Photo: Tatjana Rueegsegger

Interview: Sophie Jamieson: “I wanted to accentuate the promise of new life, the inevitability of renewal and resilience of nature”

London-based songwriter Sophie Jamieson released her debut album Choosing last week, culminating years of hard work in which she released two promising EPs and snapped up any opportunity to play live so that she could to continue honing her craft and thrashing out her songs.

On top of that, Choosing also puts a cap on a period of Jamieson’s life that was rife with personal turmoil and unhealthy habits – all of which can be heard on the record. Aside from the honesty of her words, the clever arrangements emphasise the depths of pain that the songwriter experienced – and the liberation of moments where she made breakthroughs in her emotional wellbeing. We hear Jamieson scrape herself across the rough surface of life experience, but we hear her pick herself up and move on, determined.

We had the opportunity to present some questions to Jamieson over email, and she took the time to give us a glimpse of the personality and work that went into creating Choosing.

What has changed musically from your early EPs to now?

I’m not really thinking about space and atmosphere in the same way. My earlier work was quite stark, detached and edging on electronic in places… I think with age and growth I’ve found a lot more room for heart, warmth and simplicity in my music. I used to be attracted to making soundscapes that felt quite lonely and melancholic – I really just want to emanate some kind of hope now.

There seems to be more depth and finesse to the production, is that from working with new people, having more time, or having more experience?

Um I don’t know really! I don’t remember thinking very hard about production on this album, other than not over-doing it. This was the third project I recorded with Steph Marziano, who is an incredible producer. I expect what you hear is a result of our very familiar way of working together, finessed over time. We didn’t experiment much, most of the time what was needed for each song became clear to both of us as we recorded.

How did signing to Bella Union come about and how did it feel?

After finishing the album I sent it to every single label I could possibly think of, including Bella Union which I really only dreamed of releasing with. Most people didn’t get back to me, it was a pretty crushing time after pouring all my heart, soul and money into making this thing that no-one was replying to me about. Eventually Simon Raymonde invited me down to Brighton for a chat and it went from there. It was a literal dream come true. My self worth had disintegrated and Simon scooped it off the floor just in time.

The title of the album is Choosing, and in looking deeper into the lyrics it becomes clear that you have had to make some tough life choices in your recent life, is that fair?

Something this album has taught me is that I’m making small choices every day that all stem from the more tangible, bigger choices I had to make a couple of years ago when these songs were written. Those choices were tough but very gradually made. They consisted of choosing to be kind to myself, to allow myself to live better, to see that I didn’t deserve to hurt myself, and to trust myself. I’m so much better at all of these things now but I’ve learned that I have to literally choose to put these into action every day. It doesn’t come instinctively or easily, but I get better with practise.

Did the title Choosing present itself easily on reflection of the contents of the record?

I actually had this title before the record was written. I wrote a song called “Choosing” which I never finished, but the message stayed with me through the writing of two EPs, Hammer and Release, both of which I considered calling Choosing. I think I was waiting until I had a body of work with enough hope and warmth in it to merit that title.

There are some heavy topics on here, especially for a debut album. How easily do they come out into a song? Do you have a process for unleashing the demons?

I don’t think I realise how heavy they are until a bit further down the line. I don’t think I’ve had any idea how heavy this album is until about… now. When you’re in the middle of a heavy time, the music that comes from it feels natural, it’s true and honest, and its weight is relative to the weight of your heart, which feels “normal” at the time. There’s no special process, it’s just a matter of finding release, or expressing something it doesn’t feel safe or acceptable to express elsewhere.

How much courage does it take to play these to people; to release them into the world?

Um, well there’s not really any other option at this point so it’s taking a lot of letting go. I’ve felt increasingly nervous about how the album comes across as reviews have come in, and I’ve realised I can’t control what people think and have to trust in the honesty with which the album was made. In terms of playing the songs – I’ve been performing a lot of these tracks for the last year already, but not all of them. Some of them I don’t really want to play. They don’t feel like me any more. But I will do my best, and try to see what I can learn from inhabiting that space within myself again.

Alcohol plays a big role on this album, how has your relationship to it changed in recent years?

It’s improved drastically but it’s no longer simple. I still drink but I drink little, and I have a lingering fear of alcohol which makes it hard not to beat myself up if I drink at all. I’m very afraid of losing control now, and so I’ve become very sensitive to my limits and how it affects the chemistry of my body. I honestly wish I could go back to having a carefree relationship with it that isn’t wrought with overthinking.

Has writing these songs been part of the ongoing process of relying less on alcohol, or are they a by-product?

The songs aren’t about alcohol (apart from maybe “Sink”), they are part of the process of reaching to the bottom of the emotional pit and being able to understand the deepest pain I had at the time. I did plenty of things to hurt myself, and drinking was just one of them. Songwriting was one of the only healthy ways I coped during that time, its role wasn’t confined to healing. I just did whatever I could to ease pain whenever I could.

“Runner” is the real cathartic moment on the album; did that come from a different mindset? How did it feel to write and record?

“Runner” actually came shortly after a real low, and I guess a big realisation of the need to choose. I wouldn’t separate any of the mindsets on this album from each other really. They are all connected, part of a wave, a journey – moments of blurriness followed by moments of greater clarity. And they’re all connected by a yearning for something better. In that sense, the process of writing and recording “Runner” doesn’t stand out in my memory. The song I found most emotional to record was “Violence”.

This album is coming out at the tail end of 2022, it feels like a wintry album – would you agree?

Not really – I actually really wanted to put this album out the previous Spring. It’s an album of hope and I wanted to accentuate the promise of new life, the inevitability of renewal and resilience of nature – but the fact that it’s come out in December means it inevitably takes on some meaning of the current season. I hope the cold still lets enough light and strength come through – maybe with the promise of new year.

What can we expect from your live shows in the new year?

I’ll be playing solo with electric guitar, trying my best to bring the core of each song to life. I tend to throw myself fairly fully into performance, so I hope you can expect some intense and visceral shows.

What are your other aspirations for 2023?

I’ll be recording LP2 and gigging as much as possible. Outside of that, I hope to explore some unexplored territory in my writing. I’m also trying to find a way of living that works for me and that I can afford… it’s incredibly hard to find the balance between day job and music, and easy to feel pressure to live a life that conforms to societal standards. So I’ll be battling those standards and trying to let myself be happy.

Sophie Jamieson’s debut album Choosing is out now through Bella Union (listen). You can find her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.