[PEOPLE IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD] Singer/Songwriter Sophie Strauss: Yeah, She’s So Fine
HANCOCK PARK—I confess. I’ve been a fan of local resident Sophie Strauss a long time. When she was in elementary school, I carpooled her along with my sons and two other kids from our neighborhood to Echo Horizon School.
When Strauss was old enough, she got to ride shotgun, which meant she assumed control of my SUV’s radio and CD player. Each Tuesday and Thursday, she’d settle into the passenger seat and we would do our own version of Carpool Karaoke, singing Fleetwood Mac, the Beatles and—during the holiday season—a really cool version of “Pine Cones and Holly Berries/It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas,” by the Osmond family.
Strauss is now all grown up and, at 22, is gaining notoriety as a singer and songwriter having played such Los Angeles locations as Genghis Cohen, the House of Blues and Room 5.
As a recently graduated New York University student, she’s also played numerous shows in New York, including the Sidewalk Café in Manhattan’s East Village, where—she pointed out recently over coffee on Larchmont Boulevard—Regina Spektor, best known for the title song of the Netflix series Orange Is the New Black, got her start.
Currently, Strauss is set to play at Hollywood’s Hotel Café on September 8th.
“I am really excited. It’s a great spot. It’s in the neighborhood…and a community of people that I know. I am really looking forward to it,” she said.
The performance will promote Strauss’s recently released EP Yeah No Fine, which has garnered about 15,000 plays on two music-streaming sites.
Previously, Strauss had only released demos, somewhat unfinished raw sketches of songs, but she started a crowd-sourcing campaign in 2015 and received enough funding to record and produce the album in studio.
“I’ve been really happy with it,” she said. “It’s the first step toward what I want to do.”
On the EP, Strauss not only co-produces, but also sings vocals, strums the ukulele and plays a wooden box drum that you sit on called a cajon. She also solely wrote five of Yeah No Fine’s seven songs.
She describes the album as indie-pop, a genre, which she said she has evolved to.
According to Strauss, her earlier influences were Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen.
“I listened [to those artists] with my family a lot while growing up,” she said. “These are super lyrically driven artists…confessional. Then I moved away from it, but that was my entry into songwriting.”
More recently, she says, Jenny Lewis has been her influencer.
“She’s an example of someone currently that is a woman in music with a career I really admire…exactly what I want. But I want to do the Sophie Strauss version of it.”
The comment is a strong, confident self-branding, even while Strauss is currently trying to distance her name from that of a porn star with the same moniker.
“I cannot seem to untie myself from the porn star so I just have to hope that I become more searched than she is,” Strauss said, “or have more content on the Internet.
Online you can access Strauss’s work on Spotify and such websites as SoundCloud and BandCamp.
There, along with listening, you can read her lyrics, which—it seems—have been somewhat influenced by her father, Jeff Strauss, a long-time television writer, who in Strauss’s words, “has a huge passion for food and wine.”
“I grew up watching him cook,” Strauss said, adding that she also has previously worked in a butcher shop and a pastry shop.
“The cooking references in my music,” she said, “are those I’ve had on my own. But I learned all about cooking from my dad.”
Consider these lyrics from Yeah So Fine’s “In the Freezer”:
Let’s park and talk and talk/ Take me down the street/ Let’s park and talk/ About the California heat/ I’ve got a rabbit in the freezer/ If you want something to eat, as well as these from “We Were Cool”: A phoenix rose/ Up from the stove/ Holding at a simmer/ It was an omen/ Oh yes an omen/ So we boiled it for dinner.
Over coffee, Strauss, who absentmindedly twirls her long dark brown hair around her index finger, laughs that body parts—she does not know why—also turn up in her lyrics.
She’s indeed correct. Yeah So Fine has mentions of gums, her mouth, “cracking ribs and biting teeth,” “your hand on my knee,” and “selling your baby teeth to your wife.”
Like many children, she was introduced to both piano and guitar as a child, but quit both early, for which she said has no remorse.
“I picked up both again in college and am teaching myself a lot. I don’t like to think in terms of regret. I like where I am,” she said.
But Strauss said she only had the courage to try songwriting after a close family friend, Sally Menke, died in 2010 while hiking in Griffith Park. Menke’s daughter, Bella Parisot, and Sophie started a friendship in 1st grade.
“I just was so lost and overwhelmed” with her death “and with the shock and grief of it and I had no idea how to process it,” Strauss said.
So she said she sat down at a piano to try and make sense of it.
“My need to figure out how to say what I was feeling outweighed my fear of trying to write a song or be a songwriter. I was able to push right past that fear,” she said. The cathartic experience gave Strauss the confidence to continue writing and later, performing.
Parisot and Strauss continued their long friendship as students at NYU and Parisot photographed Strauss for Yeah No Fine’s cover art.
When asked how she defines herself, Strauss said as a feminist.
“It’s a balancing act. Male musicians get to be neutral and female musicians are ‘female musicians.’ I just want to be a musician.”
But she said, she loves being a woman and she wants to embrace that as well.
“I want to speak to a broad audience,” she said, “but also to girls just like me.”