Sophia Marshall first made a name for herself as half of Americana duo The HaveNots. Now she’s back with ‘Bye Bye’, her debut solo album, that draws from her alt-country roots while adding traces of folk, rockabilly, indie pop, and even ‘90s trip-hop.
The singer-songwriter tells us about returning after a nine-year hiatus from making music, falling in love with Americana, the importance of sincerity, listening to too much Britpop as a teenager, and the song she wrote in the shower.
Americana really seems to be taking hold in the UK. What does it feel like to be in the scene at the moment?
I’ve enjoyed coming back to the Americana scene again after about a nine-year hiatus from making music. One thing I originally loved most about Americana back then was that artists were embracing a fusion of styles. Right now country music seems to be dominating the Americana scene. Which I have no objection to, I just hope the country music lovers are ready for a more folk-rock inclined Americana album!
What made you fall in love with the genre?
Americana music was introduced to me by my old buddy Liam Dullaghan. We used to sit and listen to Whiskeytown records after college and I would visit him at the bar he worked at in Leicester – The Musician – where lots of Canadian and American acts from that scene would come and play. It kind of got to me and pulled at my insides when nothing else did at that time. I was particularly taken with Oh Susanna.
Was there anything you learnt from her that’s helped or influenced you in your own work?
Oh Susanna mixed country blues with a lot more darkness than most other female singer-songwriters I’d heard back then. The best thing I learnt, and what I continue to try and maintain, was sincerity. Not just in songwriting but performing too. I can’t stand listening to singer-songwriters who I don’t believe. Or who I don’t really feel like they are telling me anything. It doesn’t have to be a true story, but if they can deliver something convincingly and it either moves me emotionally or physically then great!
After The HaveNots ended, did you consider forming another band or was the plan always to go solo?
Going solo wasn’t initially the idea after The HaveNots, in fact I spent some time tagging along with other bands – being a guest backing vocalist on various studio albums. I had a lot of fun working with my good friend Jon Bennett. His band, which at that time was called Pacific Ocean Fire, said they wanted me to duet with Jon on one song they’d written for a duet. I actually ended up on about 11 songs. There were no hungry solo ambitions to begin with. Jon introduced me to Phosphorescent, Deer Tick, Iron and Wine, and Bon Iver which were all the perfect comfort in turbulent times in my personal life as well as a welcome inspiration.
What did you set out to achieve with ‘Bye Bye’ that you hadn’t been able to with The HaveNots?
Making my first solo album was mostly fuelled by a brand new craving to present some sort of sculpture to document some big twists and turns I had taken. The title track, ‘Catch Me’, and definitely ‘Hey Al, Woah!’ are fairly harsh accounts of moments in life when people drop in and out of your world for a very short while but have a huge impact on your outlook. These being the most recent tracks I have written, they sit fairly nicely with some older songs which I felt deserved to be included – or aired. I suppose they highlight the contrast in the style of songwriter I am now compared to 10 years ago.
How did you approach this album differently than you had recordings in the past?
The main difference with ‘Bye Bye’ is that I’ve been having lots of fun with a full band sound. A sound that I could hear in the songs before I had recorded them. ‘Losing You’ in particular – The HaveNots recorded and wrote this originally as a far more laid back dreamy acoustic song, but I always knew I wanted to get an indie rock sound behind it. Maybe I listened to too much Brit Pop as a teenager.
Andy Jenkinson, who plays guitar with me live, but also produced the album, managed to perfectly ramp up and decorate the skeletons of the songs I took to him. The title track is a great example of this. I was stood in the shower when I wrote the melody and the lyrics, but in my head I could hear all sorts of bumpin’ and drivin’ licks which Andy managed to layer up on the recording.
What one song best sums up what the album is about, or best sums you up as a solo artist?
‘Hey Al, Woah!’ I think just about sums things up in terms of where I am as a solo artist now. I wrote this song in about 45 minutes flat. Had some basic chords, a couple of counter riff ideas, the idea for split vocal on the chorus. And a bunch of lyrics circling in my head after “Al” had exhausted my polite side. I made a very rough recording layering up terrible guitar playing and sent it to another good friend of mine and great producer Lee Russell, whose encouragement I am forever grateful for. I took the demo to the band and the song just blew up instantly. The counter riffs turned into uke parts, we added a whole string section courtesy of Ross Hillard, we dirtied up the vocals, and let the whole thing get pretty mean. It all swirled in and settled perfectly into place.
- ‘Bye Bye’ is released on 6 October.