Singer-songwriter Sophia St. Helen is one to watch in the music industry. She captures then releases listeners into ethereally beautiful sonic landscapes with her seductively smooth vocals and melodic storytelling. While her upcoming debut album None The Wiser is far from the beginning of her journey, it undoubtedly marks the start of something much bigger for her. Her personal and honest portrayal of love, heartbreak, and soul searching makes for an album that connects on a deeply human level.
I got the chance to talk with Sophia about how she originally got into making and performing music, how she would describe the music she makes without using genre names, the story behind her single “Like a Fog” and so much more. Keep reading to see what she had to say!
Tell me a little bit about how you first got into making and performing music.
Music has always been a part of my life, from piano lessons as a kid, to playing the bass in the church band in middle school and high school. I could strum a few chords on the guitar for as long as I can remember. I never really took it seriously though, or realized my true interest until I started singing and writing songs when I was about 16. I became more interested in the guitar, took weekly lessons, and performed in the school talent show. I think it was around that time that I also started developing a more distinct music taste as a listener, which sparked more interest for me as a singer, player, songwriter and performer.
Was there a specific moment or person that made you realize that music is what you wanted to pursue professionally?
If I were to trace it back, I would probably say it was the guitar teacher I had in high school, Carsten Kranzer. He was the first person who complimented my singing voice. He was also the first person to tell me that I should seriously consider not only studying music in college, but pursuing music as a career. I hadn’t considered myself good enough prior to meeting him, and I guess I just needed a little push to realize my sincere interest in pursuing music professionally.
I’m always genuinely curious about what artists want to convey with their music so if you had to describe the music you make without using genre names, how would you describe it?
I would say my music tends to be confessional and romantic. Lyrically, I think I lean towards blunt and clear description as opposed to being mysterious or particularly poetic. Musically, I think I lean towards tenderness. I like to let it rock here and there, but I am a sucker for music that is soft and beautiful.
Going off of that, who are some of your musical influences?
I’m sure this is everyone’s first answer, but I have to start with saying The Beatles. I have probably listened to them more than any other band, and I have been listening to them since I was a baby. I can’t necessarily pinpoint where in my music their influence comes through, but I think when you spend so much time listening to something, you start to really internalize it. And as far as their solo work, I’ve spent a lot of time with George and Paul. I’m a big fan of 60s music generally, so I think that comes through sometimes.
More recent influences include artists like Joanna Newsom, Laura Marling, and Mirah. The list goes on, but I look up to solo female artists who are singers, songwriters and instrumentalists. The arrangements on their records are fleshed out and sometimes heavily produced, but they can also pull off a beautiful show all by themselves.
Less specifically, I know I have influences from traditional folk music, classic rock, psychedelic music, jazz and even classical music. I notice how my music slightly morphs based on how much time I am spending with a certain genre.
Let’s talk about your new single, “Like a Fog”. What’s this song about?
“Like a Fog” at its core is about soul-searching. The often painful and sacrificial journey to wisdom, maturity and self-discovery. The song outlines the questioning of a long-distance relationship, while confusion and sorrow creep up and linger with the realization of the need for a new kind of independence. Independence that requires solitude.
Something I’ve always been curious with songwriting is how topics come to mind. Did you know what you wanted to write about going into the song session that birthed ”Like a Fog” or did it just come about organically once you were in the session?
This song was actually developed over a long period of time. The melodic motif that acts as the main riff for the song came about because I started playing piano again after many years. I would just sit and mess around until I created something that stuck in my head. I have many fragments like this floating in my head (and in my voice recordings on my phone). When it came time for me to unload my feelings one day, which is often how songs are born, I just pulled that riff from my mind-bank and developed the song around it. I didn’t have an idea, it just came out organically. I started playing, constructing a chord progression, and singing freely until the right words and melodies revealed themselves.
Were there any major changes made to ”Like a Fog” once you got into the recording studio, whether it be in the lyrics or something sonically?
There were no major changes to the song. Lyrically, harmonically and structurally, it remained as it was written. That being said, I had written it for voice and piano, so the studio acted as a way to flesh out the sonic landscapes. My producer, Robby Baier, started sending me demo versions he had come up with that included war-like drum rolls, meandering bass-lines and interesting back-up vocal lines. We collaborated with each other and the band [Lee Falco (drums), Will Bryant (keys) and Brandon Morrison (bass)] to explore the ideas, and finalize the track’s arrangement and overall vibe.
Your debut album None The Wiser is coming out in a few weeks. What can fans expect from it when it drops?
None the Wiser is a collection of songs that explores affairs of the heart. Love, heartbreak and soul-searching. Love is the most written about topic there is, but I find that there are endless angles to approach it. It’s the most essential human emotion. There’s a reason everyone’s singin’ about it! The record is relatively diverse, it is a combination of slow and upbeat, melancholy and light-hearted.
You are still relatively new to the music game. What are some music industry-related goals or benchmarks that you’re aiming to reach in the next couple of years?
That’s right, I am just gettin’ in the game! First and foremost I just want to keep making and releasing music. That’s more personal though, I think I’d do that whether or not I was trying to make my way into the industry. I think that music is meant to be shared, and music is meant to be heard, so I would like to get my music to as many ears as possible. You never know who may connect with your songs. The more people it reaches, the more chance you have of it getting to someone who may really enjoy it, relate to it, and feel it. I am currently independent, and I would be interested in getting in touch with record labels. Playing as many shows as possible. The usual stuff. I guess I have pretty conventional goals. Trying to not have a day job here!
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd so what is something that you’re currently nerding out about?
Oh what a time to be a nerd! Quarantine is providing ample time to nerd out about all kinds of things. Sourdough bread from scratch, Mad Men, paintings of leaves, Andy Shauf, sudoku. You name it!
Make sure you follow Sophia on Instagram. None The Wiser is available now.