Swiss perspectives in 10 languages

Europe hungers after Swiss singer

Hunger's new album "Monday's Ghost" has just been released in France and Germany, and is due out in Britain in early May Gentlemen Rec.

Folk-blues-pop sensation Sophie Hunger looks set to continue her meteoric rise with strings of sell-out shows and a top-selling new album just out in Europe.

The 25-year-old singer-songwriter gave swissinfo this email interview ahead of her concert at the Cully Jazz Festival near Lausanne, which runs from Friday until April 4.

From her humble beginnings on her lo-fi album “Sketches on Sea” in 2006 to Switzerland’s best-kept secret to entering the Swiss charts at number one with “Monday’s Ghost” in October 2008, the Zurich-based star seems to be going from strength to strength.

Hunger has been touring almost non-stop over the past two years, sharing stages with some of the country’s most successful artists, from Erik Truffaz to the Young Gods and Stephan Eicher, and a series of concerts in Germany, France, Austria and other countries in Europe.

“Monday’s Ghost”, which has sold over 24,000 copies in Switzerland, has just been released in France and Germany on Universal Jazz and will be launched in Britain on May 4.

Acclaimed by critics and the public, Hunger’s work has blossomed into an authentic, emotional sound, mixing intimate, moody blues, epic piano ballads and swooping upbeat pop melodies. Her young age and fragile appearance belie her incredible on-stage confidence.

swissinfo: How are you handling your newfound fame?

Sophie Hunger: To a certain degree I think I am unaware of what’s happening, but at the same time I feel unexplainably nervous and paranoid.

I wake up at night dreaming about Taratata [a popular live music show on French TV], and about the moment when [the presenter] Nagui approaches me and asks me to spontaneously sing my song Hallelujah, and I forget all the chords and words and start to vomit over his shoes.

swissinfo: How do you describe the Sophie Hunger sound?

S.H.: I don’t know. They’re songs. I try to communicate. I want to feel the listener.

When I’m singing I like it when I can feel that everything starts to move and the room starts to change; I like it when I can feel people listening. It’s like an invisible explosion in silence.

swissinfo: Who have been the main influences on your music?

S.H.: A Swiss singer called George Vain and the Swiss visual artist Roman Signer. And I know when I listen to Bob Dylan that something will happen with me. I will feel different.

swissinfo: How did you start singing and how do you compose your own music?

S.H.: I can’t remember a clear beginning, but I think I’ve always played music. But I had my first band when I was 19.

I just sit there and play. Sometimes there’s nothing and sometimes there’s something.

swissinfo: You are from Zurich, but you have had a lot of success in French-speaking Switzerland and your production company is based in Lausanne. What’s your view on the Swiss musical Röstigraben – the symbolic line separating the French- and German-speaking parts of the country?

S.H.: From my experience I know that the musical culture in the French-speaking region is much more vivid, which has a lot to do with the radio culture.

The German-speaking national radio station DRS, for example, has a budget of SFr180 million ($160 million), but they don’t have one single contemporary live music show.

While in the French-speaking part you have, among others, Gérard Suter on Radio Paradiso, who has four live broadcasts a week with musicians from all around the world. And you also have one of Switzerland’s leading young radio stations, Couleur 3.

We only have formatted radio shows. That’s very different. So the problem might not be so much the “Graben” [dividing line] but rather the röstis [Swiss fried potatoes].

swissinfo: You sing in Swiss German, High German and English. Are you able to communicate the same messages and emotion in each?

S.H.: Each language has a different feel. The emotions are the same but the clothes they wear are different.

swissinfo: What would you have done if you hadn’t been a singer?

S.H.: The person who cleans the tennis court after Roger Federer’s matches or prepares the dynamite for Roman Signer’s explosions; or [Swiss video artist] Pipilotti Rist’s hit man.

swissinfo: Which upcoming Swiss musicians should we keep an eye on?

S.H.: Colin Vallon, Evelinn Trouble and Kutti MC.

swissinfo-interview: Simon Bradley

Émilie Jeanne-Sophie Welti Hunger, better known as Sophie Hunger, is a Zurich-based singer who was born in Bern on March 31, 1983. She grew up in Britain, Germany and Switzerland.

Between 2002-2006 she played and sung for Swiss indie bands Kollektiv Superterz and Fisher.

Hunger writes most of her own songs, which combine folk, pop and blues influences and are sung in either English, Swiss German or High German. She also plays the guitar and piano.

She has toured extensively over the past two years, accompanied by Micheal Flury on trombone and Christian Prader on flute, piano and guitar.

Her first album, “Sketches on Sea”, was recorded at her Zurich home and released on her own label in 2006, later becoming an underground hit in Switzerland.

She played at the Montreux Jazz Festival on July 6, 2008.

Her second album “Monday’s Ghost” was released in October 2008 and went straight into the Swiss album charts at No 1. The album is distributed in Europe on Universal Jazz records.

Cully Jazz Festival takes place in the village of Cully on the shores of Lake Geneva east of Lausanne from March 27 to April 4.

Some 90 concerts are on offer, of which 60 are free.

The festival will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Blue Note record label and will welcome leading lights from the jazz scene, such as Abdullah Ibrahim, Joshua Redman, Brad Mehldau, Cuban singer Omara Portuondo and Swiss-German newcomer Sophie Hunger.

Over 40,000 people are expected to attend the festival, which has grown into one of the biggest in Switzerland over the past 27 years.

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR