At only 18 years old, singer/songwriter Sofia Donavan is making quite a name for herself, continuing to turn the heads of critics and fans alike with emotionally raw and captivating songs. An amazingly talented performer, she started singing lessons at 8 years old and at the age of 13 she took up guitar and piano. After playing a song called “Soldier’s Letter” to her singing teacher and seeing her reaction, she realized that song writing was something she could pursue seriously.
Donavan started posting covers of popular songs on Youtube to begin building a small platform where she would later introduce her original music. During this time, she began to play at open mic nights and local songwriter venues in London. After winning a school competition, she had the opportunity to play at the Isle of Wight Festival and open up for a band in Shepherd’s Bush Empire. In 2013 she released her ?rst EP, Square One, independently and started to sell copies at shows.
After reaching out to an advertisement that asked songwriters to send songs in to be reviewed on a website called MusicXray, she received a response from musician and artist manager Brian Steen saying that he was interested in hearing more of her music. Through this relationship, she was introduced to the head of A&R for Windup Records: Diana Meltzer who then eventually led her to meet Jason Elgin who would produce the Left To The Clouds EP. After a lot of planning and skype discussions, she took a leap of faith ?ying to Birmingham, Alabama and recorded her second EP, ‘Left To The Clouds.’
Sofia Donavan’s ‘Left To The Clouds’ EP is a heart-felt collection of masterfully crafted modern Americana music that is infused with both raw emotion and intense vulnerability. The 5 tracks on the EP are a culmination of life, love, and hope, fueled by powerful lyrics and infectious melodies. The honest nature of songs like “If It Wasn’t For Love”, “Note To Tennessee”, “Rare As Gold” and the album’s title track captures the essence of the process and adventure of life, taking the listener on a journey where the music exists in it’s purist form.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon caught up with Sofia Donavan to discuss her musical influences, her journey as an artist, her musical evolution, inspirations and what we can expect from her in the near future!
You are just 18 years old but have been very successful in your still blossoming career. Let’s go back to the beginning. How did music first come into your life?
My parents used to play the Beatles and Bob Dylan a lot when I was growing up. Every Sunday they would play music and I would wake up to it because they would get up before me. I was an only child for about six years and I would come downstairs and dance and sing along to it. It was me entertaining myself when I was an only child! [laughs]
What influences had a big impact on you as an artist?
In my personal life, a lot of people on my mom’s side of the family are very musically inclined. That is the very musical side of the family. My uncle is also a musician. He would always say, “Follow your passion, even though it is a hard career, you should definitely go for it!” Those people in my personal life really pushed me to keep that dream going. Musically speaking, when I was 12, Taylor Swift was my complete idol! As I got older, I discovered her influences and found other people like The Civil Wars and got back into Bob Dylan as a 16- or 17-year-old as opposed to being a 6-year-old. Hearing it in a new context changed a lot of things. Those are just a few of the people who really influenced my music and my songwriting.
Was there a moment when you realized you wanted to pursue music as a career?
I started writing songs when I was around 13 years old. I think when I first played one of my songs, “Soldier’s Letter,” for my singing teacher at the time. She was very quiet and said, “This is pretty good, you should continue this.” That was the first time it turned into not only something I loved doing but something other people responded to. I think it was then when I realized this could turn into a career. “Soldier’s Letter” is on my first EP, “Square One.”
You have a brand new EP out now, “Left To The Clouds.” How do the two compare and contrast?
I would say that the first EP is a lot more acoustic. The production itself was very simple. I wasn’t really sure what sound I wanted to go for at that point, so I tried to keep it just a nice, supporting background band for my songs. This second EP has a much clearer focus with an Americana influence and a country influence in it. I got to play around, work with a lot more people and use a lot more instruments in the production. I think that it sounds a lot bigger and more professional.
What can you tell us about finding your sound and choosing that musical direction?
I had always been influenced by folk songwriters. Even though my sound isn’t very folk, lyrically that is how I found my voice through storytellers and beautifully written songs that use a lot of metaphors. Then I discovered country. Living in London, country is not a big thing, so I kind of did that by myself. Once I discovered country and folk, mixing those two genres really seemed to click. It seemed to really fit the production style to the words and stories I was trying to tell.
Did you have any goals or expectations for “Left To The Clouds” when you started building the EP?
I just wanted to grow. I loved working on my first EP. It was the first time I had any kind of experience in a recording studio. Once I had that, I was more comfortable with the process and knew what to expect, I felt I had a lot more freedom to not be shy and have more input into the project. Working with Jason Elgin, who was my producer for “Left To The Clouds,” was amazing. We got on very well and it was very clear what I wanted and what he wanted. Having input while being guided by someone who has had so much experience was perfect for what I wanted for this EP.
What are the biggest things you took away from working with Jason Elgin?
Working with him, you quickly see how meticulous and professional he is. I learned so much about precision and how every detail does matter. Going back and doing those extra takes really makes all the difference. I remember recording “Rare As Gold.” We had been singing it one way for a while and there was something missing from the performance. He came in and lit up all these candles and dimmed the lights. He created an atmosphere and that completely brought out this new performance from me. Working with someone who takes the time to feel out what you need to get the best out of you was really great.
What can you tell us about your songwriting process? How has it progressed from your first EP?
When I wrote my first EP, I would sit down and write music and lyrics at the same time. Usually, I would spend about two or three days finishing a song. Now, I can finish a song using the same process but, before I demo it or record it, I usually go back and visit it. I think about what I can change or make better. For example, “Note To Tennessee,” in my mind it was a finished song when I brought it to Jason. When we went into the studio, we had all of these new ideas about how we could change it or build on it. I have become much more open to changes in songs and not feeling it is done as soon as you put the pen down. A song can keep changing and evolving, especially when you are working with other people, even when you might have thought it was completed.
Your lyrics are very personal. Was it difficult to make the transition to work with other people and put yourself out there so openly on an emotional level?
At first it is definitely daunting to show people what are basically pages of your diary! [laughs] No one really knew the stories behind the songs. As you are recording, you get more comfortable and working 10 hours a day with the same people, so people will start to ask what specific songs are about. I really liked being able to tell these personal stories. I think that also helped the people I was working with to get where I was coming from or see one interpretation of the song that they may have not seen before. While it was definitely scary at first, I think it is totally worth it to let yourself be open and be that personal and get to that level of sharing a personal story.
Are you the type of artist who is always writing and where do you look for inspiration these days?
I am writing all of the time. I have a lot of ideas and I will put them down on my iPhone or write them on my laptop or in a little book that I have. Whenever I have a good week off or a few days off, that is when I will usually sit down and write five songs or something like that! [laughs] Something just comes out of me! There are definitely times where I can write a song very quickly and other times that take much longer. It is a combination of personal life, stories that I hear or being inspired by new music that I hear. Discovering new music can inspire me to change my lyrics up, change how I might tell a story or a melody. Discovering new music is a huge inspiration to me.
You lived with these songs for a while now, both in the writing process, the studio process and now playing live. Which of the songs resonates with you the most these days?
“Left To The Clouds” is a song that will never not resonate with me because it is basically overcoming the challenges you might face. It can be overcoming fear, anxiety or a person who is getting in the way of you achieving what you want. It is a song that, every time I listen to it, I think, “Wow. This is what I was saying and I didn’t even realize I was saying it when I wrote the song.” I think overcoming difficulties is something that will never get old and I will always be able to relate to that specific song.
You are still new to your craft but it is clear you are getting better with each passing day. That is inspiring to see. What do you consider your biggest creative milestones to date?
I am a huge lyric fan, so I think I try to get better at that with each song I write. As important as melody is and is the heart of the song, I always gravitate to the lyrics of songs when listening to music. That is what I think I have grown the most in and hopefully will continue to do so!
Where do you see yourself headed in the future musically and where are you in regards to new music?
I have been constantly writing. Jason and I are still in contact and I am always sending him my new songs to get feedback. I am working on getting good demos of everything I am currently writing. In the future, if I ever get the chance to record a full album, I would love to mix the aspects I loved from both EPs. I would love to have the Americana/country sound and also be able to have some quieter songs and moments that are as simple as a guitar and a voice. That is something you can do more easily with an album. You can explore your range in a good variety of songs.
What do you have planned for this summer? Anything fun in the works career-wise?
I am going to New York next week. I will be doing a songwriter’s seminar for 10 days. I am so excited! It is about co-writing and working with ASCAP and BMI, so that will be great. I am also going to do some shows there. Then I will be going down to Nashville the week after that, which I am very excited about! I will also be performing some shows there. Later this summer, I will be going to London and doing a show at The Troubadour. That is one of the first places I ever played because I grew up in London. Going back there now after having two EPs will be a lot of fun! I will also have a music video coming out soon for “Note To Tennessee.” That should be out in the next two months or so.
Are you involved with an charity work we could help shine a light on?
Right now I attend Middlebury College in Vermont. It is more of a support group than a charity but my friend and I run The Red Pen Group. We get girls in the community and females on campus to unite and become more active when it comes to politics and women having a voice on campus. That is something I am excited to be a part of on campus.
That sounds like a worthy cause. It is so cool to see you so focused and driven. I can’t wait to see where these roads lead you!
Thank you! I appreciate your support and will talk to you soon!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.