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Sophie and the Sticks

21st August 2023

Interview: Amy Bell

A tight rhythm section, soulful vocals, and honest and clever songwriting make up Sophie & The Sticks, with their own brand of moody, piano-driven pop that leans toward the darker, introspective end of the spectrum.

Formed last year after meeting at an open mic in the Cotswolds and beginning as a duo with Sophie on keys and Leah ('The Sticks') on drums. Jon joined a couple of months later adding another layer and richness on bass and guitar, and became the '&' in the band's moniker! 

Coming out this year first with a live session for the moody ballad 'Circles', and following up with the indie anthem, 'Money', the band are busy recording alongside a constant string of live shows. Sophie & The Sticks are going from strength to strength and are on track to be one of your new favourite bands! 

Thanks so much for speaking with ReVamp, so tell me about your journeys, was music something you always wanted to do or was there another passion for yourselves?

Sophie: It’s our pleasure! Thanks for having us! 

I was always writing songs and singing and forming bands with my friends and sisters, and we used to go out and sing on the streets of our neighbourhood - we were only about 6 or 7 and don’t think we really understood the concept of ‘busking’ - we just wanted an audience! We didn’t have much money growing up for tuition or anything (there are 9 kids in my family!)but I got involved in all the after-school clubs and local projects that involved performance where music was a huge part of it! I actually wanted to do musical theatre! I’ve always loved writing stories and poetry as well and everything just kind’ve melded together in a really therapeutic way.

Leah: Music has always been something I’ve been interested in but more from a hobby angle – it was only a couple of years ago when I played at my brother’s birthday that I thought “Hey this is fun, can I do this more?” 

Jon: I was a musician from a pretty early age, just jamming with friends and doing the odd gig here and there. I’ve always been a musician before anything else, It's something I will always continue to do. I've had other passions, but my main focus has always been on music.

How did Sophie and the Sticks form and what made you choose this name?

L: Sophie and I met at an open mic in Chelt, I really liked her sound – especially the fact that she was piano-led (I love the piano over the guitar – sorry guitar players!). We were trying to come up with a name that had “Sophie” at the front and she jokingly said “And the sticks” and it made us laugh and just stuck. I’ve known Jon since school and if you want the best bass player around, there’s really no one else! 

S: I was initially referring to Leah’s big bag of drumsticks! ‘Sticks’ has kind’ve become Leah’s name, although I’m starting to think of it more as a collective, to include the fans as well. Like a family tree or something!

J: So I joined up with Sophie and Leah after doing a few gigs with Leah for some function things, Had known Leah from secondary school so the band thing fell into place shortly after that. As for the name choice, we often joke I'm the ampersand in the name. 

What has been your favourite show to perform and why does that stand out to you?

L: For me, probably our first gig at Cafe Rene in Gloucester – that’s when Jon first played with us and suddenly our sound felt more complete!  

S: I can’t help but favour the slightly mad gigs where we have to improvise (usually because of my arguable organisation skills) like one where halfway there we realised I didn’t have my keyboard! Don’t ask! We were able to borrow a guitar which Jon switched his bass out for - and that was the first time we did guitar versions of the songs, and I got to just sing! Which we do regularly in our sets now to mix things up! Or just recently we played a festival where we thought there was going to be a drum kit available -  and there wasn’t. Leah luckily had half her kit in her car, but we had to find a makeshift bass drum - which we did with a big barrel bin! Thanks to some ingenuity and great sound engineers we had a great gig! Not sure we’d do it again out of choice though! 

J: We played a show at a festival in Tewksbury, Loved the buzz around the audience and the atmosphere of the place. It stood out to me as the power went on our last song, instead of panicking we just grabbed an acoustic and carried on playing. Sophie decided to take the chance to dance with the audience while singing the last song, which certainly made it stand out for me.

What would you describe your music as and what made you venture into this type of music? 

S: I would describe it now as ‘moody, soulful pop’. We’re piano-driven with bass and drums which I think lends itself well to our sound and for me is the perfect foundation for a band - although we could be on the lookout for a guitarist! They’re definitely my three favourite instruments. Lyrically, we lean towards the darker end of the spectrum, which just comes from honest observations about myself and life! There’s always an element of hope, or of moving on or letting go of the dark stuff though. 

J: Yeah it's Soul Pop to me, with a little Motown thrown in. I think the main thing that made me venture into this type of music was that it was so different to anything I had previously played. 

You released “Money” – what is the single about? If you could all choose a favourite lyric from the single what would it be and why? 

S: I wrote money from a place of frustration with the realisation that this life of freedom and creativity I’d envisioned for myself was going to be tied to (and hindered by) my bank account! Things cost money. Investing in instruments and equipment, studio time, and travel - not to mention just paying the rent and bills! So there’s this urge to just say fuck it, let’s see how far we can get without worrying about the money too much.

“I’ve been looking at these holidays like they’re a fairytale” always makes me smile because it’s a line based on a time I was leafing through a holiday brochure at a friend’s house and crying because they were these extortionate, dreamlike destinations that looked like something from a modern fairytale and would have cost more than I was earning in a year at that point! It also makes me mad, which is the vibe of the song!

L: My favourite lyric from Money is probably “as if my bank account’s an indication of my worth” – I remember hearing it for the first time and it really stood out. It made me reflect on whether my finances dictate my happiness or not…

J: For me, the single is about self-worth, there are a lot of people that are obsessed and fixated on their status or even their apparent status. Particularly when it comes to money as a symbol of that status. Having the courage to take a stand against that is a hard sell to be sure, no pun intended. But the complicated truth is that people's self-worth only comes from within.

My favourite lyric is “I’ve been looking at those holidays like there a fairytale cause I know I couldn't pay my rent if I went away for a little while”

There are a fair few lines that I can relate to personally with the single but this one brought back some memories to be sure.

What was the recording/writing process like, and do you each get involved with the songwriting process? 

S: I brought a lot of songs to the table when we met that just needed translating into a band setting. I do come with a lot of ideas but what I’ve always loved about these guys is their intuition and fearlessness in just jamming and improvising, and we all value each other’s input and ideas. The songs are always completely transformed once Leah and Jon have put their stamp on them.

‘Money’ was all recorded in Jon’s living room! It was an experience! Recording can definitely be a frustrating process. It’s a lesson in toeing the line between striving for ‘perfection’ and knowing it can never really be that and it’s all about capturing the moment, feeling the emotional energy, and a whole bunch of other stuff! Before that we recorded a live session in a barn, so for the next single we’re going for a more traditional studio set-up, it’s about finding what works best for us and for the song.

J: Sophie had a lot of songs even before I joined up so in terms of the writing process I've written my parts as well as maybe embellished the recordings on other instruments. In terms of the recording process, I think initially it was about finding out what works for us, I’m lucky enough to have amassed a bit of recording equipment in my living room so initially we were just using that. It was helpful for figuring out what the process should roughly look like when we go to a proper recording studio. 

What is next for you after your tour? 

S: Our focus now is recording the next single and video! This time we’re stepping out of Jon’s living room and the barn and trying a new set-up by partnering with South West-based music charity The Music Works, whose aim is to empower young people with challenges through music. We’re also stepping out into hosting and running events ourselves, with a new collective She Sings/She Writes, showcasing female and female-identifying songwriters and performers from across the South West - our first event is on the 1st September at Smokey Joe’s Cafe in the Cotswolds! Eight acts including ourselves will perform and the whole night is in aid of The Hollie Gazzard Trust, an initiative to help young people in particular deal with domestic violence and threatening behaviour. There’s going to be a raffle and everything. So I guess we’re getting a bit philanthropic! 

J: Working on the next single and recording a video for that, fortunately as a band, we are surrounded by creative people who have had some great ideas for the video so I’m looking forward to working on that.

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