“Adulting” with Sofia Wolfson

Conor Hudnut chats with Los Angeles singer Sofia Wolfson about what "Adulting" means to her.

Photos by Grace Gallagher
Story by Conor Hudnut

In her most polished and personal work yet, Sofia Wolfson charts the struggle of entering adulthood in her new EP “Adulting.” One of the core experiences that shapes “Adulting” is Wolfson’s moving across the country from her childhood home in Los Angeles to a university in New England.

Wolfson has been professionally releasing music from a very young age– she released her debut album “Hunker Down”at just 15. Since then, she has released several singles and EP’s, and has played countless shows around Los Angeles. Though “Adulting”revolves around the growing pains of entering your early 20’s, the music is confident and sure-footed. Wolfson has put in her 10,000 hours, and the results speak for themselves.

As the title suggests, the EP tracks your entry into adulthood. The name seems to mark a turning point not only in your life but also in your career– do you find “Adulting” to be your first adult piece of music?
I do. I wrote a lot of these songs around the time I turned 18. I found myself writing mainly about growing pains, moving away, differentiating and overall themes of learning how to be independent. Adulting was just a term I’d use as a joke, but I thought it encompassed the songs on the EP so it kind of stuck. I think it’s interesting how it has a more serious tone now when attached to these songs.

As someone who also grew up in Los Angeles, there seems to be a heightened pressure to both present as an adult and find professional success beginning in our teenage years. How do you think growing up in Los Angeles has shaped your perception of adulting?
I think being from LA teaches you to grow up really fast. Everyone seems to be in constant competition with each other, especially with the prevalence of social media. But at the same time, there are so many different scenes, so you are bound to find people to connect to. There are definitely positives and negatives to growing up here. The pressure can be a good thing, teaching you how to act mature from a young age. But the tension can also be intense and sometimes overwhelming.

The production on the EP is really incredible. What was the process like turning these songs from lyrics on a Word doc into a polished piece of music?
I had a lot of fun working with Marshall Vore on the last EP so we decided to work on a longer project. I sent him a Dropbox of songs I had finished since our last session and we sat down and talked about which ones we wanted to put on the EP. Then we started with basic tracks. I feel extremely lucky to have had Jorge Balbi and Anna Butterss play drums and bass on this EP; they really laid down a strong foundation for the record. We never have a specific plan going into it – we just end up doing a lot of experimenting with the musicians and go with what feels right. Sometimes that means going through several different drum set ups to get the right sound. I always find that the songs really start to sound fuller when we add guitar – Harrison Whitford brought the EP together with creating that distorted tone that is on most of the songs.

Who are some artists you were listening to while writing and recording “Adulting?”
During this time, I was going back and listening to records I grew up on like Joni Mitchell’s “Hijera” and The Band’s “Music From Big Pink.” But I also was listening to a lot of current female songwriters that were influencing me like Madison Cunningham, Margaret Glaspy, Adrianne Lenker (Big Thief), The Wild Reeds, and more. It was these women that inspired me to talk a bit more openly in the songs; to not be ashamed of getting specific or saying what I really meant.

You’ve played an impressive number of shows throughout the last year, have there been any particularly memorable moments from these shows?
We played a show at the Bootleg in December that was really special. Sharon Silva and AO Gerber opened, two songwriters I look up to immensely. The whole night was just super positive and encouraging, especially since I had been away at school for a while. My band and I played really loud, which was especially exciting because we hadn’t all played together since the summer.

Just last week we did an EP release show with Anthony Wilson and Sam Weber, which was super rewarding on the day of the release. I get really anxious about shows and the whole vibe was really calm and supportive. I got to play some songs with the band off the EP we hadn’t played live yet, as well as try out some new ones I’ve written more recently. And we also did a Hank Williams cover because I’ve been obsessed with old country tunes lately. I always joke about wanting to start a spooky country cover band.

As a folk artist in an ever-growing digital world, what are some of the frustrations– or benefits, of having a more traditional writing and recording process in the current music industry?
I try to carry around a notebook so I’m not always distracted by my phone when I’m writing, but it’s difficult. Our phones are so prevalent these days. I think there is something special about going into the studio and working with musicians, opposed to just doing everything electronically from home. I do appreciate how music has become more accessible and I’ve definitely taken advantage of different softwares to demo on my own. But there is a communal element of working with other musicians on songs that gets lost in the digital world of music.

One of my favorite songs on the EP is “Self-Fulfilled Prophecy”. Can you tell me about the story of the song?
“Self-Fulfilled Prophecy” was the first song I wrote when I moved away for college. I was learning that transitioning to being independent was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be. I’m a person that believes I can think myself out of most situations, but this one I couldn’t. It’s about loneliness and adjusting. But I think that the tone of it doesn’t seem as sad as it is lyrically because it has that more up-tempo retro vibe. I like when songs have a divide between theme and sound.

What’s next for you and your music?
I’ve been writing a lot since we recorded the EP last summer, so I’m hoping to go back into the studio soon. I will be back in LA for the summer to play shows around town.