For young troubadour Sophia Marie, life can be hectic, but through that frenzy, the West Coast native often recoils into a gentle creative balance. Sophia Marie is a new, young singer/songwriter who recently relocated from her native L.A. to Washington, D.C. to attend Georgetown University. Online magazine Rock ‘N’ Load called “Venice Beach to D.C.,” her recent single, “the year’s first great pop-punk anthem.”
For Marie, the COVID-19 pandemic, while stark and frightening at times, proved productive, as an influx of torrid creativity manifested itself in her writing around 70 songs. With those tracks in hand, and burning a hole in her proverbial musical pocket, the ambitious young songstress set a course to lay the songs to tape.
Be it fortune or felicity, Marie crossed paths with producer Steve Ornest, and just as she was to embark on a trek to Ireland, three of Marie’s best and perhaps most reflective tracks took shape. With her music officially in the can, the young globetrotter embarked on a journey through Ireland, emboldened with confidence. While taking in the country’s emerald splendor, Marie once again felt the musical itch, and it wasn’t long before producer Cian Sweeney entered the picture, aiding her in laying down “What a Waste,” and “Menace in Venice” to tape, which would eventually become her first singles.
In the present day, back in the States, Marie continues to work diligently on her academic studies, but with an eye toward her future as an artist. While she still seeks balance, the controlled chaos gives her the motivation to push forward.
I recently had the chance to dig in with the aspiring artist, where among other things, she ran through her origins in music, how she balances coursework with a budding musical career, and a whole lot more.
Andrew Daly: As a young musician, what was the moment which first sparked your interest in music?
Sophia Marie: I can’t really recall a time exactly when I began to be interested in the broad subject of “music.” I just remembered I always loved singing. I was nicknamed “stereo” in school by my classmates because I’d sing all the time. I always tried out for the school musicals and did choir throughout middle and high school.
Around fourth grade, I started writing lyrics to my own songs, but [had] no instrumental backing. They were just kind of random bad melodies. I didn’t really start to make songs with actual chord progressions until quarantine came along, and I told myself I must force myself to learn the guitar. I thought that to be taken seriously as an artist, I couldn’t just be a singer, but that I also had to learn an instrument in order to create my own original songs.
When lockdown started in spring 2020 and I was just finishing up my freshman year of college, I stole my sister’s guitar teacher and started to take lessons via Zoom. Once I learned how to do chord progressions on the guitar, I started writing songs, and once I did, I couldn’t stop. It was a constant obsession. Now I can’t go anywhere without my guitar.
AD: Take me through the development of your style.
SM: Like most all young girls, Taylor Swift was a huge influence on my life. I loved her old country stuff where she’d just destroy people with words, who totally deserved it. I have a special place in my heart for country music [that’s] raw and savage. I also grew up liking a lot of emo ’80s bands, in particular, The Smiths, the Psychedelic Furs, and The Cure – I loved their really depressing lyrics that were rooted in desire for human intimacy and romance.
AD: How would you say those initial impressions are reflected in your music?
SM: As I’ve grown older, I’ve learned more into where I’m from [in California]. I have taken inspiration from musicians like Lana Del Rey and TV Girl, who speak of Los Angeles, the West Coast, and old Hollywood. I also think Sidney Gish is the best lyricist ever, and I love her quirkiness; I think it is a lot like my own music that is very specific and niche. I have been obsessed with Lana Del Rey ever since August 2020, and it hasn’t phased out. She is by far my favorite artist of all time.
I don’t think we make similar music, though. I am still trying to delve into my more tragic side with [my more recent] songs, but the turnaround for making songs is a longer process. “What a Waste” was the first to [reveal] that side.
AD: Can you recall your first gig?
SM: I have only had one gig in my entire life! I just started making music [during] quarantine and had my first music out earlier this year, so live shows [haven’t] really [been] on my radar yet, but definitely are on my agenda.
When I released (debut single) “Venice Beach to D.C.,” I performed my first live show at the Sand Bar 66 in Manhattan Beach. But all last semester at Georgetown, I was working at my internship at the French Embassy and scrambling to do all my classes for my international politics major, [and] didn’t really have the time to play live shows. [I was able to do] interviews and focus on release dates and filming my first music video.
I recently got back from Italy from a study abroad in Florence, so I am super excited to be back in LA [and] pursue performing live. I am a really energetic soul, and my music reflects that, so I really think performing live is important.
AD: “What a Waste” has proven to be a solid debut single. Tell us about its inception.
SM: “What a Waste” is the saddest song I’d ever written. I wrote it in summer 2021 when I had just returned from a trip to London [and] braved a five-day hotel quarantine just to see the man I loved for a mere two hours. It was a stupid, impulsive decision, but that’s me. I’m sometimes spontaneous without thinking about how I’m going to feel later on. But I loved him so much and felt like I wasn’t really existing unless he was in my life. I was a really dumb teenager who latched onto men and him specifically and couldn’t get him out of my mind.
So, I wrote “What a Waste” about wanting to return to a time period that doesn’t exist in my life anymore. It’s about wanting to retrace steps until I realized that I just kept hurting myself because nothing I could do could ever bring him back. I was just stuck in London, there in this annoyingly romantic ambiance, thinking about how much of a waste this entire experience was. “What a Waste” is for any person who has ever looked out at a view so beautiful, with absolutely no one to be romantic with. To be in a place where you can see all its potential, but know you can’t do anything but fall short of it.
AD: How have your experiences affected you as a songwriter?
SM: In every way. I can’t write about anyone else, unless they’re [a] fictional [character]. But even when I write about fictional characters, I oftentimes think about my own life in relationship to them. So, I can really only write about myself.
AD: Would you say that characteristic is what defines you? Or at this stage, have you yet to be defined?
SM: Sometimes I think about collaborating with someone on lyrics specifically, but then I’m concerned my words are not going to fit [their] style, [or they’re] not going to like the lyrics I give them, or I probably won’t relate to the ones [they] want to give me. I don’t know. I just feel like I can only write about myself, so all my songs come from experience. They’re sometimes a little delusional, sometimes a little satirical, but all founded in truth.
AD: Break down the production side of your music.
SM: Okay, this is where it got really fun. In the summer of 2021, I had all these songs I had been making since August 2020, when I had finally gotten comfortable enough with enough chord progressions and could put words to them. Over 70 songs. My Voice Memos are overwhelming; I can’t even grow through them anymore. And I wanted to get my favorites produced. In Southbay Magazine I found a feature on producer Steve Ornest and his Total Access recording studio in Redondo Beach, and reached out to him. He asked me for demos of my favorite songs that I had recorded with my newly-bought electric guitar. [Those demos were] the first time I ever tried to make my songs sound really good on my own.
After I sent them, we talked, selected the best songs, and went from there. The crazy part was, we had to do it all in two weeks before I was leaving for study abroad at Trinity College in Dublin, so we really had to work hard and effectively. We [got] the songs between three to four minutes and changed some specific chords so that the verses and choruses sounded different enough. I did the scratch vocals so that Steve could send them to some musicians because I wanted a bassist and drummer on the three tracks and didn’t know how to play the bass or the drums.
AD: With this being your first in-studio experience, what moment stood out the most?
SM: The day the other musicians came, because I got to be in the studio listening to these incredible musicians make something more of my song. After they finished the drums and bass, I did my lead vocals, harmonies, and doubles, and then, the last day, literally the day before I left for Ireland, [added] acoustic guitar to three tracks. And then off to Ireland! Steve and I were in contact via e-mail and Instagram as he worked on the mixing and mastering in LA, and he sent them over to me. It was the best start to [being in] the music industry I could have asked for.
When I left for Ireland for my junior year fall semester, I was surrounded by this romantic, beautiful European ambiance and Irish musical surroundings, and I knew I had to get more songs produced. Music is such a big part of Irish history and culture, and it just made me more obsessed with the fact that I now considered myself a “musician.”
So, I found Cian Sweeney, an Irish producer based in Cork. He asked for some demos, and two of these were “What a Waste” and “Menace in Venice.” About a month later, I took a two-hour train from Dublin to Cork, recorded with him all day for about eight solid hours, then took a train back to Dublin the next morning to make it in time for a 9:30 class at Trinity.
AD: Was Cian able to provide something different look than Steve Ornest had?
SM: Cian added the talents of a really great musician who played electric guitar, since we only had that one day to do vocals on both tracks.
Since I don’t have a record label, I pay per song to the producer to mix and master. So instead of getting charged hourly for studio time, I pay in full once the record is completed. Since I don’t have a record label, all of this is self-funded, so that’s why I’m really trying hard to market my stuff this [year]. Especially because I have so many songs that I want to put out in a way that showcases them the best they can be.
AD: You’re the type of songwriter who writes from a more personal perspective.
SM: My lyrics are so personal it’s embarrassing. They basically just tell my entire life story. Sometimes I’ll put on a persona, like with “Menace in Venice,” but it’s all rooted in my vulnerability, delusions, and sometimes arrogance that I poke fun at. I’m not hiding anything. I’m just really open, for better or for worse. Sometimes, it really hurts, but the return, knowing that every heartbreak can be turned into art, is far greater.
AD: What about playing live?
SM: Definitely soon, now that I have music out and am done with my junior spring semester. I’m also doing edits on a book I’m writing, and working at the French Embassy, and doing all my classes at Georgetown and also acting in a bunch of short films. But my top priority is getting back to Los Angeles.
It has been really hard balancing being a college student and an artist, especially a college student who is studying something that has nothing to do with music. As an International Politics major, my courses this past semester were titled “Nuclear Weapons,” “Europe in Crisis,” and “Military Strategy,” among others, not a course list that screams, “I’m a musician!”
AD: Would you say academia leaches into your music?
SM: I think so. For example, I wrote a song about comparing nuclear deterrence theory to the kind of games we play in love, where we act indifferent, but are brimming with desire on the inside. I also just finished this song about Niccolò Machiavelli because I was in Florence for a study abroad where we talked about Machiavellian political philosophy and how it is relevant to current foreign policy issues of today.
The difficulty I find in balancing school and art is outweighed by the fact that I am able to really find myself in music. It’s also super nice to not be surrounded only by people who do music. Most of my friends want to go into politics or consulting or international organizations, and I am still leaving options for myself.
AD: As far as promoting your music, it sounds like a grass roots approach will lend itself best to your proverbial balancing act.
SM: I’m trying to connect with record labels based in Los Angeles. So far, I’ve been doing everything on my own – making the videos, getting in contact with photographers and graphic designers, posting on social media sites…luckily, being a Georgetown student allows me to collaborate with other students who will help. It’s a balancing act. I want to connect with a record label for more direction and help with marketing. I also have to work on making an artist website; I just haven’t had the time yet. It’s a never-ending process, but I love it.
AD: Last one. What’s next?
SM: I have more songs to get produced, and look forward to playing live. I will be entering my senior year at Georgetown in the School of Foreign Service, with a concentration in international security with a certificate in European studies and a minor in history. I’m teaching myself piano. It’s such a different way of creating songs. Learning a new instrument brings excitement. It’s [all] very hectic but I feel like I can’t really operate as a human without being the chaotic person I am.
Header image courtesy of Kate Lawlor/EarShot Media.