In “Take It Away”, SILVER explores new sonic ground while turning a frustrating relationship into something extremely colourful, fun, and bright.
It’s hard to shrug off frustration, but it’s even harder to turn it into something fun and beautiful. It’s especially difficult to do that when this frustration comes from love. SILVER, née Sophie Cates, manages to do the latter, beautifully, on “Take It Away“, her newest single that Atwood Magazine is proud to be premiering today.
“I was just thinking about this relationship that I was sort of in, sort of not in, kind of a back and forth, about how annoyed I was that this person would show me this affection and then they would stop. It would’ve been easier if you’d never given me that affection in the first place, so I started with the line “When you take it away, it’s worse than never having it at all”. I’d gotten to Chicago, had just met this person, and it was my first very frustrating experience in love,” says Cates about the song.
The harmony-filled, playful “Take It Away” represents new sonic ground for the Chicago-based artist, whose first two singles “Darling Don’t” and “Drinking Games” were broodier, more heartbreaking tales of love gone wrong. SILVER is definitely one of the most exciting emerging acts in American pop music today. She has that rare ability of bottling up the teenage experience, in all its excitement, pain, and discovery, and perfectly conveying these feelings in beautifully captivating songs. Atwood Magazine sat down with SILVER to discuss her musical beginnings, first handful of singles, and how she balances being a college student and a professional musician.
Listen: “Take it Away” – SILVER
A CONVERSATION WITH SILVER
Atwood Magazine: So Sophie, how and when did you start making music?
SILVER: I did theatre and stuff all throughout my childhood so I liked performing, but I started writing when I was probably like 12 and obsessed with Taylor Swift (laughs). I had a guitar and started taking guitar lessons and would write 7th grade love songs and stuff. I didn’t put any music out until I was probably like 15 or 16.
Did you know music was what you wanted to do when you started writing?
SILVER: Yeah, I think so. I always loved performing and singing. I’m not that into theatre now but I always loved being onstage and stuff. But obviously if you say you want to be a singer everyone’s like “The entertainment industry is really hard” so there was a point in time where I was like “Okay, maybe I’ll just make it a hobby”. But when I was probably 16 or 17 and choosing where I was going to go to college and what my major was going to be and all that stuff, I was like “I don’t really see myself doing anything else”.
That’s cool. We only have one life, might as well just try.
SILVER: Exactly, I was going through all these different things that I could do, like I like fashion, art, and writing, I could make those my jobs but the thing I could see myself doing for the rest of my life was writing songs and performing, it’s my favourite thing to do.
We have people like Lorde who grew up writing music and perfectly depicted teenage years in song. You had the chance to do the same thing, and you did it. What was it like growing up and translating your experiences into song?
SILVER:I love Lorde, she’s one of my favourite songwriters and artists. I grew up in a small town outside of Boston, I wouldn’t say it was boring, it’s a very beautiful place and it’s on the water and we have a beach and everything but it was kind of boring, so I would always listen to music and romanticise the ideas in other people’s songs like Lorde and The 1975, they’re another one. When you listen to them, The 1975, they’ve said that the first album is a soundtrack to their youth, and I love the idea that if I could write about what I was experiencing I could look back and feel it all again, and it totally is like that. When I listen to the songs I can almost play it back in my head. I just loved music that captured moments and feelings, even if it wasn’t one you had, The 1975 and Lorde are so good at taking their experiences and making you feel their own emotions towards them.
Totally. I love them as well, they’re two of my favourite artists.
SILVER: They’re great. Have you heard their new single?
Yes! It’s so good.
SILVER: So good. They’re so good at everything, their production has inspired me so much and it’s just crazy to see that five to six years later I’m still getting inspiration from them. And they’re embracing pop, which is amazing. They were considered an indie rock kind of band but I love the idea that people are finally coming to terms with the fact that pop music is great (laughs).
I read an interview with Matty Healy recently and he was like “we have guitars, but we also have a microphone, so you might as well just call us a microphone band”.
SILVER: Yeah, exactly. Their production is so crazy. And the second album was so crazy, the perfect mix of pop, synths, and 80s. Everything about them is so inspiring to me.
How do you manage being an artist, travelling around and being your own brand, while also being a college student and having all that added responsibility?
SILVER:That’s a good question, I’m kind of still figuring out how to do it (laughs). This semester there was no way I would be able to do full-time and stuff because I already had one month-long trip planned halfway through the semester and I can’t miss a month of classes. So I’m doing online school now, still through Columbia College Chicago, and I’m studying Live and Performance Arts Management so I’m studying the business side. But yeah, how do I balance it? I have a manager who’s really good at setting up sessions with people he think will be good matches so I luckily don’t have to navigate all that myself. I just did a three-week long trip to New York and LA and I was waking up every day, going to meetings, going to a session, going home, and doing three hours of school work (laughs). I’m still figuring out how to balance it, but this semester I’ve been prioritising music and going for it because last year I was fully doing school and I felt like I wasn’t putting as much work as I wanted to into music.
Can you tell me more about “Take it Away” the song we’re premiering today? It wasn’t what I expected when I listened to it, but I like that you took us by surprise because you’re only now starting to show us what you can do.
SILVER: The first two songs that I have out, “Darling Don’t” and “Drinking Games’, were produced by the same producer in the small town where I’m from. “Take It Away” is the first song that I did with other producers that my manager set up. Both of the songs were done before I had a manager and before I knew anything was going to happen with music so I was just messing around, I wasn’t thinking “What do I want my vibe to be?” “What sounds do I want?”. I love those songs, but “Take It Away” was the first time I was working with people I’d never met and I brought in this song that I’d written and I was listening to different music than I was when I wrote “Darling Don’t” and “Drinking Games” so my influences changed a little bit. I gave them some notes, I wanted it to be a little more poppy and more bright, not quite as atmospheric as the last two. We started with the one marimba sound, that’s what we built the production off of. I’ve been super into PC music lately, like A.G. Cook, Hannah Diamonds, SOPHIE, all of them, and they’re more into the experimental pop, so we could bring in some elements of the bright poppy stuff, that’s where I was going with it.
And can you tell me what the song’s about?
SILVER: Yeah, I wrote it in class actually (laughs). I was in the back of the classroom, it was a 9am class, and I was just thinking about this relationship that I was sort of in, sort of not in, kind of a back and forth, about how annoyed I was that this person would show me this affection and then they would stop. It would’ve been easier if you’d never given me that affection in the first place, so I started with the line “When you take it away, it’s worse than never having it at all”. I’d gotten to Chicago, had just met this person, and it was my first very frustrating experience in love.
So what’s your writing process like?
SILVER: It’s kind of different all the time, sometimes I’ll be in my room and have my guitar. My lyrics are honestly just me overthinking, thinking about everything and analysing every single thing, and then one of my thoughts sounds good as a line and I’ll write it down. Then I’ll write down all my feelings based on that line and I’ll go home and make a track on Logic and figure out the melody. With that one the lyrics all came first.
“Stup1d” sounds like nothing you’ve ever released, and I kind of love it for that. It’s so short and different, by the time the song ends you’re left wanting a lot more. What was the process of making that song like?
SILVER:I wrote that the day before I put it out. I was in a session in LA, we’d been working all day on this super produced pop song, and we had one hour left in the session and the producer was like “Well do you want me to just play you some beats?” and that was one beat that he had, his name is Zach Fogarty, he’s a great producer. So he played me a few beats and I’d just kind of been broken up with – we weren’t really dating – by this kid I was talking to, the day before I got to LA. So I was just in LA, very confused about it, didn’t have any of my friends to talk to, so the line “I’m in LA all alone” is like really? You had to do that right before I was in LA for two weeks? (laughs). But yeah, Zach Fogarty’s great, I think we have another song coming out, the one we did that day, “Stup1d” was just a spur of the moment post because it was what I was feeling.
I love that you have the liberty to do that and things don’t need to have a release schedule.
SILVER: Yeah. I mean, for the most part we’re trying to do that. But I sent that one to my manager and was like “Made this” and he was like “You should post it”. It’s probably not something we would’ve done a whole release thing for because it’s so short and not super produced, but he really liked it so he was like “Why don’t you just put it out and get people excited for the other thing you’re going to release?”.
It’s really great if we compare all your releases, it feels like we’re just now starting to realise what you can do and what you can sound like.
SILVER: Yeah, I just started co-writing and doing sessions with all these different people. I did have an idea of what I wanted my sound to be, but after meeting all these people I’m so open to the idea of trying new things because I am a pretty small artist and only have two songs out, so it’s been really exciting for me to get to try everything.
So is there still a lot more ground to cover in terms of what you sound like?
SILVER: There’s definitely more. Over the past year I’ve probably done 50 sessions and have 50 songs. Since I started releasing music I’ve gotten a lot more into pop and all of these different sounds that I never thought I would be making, so there’s definitely more coming that’s a little bit different, but I want that to be my thing. I want people to not be able to predict what my next song is going to sound like.
Now that you’ve started co-writing, do you think you like collaborating with other people more or do you still prefer writing by yourself?
SILVER: I love writing by myself. At first I didn’t really like co-writing but I think it’s because I was so used to using songwriting as a way to get out my emotions right in the moment when I was feeling super overwhelmed, sad, or whatever it was. Co-writing has taught me to reflect on the feelings that I’ve felt and be able to write about it in a more precise way. I definitely learned a lot from it and I have a lot of songs coming out that were co-written that I feel like represent me extremely well. But I don’t think I’m ever going to stop writing by myself, sometimes you just have those emotions and you have to get it out.
I follow you on Instagram and it seems like there’s a lot of exciting things coming for you really soon. Can you give us an idea of what to expect from you next?
SILVER: Yeah! So I’m opening for Conan Gray in New York, which is going to be amazing, it’s a sold out show. I’ve never really played a show that big. I’m playing a show in New York in December with Toast. Shows are one thing I’m really looking forward to doing. Almost a year went by for me to release “Drinking Games” after “Darling Don’t”, there was a whole year where I didn’t release any music, but now that I have so much content and I know how I want to do it all, there’s going to be a lot more music coming a lot quicker, that’s really exciting.
Watch: “Drinking Games” – SILVER
You mentioned your shows, how does your music translate to the live setting?
SILVER: Like I said, I look up to The 1975 a lot, especially for their live shows. Their music has a lot of electronic elements, and sometimes it’s hard to translate that into the live shows, but that’s my main goal, to be able to play those electronic elements live and make the live sound as close as I can to the recording. It’s a big thing for me, I feel like people want to dance to the sounds that they know when they’re listening to your song. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’ve been working out a lot (laughs) because it’s very important to me to be able to run around onstage without getting out of breath. That’s how I’ve been preparing, I’ve been doing cardio because I’m not an athletic person.
Who are some of your favourite artists today, both established and newer artists?
SILVER: Well, some of my biggest influences growing up were definitely The 1975, Lorde, all the indie pop people, but songwriting-wise Taylor Swift was a big one for me when I was really young, 13 through 16, she’s who I looked to for songwriting. Also Charli XCX, can’t forget her, she’s my queen, love her. I can’t get enough of her, she’s a pop genius, she’s the one who’s been really inspiring me lately with her look and how fun and undeniably pop her sound is. I feel like a lot of people don’t like the word pop music because they think it’s not genuine or going to be the same thing over and over again, but she’s really good at taking pop and making it just so great. I don’t even know how to explain it, I’m looking at my gigantic poster of her as I say this. She really has shown me that pop music is something we should all be following. Lately I’ve been getting a lot of inspiration from my friends. Forget Basement, his name’s Avery, he just put out a really amazing synth-pop album. My friend Tommy, his stage name is Aadi Rip, he’s about to put out a country-pop album which is crazy, his last album was electronic experimental stuff, he’s going down the cowboy route so we’ll see how that goes. I have this amazing friend named Chase of the Island, he’s this amazing hip hop artist. My friend Wyatt who has a project called LAN Party and makes really experimental music which is so sick, I’ve never heard anything like it.
It’s so nice that your friends inspire you, it’s really special.
SILVER: They do. Honestly, moving to Chicago and meeting these people has not only changed the music I listen to, but my perspective on music. Everyone listens to music in a different way and everyone hears different things in the same song, all my friends have really just taught me how amazing music is.
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