There are multiple versions of us that we parade for different people and so, it is with this concept in mind that we are privy to the inner workings of Starsha Lee’s front person, Sofia Martins Gray. May talk of her repressed comedic side be of interest to those who may not be aware of its existence. With a few words from guitarist Crispin Gray, this interview also covers her love of Scott Walker and her approach to live shows which are thankfully not entirely out of the question …

‘I believe there are many artistic people out there that have no idea they are artists, they just feel a bit misplaced.’ – Sofia Martins Gray

‘I don’t think Sofia feels she’s done anything justice unless she´s climbed a mountain to get there.’ – Crispin Gray

JC: When did you discover you were a performer?

Sofia: There’s something funny about myself I always felt, that is the capacity of communicating to a crowd of anonymous people. The first time I remember feeling this was at a children’s theatre at school. However, as soon as I become too close to people, I lose that capacity. Even a grocery shop owner that is geographically too near me can ruin this. I communicate at a distance, the stage is the best place for that. That’s my discovery.

What happens when you go for long periods of time without an audience?

Sofia: That has been the majority of my life. I’ve only been performing for six years, I think. That’s nothing. But with the little experience I have now, I can tell the performer was always present in my life. Even in photography there’s a performance going on. The images are still but the body is moving, I always consider my self-portraits as performative.

When I’m not in front of an audience, the performative self shows up in other activities, like photographs, videos, walking back and forth in the kitchen imagining things… It’s the same need for communication.

Do you consider this way of being the result of nurture or nature and is there any danger in thinking through this process? When do you know you’ve become too self involved?

Sofia: I suspect it’s a nature thing because I feel the downsides of it as well. For example, I have this natural comedic way of being, that I constantly try to repress. There was only one person in my life that spotted it, and guess what, she’s a drama teacher. She told me I’m a natural comedian when she saw me performing with Starsha Lee. I felt so embarrassed, how could she read me to such a deep degree? I blamed myself for that all my life because it makes me feel that I’m not being taken seriously, that I’m just a funny odd girl. 

I know my father’s side of the family has a few stage actors in previous generations. My father was a professional jazz drummer, his sister an accordionist, so there’s some genetics going on it seems.

The self involvement that I exclude is when it becomes too much about me and nothing about the message. Even if I write lyrics about someone, I always try to see it as character reading, not personal. I’m not into soap operas.

The funny thing is that there are plenty of comedians to be taken seriously. Hannah Gadsby, Richard Prior, Bill Hicks, and yet, it’s easy to think that being identified as a funny person means that our messages will be decoded as cheap. You’ve gone on record as saying ‘silence is more violent’. What do you mean by this and will you create quieter music to represent this understanding?

Sofia: Of course! But throughout my life I had no guidance to make me understand that I could be a comedian or something else. So I was left with the world and confused. I believe there are many artistic people out there that have no idea they are artists, they just feel a bit misplaced. 

Oh, I highly recommend listening to Scott Walker’s song called Jesse, for example. There’s too much space behind his voice, you can feel an empty room, and that’s so violent. There’s a dark red empty room behind him, I can see it every time I listen to it. And his voice comes out of nowhere, like a strange faceless mechanical thing, you just see the emptiness. 

Of course, it’s not totally silent, but it creates silence, if this makes sense.

This is another thing that I got wrong when listening to rock n roll at a young age, you don’t need to scream to be violent. Look at the photographs of Hans Bellmer, the indoors Doll series. Here there’s no music involved, but you can hear the space of those rooms. That’s pretty violent to me.

Crispin, what do you make of Sofia’s need to travel beyond the restrictions of what she describes as a ’90’s sound”? Is there any pressure to subvert expectations of what you play?

Crispin: Not from Sofia particularly, no. From years ago right up to now various people have complained that I sound the same and that I still wear the same clothes (which I more or less do) and so on. I have considered at times trying to consciously change but I´ve never found anything (so far) that satisfies me or ignites my imagination as much as where I´m already at. I´m certainly not trying to resist change either, not at all.  But I ultimately have come to the conclusion there’s not much point in trying to change just for the hell of it or because someone else thinks you should.  If you’re not truly inspired to then it most likely won’t work anyway.  “I yam what I yam” as Popeye said.

You’ve gone on record stating your main mission is to record a lot of material before Sofia’s course starts in September. Just how much music are we talking about, and do you have complementary or conflicting views on what is achievable?

Crispin: It all depends on Madame Martins Gray. We’ve got enough material for an entire album but Sofia likes to spend three weeks walking back & forth in the kitchen considering all philosophical aspects of a two & half minute song before she’s ready to sing it.  I don’t think Sofia feels she’s done anything justice unless she´s climbed a mountain to get there.

We have spoken about Sofia’s mindset being more of a sculptor in that it takes more time to arrive at a state of finality. The Rock and Roll form being the antithesis of that. To add further complexity to the analysis, her stage antics and demeanour often communicates as unpredictable, in the moment and not at all practiced. Keen to hear Sofia’s thoughts on all this.

Sofia: Yes, I couldn’t rehearse a performance, that would be like a cage to me. During the performance is when everything happens in my head. I might be thinking of the words in a certain way on a certain night. It changes according to many factors. Performance is an exercise of combining variables to me. It has to be in the moment, I don’t think I’m talented at staging feelings.

Any plans to play the EP live or do you still see yourselves as a strictly studio project?

Sofia: I started to feel less motivated to do live shows since a significant hearing drop in my right ear last year. Otosclerosis makes me a bit depressed, I must say. But increasingly I’ve become more and more comfortable with doing everything at a distance. It’s the right place to be right now, I need time. We will play live though, just not now.

Of course, and thanks for having more than enough to make this a standout interview about your outlook and craft. Speak to you soon!

Sofia: Thank you, John!

Live Music video for ‘Plausible Hate’ is out now:

Buy new E.P ‘Damnatio Memoriae’ released via Cadiz Music, out now. CD available here

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