Name: Sofia Lafuente
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, vocalist
Current release: Sofia Lafuente's new single "Good Intentions" is out now via all major streaming platforms.
Recommendations: I just finished the book Truth and Beauty: A Friendship by Anne Patchett and you actually reminded me of it because of the question on life and death. It is a painful book but so worth the read.
Also, the album History of A Feeling by Madi Diaz is gorgeous. It’s an in-depth real-time processing of heartbreak and god it is beautifully written, stripped back and totally raw. These both make me seem like I'm in a depressing mood (laughs) but I just find art about difficult moments the most interesting!
[Read our Madi Diaz interview]
If you enjoyed this interview with Sofia Lafuente and would like to stay up to date on her work, visit her on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started writing songs when I was 13 years old. I had always been musical and I loved singing but I started writing while I was recovering from back surgery and was homeschooled for a little bit. It started off as pre-teen therapy and it still is a kind of therapy even now.
I was very influenced by 70s folk singer-songwriters, it was just what my parents played around the house, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and bands like Fleetwood Mac.
The stories were definitely what drew me in, I would just sit in the back of the car and let my imagination be led by the lyrics.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Absolutely, I had many different ‘phases’ before I felt like I had started to find my voice. I definitely think that the way that Joni Mitchell plays with melody is something that has really influenced both my voice and my writing. Joy Williams from the band The Civil Wars is another singer that really taught me how to tell a story in a performance and how holding back in the right moments can be as important as singing your heart out.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
My identity affected what I listened to growing up, a mix of Spanish, British and American artists. Having a mix exposed me to a lot of different ways to tell stories or play with a melody, it’s been something I still go back to when I feel creatively ‘stuck’.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I think the main creative challenge I faced was being influenced by the ‘business’.
When I started taking music more seriously and started having meetings, you start to hear opinions and ‘suggestions’ about what could be a ‘strategic’ choice. I’ve always found that really stunts my creativity. I like to leave thinking about strategy for after the music has been created.
I now approach writing sessions with as little self-judgement as I can and I try to write without thinking what it’s for, or what it means or is this good for radio? Then after a collection of songs are done they almost start to reveal themselves, how they fit together, what the themes are … that’s where you get the magic.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
That’s a great question. My first instrument was the piano, but after I started writing I picked up the guitar so I write with both to this day. However, I completely agree. I’ve found that I usually have to jump from one to the other to keep feeling inspired.
When I work with producers I am mostly inspired by the soundscape that we’ll create together. If I can have a few sessions with another writer or producer and then some moments alone to write on the piano, that’s my absolute favourite balance to remain creative.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
Being completely honest, vocal tuning is something I still struggle with. It’s clear that as listeners we’re now completely trained to expect perfection but I think it’s important to be aware that it’s a tool and to use it for a specific reason.
I love how electronic music can work with tuned vocals to create a kind of alien inspired soundscape. But I don’t think we should remove mistakes from recorded music. Live performances are never perfect and that often adds to a performance.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about Ideas?
My favourite part of a writing session is always the hour - 2 hrs of talking about life before we actually even write anything. Those conversations are always the most inspiring.
When you’re working with a frequent collaborator you feel so connected and understood, it’s really wonderful.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I will try to wake up slightly early, but I'm more of a night owl to be honest. Then I'll go to the gym, listen to a podcast and make some food. Moving my body before I write is something that I love to do, it just boosts my energy and also it means I can stay in the studio as long as I want.
I try to keep my mornings pretty fixed because it creates a sense of routine which is really helpful to stay consistent when the rest of my schedule changes every day.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
This sounds silly, but we had a Battle of the Bands competition at my school and that was the first place I had the guts to perform any original music. I ended up winning which was crazy because it was all boys in bands and then me.
I got to play at the Isle of Wight festival at 15 which was probably the first moment I thought - shit I want to do this forever. It validated me and inspired me to keep working.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
My ideal creative state of mind has a lot to do with the timing of my emotions. The most effortless songs I've written come after a cathartic experience has happened, but once I've had enough time to subconsciously start to process it. I haven’t overanalyse yet and I’m not deep in the emotion where I can’t be objective about the story yet.
It’s a completely therapeutic place to be where you just accept the emotions because you’ve had a little bit of distance from them.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I think we all have songs that take us back to a certain time in our lives, both good and bad, but what I've noticed is how the meaning of that song can change over time. Songs can help you access pain, process it and then you can hear the song a few years later and think ‘wow I really have healed’.
There’s so much potential for music as a tool to heal in all moments in life. I listened to a podcast recently where it talked about how songs can help calm people that have dementia or alzheimers. We have barely begun to understand how music can help us.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
Again this is an amazing question. We’re definitely at a very delicate time where we need to educate ourselves as artists to understand the consequences of our art and actions.
Historically, white and predominantly male artists set the rules of what was acceptable to create, while suppressing everyone else. With the ways that music and genres are blending today like never before I try to work on educating myself and giving credit where credit is due.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
For me sound and visuals have always been tied together. The sonic landscape in which a song sits will create some sort of image in my mind. Sometimes it’s a sunset, or a storm …
It makes me think that emotion and the senses are so intertwined that it’s hard to separate them all, they often bleed into one another.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
My approach is to lead with honesty and vulnerability. There are few spaces in adult life where we can truly sit without shame, take off the mask and be real.
Art creates moments where we can connect and feel less alone. Even if it’s privately, listening to a song on the subway, or sitting in the back of a dark movie theatre, art and the stories that artists share help us make sense of the human experience. I try to remember that when I’m feeling shy or like I want to censor myself, it’s always better to be honest.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
These questions are so tough! Let me see … I guess music is a universal language. Melody and chords can tell a story even when the words are in a language you don’t understand. That makes it a bridge between people all over the world and it makes us realise that we all want to celebrate or commemorate the same things.
The emotions surrounding ‘life’ and ‘death’ are universal and melody is too. So, maybe that’s the link that makes music the best tool of expression.