Not only does Sophia Jane make beautiful folk music (with Americana, Pop, and Country influences- you’ll just have to take a listen to understand), she has an amazing story to tell. She used songwriting to push through the emotional highs and lows of depression and anxiety and has since become an active advocate for mental health awareness, playing benefit concerts and pursuing Music Therapy at Berklee College of Music which she hopes to use to “bring a light to the power of music in healing.” I was lucky to chat Sophia about all that, as well as what inspires her lyrics and how she stays calm and grounded.
What inspired you to become a musician? Has it always been what you wanted to do when you grew up?
When I was 5 my mom signed me up for piano lessons, as she always played piano and comes from a musical family. I remember hating going to my weekly lesson and crying the whole way there… but then one day something clicked and I couldn’t stop playing. My Grandpa on my Mom’s side was always very musical, singing old folk songs on the summer house deck and leading us in sing-alongs. My Dad’s dad is also a chanter in the Greek Orthodox church, so that was a musical source growing up.
I think I just fell in love with the concept of putting stories and music to song. Music has always hit me in the deep part in my spirit that I can’t explain. I just always knew in my gut I could never let it go and wouldn’t be fulfilled if I didn’t stick close to it. It always just had a really deep emotional connection with me… it would make me burst into tears, give me goosebumps and make me smile bigger than ever. When something touches you that deep, how can you not pursue it?
I know you’re also an active advocate of mental health awareness and are pursuing a degree in Music Business and Music Therapy; can you speak a little about that?
Yeah! Music has always been my way of healing – I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression since I was really little, and still do. Writing songs about how I feel or just sitting down at the piano and channeling everything through notes has always helped so, so much. I want to bring this help to others that maybe haven’t discovered the part music can play in their lives or who need help incorporating it into their lives.
My dream is to start a not-for-profit organization where songwriting is incorporated into underprivileged communities to allow people tell their stories and provide a sense of identity and intent.
In terms of mental health as a whole, it isn’t talked about enough! I have an original song called “One Call” which tells the story of a girl fading into society through depression and ultimately taking her own life. The song itself has stigma around it, but opens up the eyes of the listener as to what could actually be going on in the lives of those around them.
Music is just such a ‘feely’ thing. You can channel so, so much through music whether it be creative energy, angst, confidence- anything! Western medicine is so pushed these days in the medical field and creative non-medical approaches are devalued. I hope to bring a light to the power of music in healing.
That’s amazing! And how has studying at Berklee influenced you as an artist? Is it stressful being surrounded by so many talented musicians?
One of the things I love about Berklee is actually the people I’m surrounded by. A lot of people come to Berklee aspiring to be touring, working musicians. I love gigging but my passion really lies in therapy and behind-the scenes work. I could have studied these things at another school, but being surrounded by such passion and talent from all strictly musicians is what makes this school so great. You are never out of inspiration here.
Berklee is definitely a place where you have to stay focused on your intent and your personal journey – it’s super easy to get caught up in other’s talents and feel intimidated… in fact, a lot of people drop out because of this. In terms of Berklee’s influence on my artistry – it has definitely challenged me to work harder than ever before and know the foundations and details in music. A song is so much more than a few chords – it’s a harmonic sequence with purposeful choices in it’s rhythm, composition, arrangement etc.
It is so, so true that in the music industry today you need to know how to do everything. Yes, I’m a music therapy and business major, but it’s so useful to have big band arranging under my belt, conducting, modal interchanges, etc. It all plays into the craft and allows you to be the best musician you can be.
When I’m not playing music, I’m trying to heal my mind with meditation, reading and surrounding myself with positive and caring people.
That’s great you’re able to channel what others find discouraging into something inspirational. Has there ever been a time you thought about quitting playing music, however?
Yes- I come from a suburban town where everyone goes to very good academic colleges and universities. Both my parents are actually engineers so I come from a direct family of no musicians, LOL. Growing up in an academic setting I was good at math and science, but it never healed my soul like music did. I would often procrastinate work with playing my guitar, piano, or just singing for hours.
I am a very anxious person so I crave stability and the music business is not that. People say: if you want stability, don’t become a musician LOL. So RIP my life…But when it comes down to it, if I didn’t pursue music, I would always wonder. It’s just something I needed to do… weird to explain.
Another thing about the academic route is that it was too safe and stable. It was too straightforward. I am only creative when I’m anxious and on the edge – it pushes my brain to wander the boundaries and dig deeper into my conscious.
Who are some of your favorite artists to listen to and who are some of the biggest inspirations for your sound?
Live, love The Lumineers forever. Honestly, anything folky/Americana is my jam. There is something so honest about it that really speaks to me. I love Brandi Carlile, Passenger, Stu Larsen, The Civil Wars, Matthew Mayfield, Glen Hansard, Shakey Graves, Father John Misty, Ron Pope. I’m inspired by kick drums and tambourines, passionate lyrics, and honest sound. I am definitely a fan of simpler more poetic lyrics than busy technical music.
Music has always been my way of healing – I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression since I was really little, and still do. Writing songs about how I feel or just sitting down at the piano and channeling everything through notes has always helped so, so much. I want to bring this help to others that maybe haven’t discovered the part music can play in their lives or who need help incorporating it into their lives
Can you walk us through the composition of a song? Lyrics or melody first?
As I live my life I like to collect little phrases, things I hear, ideas in a little book- song seed book. I then take those little seeds and use them when I go down to write. Along with these seeds, I often write out my feelings in a journal of just free writing – exactly what my brain feels just spilled on to a piece of paper. With these seeds and free writes I choose a seed and compile it with its free write and start to work.
I always come up with a chord part first on guitar…I’ve tried piano but it just never comes to me… I come up with the guitar part and then start to sing over it with potential melodies. Often I sing what I call “songwriter jibberish” over the top until a syllable I sing sticks out and sounds like a word which kind of spins into a line. So, chords, melody, lyrics. I sometimes do lyrics first, but then often struggle putting them to music.
What inspires your lyrics?
My overwhelming emotions lol. My boyfriend will tell you I probably cry more than any person you will ever meet haha. As an anxious person, thoughts are constantly circling my head and so that’s what normally ends up in a song. Honestly, anything that happens to me that really hits me in the gut inspires a song.
If an idea isn’t deeper than the skin I really can’t make something out of it. Right now I’m writing a lot of love songs- which I swore I would never be that person! … But oops…LOL. I think it’s just the vulnerability and deep feelings of love that really trigger honest thoughts from my spirit.
Haha, I don’t blame you, I feel like all I ever write is love songs. So, I have to ask- I listened to the demo of your song “Seattle,” which is my hometown- what was that inspired by?
LOL yes. So that song’s actually about my boyfriend, Mason. We met in a coffee shop back in September and kind of fell harder than expected. It’s funny ‘cuz I’m from the east coast and he’s from the west, but we really compliment each other – He grounds me and I expand him. It’s honestly a song about passion among two people and in the end night being entangled in a coast to coast love.
That’s really sweet! What inspired the title of your upcoming record, Living For Now?
So the single for the record is my song “Living for Now.” It’s kind of been a motto I’ve lived by recently – living in the moment. It’s so, so easy to get caught up in the future and where you’re going, but if you think that way you will just freak yourself out- which I already do LOL. “Living for Now” means living for the time you are in – living for the single moments and taking it all in.
I love the title track you released off the record! Looking forward to hearing the whole thing. When are you planning to release it?
So the title track is done, and I plan to put it up in the next couple months as a single. The EP as a whole should be done and out by this summer- fingers crossed! One thing I’ve learned in this process is that recording done right takes longer than you think! We are currently done with drum and bass tracks in recording and just have vocals and guitar left.
Oh yes, it always takes so much longer. What do you like to do when you’re not playing music?
I love exploring new places and am a coffee shop addict. You can most likely find me walking around the city or in the corner of a tiny coffee shop in my free time working on a project and opening my mind. I’ve been trying to aid my mental health lately and put that before my work. When I’m not playing music, I’m trying to heal my mind with meditation, reading and surrounding myself with positive and caring people.
So my last question is a bit random. What does feminism mean to you? Why is it important?
Feminism to me is the pride and power of women.
Feminism speaks to equal rights for men and women, but when I think about it, I attribute it to the strength and power we as women have. It’s a reminder that every woman is so, so strong and so much more than they often make themselves out to be.
There are so, so many male-dominated industries out there – music being one of them. Berklee is 70% male and only 30% female. There is definitely a stigma around female musicians and their abilities; however, you want to see feminism at its height? Come to Berklee. These are some of the most passionate, driven and strong women you will ever meet. They show what it means to be a feminist – to meet your full potential and push the boundaries of womanhood.
You can find more information and songs on Sophia’s website. Watch out for her upcoming album, “Living For Now” coming out soon.
Also published on Medium.