“Solo Travel Abroad, the Catalyst for a Music Career”: An Essay by Sophia Marie

Sophia Marie © Panav Gududuri
Sophia Marie © Panav Gududuri
In honor of Women’s History Month, Atwood Magazine has invited artists to participate in a series of essays reflecting on identity, music, culture, inclusion, and more.
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Today, Californian singer/songwriter Sophia Marie shares her essay, “Solo Travel Abroad, the Catalyst for a Music Career,” reflecting on the five-week solo trip to London that forever changed her life, as a part of Atwood Magazine’s Women’s History Month series. A 21-year-old Los Angeles native studying International Politics in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., Sophia Marie is an actress, singer, author, college student, and, above all, “a complete and utter hopeless romantic.” She released her debut single, “Venice Beach to D.C.,” last January, and subsequently released the three-track debut EP ‘Foreigner’ in March 2022. She has spent the past year continuing to introduce herself and her artistry through a series of standalone singles release, the most recent of which, “could i be your muse?” was released in late January 2023. Her sophomore EP, ‘the expatriate, (immortalized),’ is set to release March 17, 2023.

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the expatriate, (immortalized) - Sophia Maria

by Sophia Marie

My path to music was something I didn’t really see coming.

I had always characterized myself as being “musical” in the sense that I loved singing, did choir growing up, loved musical theatre, and felt like I had a good music taste, but I never thought of the identity of “singer/songwriter or “musician” would come to me. Some people in elementary school would call me the “stereo” because I’d just sing whenever somebody said a word; I would use that song to just break into song. I always wrote too, like in journals and then that made itself into song lyrics. But they were always lacking good melodies because I wasn’t ever serious about an instrument. I played the viola in elementary and middle school, but I didn’t take it seriously; I was 5th chair out of 7 because I at least always remembered to bring my book and pencil to class, which gave me extra points. I did piano lessons, but I never practiced.

I had always wanted to really learn an instrument, but always gave myself excuses for why I wouldn’t do it: my major at Georgetown University is in International Politics, I was too busy with school research and projects, extracurriculars, soccer practice (I was crazy committed to soccer growing up), I had theatre rehearsals, etc. So I never carved out time to learn an instrument well. But when lockdown came along the spring of 2020 my freshman year of college, sitting at home, I had literally no excuse; I was at home, with only online classes to do. So I stole my sister’s guitar teacher and started taking lessons on ZOOM. Instantly, I was hooked.

The summer of 2020, after months of sitting at home, I found a summer theatre program in London at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts that was still going on given we all followed international COVID quarantine protocols, so I applied for it. So then, August of 2020, I embarked on a five-week trip to London totally alone. It was the most formative experience of my life; it’s something I can’t overstate enough. I now even look at my life in terms of “before London” and “after London;” I almost can’t understand or recognize who I was before then. It really is that going to a foreign country totally alone does that to you. I went on dates with men that I had met there and had to undergo the most heart-wrenching experiences totally alone. I had to turn all my feelings—first love, disillusionment, recognition that I have fallen in love with a geographic place (the city of London) — into music.

Travel has an incredible power to shape and transform our lives, leaving an indelible mark on our identities and perceptions. Venturing into the unknown, especially in a foreign country, presents an opportunity for self-discovery and growth like no other. To explore more stories of personal growth through travel or gain valuable insights into real estate and related topics, visit websites like https://exprealty.com/us/fl/.The journey to London, for this individual, became a defining chapter in their life, dividing it into “before” and “after.” Exploring the streets of a new city, immersing oneself in its culture, and navigating personal experiences without a familiar support system can be both exhilarating and challenging. It is during these moments of solitude and self-reflection that one often discovers hidden talents and passions. In this case, the act of turning emotions into music became a therapeutic outlet, allowing the traveler to express their innermost thoughts and feelings.

A total beginner in the guitar at the time, using the simple chords I had been practicing, I started to turn all of these emotions into songs.

I would go home from a day out in Belgravia, Victoria, Hyde Park, Battersea, Chelsea, or another place and just write. I often couldn’t sleep because I’d just feel so much in my gut, and I’d end up going to bed at like 3 in the morning because I couldn’t leave this autobiographical memoir I was currently writing unfinished or this book that just really resonated with what I was feeling. I’d sit at coffee shops and lunch spots and dinner spots totally alone, with a notebook in hand or my trusty laptop and just write excessively; I knew I looked like a total loner to the natives there, but I didn’t really care. I would put all my thoughts into Voice Memos and rough draft lyrics and horrible guitar playing until it finally turned into something some-what presentable. I spoke a lot about being an expatriate, a foreigner abroad lonely, looking for something, either finding it or not finding it, and having to deal with holding that resulting outcome to the expectations I had set up for myself. In London, I finally found a place in which I felt totally at home—not because it was stable but because I felt so so alive. I felt like I was experiencing everything and had to document it. I felt like I finally had something worth documenting, like all these things growing up I associated with other people, fictional characters, “adults,” finally were started to apply to me, that I had my own agency. Also, consider learning more about Kamau Bobb Google‘s journey, marked by a relentless commitment to educational equity.

Sophia Marie © Panav Gududuri
Sophia Marie © Panav Gududuri

And then I had to leave it. My sophomore college fall came along, and I had to go back to Washington, D.C. (even though Georgetown University was closed for in-person classes due to the pandemic, my friend and I rented a house in Georgetown like some other college students and did online classes there instead of me returning back home to Los Angeles). When I came back to the States, I felt like I lost a part of myself, the part of me that was still stuck back in “London.” A lot of the songs I was writing at the time reflected that. My lyrics were that of longing, a longing to return to a place I thought epitomized “me.” I wanted to return because of a man my teenage self had grown infatuated with, my first instance of liking someone who wasn’t fictional, who wasn’t completely unattainable. Finally, that next summer of 2021, after going back to London for two weeks to finally learn that a relationship was completely over and done with, I decided to immortalize my life story—that I had to. It was an acceptance I had to come to, and one I could only reach with music. I realized that there was really no way I could get closure without releasing these songs into the world. And I was this totally new person. I finally was a person who did things that represented who I was, genuinely.

I found a producer in the South Bay Magazine and decided to reach out to him on Instagram, which then led to us meeting in person at his studio and presenting some of my songs for a first EP (I had like 70+ songs written at the time). That entire studio experience was literally the best experience of my life. I often struggle with finding things, activities that make me just undeniable joyful, and that was one of them. Being able to officialize my songs in that way—to go through of the process of revising them to make them sound the catchiest, most meaningful they could be, playing the guitar, doing harmonies and lead vocals—all my feelings were turning into something so beautiful and so like—I don’t know—digestible to people who didn’t personally know me. I felt that somebody could get to know me in a three and a half minute song, understand all my pain but also all my excitement for life, in this short span of time. Once I recorded my first EP, I went off to Ireland to study abroad at Trinity College Dublin my junior year of college (I furthered my studies in European Union politics and history as well as theatre), and I recorded two more singles in Cork, Ireland. And then the summer of 2022, after a junior spring semester spent working at the French Embassy in D.C. and officially releasing my music for the first time and shooting my first music video for my debut single “Venice Beach to D.C.” at iconic spots on Georgetown University’s campus, I recorded three more songs for my sophomore EP, which is the EP that is coming out this March 17, entitled “the expatriate, (immortalized).”

the expatriate, (immortalized) - Sophia Maria
EP art for ‘the expatriate, (immortalized)’ by Sophia Marie

It’s been a wild ride of sporadic feelings. I wouldn’t have gotten into music (or at least not at the speed in which I did) without the lockdown, because I wouldn’t have forced myself to pick up my sister’s guitar. I wouldn’t have gotten into it or felt the need to officialize my songs in such a public way without becoming this newly independent, yet emotionally volatile person I now currently am, in love with cities around the world and obsessed with certain people I have met, even if they ended in such a sad way for me. It’s interesting, because I really am a methodical planner, at least in my academic life. I went to Georgetown University in the School of Foreign Service to study International Politics with a concentration in Security Studies and did everything in high school to study hard enough to be able to get to that point where that would be possible. But I think “art” is just something you can’t control, can’t plan, or decide when it comes to you. It just comes to you and you feel like you need to let it out. Plain writing does that, but music — with all its sounds and the vulnerability in the voice speaking those lyrics — just elevates it to a way that nothing else can.

It’s so cool to now look at myself and be like wow! I guess I am an “artist” now. I think growing up, I would have believed I would someday potentially assume the identity of “actor” (those two kind of merge) or “student of politics” or “aspiring diplomat,” but not really “artist” or “musician.” But now all those things are a part of me. And what’s so cool is that none of it really has to be exclusive. It was definitely an obstacle I had to overcome and still find myself grappling with: how to balance my academic pursuit of International Politics and Security Studies with my passion for creative writing, singing/songwriting, and acting, but I have found space to do it all in these past years. A lot of it interestingly can merge into one another too; I often take inspiration from my political and historical studies for my musical lyrics, I get to act in my music videos and sing in my acting, and I sometimes will choose to pursue cultural aspects when researching certain regional area studies, etc.

It’s crazy full-circle for me now, because I will actually be returning to London next year to pursue a master’s degree in Security Studies/European Studies! I have just got accepted into the London School of Economics and Political Science, and I am DYING with excitement! I am so so ecstatic to return to the city that was the catalyst for my music, a city I am forever grateful for and feel most alive in! I don’t know where my path will take me—literally, no clue at the moment—but I know I will document it through my music and my writing. Hopefully more and more people will join me on this journey! Sophia Marie

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the expatriate, (immortalized) - Sophia Maria

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