Over the phone, Sofia Wolfson spoke with me about her songwriting process, how she got into music, and her concept for the EP title, Adulting. At 19, her six track playlist sings the tunes of what growing up can feel like. Her voice reverberates the similar tones of Fiona Apple and Meg Duffy of Hand Habits.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Wolfson, balances her life between Boston (where she attends college) and California (where she’s originally from and where she makes music)
Instead of favoring one place over the other, both locations hold deep meaning to her and share in the story of her music creations. With the help of her producer, Marshall Vore, Wolfson’s second EP is brought to life. (interview below)
T: What went into making this EP – do you have any kinds of themes that went into creating it?
S: Most of the songs were written during my freshman year of college. I moved across the country, so a lot of the songs like the single that just came out, “Nothing’s Real”, deals with growing pains and homesickness and trying to figure out how to do it on my own.
It’s kind of like a theme that I come back to in a lot of the songs, even in the ones that were written before I moved that made it onto the EP kind of deal with some of the similar themes of growing up. When I was writing the songs, I didn’t really write them with the intention that they’d go together - part of the process when I work with Marshall is that I first make a Dropbox of 20 songs that could potentially be on an EP and then we go through them.
Based on diverse content we decide what will be in it. And this one became six songs so I wouldn’t say going into it I wrote with the idea that like “this one will go next to this one” but it kind of just fell together that a lot of what I was writing about were just similar themes of “I’m 19 and I’m trying to figure out how to do all this.”
T: Yeah no, I could hear all of that – two of the ones I really liked – I mean I like all of them they’re really lovely — but I really liked “Johnny Cash.” I’m a fan of a lot of soft stuff like that but I noticed how it felt very emotional.
T: I really liked how different that one was in terms of being more stripped down than the others and I really think that was a good fit.
Also when I first listened to “Nothing’s Real”, I felt like it spoke as a testament to dissociating or kind of not knowing what to do. I feel that all the time.
S: That’s the word I’ve been using! And for that song specifically. The song is about this disassociation with social media and reality where you feel like you can’t keep up with everything around you.
But you have such a skewed view of everyone around you because they’re just presenting themselves so differently than who they really are, when really you just start comparing yourself to everyone on the internet
T: Oh my gosh – yes! I totally agree –
S: And that also comes from like you know, as I talked about from those articles, I was sick for a week and was not getting anything done, so it mainly comments on being unproductive. But then that in relation to when you look at what other people are doing and then begin to think, “wow I’m really unproductive.”
T: Exactly, that’s one of the faults with social media. I mean I think songwriting is really great to cope with that sort of thing, I know I write some songs in my free time but do you think music acts as a sort of therapy when you’re creating this art in a way – do you find that it offers you comfort?
S: Totally! Songwriting has always been like a therapeutic outlet for me. My Dad is a creative writing professor so when I was younger, if I was experiencing and emotions, like in elementary school, I was often encouraged to write whether that’s like journaling or putting it into a story.
And then once I started taking guitar lessons when I was really young — it was almost immediately after I started taking guitar lessons that I said ‘I want to start writing my own music and it was all really funny stuff in elementary school, but slowly it became like this way for me to say what I couldn’t figure out how to say.
It’s helped me through a lot of relationships in my life and there definitely have been moments where I’ll sit down and I’ll write something and I’ll think after, “wow I had no idea I was feeling that way.”
Do you feel that when you write songs?
T: Yeah! No actually the very first song I wrote — I’m such a hopeless romantic. I wrote it about this guy in high school who I thought would never love me but then I wowed myself because I wrote my very first song.
S: Exactly – I always talk with my songwriter friends about being so lucky that we have a sort of product when we’re experiencing so much pain. Even though it doesn’t make the pain any better at least we get something out of it!
T: Right! And it’s a beautiful thing and people can listen to it.
Do you still find time to write new music while you’re still in school and do you think living there has had any influence on your current music?
S: Totally, yeah. So a lot of the EP was written freshman year here when I was hiding from the winter and spending time balancing homework, going to class and also getting to work on music.
You know, I think that a lot of the feelings I had when I moved inspired a lot of the music and I’ve gone through periods of school where I’ve felt super inspired and I want to write all the time. And maybe that’s at the cost of finishing an assignment, but you know it’s always a struggle to balance anything, but I definitely think it’s important for me to make time to sit and at least play guitar a bit a day.
T: It’s kind of like exercising a muscle, even if you don’t necessarily have like a certain song that you’re trying to create – you’re at least doing something with music.
Just out of curiosity, do you prefer Boston to LA or do you think they both have their own equal perks?
S: Well, I’m born and raised in LA, so obviously it will always be very, very special to me. I really value just living somewhere else in general that’s so different – that’s the reason I decided to come here.
I think that they’re very different places, I think that the east coast and the west coast are so different in culture and music scene and just like the way people interact and I value the two in different ways.
Obviously LA will always be my home and that’s where everyone I love is but I’m finding new communities out here too. So I guess my short answer is that – not trying to be too controversial – but both are so different that it’s really hard to compare, but I’m so thankful for both experiences.
T: What genre do you consider your music to be?
S: I’ve always struggled with the question because I think it’s hard for any artist unless you have a really clear vision of what you’re doing and you really striving for a certain genre. I think I just grew up with such an eclectic range of musical inspirations that it’s really hard to put a pin point on it.
When I started gigging, it was just me and an acoustic guitar and I wrote much folksier songs. That’s kind of what I was doing, but now I’ve explored the electric guitar more, and have played with a full band.
I’m definitely more in the alternative world, but it’s even hard to say that because that’s what the music is being released under right now. Some of my biggest inspirations are folk singer songwriters or I listen to a lot of bluegrass and a lot of R & B, so it all is very diverse in its inspiration. That’s why it’s such a hard question because I never know exactly what to say.
I was joking recently though, like content-wise, it’s easier to say emo.
T: But speaking in honesty, I think that any kind of music can have some kind of emotional value to it!
Does anyone inspire you in your life behind your musical journey?
S: Good question. Um you know the stereotypical answers would be the reason I wanted to write songs was because of Joni Mitchell and “Blue” which is true but I’m also really thankful for some of the other things I’ve grown up on.
My parents whole philosophy was ditch the baby music and go for the classic stuff so I grew up on the Beatles and I was obsessed with the band The Band. When I was younger, I’d watch The Last Waltz everyday — which was the Martin Scorsese film of their last concert. It has all these crazy musical guests and I’d memorize all of the interviews and sing all the songs. So a lot of my initial influences come from 60s through 70s rock and folk, but then again I was listening to such a wide range of stuff.
And when I started differentiating myself from my parents and writing my own music, I turned to a lot of alt rock female singer-songwriters. I’m super inspired by Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief, Margaret Glaspy, and there’s Madison Cunningham in Los Angeles and she’s incredible.
It’s not like taking from their songs its more just like being inspired that they can all pick up an electric guitar but also draw from folk inspirations like its helping blur that line a bit.
T: It’s good to have a mix of both inspiration from music influenced through your parents and artists that you admire because they offer different music sounds to offer variety through your inspirations.
When you perform your music was there any particular times you recall that were incredibly memorable or that were your particular favorite?
S: I mean, definitely my first gig ever will be incredibly memorable. I was thirteen or fourteen. I was so nervous. I remember my mom telling me a story of how some family friend asked her, “how is it going to go?” and my mom’s response was, “I don’t know she’s either going to be great or throw up on stage.” My parents had no idea how it was going to go and I remember being so nervous and then just loving being up there even as introverted and nervous as I was.
And I remember somebody came up to me after the show — what I love about song writing is it matters what the song is about when I’m writing it, but by the time I share it with either one person, or a whole crowd, my meaning behind it is important to me, but the meaning gets removed from it and it becomes whatever it means to someone else and how it’s important for somebody else.
Someone came up to me after that first show and mentioned that a song stood out to them because they were going through something. It was a situation entirely different than mine but it doesn’t matter because it’s got to be whatever it means for someone.
I mean, a great example is the first single off of the last EP, Snake Eyes, is about a bad friend situation I had and then the song got covered and people were hearing it at shows and they thought it was a breakup song.
I wrote it when I was 16 and I had never had a boyfriend or anything, but for everybody it became this break up song. I wasn’t mad about it even if people said that’s what it was about because It became that for someone else.
I guess the most memorable performance is we did a show last December at the Bootleg. I got to headline and Sharon Silva from The Wild Reeds opened along with Olivia Gerber, an incredible up-and-coming singer songwriter. It was just a really wild, kind of surreal night. I could not believe I was getting to play the Bootleg and I hadn’t played with a band in a while because I’d been in school.
I don’t really have a band out here in Boston, I play solo mainly, so we just played really loud which was fun. That was kind of the night where I’d always known that I’ve wanted to play music— but that was one of those moments where you look out and you’re mid song, and you look to your friends and who’s playing guitar next to you and I just have this kind of out of body dissociative moment where I was like “oh right, this is how I want to be doing this.”
T: Wow what a feeling, I feel like I’m feeling it from what you just said!
S: I rarely ever feel anything like that, usually it’s all like doubt and being introverted and overthinking so I try to cherish those moments.
T: What do you feel has been your biggest challenge as someone going into music?
S: I think just lack of confidence and how social media provides a constantly comparable platform, like we talked about before. It’s kind of what “Nothing’s Real” talks about: that I’m impeded by my own self-consciousness and feeling like you’re beat and taught to compare yourself to others.
But in that process I’ve learned that everyone kind of works at their own pace and is going on their own path and nothing’s linear. One day you could be in one place and the next in totally another. And no two people have the same path at all.
I think the challenge has been that even when I’m feeling super self-conscious, to just try and keep writing and playing and stuff because it can be really hard. I don’t know like that many songwriters that can just be confident in their music and think everything’s great. I’d be a little scared if I met someone like that.
Most of us have our faults and stuff like that, but that’s what makes us stronger! It’s what makes you a more well-rounded human, when you can step back and say this is what makes me nervous but I’m going to figure out how to get past it.
And also I still get super nervous when I play shows, even though I play a lot. You know, just the anxiety of what’s going to happen, what could go wrong
T: As a last follow up question, it seems like looking at Spotify and your releases, it seems like every year since 2016 you’ve released music so does that mean you’d want to be working on releasing more music in 2020?
Would this be a consecutive yearly thing or are you going to take a break or?
S: I haven’t even thought about it that way! Yeah, hopefully there has kind of been a release every year which is nice. The first record technically came out in the end of 2015 but got distributed the first day of 2016 and then that EP came out in 2017 and there was the single last year so for me it feels all really spread out but I guess it looks good on the internet!
The plan is to get to record some more music even some of these tunes are from a bit ago because this has been a pretty long process. We did this EP last April and May and now it’s kind of being released and such. I’d love to have a new batch of tunes coming up so hopefully a continuation of new music.
Wolfson and I spoke more about the nuts and bolts behind how she met Marshall Vore, who produced her EP and who is also Phoebe Bridger’s drummer.
Wolfson had gone to the same high school as Bridgers. Through making music, Vore and Wolfson became friends. Wolfson later found out he was recording in a studio, and eventually had him record her music.
Commenting that her EP was a labor of love, she’d also like to thank her friends and music artists, Harrison Whitford, Johanna Samuels, Olivia Kaplan, Jorge Balbi and others who made her EP even more special.
Wolfson’s album, Adulting will be released on March 20, 2019. You can catch her EP release show on the 20th at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles.
Adulting track list: Hotel Room, Probably Paradise, Remind Me, Self-Fulfilled Prophecy, Johnny Cash