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Sophia Street: New Sounds to Cut You With


Words by Teeka Ballas
first published in Anchorage Press, April 9, 2015

 

Polka dots, stripes, cotton, lace and flowers. A melee of fibers and fashion styles put together with the ease of someone who is fashionably daft—or who inherently knows how to seamlessly meld together contradictory elements. Either way, it’s hard not to notice.

“I don’t care what people think,” says Sophia Street. And even if she does, it doesn’t stop her. She pauses from time to time when she speaks, when she sings she sets her trajectory but is profoundly relentless. Sometimes her words sting—both when spoken and sung—but her weapon is a blunt knife.

To get to Anchorage, the fishergirl from Soldotna had to bust down a few walls and travel an arduous road, procuring some serious armor along the way. When she hit the music scene here, she took to the stage with a ukulele, unapologetically strumming songs over the din of raucous bar folks. They were thin and pretty tunes, but it became evident there was a depth of chaos and angst in them that appealed to more than just hipsters.

Street’s shows have been intermittent at best. Each time, however, she demonstrates a new skill set, a new trick, and a reminder that she’s the only gal in town doing what she’s doing the way that she’s doing it. Her voice is that of an angry angel, accompanied by layers of vocals, guitar, ukulele and whatever else she’s got her hands on at the time, all looped through a Boss effects pedal to make a symphony of sound.

In 2011, at the age of 21, Street put out an EP that had audiophiles doing circus tricks with shit-eating grins and butt-jiggling joy; then she was tapped to play Salmonstock; featured on the annual Audio F’ile compilation CD; and Anchorage Press bestowed her with the Editor’s Choice award for best solo artist. But Street’s live performances are rare and often unannounced, and until now, there’s only been a murmur of suspicion about her releasing a new recording. But it seems the blunt-blade-wielding firecracker is, in fact, in the throes of recording her first full length CD.

In a nondescript suburban home sandwiched between duplexes on quarter-acre plots, Street and her producer Peter Ratner, banter back and forth with a familiarity only two who have worked and fought and accomplished great things together in solitude can obtain. They don’t speak over one another, but their sentences overlap, and each has ongoing commentary of the other’s remarks. They bite, they scorn, and they mock one another while at the same time singing their praises and appreciation. This is a relationship that has been forged. It was different in the beginning.

“She hated me,” says Ratner in his thick, Russian accent.

Street does not negate him. “I feel like we really had to learn to come to this point,” she says succinctly over his pout.  It took time for Street to feel confident enough to express her opinions to him. Now she does so with the boldness of a New York City pedestrian’s stride.  “It’s my CD, and it’s gonna be my way. I don’t care what input a producer has,” she says.

“Wow,” Ratner whistles, sounding injured. But he knows about her blunt blade. “Well, she’s right. It’s her album,” he negotiates over her.

“We’ve had a lot of debacles over my songs,” she says through him.

“In the beginning,” he says under her.

STUDIO SHOT Cropped

photo by Teeka Ballas

 

For Street, the biggest challenge with this new album (its title still to be determined) has been working with a producer—specifically, one with as much talent, experience and insight as Ratner—and finding her footing in expressing her opinion to him.

“It’s hard to have someone tell you when it’s good and not good and make you change it, when in your mind you know exactly how it should sound,” says Street. “But Peter is great. He’s fantastic. He’s a really cool producer,” she concedes.

The point of much contention between the two is reverb. Ratner has been insistent about limiting or even forbidding reverb on vocal tracks.

“I hate those over-drenched vocals,” he mutters. In fact, most old school engineers will agree: the only reason to use a lot of reverb is to disguise a voice that doesn’t sound good organically. And Street’s vocals are nothing short of fantastic.

The new album is loosely slated to be released this summer, aided by a Kickstarter campaign she just launched to raise enough money to master and press it.

Right now, the rough tracks, even in the unglamorous stage just before postproduction, are brilliantly wicked. Ratner and Street have amassed an impressive and eclectic posse of rock, jazz and contemporary musicians to grace the album: Chad Reynvaan and Ivan Night with guitars, Evgeny Chernonog on a Steinway, Andy Tholberg with drums, Elena Lukina EL’s violin, and Mike Doolin the renowned guitar maker and jazz player from Portland.

Together, these musicians elevate the music without ever robbing or betraying its origins; they massage the ears, tease the mind, flirt with their creator. Street is a prodigious hack; she just tries things and they work. Often brilliantly. It takes an astounding producer to lay down a song with so many layered tracks of vocals and instruments (some have as many as 75 tracks) and have it genuinely represent and strongly resemble the version performed on stage with just a girl and her ukulele.

It’s not fair to review rough tracks off a forthcoming album. Suffice it to say, with Street’s astoundingly mature vocals—at times thin, brittle, aged paper, wafting butterfly wings, sweet fruit, lush breaths used to pivot notes and bend emotions—and with the mastery of the musicians and producer, this CD could be one of the best Alaskan albums of the year.

Sophia Street will be debuting her new band at the Flying Chinook on May 1. To learn more about her upcoming album or purchase her EP find her on Facebook or at sophiastreet.bandcamp.com

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