Interview

A Conversation With Sofia Machray

April 27, 2021
Sofia Machray

Sofia Machray has been making a name for herself within the New Zealand music scene. Originally hailing from Arrowtown, the now Wellington-based musician released her debut single “Handstands” last year topping alternative charts. Coming off the back of a summer tour, Sofia marked her second release with the track “Milky Ways” solidifying herself as one of New Zealand’s most exciting up and coming new artists. 

Having picked up the guitar from an early age Sofia found early success winning the Solo/Duo category at the Central Otago Regional Rockquest, as well as a Musicianship Award and the People’s Choice Awards when she was only fourteen. Since then she moved to Wellington completing a Bachelor of Commercial Music at Massey University, toured extensively, and continued to refine her sound. 

Sofia has a dreamy indie rock sound with a healthy injection of pop-inspired hooks that will have you dancing in the daisies. Not one to shy away from wearing her heart on her sleeve, Sofia has an incredibly powerful voice and a natural affinity for writing strong vocal hooks. The multi-talented singer/songwriter often splits her time between performing as a solo artist and with the accompaniment of her full backing band which consists of Robbie Pattinson on lead guitar, Anna Wild on drums, Alvie Parvin on bass, and herself on lead vocals and rhythm guitar. 

We sat down with Sofia to discuss the new single, working with producers, and her future plans for the year.

Congratulations on the new single! “Milky Ways” is fantastic. How did you come to write it? How did the idea come about? 

“It would have been about two years ago that I wrote that song. I wrote it when I was in first year, so I was new to Wellington and just surrounded by people in halls. The song stemmed from a lot of the conflicts I was having at the time of just being in that environment. I usually get along with people quite well, but if you’re put in a pod full of people like that then, of course, you’re going to have conflicts. I didn’t really voice that too much, but the way my frustrations got out was through my music. Through that song I was a little brutally honest about, not specifically a certain person or anything like that, it was a bunch of things, and I was just sick of it and pissed off and I just had to write something or do something about it. That was the drive behind the song. Usually, I write things and then I take it all to my band, and we play it all together. I work quite closely with Robbie Pattinson, who is my producer, and from there we go to Lee Prebble at Surgery Studios and he usually mixes the track. 

Speaking on that, it seems like the song came about from a negative experience. I think we romanticise the idea of the tortured artist a little bit, so do you always find inspiration in bad experiences? Or is this the outlier? 

“This is definitely the outlier for me, I was just feeling very overwhelmed and certain people weren’t sitting with me right at the time. But ultimately I think those experiences are so important because you learn more about yourself. I learnt so much about myself as a songwriter because I just didn’t know that I could be so direct with things. It’s nice when we play “Milk Ways” live because the crowd loves it, they’re waiting for it and it’s just so cool to see. But, that was definitely an outlier for me, I do usually draw from things that are happening around me, social issues, the world, I like reading books, and watching movies. But that was the most brutal. 

So was Lee Prebble the producer?

“Lee Prebble mixed and engineered the song. So me and Robbie Pattinson, who is also my guitarist, we sit down, get demos of the songs together; then we work it, record it together, and then take it to Lee and say: “Here’s a song can you make it sound pretty?” Lee will work on it for a bit, he’s great! For my last single, “Handstands” we worked with him as well, and we went to visit him in the studio for it and he just made it sound so shiny like he’s polishing it up and there it is. Super talented! 

What was the experience of recording this single compared to when you were doing Handstands? Did you find it much easier the second time around? 

“Yeah, I think that I definitely have more of an idea of the process and how long things took. Now I kind of have an idea of a timeline and how long it takes to mix a song. Lee usually gets back within the week and I thought that might have been a longer process, I guess it depends on who you’re working with too. “Handstands,” we recorded in a similar way where me and Robbie did it at home and then we brought the band members in and recorded it, and then we took it to Lee again to get him to put it through a studio. So we did a similar process with it. I used to be a commercial music student at Massey University and we had some great facilities there, so we recorded drums in that kind of space, apart from that it’s all just at home at the moment. Apart from new stuff that’s in the works. 

When you write a song is that how the process always goes? Do you come up with the bulk of the idea and then bring it to Robbie and you two sort of work it out? 

“I’ll demo it myself, as best as I can, I’ll go into Logic and get down ideas for drums as best as I can because I am still learning with the software. And when the idea is there I take it to Robbie and that’s where me and Robbie will refine. He has a nice outsider’s perspective and we kind of rework it a little bit, at least that’s what’s been happening now anyway. Then we start recording it and he’s really good with that whole process too. He does record engineering as well. 

You’ve been writing songs for quite a while. Do you keep a backlog of ideas for melodies and lyrics and if you come up with an idea that could match it down the line, do you put two and two together? 

“Yeah, it’s kind of like a puzzle, I’ve got books and books of lyrics and ideas. I’ve got so many recordings on my phone and sometimes I’ll just be walking and inspiration will come, it’s weird how it can piece together sometimes. The other day we were rehearsing and then something came to mind, and I was like “Oh! I’ve written this song, this is something I have written.” And it just came about because I was just jamming it and everyone else started joining in and I was like “Hold on, I’ve written this and I was meant to show you guys this song but it was from a while ago and I just never got around to it.” Things can come up like that, it’s so strange.

I constantly have a little book and I just write things down and then it just pieces together sometimes, other times I’ll sit down and in ten minutes there will be a song, it’s so sporadic and weird. I just try to keep doing it more and more because then more ideas come.”

A couple of years ago you put out a really incredible live EP of you performing at the Wellington Library. Are you planning on recording those songs in the studio with the full band? 

“That would have been when I first came to Wellington and I was just a solo artist. Back home in Arrowtown I never really had too many musical people around me so that’s why I decided to do the solo thing for a bit. Then I moved to Wellington and I noticed that there was a huge band scene happening in Wellington, and I couldn’t really find a regular space for singer/songwriters, only now and then I would play the odd show. So I realised that maybe I would need to bring in a live band around me to get more opportunities. I’ve had these older songs for quite a while. I’ve been writing since I was about twelve or eleven, I got a guitar when I was six and have been playing since then. One of the songs on that EP has been with me for quite some time and we’ve just recorded it in the studio so they’re coming back to life, and they’re shaping as I grow older as well. 

That one is the “Untold,” it’s quite incredible how it has transformed with me and I don’t want to forget about those songs either, we still play them live. I took it off because I wanted to mould them more and put something up that I was super proud of, and I am proud of the songs, I just wanted more quality and more of that refining process that I couldn’t have before because I didn’t know the right people; I didn’t have the right support around me, and my skills are growing.”

Was it hard getting a band together? 

“It actually was really easy, I met everyone in the halls. I was close friends with them all before we were bandmates. Robbie was actually my flatmate in the halls and we got chucked in an apartment full of musicians doing the same course. We used to just jam, we used to be a duo, he would noodle on his guitar and do his ambience pedal masters and I would play live. That worked for a while. Across the road, there was another hall and since we were so close we often had events together and through that, I met my drummer, Anna Wild. Then there were the three of us, we did an acoustic thing, she played the Cajon, which is a box drum. Robbie played bass for a bit actually but it wasn’t his first instrument, we were gigging as a three-piece for a short time but after a while, I felt I needed to fill the sound out a little more. I thought it would be great to have Robbie playing the guitar because that is his instrument, and I play guitar too, so we would get that full sound. Then I found a bassist, his name is Alfie Parvin and he’s actually a friend from back home in Queenstown, a few years younger. 

There is a good music scene down south now, but my year group didn’t really have many musicians. Alfie was coming up to Wellington to do a course here so I pulled him in. We were all just friends and it connected very strangely but it was super cool. I think I’m very lucky that way because people struggle to find drummers, there are a lack of drummers.”

How is it feel after you released “Handstands” and it started picking up traction and getting into all these charts 

“That was super cool! And super humbling. Shortly after we tried to do a little bit of a tour on it and we only did a Wellington, Dunedin, and Queenstown show. When we played in Dunedin people knew it there and I think because it had been playing on the radio down there, that was super crazy just to see people singing it. I was very stocked with how that went. Then I got a bit of an itch for releasing more. Now that uni is over that is the focus for this year to keep busting out those songs because there are a lot of them I just haven’t had time to sit down and get them out, I’m backlogging. 

You released “Handstands” while we were gradually coming out of a lockdown. It would have been a challenge trying to release and do music during a lockdown anyway, but you did a lot of live streams as a solo artist. Did you find that experience worthwhile? Or would you have preferred to have just gone out on the road as a full band? 

“I think that time for me was super valuable, it was really nice because there was a huge online presence because not many people had much to do, so a lot of people were responding super well to the song. With those live streams, it was super lovely just playing by myself again. There was a cool one that came from it which was a live stream with Industrial Sessions, it’s on YouTube. It was these people from this space that usually do big festivals, TomTom, the Soundpeople, and Shotover Media. Usually, they’re filming, so they had all of this equipment just sitting there and they decided to do all of these super high production live sessions and I was the first one to do that. Actually, it’s interesting because that kind of content I just didn’t have before, I had some library session stuff but nothing recent. From that, I got a few gigs with Ha The Unclear. I asked the lead singer from Ha The Unclear how he found me. He said it was the session he saw on YouTube. I thought that was super interesting because it wasn’t anything to do with the band or the single, it was just these little live sessions.

 I think it’s really cool to have that content because it draws in people and different crowds. So the lockdown gave me time to do that and sit down with the release and plan it out. But unfortunately, we couldn’t get the music video out. We were planning and rehearsing for it, that’s one thing that slid away from it, but with this next release, there will be one a few weeks later. 

Do you think you will continue to do solo sessions like that in the future? 

“Yeah, I think I will because I love it. There is a thing called The Performance Arcade in Wellington at the start of every year. So one night I played with the full band, and then the other night I just did solo. It’s so nice just going back to how I started, and people still give a great response to it. I definitely will still release things solo, more of an acoustic singer/songwriter sometime in the future because I don’t want to let that part of me go.”

You have a really powerful voice. At what age did you realise you have a natural affinity towards signing? 

“I’ve played guitar for quite a while, and I always knew that I could sing, but I hid it because I was too shy. I would hide in the garage and practice, because the garage was a good distance from my house, and I would never let my parents hear me. I would never let anyone hear, I was just too shy about it. For the longest time, I was just playing lead guitar in school bands and I was just such a dark horse about it all. One of my teachers at high school must have heard me singing in one of the practice rooms because eventually she pushed me to enter Rockquest and sing some original songs. I went over the hill to Wanaka and played Rockquest, I would have been about thirteen. So my first time singing in front of people was performing my two original songs in front of a large crowd, I was freaking out! From it I won a musicianship award, there was a people’s choice award and first place in the solo category. I got those three awards from it and I was like “Oh, maybe I should keep doing it and keep going and keep performing.” That was when I had the realisation that people like this and I should do this more. 

What are your plans for the rest of the year? 

“We have a tour being planned. I guess in terms of music it’s a few more single releases and then look at recording an EP for probably, honestly it might be this time next year for the EP. A tour is being planned with Doons, who are another Wellington band, we’re going to hit the road with them. We’ll be going to Auckland, Christchurch, Wellington, Queenstown, Dunedin; we’re thinking about Raglan, Ohakune, and Tauranga too, so that will be about August. Content is the big focus for me this year because last year was just gig, gig, gig, now I’m a little burnt out and now I’m sitting down thinking I need to put a lot out there to show that I am present that there is music, there is a lot of music. 

We have a gig in a few weeks for V Morg Music Month. Ven Morgan is a promoter and he does a lot of things around Wellington over summer with festivals, he is heavily involved in the music scene. He is putting together a music month together in April. We’ve got a gig with Hot Donn0s and Miss Cressida at San Fran. There is plenty happening.” 

You can listen to ‘Milkyways’ here

You can watch the Industrial Session here: 

https://youtu.be/HbELc4XVn0k