Sofia Wolfson Interview: Building Song Ideas with Spire Studio

March 30, 2018 | by Jon Simmons

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“I’ve probably written a song about you,” reads Sofia Wolfson’s Twitter handle.

Fun social media hyperbole? Yup. Not far from the truth? Probably that too.

Wolfson, a recent transplant from Los Angeles, moved to Boston in the Fall of 2017 to study writing at Tufts University and explore New England’s music scenes. Now in her freshman year of college, Wolfson has been a songwriter for most of her life, penning her first tune in elementary school (where is it, Sofia? The world needs to hear it!).

With a full-length album and EP already under her belt, among a number of singles, her impressive catalogue of folk tunes continues to grow.

Wolfson recently visited the iZotope headquarters in Cambridge to sit down and chat about how she’s used Spire Studio so far in her songwriting and recording.

“With Spire, I can be anywhere and record things.” —Sofia Wolfson

How would you describe Spire Studio?

“It’s a portable device that enables me to click one button and record on the spot using my phone, without necessarily needing additional plug-ins, microphones, etc. And without my computer.”

What do you use Spire Studio for?

“In the past when I finished a song, I always found myself reaching for the microphone and Logic on my computer. But what's interesting about Spire is, I realized I am reaching for it more when songs were half finished.

“I record guitar and vocals separately. I’ll start there and then add a lead guitar. If I don’t like it, I'll get rid of it. And then I'll add a harmony and I might realize, ‘oh, I want that just in the verse and not in the chorus.’ So instead of feeling like I had to record a finished demo of a song, I can finish the bridge, all the verses, all of that. It's more like ‘let me see what I have now,’ and then I can just quickly add and subtract layers.

“But I've been mainly recording acoustic guitar and vocals. It's helping me get ready for when I do go into the studio over the summer with some of my new songs to know, ‘oh, I know for sure I want the harmony there,’ or ‘I want a three part harmony,’ or, ‘No I didn't like the way that sounded.’

“It's helping me answer questions about my own songs that I won’t need to answer in the future when I have actual studio time.”

Have you played around with Spire’s Visual Mixer?

“Yes, I have, which has been awesome. Because the Soundcheck feature is great, it helps level things out. But if I notice my vocal's way too loud or something, I'll use the mixer. And also it's just easy to look at instead of seeing all these different levels, just that it's all on the same interface is really helpful.”

I noticed you record lot of rich vocal harmonies.

“Yeah, for sure. That's kind of what I was saying—by the time I solidify a guitar and vocal take that I really like, [the Visual Mixer] has enabled me to go back and sing different parts. I have this friend, Charlie Hickey, who comes in and sings on a lot of my music in the studio, and he's great with coming up with the harmonies you wouldn't necessarily think of first. So, using Spire has helped me. I'll sing the harmony that first comes to mind and then I'll play around with different notes, lower and higher, and where it can go. Then I can mix them together or take something out.

“I find that some songs deserve a really quiet harmony, that's just kind of sitting in the back of the mix, and in some songs it should be more like a dual lead vocal situation. So, it’s definitely been helping me.”

What are you working on right now?

“We just did a single. I’ve been focusing more on the music video side of things after the release of the Side Effects EP, because it came out in November. I'm hoping to start doing a lot more over summer; I have a long summer because I'm in college now, and it's weird. So I'm going to be back in L.A. just working and stuff over summer, and I'm hoping to come up with something of a larger project. I released a full-length album (Hunker Down) at the beginning of 2016, and that was during junior year when I was applying to college and stuff. It took awhile to even just get the other EP out, but I'm hoping some free time during the summer will give me time to make something bigger, whether it's an EP or an album.”

Do you think Spire will play a role in making the EP?

“For sure. I send all my demos to Marshall Vore [Ryan Adams, Phoebe Bridgers], who's been producing my stuff. And oftentimes I have to go into my garage, lock the door, get Logic up, all that. Or I send him a not-as-great phone demo. With Spire, I can be anywhere and record things—even guitar and vocal together—and I'm going to get a better sounding thing than just my phone. I don't have to do the whole trip to the garage studio and all that.”

Do you produce music as well, or mainly write and record songs?

“Before I went into the studio in 2015 to make a record, everything I had done was self produced at home. You can still scroll through the early days of the music on SoundCloud. I'm bummed that I don't do it as much here at school, but before that I did a lot of my own producing.

“I learned how to use Logic over those years, and I took a film scoring class my senior year, which really helped me as well. So pretty much everything I did before I went into the studio and got some help from the guys in there, I just did myself. I have MIDI keyboards at home and lot of Mellotron plug-ins and all that fun stuff. I'm definitely looking forward to the summer because I want to try to produce more. It was really nice to go into the studio in my house and just work on something for a day that wasn't songwriting.

“But at the same time, it's been really fun getting to work with someone like Marshall at his studio. It's an easy process for me because I've written the song—and I do have a lot of say in the instrumentation—but to just have somebody else listening to it and say, ‘Here's what I think.’ He's come up with stuff I would have never have thought of, but at the same time I've suggested things that he wouldn't. So it's this good match.”

What’s one tip for using Spire Studio?

“This hasn't been an issue for me, but make sure to plan what you're putting on each track because it's eight tracks. I think I ran into that once where I was adding, I think it was the first song I was doing, and I wanted to add an, "Ooh," in just one section, and I wanted to harmonize it, and then I wanted to harmonize it again, and all of a sudden I'd used all the tracks, when I could've put several things on one. So, that's the only thing I'd say.

“Eight tracks is enough, as long as you plan. So many incredible albums are made on eight tracks.”