I recently sat down with up-and-coming singer-songwriter Sofia. We had so much fun talking that I lost myself in a few places. What? I'm not a professional journalist. I am a butch lawyer who writes a blog, and I can count on one hand how many times I have actually sat down with another butch. What follows is (most of) our conversation.
Tell me about yourself.
I'm 23. Half-Venezuelan and half-Lebanese. I was raised in London and lived in Venezuela until I was 5, in Caracas, the capital. I am very passionate about cultures and mixing them. Cultures of the world. I am very much about peace. That's what I was raised in. I want to promote peace. I've been into music my whole life. Started violin when I was 5, singing when I was 13. By the time I was 15, I was writing my own songs. My dad is literally the best guitarist I've ever known. [In high school I] went to the five-week program at Berklee College of Music in Boston. I was a songwriting major [at Berklee]. I've never been to California. I'd love to do a West Coast tour and hit all the places in California. I really want to play in New Orleans. I went there for the first time for BUKU Music + Art Fest. I went with my friend Avery, and it was like a mental-health trip. "Let's go to NOLA and have fun!" We made friends with everyone -- the waitresses at the beignet shop. I read that it's the most dangerous city in the world, but I felt safe and comfortable there -- more than anywhere in the U.S. I'm Venezuelan and Lebanese, so it takes a lot to scare me. It is really a blessing to have an English passport.
I sometimes feel it's a curse to have an American passport, I'll tell you!
But the U.S. is the center of the music world. Freedom of speech, protests. There is a huge international community at Berklee. Everyone is from somewhere else, but everyone wants to be in the U.S. And Boston, though it's bloody cold, is amazing. When I was really sick, I didn't think I was going to make it. I was stuck in Boston with my mom.
Please explain your struggles with Crohn's. [Note: This part of the interview previously appeared in my recent post featuring Sofia's new video, "Friendly Little Ghost."]
I was at Berklee and had to withdraw from the semester because I started getting fevers every day. I was hospitalized a bunch of times in a couple of months. Three blood clots were found in my spleen because my immune system was so compromised, so I had to inject myself with blood thinners for about three months. Things escalated so much that I started to bleed internally and had to have like seven bags of blood in a week. I went back to school the next semester and somehow managed to graduate on time. It meant so much to me to be there at Berklee. I had a scholarship and was so grateful to be there, so I kept going even though it got really tough sometimes.
It was after I got sick when I wrote "Mum I Like a Girl." I came in second in the "Songs for Social Change" competition, and it was the first time in my life I had ever won an award for a song I'd written. So in a sense it felt like I was overcoming my health battle with music.
I inject myself every two weeks with an immune suppressant called Humira. It saved my life. Crohn's can be a really scary process; it's almost like having cancer, but it's not cancer. They use similar terminology: "in remission," "no appetite," "nausea." And I have a high risk of cancer in the future. It's really a crazy disease to have. I try to speak to my best friend Avery, who struggles worse than me, every day, and her experiences really gives me a lot of strength. It is hard to want to do anything and stay positive, but we do because we know that there are kids as young as 8 who get this. That's why it's important that we make it more accessible to talk about stomach problems and make it more comfortable to talk about food issues, including irritable bowel diseases. We would help a lot of people to feel more comfortable with the fact that there is nothing wrong with you. You just have a disease!
Who are your musical influences? Pretend I am from Rolling Stone.
I grew up listening to Eric Clapton and Bryan Adams. My mom loved to play Elvis and Harry Belafonte. Embarrassing albums too, like the Spice Girls. I love what Eric Clapton does because of his smoky element and yet his own stuff added. I went to school and decided, "I want to be just like John Mayer."
Have you been compared to him?
Yes! ... I like how emotional he is and how vulnerable he can be. I struggle with that when I am writing. I get writer's block because I worry about being emotional. I am also a huge fan of Tegan and Sara, but I think I am late in the game. When I was in school, my mentor was Melissa Ferrick. Do you know her?
She is a big advocate for LGBT musicians. Check her out; she is amazing.
Do you identify as a butch lesbian?
I do. I used to be very feminine. I used to have really long hair. I looked quite feminine. It took me a long time to feel comfortable dressing this way. I think Ellen is one of the coolest people in the world, and yes, I do want to dress like her. I do want to dress like Kate Moennig from The L Word. I don't know if you know that lots of Venezuelan women have won the Miss World pageant. George Clooney just married a Lebanese woman.
Do you feel more pressure or scrutiny because you are Venezuelan and Lebanese?
Definitely. People say, "Gosh, you are so beautiful! Why would you dress this way?" I felt like I was in drag when I dressed like a woman is supposed to. But I get flattered when people call me "sir"! I secretly wanted to be more androgynous than I was. I get "sir'd" a lot more in the UK than in the U.S. Maybe because here we wear more skinny jeans. I didn't expect that. But it's amazing to come home to London and have people say to me, "You look like yourself now."
Where do you see yourself this time next year?
Gosh, that is a really good question. I have absolutely no idea. I would love to be on tour. In just over a year, I will be releasing the next album. It usually takes about a year to get everything together. My goal right now is to get to play all over the world. I love to travel. I love different cultures. Music brings everyone together.
Do you have any pets that you will have to leave when you go on tour?
I have a dachshund, and her name is Cashmere. Ironic because we spell it like the fabric rather than the [place].
I met her! And her dog! I worked at her label and had the chance to eat lunch with her. I've got a big crush on her.
Ready for the lightning round? Just one-word answers. No explanation needed. Blondes or brunettes?
That's really really hard. Blondes.
Cake or pie?
Boots or trainers?
Movies or television?
Movies. My favorite is A Beautiful Mind.
Snow or rain?
Beer or whiskey?
Beer. Blue Moon, partially because of the song.
Bow tie or straight tie?
Bow tie. I do wear them and love them. Went to my first-ever gay wedding and wore one. Plus, I wore one to my graduation.
London or New York?
Suits or dresses?
You are adorable. People will want to know if you are in a relationship.
I am too young for a relationship right now. I want to have some fun. I always try to be a gentleman. ... I say no to misogynistic butches. I don't want to be the horrible power-controlling stereotype.
You don't have to be, Sofia. There are plenty of butches who think like you do -- like me! Don't let a few opinions change who you are. If you are butch, be butch. You don't have to let it be an excuse to embody the worst parts of male stereotypes.
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I really enjoyed talking with Sofia, and I hope that she gets more exposure! Check out her music!
It's seriously butch to be an out butch singer-songwriter. Be butch!