Sofia B on channeling the beauty and the struggles of being queer in her music

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Blending obvious folk influences with contemporary electronic infusions is UK-based singer/songwriter Sofia B. Her heartfelt lyrics and honest approach to the craft has allowed her to create music that provides listeners a bridge into her world—often openly citing her sexuality in such tracks as “Mum, I Like A Girl.” Her quest for personal exploration through storytelling reveals a brazenness in her sound that is undeniable.

Sofia and I caught up over a very fun Skype session to discuss her relationship to music and the release of her latest single “Let It Go”—which in her own words is a “personal song about letting a lover go, how hard it is and how you feel as if they have a piece of your heart forever.”

AfterEllen.com: How would you describe your sound?

Sofia B: I like to describe my music as sort of retro indie-pop—I know that indie isn’t necessarily a genre, but I am an independent artist. One thing I started out quite clinging onto was folk and as I’m getting older I’m starting to venture out more into rock inspired music and electronic remixes. I’ve also written some R&B and hip hop, not for myself but with other artists in mind, because first and foremost I see myself as a songwriter.

 

AE: Sonically what’s changed for you between your two EPs—Once Upon a Time and In the City?

SB: The difference was that the first record I recorded with good friends of mine from Berklee and it was my first ever attempt at recording my songs. The second record was recorded with my dad because he’s a big inspiration to me. He plays guitar and always wanted to go to Berklee. He’s also Lebanese and lives there. It ended up being more cost and time effective for me to just do it there, so we planned it out in two weeks and we recorded in Lebanon where we found a producer who was also a Berklee alum. He helped me make the record and I very much got to co-produce it, I feel like it’s more personal to me. We delve into some more electronic aspects, particularly for “Let It Go.” And I perform that on a loop station and beatbox. I don’t always want to play with my guitar, sometimes I want to be free, and that’s something that, in my next record, I want to experiment with more.

 

AE: How did you find the experience of recording in Lebanon?

SB: First of all I grew up going there most of my life and I have fond memories of the place. But I guess I was naive in thinking that my family is from there and I have a lot of connections there so I’ll be absolutely fine. I know loads of gay friends of my parents that are Lebanese, but little did it occur to me to even go into Google and search if homosexuality was, in fact, illegal. 

So I was, in fact, driving up to the Chouf Mountains to record an acoustic video of “Do It Like A Dude” by Jessie J, and the videographer, who’s a lesbian, was like, “You do know that it’s illegal to be gay here”—actually even just to live in an apartment with someone unless you’re married. And I just thought that is mental—I never thought about having to live with those kinds of restrictions, and it scared me. I decided it would be fine because it’s important. And it was very important to be close to my dad and bond in that way. Me and my dad will have this experience forever, so that is something I’m really, really proud and honored to say we completed together.

 

AE: As an out performer, how have you found your experience navigating the industry?

SB: I try not to think about it too much because I really am just being myself, but I do notice the times when it does affect. Because I did used to perform as more of a feminine identifying woman. I cut my hair right after I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease the day before I shot “Mum, I Like a Girl” and you are very much treated different when you have long hair. There is the whole term of femme invisibility and the aspect now that I have encountered of masculine privilege—it’s very interesting and it’s been a big inspiration to my writing noticing the in between aspects of it. I think I’m in between the lines, I’m in the grey area, sort of thing.

CYyYaCredit: Anna Bloda

AE: Any advice you’d give to queer young women coming up in a similar world?

SB: I think it’s important to have an outlet. For me, it’s music and my writing and recording and finding songs to relate to. Some people it’s literature. Some people it’s art. It’s important to channel the struggle and find something beautiful out of it and not focus on the negative of it. Because it does get tiring trying to find a job as a queer woman, there are problems with that. Gender equality, we’re not quite there yet are we?

 

AE: What’s on deck for you next?

SB: I’ve been recording some demos for the next record but I think I need a little more time to gather my thoughts. I’ll also be at Pandora Fest and at the L Fest and London Pride’s Got Talent, this event determines which stage I’ll be playing at Pride and whether I’ll be playing in Trafalgar Square or not, which is effectively like playing in Times Square. So that would be ridiculous.

 

AE: What’s ruffling your feathers these days?

SB: I’ve actually been going back through my old playlists and listening to some old school rock. I’ve been listening to a lot of R.E.M. recently. But as far as new music, the Beyonce album it really has taken up my life. It really is very important to me. I’ve been waiting for this for a really long time. I’ve also been listening to this one chap called Ciaran Lavery for a little while and it’s such a small world he’s actually gonna be playing with my friend Siv who’s a Norwegian singer/songwriter. I’m really excited to see him live because I’ve been obsessing over this guy for ages and now I get probably a free ticket to see that guy.

 

AE: What’s one thing I wouldn’t be able to find out about you in a deep internet lurk?

SB: You probably wouldn’t be able to find this on the internet but I was an extra in the first Harry Potter movie, I was, I really was. I was in it with my mum and my brother and I got to be on the Hogwarts Express and I got to meet Daniel Radcliffe, and Emma Watson and Rupert Grint and the first Dumbledore and it was just so cool. Everyone just hated me at school. But I felt like I was magical and I didn’t care and I definitely stole something from Diagon Alley. It was like a little bottle that said “vanishing powder.” It was probably just talcum powder. It was just one of the coolest things to say that I was a part of. I mean you can’t see me, but I know I was there, I was paid.

4QQPCCredit: Riya Gwangwazo

You can find more on Sofia B on her website or Facebook.

For musical suggestions, general musings and mild compliments you can reach me on Instagram or Twitter.

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