunshine), used the side-project to help him answer a deep and complex question: How could he avoid inheriting the sorrow and anger that passed down through the men in his family from one generation to the next? The answer became his debut album as Sono Oto, Inheritance.
Out March 24th, the record is being previewed today with its lead single, “A Way to Stay Away.” The track well sums up the mood of the album as piano dances like a lonely child’s toy underneath alternatively snapping and thundering drums. Phillips is haunted by a loss in the chorus as his harmonies moan, “Don’t know what’s wrong with me/ Don’t know how to be/ Don’t walk back to me.” However, when the bridge drops in, he seems to have turned sadness into defiance as guitars ring out.
Check out the track via its music video above, and read Phillips’ statement on “A Way to Stay Away” below.
“I started recording ‘A Way to Stay Away’ in 2013 and it was really just a verse and a chorus that I recorded with a drum machine, piano and vocals. I improvised the lyrics while recording it. When I came back to the song a year later, I tried to listen to the makeshift, sub-conscious lyrics as if someone else wrote them. It seemed to be about the feeling you have when you’ve lost somebody – through a breakup, a death, or a friendship dissolving. A horrible pit in your stomach that can wake you up in the middle of the night and make you ask yourself if it really happened. Over the next few years I wrestled with the song, re-wrote the lyrics, improved the performances and ultimately wrote the bridge while taking the Staten Island Ferry (a move I picked up from an Arthur Russell documentary). The bridge seemed to be the release for the despair. That moment when you take the dread from a loss and turn it into anger and defiance. It might not be the final goal, but it can be a step towards getting over something.”