A few hours before our online appointment with Sophia Bel, Bonsound’s friendly spokesperson informs us that the Montreal label’s new recruit loves answering questions on her work as a music producer, and that she actually co-produced every track of her new EP, Princess of the Dead, Vol.II.
Of course, absolutely, we’d love to: we’ll be sure to ask her to talk about that. Still, when the press relations officer has to point out to reporters that you are one of the main sound architects of your own songs, does that mean that there are still people out there who find it hard to believe that a woman can take on such responsibilities?
“Apparently yes,” Bel replies, live from a moving car, as she was returns from a few days off in the countryside. “The other day, someone asked me, ‘Was “Voyage astral” [a piece on which Choses Sauvages band member Félix Bélisle worked] done by Félix? I wouldn’t want to take credit away from the people I’m working with, I’m not all by myself. But I sometimes feel that people assume, because I’m a woman, that I stay away from that [production].”
In order to create music that sounds as much as possible like what she was hearing in her head, and in her heart, it was imperative that the Princess of the Dead get involved with that crucial aspect of the creative process.
“I needed to have some control,” she says. “In the past, when I wasn’t producing, I would write on guitar, or on piano, and be at the mercy of what some of my collaborators wanted to do with my songs. Now that I’m playing a more active role in the creation of the instrumentation, of the musical vibe, I feel that I can go deeper into my vision. In spite of the fact, well… I do realize that seeing your vision through is a lifelong work.”
After getting nearly 600,000 views on Spotify with Vol. 1 of the Princess of the Dead diptych (released in April 2019), on the eagerly anticipated follow-up Bel recorded a zillion different references borrowed from the 1990s. They ranged from the trance/drum’n’bass beat of “Paralysis,” the first instrumental piece entirely produced by the artist herself, to “You’re Not Real You’re Just a Ghost” – in which she gives a brazen finger to a man she used to love, who suddenly disappeared without trace or explanation. The song boasts an unapologetically pop-punk chorus, for which we would have voted enthusiastically on Top5.musiquePlus.com when Avril Lavigne was the reigning queen there.
“When I’m fooling around behind a mic, I often try to sound a bit like Blink-82,” says Bel. “I love the relatable, honest side of pop-punk. But I’d never dared to sing like that for real before,” she says, as she remembers the family car trips, when her big brother took control of the radio with his Good Charlotte albums. Sophia herself went through her own emo period later on, which caused some mean boys to call her the Princess of the Dead, a title she’s reclaimed today. She’s the one who is going to have the last laugh.
“When we wrote You’re Not Real…, I’d just come out of a relationship, and I was going through a period of serious frustration,” says Bel. “That’s when CRi [one of the EP’s chief collaborators] handed me his guitar and said, ‘Play.’ Instead of answering, ‘Forget it, I’m not a good enough guitar player,’ I just started playing, he started adding percussion, and that became the perfect vehicle to help me overcome of my frustration.”
And to help her poke some fun at herself, by over-playing the anger she was feeling at the time, perhaps? “Yes!” she says. “I always like to bring in an element that shows that I’m not taking myself too seriously. The song also is a criticism of the fact that I don’t know how to communicate. It was like being 15 again, I felt rejected, and I was listening to teary-eyed Fall Out Boy songs.”
The same mixture of glowing sincerity and sweet irony is at work on her first attempt in the Ten Zen language, “Voyage astral,” a vaporous trip-hop meditation on the primal state to which the esoteric practice of the astral journey helps one return. The closest tie between the 1990s and Princess of the Dead, Vol. II likely is, in fact, the kind of foraging exercise that spans music genres that was mastered by Beck and Bran Van 3000.
“‘Voyage astral’ is a song dealing with the many lives one can live during the same lifetime,” says Bel, “but I thought it would be fun to talk about it while slightly over-emphasizing everything that can bring to mind the New Age Revival we’re witnessing with the Millennials and Generation Z.”
Bel herself becomes part of that revival when she reads her girlfriends’ Tarot cards. “In my book, the Tarot doesn’t have to be an esoteric thing,” she says. “It doesn’t mean you’re reading into the future. It’s not the cards you draw, but the way you interpret them that will tell you something about what’s going on in your life, about your subconscious, about what’s troubling you. What I like about the Tarot is that it gets discussions going. It’s therapeutic.”
Just like music.