As the collective trauma of coronavirus keeps everyone inside, many are taking this time to slow down and take things day-by-day. While the same rings true for singer-songwriter Sophie Gray, she’s spending a lot of her time planning for life after quarantine. “Sometimes — because of school — music has to be like a little bit of a back burner because obviously I need to graduate high school,” she said. “Now, it’s like I have so much time to see music as my main career, my main thing to be doing right now.”
Looking forward, things look pretty bright for Gray. She’s had a lot of success in the past year, her song “Twisted” receiving international attention after her entry into 93.3’s Hometown for the Holidays. Though she only released her first single —“Little Blue Heart”— in 2019, her sound is already evolving and changing from that debut.
As a 16-year-old in high school, Gray knows the difficulty that comes with balancing a burgeoning music career with being a teenager. “I have learned a lot over the years because my old method of doing it was completely separating the two,” she explained. “You know, there was Sophie Gray, and then there was me, the girl that goes to school and does homework and hangs out with friends.” She credits the support of her friends to allow her to blend the two halves of her life together and find success in both parts.
Something that makes Gray’s music so unique is her affinity for songwriting. Her main focus academically is creative writing, something she credits with helping her grow her skills in songwriting, too.
“I think a lot about the skills that I’ve learned from creative writing — ideas about symbolism and similes and metaphors and personification, and all of those things that seem very separated from songwriting. But when you sit down to write a song, it’s like the fact that I learned with amazing teachers how to create an image, like a beautiful image — I learned how to describe things to make it intriguing to people. And that’s part of why I feel like I can write songs that really portray something, like an emotion or a vision.”
Though she may be focusing on creative writing in high school, Gray’s love for writing goes all the way back to her elementary school years. “I loved writing poems and little stories, and it was always something I just did to entertain myself,” she explained. Her first attempt at songwriting happened when she re-wrote “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” for a guitar concert. She recalled that song as the catalyst for her passion for songwriting. “I think like having a little bit of support from the adults around me kind of was like, okay, so maybe I can do this, and it kind of just took off from there,” she said. “Now, it’s just like an outlet for me — it’s how I express everything.”
Gray’s new track, “Girlfriend,” is just another example of how well she expresses herself through her music. Citing Charlotte Lawrence as one of her influences, “Girlfriend” is another foray for Gray into a darker, electro-inspired sound, moving away from the acoustic guitar-driven start she had with “Little Blue Heart.” Gray describes the inspiration behind the track as her dealing with being angry at a boy. While the single may deal with subject matter like being cheated on in a relationship, Gray hopes to take a new angle with the song, empowering girls rather than pitting them against each other.
“I was thinking there’s so few songs about like, being cheated on being pushed aside by a guy where it’s meant to bring up other girls — where it’s meant to empower other girls rather than knock other girls down like, ‘Oh, why is she better than me?’ For me, like, ‘Girlfriend’ started with just me being pissed off, and then it turned into something that I was like, I could use this. I can really take this to say something about how women should be empowered. I see it as this song that teenage girls could scream in their bedroom, rather than knocking down another girl. It’s just trying to bring them back up from something that sucks so much like that.”
Despite the example of A-list artists like Lady Gaga and Kehlani pushing back their releases due to the pandemic, Gray believes that it is more important now than ever to keep releasing new music. She’s choosing to see this pandemic more as an opportunity. “The industry has never looked like it does right now because of what’s going on around us, and I think it’s important to keep it moving,” she said of her decision to release “Girlfriend” in the middle of the pandemic. “I think because bigger artists are pushing back their releases, it’s really a time for smaller artists to shine.”
Gray understands the need for an outlet right now. In a time where human connection is so precious, she wants to reach out to people with her music and provide a form of cathartic release. “I think people need some stimulus in their life right now,” she said. “I listen to music for every emotion that I feel and I want that to be there for other people.”
All photography by Tim Gillies.