LOCAL SOUNDS: Sophia Belle, Singer/Songwriter, Multi-Instrumentalist
Sophia Belle’s strength is a kind I have had a hard time wrapping my mind around. They are 23 years old and are an unwavering testament to the old saying, “Put your money where your mouth is.” I met Sophia at a community music gathering and was taken with their musical abilities right away, and their melodic singing would make my head swivel in a 180 in the middle of oncoming traffic. Sophia has been operating as a solo artist under their name until recently, they’ve dedicated themselves to a new project—Home Despot. Sophia is also an unwavering advocate in the Cambridge art and music scene, having given up much of their own sanity to protect EMF, the community haven for Cambridge which was closed in the interest of continued gentrification of the city, displacing the artists who used that space. Sophia has big plans for 2019, fleshing out the ins and outs of what it’s going to take to be a career musician, but if their musical determination is anything like their community activism on behalf of the city of Cambridge, they’re guaranteed to be even more well-known by the end of the year. We spent a day at The Museum of Science in Boston, exploring and taking photographs. We got a chance to sit down and chat about Sophia’s year ahead.
Can you start by introducing yourself? Where you’re from, maybe talk a bit about the hallmarks of your style as an artist?
My name is Sophia Belle. Belle is actually my middle name. I was born and raised in Somerville, mainly, but I moved around the Massachusetts area a lot, and I spent a lot of years living abroad. I would say the hallmarks of my style tend to move between styles a lot, especially as I’m transitioning to the new name for the music I make, Home Despot. I’d say probably punk, folk, and math rock as well as jazzier, more soulful stuff. But I tend to think the themes are drier in lyricism, like cynical dry stuff. A lot of themes that kind of have to do with physical space. I can speak a lot more in lyrics than the music. I started playing electric, so a lot of my music has an electric drive behind it. I take a lot of inspiration from classical guitar—I like classical Spanish guitar which is the only formal guitar that I learned in a formal environment. I’ve been branching out and going more towards a gloom-folk direction. It all comes from classical or folk forms of music. Because that’s how I really started.
When did you start playing?
I started playing guitar when I was 9. I’m 23 now. So, like 14 years. Both my parents are musicians, so I grew up with music in the house. It was always a tool available to me, even before I was able to play guitar, I was able to sing and partake. I basically have never taken lessons. I lived in Ecuador for a year, so I took classical Spanish lessons from a music teacher for a while. Mostly I’m self-taught, listening to a lot of music, sort of trying to adapt those styles and replicate them has basically been my journey through music.
In a recent post, you described feeling the need to externalize your music by retiring your name and introducing more of a title. Can you talk about that more?
My initial exposure to music was always very domestic in a way. I knew my parents performed, but music was always to me was like an internal thing, like something that’s in the house. When I started playing music I started using it as a form of therapy for myself and obviously, I was too young to comprehend that, but the way I introduced myself to music and the way I went about it for so long was performing for craft and recognition…I mean, less for recognition but really, everyone wants recognition…but it was more about, like, this is the only way I know how to communicate with myself or talk with myself. I perform for people because I like to communicate with other people as well and I also like to know that the way I’m refining my skills comes from other people. That my music is conveying what I want it to. Performing as never been an issue. But when it comes to marketing or recording and all the things that serve the purpose of preserving this music in an external context—I’ve always struggled with that because I don’t know what the end-goal is or that it’s compatible with how I’ve grown accustomed to this art form. But I’ve come to terms with the fact that I need to make money somehow and my life and if I am somehow to pursue music as a career rather than an introspective hobby then I need to let go of it a little. It helps me to have this character that serves as a vessel for this music. I feel much more confident about letting that go.
What is your process like?
I think of songwriting as wanting to convey a feeling. I want this to sound like walking through the city at dusk or something. And then I usually craft the music, and then I’ll craft the melody and lyrics. A lot of my music right now is politically inspired because I think it’s so hard not to be. Not in the sense of Rage-Against-the-Machine-political, because I don’t think I can pull off that level of literalism, but a lot of it is inspired by socio-economic issues and just the general climate right now. I started using the self and these micro-examples of the feelings of bigger things, a lot of themes of houses and walls and doors. More innocent parts of daily life. I started crafting this character with Home Despot, and what does that name actually mean? Home despotism—we all kind of grow up in these unique dogmatic ways, like the way you set cutlery on a table. We live in these really autocratic spaces and you kind of look inside our immediate environment and at these seemingly innocent things and we all have this sort of pedagogy around it. I started thinking about that and my music began coming from my frustration with these things, and I embody a character that is the Home Despot. The more that I’ve clarified this character, the easier it is to envision this songwriting process, and how I want to convey feelings.
What kind of content are you anticipating in 2019?
I have a couple of live video/audio shoots that are booked. I have a recording session with Revival House Records in Brookline, and we’re going to do a video. I’m trying to get singles out right now, and I’d like to do an EP eventually, but it’s just a matter of money and time and how many people care.
Where can audiences find you, and how can they support what you’re making?
Park Street station, middle platform during rush hour, come drop a couple of bucks in my case! I think the best place right now is Instagram, which is @homedespotmusic.