“The minute you feel respected, you can do so many more things with music“
Sophie Edwards is a musician I’ve connected with virtually over a couple of mutual zoom meetings we’ve both been apart of, and I was really looking forward to chatting with her about her music and her experiences in the industry. She has a really candid way of speaking in her writing, which is something that makes you feel instantly connected with the music and the picture she paints. We chatted about the Canberra scene, meme-ing your own music, and some sneaky upcoming stuff
It’s so nice to be able to talk to you about your music, I really like what you do!
Thank you! It’s nice to connect with other musicians especially in this time that we’re in
That’s so true, and to be honest I probably wouldn’t have thought to connect with you before anyway because you’re from Canberra, and I usually interview in person! It’s nice that even though there us physical disconnection, it has brought us together in some small ways
What’s your journey with music been like, and how did you get to where you are today?
I started with singing when I was really little, definitely as a confidence thing for me- learning how to sing and be in front of people. I always loved it, and I had a lot of teachers and tutors and I did quite a lot of musical theatre. When I was in year 11 and 12 I did this music program at ANU which was a jazz course, which led me to a jazz degree, and in the middle of my degree I went to a few song writing workshops to try and meet some other musicians. I started writing songs and I got some great mentors- and suddenly all I wanted to do was write contemporary pop music that had a bit of an edge to it. I had a lot of training and I didn’t want to necessarily just write hits and bangers- I wanted to write stuff that felt really genuine to me. I have a band and we play a fair bit in Canberra which is nice because it’s a bit of a small pond- but it’s a nice supportive pond! At the start of this year I got signed by a local record company called Vacant Room Records who are now supporting all of my recordings, and it works really well.
That’s awesome, and I think that the jazz sensibility that you have is clear- I’m glad you mentioned you had studied because I was going to ask about it once we discuss your tracks in more detail because I love the chords! That kind of insight comes from people who intuitively make those kinds of decisions and it doesn’t feel too unnatural to them, which is something cool about how jazz can open your mind and musical understanding. It’s cool that you’ve incorporated a lot of those elements into your music
Yeah, and I think that when I was first writing music it felt like what I was writing wasn’t good enough because I wasn’t doing anything theoretically outstanding and crazy. It’s taken me a while to first, strip back all that theory, and then to add it in a little bit at a time
I totally resonate with that. When you have a background in jazz, or you learn about how intricate and crazy it is, there’s an expectation that you have to go 100% and if you aren’t, then what you’re making isn’t good or interesting. The more that you indulge in pop music, or ‘simpler’ styles- whatever that is supposed to mean- you can actually understand and appreciate what is offered from all kinds of music. I feel like the musical education journey has a couple of these little mountains where you’re like oh I don’t know anything, and then oh I know everything about jazz and it’s superior music, and then no I hate this I’m gonna make trashy pop music, and then actually I want to find a balance and make music that I really like
Exactly, and that’s the point I’m getting to; I am making music that I’m actually really passionate about, and I’m not just writing to tick a lot of boxes, or something that’s gonna be a hit. I’m just writing stuff that I really like and it’s starting to resonate with people which is good!
Yeah I would say so! That’s all you can ask for you know- when you get to the point where you feel a little more led by your own interests instead of being led by the anxiety to tick boxes or make people happy. That’s something I struggle with for sure- worrying what you make isn’t interesting enough or interesting but not marketable- there’s so many annoying mental burdens. I find for myself that there’s a real sense of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ when I’m writing something, when you’re writing do you get that kind of feeling?
I feel like a lot of the time- I’m getting better at it- when I first started playing with the band I was not very confident in my work, I thought everything I wrote was so cheesy. I’d bring a song in and it would have a bunch of pre-warnings like before you see a scary movie, I’d have a list of everything that was wrong with it I don’t really like the pre-chorus, and I don’t like the chorus, I don’t know if I like the verse- and I’d play it and they would say it’s good! Working with other people has made me back myself a little bit more. When people that study, and play, and listen to, and record music are all backing me and trusting my ability, I should trust myself too. It’s definitely tricky though! The guitarist in the band is also my boyfriend, so I’ll take a song to him first usually because we’ll be hanging out, and he’ll say ‘show me a new song’ and I’ll say ‘yeah yeah yeah… I don’t really like it…it’s got all these things that aren’t that good….’ blah blah blah, and he’ll say, ‘no it’s good you just have to deal with it’. It’s good to have realistic people around you who can back you and what you do.
I am totally on the same page with you about pre-warnings when you’re doing something with a band. When you’re just working by yourself there are a lot more internal battles, but when you bring something to another person or a group of people, it really feels like you need to warn them about how crap you are! The people you share with don’t think you’re crap, and they aren’t going to work with you and support you if they don’t believe in what you’re doing. We can be so mean to ourselves when it comes to music making!
Especially because it’s so personal! We’re the songwriter, and lyricist, and we’re performing it- it’s really baring our soul. When I was first writing, I didn’t want to show anyone because I thought it was so cringy because the songs were about me. When you realise that half the time people are just listening to the melodies and not really resonating with the lyrics because they’re just there for a good time- that can help you get out of your head
Do you find that at the stage you’re at now that you have hesitation when it comes to performing intimate songs, or releasing songs that feel quite personal?
A lot of my songs will be about something that has specifically happened to me, but I’ll make them feel a lot more broad because I feel like it resonates with people more. With a song like ‘Seconds’- the song that’s coming out soon- the first lyric is
I just got my ears pierced by my best friend
So I could feel something
Which is something that happened to me, but the rest of the song is about different scenarios where you’re feeling quite numb and the things that you do to try and feel something- whether they’re good things or bad things. I wrote it in the middle of iso when I was just feeling like- well I wasn’t really feeling anything, and I wanted to have some sort of strong feeling again. I felt like I was kind of like a robot doing my job and hanging out but not really doing anything creative. I went to my friends house and was like yo can you pierce my ear? And suddenly I came up with this song idea and everything spiralled. I think having personal connections to songs really adds a whole other dimension to it, especially when it comes to performance, but I don’t think it’s necessarily super important for the lyrics to be very related to me. I can’t justify writing a super sad personal breakup song about myself when I haven’t experienced that.
I think listeners tend to place themselves within what they listen to anyway. When I was hearing that first line I was reminded of when I pierced my friends ear years ago, and it’s so strange to think that we can put these extremely specific lyrics in a song and think no one else could possibly have lived that experience, but people see themselves in them anyway! When you gave me the context of you being in isolation and wanting to feel something- I cut like 50cm off my hair in iso because I was so frustrated with doing nothing! I completely resonate with that. We write these songs that are so personal and so intimate and it can be intimidating putting them into the world because they are like diary entries. People see you singing it, and they hear you singing it, but they are picturing themselves experiencing the feelings. Maybe that’s a narcissistic way to listen to music, but I know that’s true for me. I’m seeing myself experience the things that you’re singing about- my brain isn’t so much connecting that it’s your personal experience because it’s becoming my experience as I’m listening to it
You tell a story but you don’t necessarily have to know the story that you’re telling
And, being open to the fact that people are going to reinterpret things and turn them into their own stories, and sometimes they connect with it in a way that seems so irrelevant to how you’ve written it in the first place!
I have a song that I recorded that was like that- the record label that I’m working with are really incredible and they picked me because they really liked this song I sang at one point. I don’t really like the song because I wrote it in a writing camp and to me it didn’t really mean anything, and I think a lot of the lyricism is really rushed and tacky, but they really love it because they have their own stories that are attached to it, like ‘oh this reminds me of this and this and this and this!’ so I’ve had to kind of rework my thinking a bit, and realise that it’s not just about me, and I can still make art that is not necessarily about my life
I totally understand that, and it can make you feel a little bit like a sell out in a weird way. A lot of artists have songs that they’ve released that they have to pretend that they like- I’ve got a song like that, and when I play it people say ‘that’s the song, that’s your big song, it’s so good!’ and I’m like don’t say that!! I don’t like it!! I don’t want this to be my big song! It’s hard to balance having integrity and creating stuff that you like, verses creating things that are going to be successful or commercially interesting to people. How do you balance that in your head?
I think a lot of people don’t think about the value of being genuine, and there’s so much pop music coming out at the moment that’s super squeaky clean and well produced and the lyrics are really cool and funny, but it lacks that raw emotion to me. It’s like the emotion is written in the words, but it’s not coming through the production maybe? I’ve been resonating a lot with more rock acts I suppose- like Middle Kids and Stella Donnelly, people like that who have something to say and are really raw about it. I like that style while adding my kind of sweeter vocal on top of that kind of tone, and I think my band is really good at helping me express angrier emotions without me sounding angry. In terms of commercial success, the only thing we really do when it comes to recording is just using a click track to make sure it’s in time, but otherwise we are just doing what we think sounds good to us- it feels like it will resonate with people because it resonates when we play it live. There’s definitely a vibe at the moment where a lot of the music people are writing in co-writing sessions are all about writing a hit rather than necessarily writing something that’s personal or genuine- though it can still be a genuine hit! There’s a scientific formula for the perfect pop song that everyone is following, and now a lot of pop music is sounding quite similar. People are beginning to value personality and authenticity a lot more than image, which is what I’m focused on at the moment.
I think as well that there are so many options in terms of not using acoustic instruments as much anymore because of how far technology has gotten us, I think a lot of people are intimidated with learning the guitar or piano or bass or singing. There is an endless supply of sound cloud beat makers who make amazing stuff but the prospect of learning those same notes on the guitar or piano is really far out of their comfort zone. I really like that your music has that acoustic backbone which makes people feel warm and connected. Is that the direction you want to keep heading into or do you think your sound will evolve?
It’s hard to know I think, and these upcoming releases are all live instruments. There’s so many amazing musicians I know that have the ability to bring so much emotion into what they are playing, that why wouldn’t I use them? I can trust them to do a really good job, and I use their instincts instead of a producer. There isn’t actually a whole lot of producers in Canberra- there are a few really good ones but it’s hard to track one down. With all the layering that is on the song and with a lot of the elements in the track, I thought of or the band thought of on the fly. Whenever we have a vocal session it will be one song with like 70 harmonies or versions that we have to cull down! It’s good because we get every idea down. There’s a lot of value in having real instruments and what that can add- especially now that no one is really experiencing live music. If you can have something that sounds a bit live, then maybe people can resonate with that? I’m not against the idea of using more electronic elements in the future, but for my first couple of releases I want it to sound similar to how I play it live
I think people like to hear something they recognise. When you’re in the recording process, with all these layers and everything, do you find that there is much on-the-spot improvisation that is added, or is it mostly pre-planned?
It kind of depends on the song, but with a song like ‘Seconds’, I know that when I was writing it that it was going to have all these really lush harmonies which is something I couldn’t really do live because I don’t really have backup singers. The band are usually willing to do them, but usually when we are rehearsing and we have 2 hours to rehearse all these new songs, back-up vocals are on the priority list but it’s not very high. I knew I had all these parts that I wanted to add, but I never really tried them because there’s only one of me to sing with! When we add all these vocal parts in a session, usually it’s made up, and I can hear things that I want to add. I have a song called ‘Next’ which is probably the most recently recorded song, and it has this weird section in the middle with this big vocal thing that is kind of tricky to sing and I don’t think it sounds very good, so I’ll put that right back in the mix, with more layers over the top. It’s a lot of trial and error, but because I’ve studied music and sung for a really long time, I’m pretty good with harmonies and coming up with new ideas.
I think being a vocalist is such a powerful tool in music. You can pick up a mic and sing anything you like, how cool is that? You can just test stuff out straight away and figure out if it works pretty quickly, and you can build on things which is a little harder to do with other instruments. It’s a really cool thing that vocalist are able to bring to the table, because I’m sure you have experienced while studying jazz how much vocalists are not really appreciated much as musicians, and told that they aren’t as technically proficient or whatever. When you’re writing and creating music, that veil is taken away a little bit, and you can see your own value
I think it took a really long time before I felt comfortable to even just rehearse in front of a band, because I felt like they didn’t want me to be there. As soon as I started gaining respect, and having a presence that required respect- which to be honest is just being a human being and people treating you like a human being, instantly, everyone was backing my music. The minute you feel respected, you can do so many more things with music.
Do you have any musical moments you’re especially proud of?
More recently, I had a show a few weeks ago- Canberra isn’t under super harsh lock down anymore because we haven’t had a case in a really long time. I got offered to do a show at a kind of reputable bar- a Uni bar that all the touring acts will usually play at. I was really excited that I got the gig because they also book a lot of cool support acts, so I knew I’d have to do a really good job so I’d be remembered when more gigs are back on
Like when Stella comes!
So I was really excited but so nervous because I needed to sell like 40 tickets in a week, all online 18+. We also had to double our set within a weeks notice
So I had to write all these songs, and have them rehearsed enough with the band, and sell all these tickets. This was the first gig we had had together since March, but we sold out in like two days and it was a really good show! I didn’t back myself at all, and I told my band that it would be really embarrassing if we didn’t do a good job, but they wanted to support me and play with me, so I’m so glad we did it and it was very warm and fuzzy to sell out my first gig back! I’ve never really had booked out shows before, so it was really cool
There’s a light at the end of the tunnel for the Melbourne musicians!
Those moments of validation can really stand out for emerging artists, because it’s hard when there’s so many people around you trying to do the same thing as you. It’s hard to know if people really believe in what you’re doing, and wondering if people besides your friends and family like your music can become a symbol of success or progression. What are your thoughts on that?
I’m trying to do a lot more- especially in Canberra- when it comes to advocating for musicians and supporting others too in the industry. Something that I’m trying to do in Canberra is expanding the people who come to gigs so it’s more than just other musicians, or the musicians family, because that’s the main makeup of the crowds. We have a large population, but only six or seven venues, and most people just don’t know any Canberra musicians who are performing. I don’t think I’m making stuff that’s super out there and people won’t like it- it’s pretty commercial sounding pop stuff. The music scene has the ability to be a bigger part of Canberra in general. The next step is encouraging the wider community, outside of the music community, to actually come to gigs. Everyone loves backing a Canberra event, and everyone comes to them, but all the musicians are generally from Sydney or Melbourne, so nobody knows any of the local acts. I want to showcase some of the Canberra musicians a little better because the acts are really good!
It’s excellent that that’s on your heart to advocate for, and those steps need to happen to make real change because a lot of people just aren’t going to go out of their way to do things that support each other unless there’s a voice for it
There is so much talent that has grown up in Canberra, studied here, developed, and as soon as they are ‘emerging’ it’s like bye going to Melbourne! Now that the pandemic has happened, a lot of these acts are back –Hands Like Houses, all these amazing people, Thando, she’s from Canberra and she’s just playing in the middle of the city. It’s amazing. So many great artists that are suddenly back and playing shows in Canberra. Elton John’s support act for his Australian tour studied in Canberra. There are these amazing people that people don’t know come from Canberra
It’s a shame that musicians feel this pull to leave once they’ve become ‘emerging’. It’s a shame that the scene maybe hasn’t cultivated enough. Maybe this opportunity of not having any Covid cases will lead to people wanting more of a scene in Canberra
Often I’ll play a gig, and some random public servant will think it’s really crazy and edgy that they’re at a gig even though we play them three times a week. It isn’t ground breaking, you can come whenever you want! It’s great and I’m so glad people are coming, and there’s a culture of people who’s personality is supporting live music even if they don’t personally play it, but they might not be supporting the smaller local Canberra acts
It’s interesting to see the ripple effect of everything that’s going on, so hopefully people are thinking more about how to get the Canberra scene expanded more
Lets talk about ‘Bated Breath’ which is the first song you released
So for this song, and ‘Full Circle’, you released them in 2017, and then you didn’t release anything until ‘Early Bird’ this year- that’s a long time! I’d love for you to unpack that. I have music I released in 2017 which is definitely a bit cringe to me, but they still represent important steps for me in navigating what it means to be a musician. I don’t want to discredit how important the first release is in your music journey because they might be kind of cringy but they can still have value even if that’s just noticing an evolution in your writing, I’d love for you to take me through that track!
Yeah, so I wrote ‘Bated Breath’ when I was in year 10 or 11, and it was the first song I ever wrote. I was gigging with covers about three times a week at various places, and I would do a lot of live looping. I wrote this song about a boyfriend I had in year 11 and I was sad because I thought I would be moving to Sydney for Uni- it’s a bit of a weird song, and listening back it sounds exactly like ‘I See Fire’ by Ed Sheeran which There’s a lot of reasons to not like ‘Bated Breath’ and it’s become a bit of a meme with people who follow my music- every time I’m like hey guys what should I play tonight! I always get BATED BREATH! I wrote it in 2016, and I didn’t have any money because I was like 15, but I entered this competition where I had to play in the middle of the shops, and if you won you got to record in one of Canberra’s good studios. I came second, but there was someone who was in the crowd who had a home recording studio who wanted me to record there! That was the first time I had ever recorded anything, and it sounds pretty similar to how I used to play it live. I was super proud of it but I didn’t know anything about music marketing- I didn’t have any followers and I didn’t know what I was doing at all! It was just on Facebook for a long time, and then I managed to put it on Youtube, and then on triple j unearthed, and then a year after we actually recorded it I finally figured out how to put a song on Spotify.
It was just such a hot mess. With ‘Full Circle’ I recorded that song when I was in first year Uni at the studio there. I wrote it when I was in year 12 so I feel like it doesn’t really mean much because I didn’t have any life experience. I’m pretty sure the song is on Spotify unmixed, I haven’t listened to it in a very long time. I didn’t know about any of the steps you need to take with releasing music and it was all a bit random. After that I studied for a long time and learned about how to be a musician because I didn’t really know!
It’s a whole world that you can be so unaware of! I had such a similar experience, where I recorded an EP and just released it on CD Baby thinking someone will find it! No one found it!? How would anyone find it! Thinking back on the very start of my music journey, I’m kind of shocked at how little I knew about anything
Exactly. So, the next few years I spent a long time learning how to write songs and market myself, and playing gigs and feeling more comfortable. I was also working out what sound I was going for that wasn’t just Ed Sheeran! ‘Early Bird’ was very different for me. I got given a grant to record my music, and we had a whole week in the studio and wrote and recorded heaps of stuff. As we finished the last day of recording, I got an email saying we’d like to sign you to our record label can you meet with us? And they wanted to fund an EP, but I had just recorded it that week! He liked what we recorded, so we released ‘Early Bird’, but everything else has been re-recorded elsewhere. It’s been an interesting year for my music, I wasn’t really doing anything, and suddenly I’m doing everything!
Do you value the fact that you had the opportunity to do nothing, or do you wish that everything was a little more spread out?
I did really value the time that I was- well I wasn’t really doing nothing, I just wasn’t sure of what I was supposed to be doing. I went to my first song writing camp and I met KLP who said I should do toplining and writing for other artists, so I tried to work out how I was going to do that and went to heaps of songwriting camps. I learnt a lot and met some really cool people and wrote some cool songs, but I found that even though I like co-writing the opportunities are slim if you aren’t already signed to a publisher who is organising co-writes for you. I wanted to focus on my own music using all the skills I had learnt, and when I started to really focus on my own stuff it was a lot better for me
It’s great that you can have these different experiences in the music industry, and it can all filter into how you approach your own project and how you progress as an artist, and influence how you present yourself as an artist
I’d love to talk about ‘Seconds’ and why you’ve decided it should be the next release
Yeah, so I wrote about 4-5 songs that we recorded at Uni, but this wasn’t one of them. I thought I would just release songs in the order that I write them, and ‘Early Bird’ was the first song I wrote with my band in mind. We had a lot of plans with what the second single was going to be, and I wrote ‘Seconds’ after not writing for a really long time, and it clicked and everyone liked it. It felt like it kind of had to be the next single! I’m not really sick of it yet, and I can still find a lyric or a melody that I really love an enjoy. It’s the kind of song that works with a band, and works with just me on guitar. I think it resonates with people, especially given the current circumstances of just feeling kind of numb. We’re really happy with it, and there are lots of songs we’re really happy with too and sometimes you don’t know if it’s going to be the next single but at some point you just have to decide!
I love the lyric,
I feel the cold inside the holes
that I form in these evenings
I think the whole song is filled with a lot of really beautiful imagery, how did this song feel to write and what are you trying to communicate with it?
The first verse is very specific to me and my experience of piercing my ears, and this is something that is reflected later with that line in the chorus. We have holes from the self-destructive things we’ve been doing during this isolation period, and just generally. The second verse is a little less depressing, and more about feeling stupid sometimes, but the person I love makes me feel better about it
I just got my mouth shut
by my own head
because I’ve said too much
he can close the holes up
he can keep the cold out
with just one touch
Someone else can make me feel better by just being there, and I can feel things when I’m around other people. The chorus is a little vague- I remember in the middle of the night I had an epiphany, and song ‘Ramona Was A Waitress’- pretty classic early 2000’s Australian pop vibe by Paul Dempsey, and there’s this section with this great build up on the word ‘at all’, and I realised that’s the feeling I wanted in the chorus. I’m falling to pieces I know things aren’t right
Flesh and skin and bone
Beats a moment alone
But I need a moment to speak
This is playing off the idea that because we’ve been isolated for so long, when we’re back in the presence of other people, we don’t know how to talk to them!
What are you hoping people leave feeling when they listen to this song when it comes out?
That all the feelings- and the lack of feelings- we’ve had for the past few months are all normal. It’s justified and we’ve all been feeling the same way. It was a bit unspoken that people were struggling to know how to communicate in real life again, until someone was like you know? I feel like I’ve forgotten how to speak to people and others were like oh my god me too! That’s kind of what I want to communicate with this song. We’ve all been in the same situation, and if you haven’t been feeling great then it’s okay because a lot of people haven’t.
I think a lot of people can see themselves in those kinds of feelings, and people will need to look into themselves and figure out how to recover from this weird mental time- which is something I think music will play a big role in. What would be your advice to any other emerging artists?
Don’t compare yourself to the people around you, for me there was such a long time where I felt like I was just being competitive compared to people doing really similar things to me. The moment that I started feeling more successful with my music was when I realised I have something completely different to bring to the table. I don’t have to be playing the same gigs and working with the same producers and the same labels. I can do my own genuine thing and feel happy with it, and it will work out! I feel like there was this thing for a while on Instagram where it would look ‘cool’ if you didn’t follow as many people, which is so odd to me! The minute I didn’t care about that, and followed all the Canberra bands and backed them, it’s been so much better and I feel like I have so many more friends! I don’t feel like crap when I see people doing something cool.
That’s such a good example of something small that can make such a big difference in your outlook and your mindset. With music, it really feels like a formula to follow or a particular journey you have to have in order to find success or feel like you’re achieving things. It really is an individual journey, and your image of success is different to the person next to you. Understanding that is vital in battling your self-confidence, and not feeling depressed when what you do might not take off in the way you thought it would
What do you want to stand for in this industry at the moment?
I feel like I’ve said it like 50 times but valuing authenticity, and being able to be yourself. I think that’s very vague because it could be to do with how you look or how you identify, but it should also be about being comfortable to be yourself in the music industry, and making stuff you’re proud of.
You can listen to Sophie Edwards’ music by following the socials below