Senior year can be a busy time for a high school student, as the months quickly fill up with college and scholarship applications, tests, projects, extracurricular activities and the many events that mark a student’s final year of school.
Needham resident Sophie London, 18, also found time in that year to write, perform and produce her self-titled debut album, which is now available for purchase on iTunes.
The 2011 graduate will be heading off to the Massachusetts College of Art and Design this fall, where she will study graphic design and continue to pursue her music. She sat down with Patch recently for her first official interview and talked about her music, her inspiration and how it all began.
You just released your first CD—how did that come about? I’ve been writing music for about six years now and I haven’t actually created a physical piece of works to go along with it. I thought it would be a good idea before I graduated to have an official product of what I’ve been doing. I did the cover design and the art design on the CD itself. All the songs are written by me, and I produced it all. That was my project this year. One of the songs, the last one—‘Give It Up and Walk Away’—I performed in my eighth grade talent show, but people liked it, so I decided to put that on the CD. But then I have songs I had written weeks before this was finished.
Did you use a professional studio? No, I did it upstairs in my bedroom. I used GarageBand for it all and then Photoshop for the design and everything.
What is your plan for the CD? It’s on iTunes [search "Sophie London"] and I have been selling it at various shows. Sales have been good. I checked and someone had bought it in Canada—it’s cool how it’s international. It’s been really good in getting my name out.
What’s next for you? I’m going to Massachusetts College of Art and Design and hoping to study graphic design. Music isn’t really the focus, but whatever I end up doing I’ll always have music. I’ve been performing regularly, so I want to keep that up. I know there’s a ton of venues for singer-songwriters in Boston.
Do you think you’ll release another CD? I’m continuing to write and record. I definitely want to make another in the future. This was a cool project for me, and I had a good time doing it. I could always do collaborations in the future with other musicians in the area; this is just me for all of the CD. I think it’d be cool to try working with bands, but obviously in this transitional period it’s kind of hard to get a solid group down.
Have you performed with a band before? I have through , which is based in Needham and is a nonprofit organization that teaches kid how to be in a rock band. I found out about it when I was in seventh grade and that got me playing with different bands and trying the whole band experience. The organization is amazing; I can’t say enough good things about it. They provide a lot of opportunities for kids to get out into the community and play. That was a good experience for me—just being on stage and interacting with the crowd. I was with Plugged In for about five years.
How did you get started in music? I started playing violin in kindergarten and continued all through elementary school [up through middle and high school]. But once I hit middle school, I kind of wanted to try the whole ‘rock-and-roll’ side of things, too. My family is very musical—we have a music room downstairs. My dad’s a lefty and he plays bass guitar, among others, but he has this lefty bass guitar and I picked it up one day because I just wanted to try it out. I’m a righty, though, so I was strumming the bass upside down—it was a mess and a half [laughs]. I wrote my first song—it was called ‘The Allowance Song,’ because I wanted my allowance and my parents would never give it to me.
I got my first electric guitar, and my dad taught me the basics and I just worked from that. Then I started playing in school talent shows, and I got really positive feedback from my friends, so that helped me want to continue writing and performing.
A family friend, also a Needham resident who owns a production company in town, gave London her first electric guitar and eventually collaborated with her on a song that was sent to Los Angeles, CA for possible use in television. A year later, she received the news that the song would be used on two episodes of a makeover-themed reality show on the CW network, “Plain Jane.” London used the royalty checks from that venture to cover all production costs for her self-titled CD. The experience also enabled her to gain membership to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.
What was it like to have one of your songs on TV? That was really cool. Just hearing my voice on TV was the craziest thing in the world. I think that would be another goal I have, to get more of my music televised in that way. It was nationally played, so getting that kind of recognition is pretty cool.
What would you say are your musical influences? I listen to a lot of Green Day, so I think there are Green Day threads woven in there. Maybe some Dixie Chicks, Sheryl Crow, The Wallflowers. I love Jakob Dylan [from The Wallflowers]; I love his songwriting and I’m inspired by that. I won’t say my music sounds exactly like his, but I listen to a lot of Pete Yorn, too. He’s kind of alternative rock.
What inspires you when you’re writing your songs? I’m definitely inspired by personal experience—my friends, my family. I’ll get a little phrase in my head that sounds cool. Sometimes I just go with phrases. I’ve been doing a lot of free writing recently. I went to a songwriting workshop held by Ellis Paul and he was very encouraging about the idea of writing every day, so I’ve been trying to do that and just picking the pieces from that.
Along with performing an original song for the Class of 2011’s Bacalaureate (Class Day) this spring, what are some other events you’ve been part of? I wrote and performed a song called ‘New Beginnings’ for the dedication ceremony of the opening of the new Needham High School, once construction was done. Then tons of talent shows and local events—things like Take Back the Night and the Needham First Night celebration. Spring fairs, harvest fairs, coffee houses like the Homegrown Coffeehouse at the  Unitarian Universalist church. I had a gig pretty recently at The Center for Arts in Natick. I have another coming up at the Music Go Round shop in Natick as well. There was also a teen showcase performance on the Newton Center green. So I’m broadening my horizons beyond Needham.
You have a passion for music but you’re studying art in college—why did you choose that major? If someone told me, ‘Here’s a record deal, go do shows,’ I’d totally do that. That would just be the coolest. But I’m trying to stay realistic with my music expectations, because I know it’s hard to make it really big. I just want to keep myself grounded. It’s nice that I have art and music because I can focus academically on my art but still have music.
I appreciate graphic design in real life, the layout of things—I think Web design is really cool, how that’s all done. A long-term goal would be to an art director somewhere.
Tune in to WGBH 89.7 FM on Tuesday, July 26 at noon to hear Sophie London perform on The Emily Rooney Show.