23 year old singer songwriter Sophie Strauss is infectiously embracing of her girlhood. It is perhaps this ardent reclaiming of a term - which is so often used to belittle women in the music industry - which perhaps feels the most compelling about her.
Strauss’s debut 2016 EP Yeah No Fine is composed of seven intimate songs that bring us into her world, the world of an almost out of college 20-something that is not afraid to lead the way. Through lyrics like, “he said I’m afraid they’ll see us, I said let them, we look great. Everything I saw that summer brought me to your door, if you feel reckless I’m doing something right” - she brings us along for the ride.
I caught up with Sophie - almost a year after the release of her EP - to talk all things moving back to Los Angeles from New York, Taylor Swift’s potential fascism, and the advantages of being openly political as an artist. Dressed in a colorful, Matisse-esque print dress - and with a winding snake tattoo around her bicep, Sophie is undeniably deserving of the titles badass and cool girl.
So first I know you just had a show at Desperate Behavior, how was the show?
It was great! It wasn’t a venue, it was my friends store. I just met her because I walked into it one day and thought it was a cool store, and I asked her if she ever did shows there. She said she hadn’t really, but that she thought we should. So we brought on a couple of other musicians, and created this all female music and art show. It was two other music acts besides me, a visual artist, and then all of the ticket sales, proceeds from merch, and sales from her store went to her friend’s organization called The Model Behavior. They provide tampons, pads, and other feminine hygiene products to women on the streets - or, rather - people with periods who are on the streets or in shelters, and that was really cool. We raised like - we’re still waiting on a couple more people who said they wanted to donate but haven’t yet - but we’re between 13 and 15 hundred dollars raised, and then also a huge pile of tampons and pads that people brought in which is amazing.
I love that you had men - or just people who didn’t have periods - donate more.
Yeah, well, I tried! I don’t know if they... They definitely didn’t donate more - I think most of them didn’t think that they were going to bring it at all, and that they would just donate money instead, which most of them did. But to see three of my high school best guy friends roll up, each with a box of tampons, was the most heartwarming experience.
You also recently moved back to LA from New York, how has the transition back been?
It’s been great honestly. I was very torn about doing it, and as soon as I came back here I was like this was... This was right.
Yeah No Fine
Released 21 April 2016
Your debut EP Yeah No Fine was released in 2016 - can you tell us a little bit about the title?
Sure - I think that I initially wrote that line, “Yeah no fine” - in a song that I never did anything with. Like, as a description for how I was feeling, I think the line was something like, “and I’m yeah, no, fine” - and then I thought the song was just not good, and I didn’t really care about it, but the line really stuck with me. And then the more I listened to people talk, particularly people of our current generation, I heard people say things like “yeah, no, totally, that’s fine.” And then once I released the EP people were saying things like, “oh, yeah I totally say that,” and that was kind of cool. It got to be like two things at once.
Sure, I think that I actually initially wrote that line - “Yeah, no, fine” - in a song that I never did anything with. Like, as a description for how I was feeling, like I think the line was something like, “and I’m yeah, no, fine” - and then I thought that the song was just not good, and I didn’t really care about it, but that line really stuck with me, and then the more I listened to people talk, particularly people of our generation, and people from LA or California, who say things like “yeah, no, that’s totally fine” or something like that, and then once I came out with the EP people were saying things like “oh yeah, I totally say that”, and that was kind of cool. It got to be like two things at once.
Some California English?
How did you go about the songwriting for the EP?
Well, since this one was the first kind of polished thing I’ve ever done, there was a fair amount time leading up to it. So some of the songs on there are like three or four years old, and some of them - like “Quiz in a Magazine”, I just wrote the week of recording. I was like, “oh, I have this idea.” I wrote that one when I was just sitting on my stairs and realized I wanted to do it. Two of the songs on there I co-wrote with a guitarist, Mo Reynolds, and the rest of them I wrote myself. It was a pretty spread out process, all lyrics first.
Well, this one was - since it was the first kind of polished thing I ever did, it was a fair amount of time leading up to it. So some of the songs on there are like, three or four years old, and some of them - like “Quiz in a Magazine” I just wrote the week of recording. I was like oh, I have this idea, I was writing this while sitting on my stairs and I just want to do it. Two of the songs on there I co-wrote with a guitarist, Mo Reynolds, and the rest of them I wrote myself. It was a pretty spread out process, all lyrics first.
Who are some of the biggest influences in your music - whether musical, artistic, personal?
I grew up listening to a lot of folk and Americana, so, like, “dad music.” Mostly because I grew up listening to music with my dad, and I’m super grateful for that. So when I started writing music it was much folkier, and I think that there is still a fair amount of that in Yeah No Fine . In the next thing that I do I think that there will be much less of that sound. That was the default for me, but it wasn’t necessarily the style that best reflected my life or what I wanted to say the most. But then besides that, I love Fiona Apple, Jenny Lewis, Joni Mitchell - and I think that when I was recording Yeah No Fine I was listening to a lot of pop along with Laura Stevenson. Lately, I’ve been listening to more, kind of, 80’s synth stuff. The Carly Rae Jepsen album, and the B sides, are a masterpiece from start to finish. I don’t know how they cut out any songs from it at all. So moving more in that direction I guess - not necessarily the Carly Rae direction, just not folky.
Which part of the process do you enjoy the most, the songwriting, recording, or playing shows/touring?
I love playing shows. Playing shows makes me the most nervous, which is an obvious thing to say, but I think that when that goes well it feels the best, and when it goes badly it feels the worst. That’s probably what I like the most, but recording is just so amazing. The process of recording is so gratifying - I recorded at Endless Noise Studios and everyone there is just like family to me. I think that I had just never done it before, and for that process I was really worried about what if I’m not good at this, or what if I don’t know what I want. So discovering that I liked it, and was pretty good at having a vision for what I wanted, was great as well.
Do you have any memorable or funny stories from live shows?
Well, yesterday the police came four times - for our tiny little set up. They were like, “well, this seems really quiet and respectful, but legally we have to let you know that it’s disrupting the neighbors. It doesn’t seem like it should be, and we don’t think that it is, but if they say so we have to come.” We also had dogs who came up on stage multiple times - but only during my set! So that was pretty fun. I’ve had a lot of shows which have silly little interruptions like that - like when somebody sneezed and I said bless you just instinctively during the middle of a song. So stuff like that is probably the most memorable.
This is a big one - but you’ve been outspoken about your political views - as an artist how do you think this crazy political time affects your work, and how do you navigate it all?
Yeah, I don’t really find it super hard to navigate - I have no other external pressure. I’m not at a label, it’s just me. So I can say whatever I want, and my instinct is to say exactly what I believe, and I find that doing that adds to what I’m trying to do musically and professionally, rather than taking away from it. Being so, sort of, unafraid to talk about things like abortions, or periods, or whatever, has put me in touch with many incredible activists who have become big supporters of mine - so it’s really only been a plus. I mean, maybe if I were like, a bigger deal, it would be, or people would try to be... I don’t know - maybe Taylor Swift is just a fascist - but like she hasn’t said a word about anything. And maybe that’s just because she’s under pressure from her people, but there are plenty of high up celebrities who do make a statement at the risk of alienating people. I’m not writing my music so that everyone feels equally connected to it - that’s bulllshit.
In the same vein, I loved the caption of a photo you posted yesterday which said: “gonna be real soft rn but this is an 8 year old girl taking a video of my set last night and that's it, girls are it, they're all this is all for” - can you tell us a little more about that?
Yeah, so, there was an eight year old girl who was at the show yesterday, and her dad sent me a photo of her recording my set on her phone, which is just crazy that an eight year old has a phone to record things on. But, I think that since I started playing music when I was pretty young, and I’ve been writing music since I was sixteen - even though it wasn’t good, I was doing it.
You know, you have to start somewhere, and I think that I didn’t even really notice all of the times I would be belittled or condescended to for being a girl that was writing music. Most of the people that I played music with in high school were guys, and I have a lot of trauma over pretending to like Radiohead! I think that I hate Radiohead more than I should now, just because it’s traumatizing, but they actually are really good and have a lot of songs I love. So you know, once I started playing shows, and writing and playing my own stuff, and especially since I was initially playing on a ukulele - I would have a 40 something year old man come up to me after and say things like, “you know, you sat down in that cute dress and I expected some dumb girly song, but you didn’t!” And I was like, “it is a girly song! It’s just good, because girls can be good and complicated!”
I think that’s just a really long winded way of saying that what I try to do with my music. Even though I’m 23 I still think of myself as a girl, and I think I get treated like a girl. Well, I think there is just a false dichotomy between what it means to be a girl, and what it means to be a woman. There’s a lot of stuff in the white feminism sector about, “girls do this , but women do this!” - and I really don’t think we need to be pitting girls and women against each other. And frankly, a lot of girls are doing much more radical stuff than women are because they are younger.
But because there is such an established notion of what it means to be a girl, versus what it means to be a woman, we seem to write off all of the things girls do by saying A. all girls need to like bubble gum pink, makeup, and Britney Spears; and B. if they don’t like those things then they’re not girly; and then C. liking those things makes girls inherently less smart, or complicated, or serious. So finding this balance of embracing what it means to be a girl, owning it, and sort of reclaiming it - makes it so that deviating from what isn’t considered girly doesn’t pigeonhole you away from girlhood. That feels important. Sorry, that was a very long answer, but I got to it eventually.
Can it be tricky with autobiographical songwriting knowing what to share and what to keep private?
Yeah - I don’t often write songs that are about a single person or incident. I usually - which I think is that way that most people’s brain work - will think about a person that I like, and then in my head that makes me think about a person that broke my heart, which makes me think about where I was and the food I ate - and then about how I have work to do today.
So usually I’ll just be out doing whatever, and then I will have all of these ideas, and I’ll write them down, and once I’ve reached critical mass I’ll sit down and try to forge some of them together to create a baseboard to write a song. So it tends to protect me from anyone being like, “this is start to finish the thing that happened to the two of us!” So I’ve been safe from that so far, but every once in awhile someone will ask if a lyric is about them and I’ll be like “maybe...”
Last book you read?
I just finished, like three days ago, Gold Fame Citrus , by Claire Vaye Watkins.
How was it?
It was good. I love you Claire Vaye Watkins if you’re reading this! But she has a book of short stories that I had read before that called Battleborn which is one of the best books I’ve ever read, and I think maybe I was just too excited to read her new novel for it to measure up.
You also have some pretty badass tattoos - do you want to tell us a bit about them? (What they represent, where you got them, who did them, etc?)
I got my first tattoo when I was 18, and it was a memorial thing for a friend’s mom who had passed away, and who was really close to my family and me. The rest are kind of amorphous - amorphous in terms of meaning not shape, of course, they have shapes. Like, the snake I have on my arm was from memories of catching snakes with my dad and brothers when I was younger. I used to be really obsessed with snakes, and I would check out books on them at the library every week.
What are some albums or artists you’ve been listening to lately?
I’ve been listening to A Seat at the Table a lot, I’ve been listening to Lana Del Rey a ton, Jackson Steve Frank, Lee Moses, and Sabrina Claudio - who's a newer R&B artist. She has an EP out now which is just really good, sexy music that doesn’t really feel like anything I’ve heard before, but it’s not complicated or difficult to listen to.
In the Freezer also has an awesome music video - who was involved in making it and what were you guys going for in in?
That was an amazing coming together of a lot of people. It took a long time because we made it with very little money, and we took advantage of everyone’s various access to equipment and lighting - we were all still college students. My roommate and long time best friend Bella Parisot, who's a photographer, was the DP. My friend Zeke Forester, who is a director, did the live action part of it, and this really amazing animator and editor named Suzanne Jeanette did the animation and editing. She did an amazing job and worked her ass off, so that was a cool collaboration. I don’t think Zeke and Suzanne ever even met, but there were just constantly communicating about it all.
Thank you so much for sitting down with us! And what can we expect from you and your music down the road?
More shows! Most of them are coming up soon around LA, and I might go back to New York soon and do some shows there. I might do a little west coast tour if I can get my shit together, but hopefully I’ll be back in the studio in the next couple months to do a fuller album, not just an EP.
You can find out more about Sophie Strauss on her website and listen to Yeah No Fine on all major streaming platforms now, and we suggest you do just that.