Sofia Roehrig

Benji: So I have my little list of questions that I’m going to ask you and we are going to talk about film!

Sofia: I love film!

B: What is your name and what art forms do you do?

S: My name is Sofia Roehrig and I enjoy writing and producing films, but I also paint and I do ceramics. And I do all types of art, but film is definitely one of my favorites.

B: I’m going to focus on the film part of it though… because film is the optimal artform

S: Agreed. 

B: So you are now a senior in high school at Montgomery Blair High School – Blair. Is there a big film scene there?

S: Not at all. I know a handful of people who are involved in projects in and outside of school. We have a media production group but they’re very limited in their scope, and I was a member of their advanced team and we did documentaries… but they weren’t really documentaries. They were kind of CSPAN oriented. We are, like, a big participant in the CSPAN Student Cam Competition so they are geared towards, like, a different kind of eye. 

B: So if it’s not school-related, what did get you into film?

S: Well, over the pandemic, I was watching so many movies and I had never really registered that as something I could do. I mean, I had done it, I had done documentaries, but it is very different going into the narrative world. So I joined Tyrka Film Coalition, which I now lead, so that’s exciting. I knew that people my age were doing narrative film, but what I had seen was not done in a way that was interesting to me… and the projects that I had seen my peers making were at such a different level, I guess, than what I wanted to be doing. Tryka put me in contact with people who were doing it seriously and with the intention of continuing to do it in their careers. So I guess that’s when I became interested in actualizing my goals. 

B: So you bring up Tryka… What is Tryka?

S: Tryka is a coalition of film people, of film interested high school students in the area. We try to attract people of all different aspects of film – from acting, to editing, to sound design, and so forth – but I would say that the majority of the people who do it are interested in directing, editing, or writing. 

B: Do you feel that Tryka has helped you as a filmmaker?

S: Um… yes. I wouldn’t say that going to the meetings, or leading the meetings, is particularly helpful, but the people that I have met have led me into opportunities that I could not have foreseen two years ago and I really had no idea the scope of the projects that I would be able to work on. And I keep running into new things! I thought that this year, since I am kind of the leader of the program, I wouldn’t be able to make the most out of it or get the opportunities for myself, but I am finding ways to still do that and it’s cool. Not to have a narcissistic take on it all, but it definitely has helped me. 

B: I’m glad that Tryka is still helping people. Let’s talk about some of your work now, specifically your most recent film Feast on This. Pitch it to me, what’s it about?

S: It’s about these two demonic little girls who pretend their mom is dead so they can steal her things and not feel guilty about it. And then she comes home. And they do it all over cake…

B: And this is all based on a true story, correct?

S: Oh of course! It’s actually autobiographical…

B: Tell me about your process in writing that script.

S: Yeah! So, well, the prompt was from a Tryka screenwriting competition and I believe the theme was the five senses. I didn’t really have a direction when I started writing it, and it definitely didn’t fit into the theme. I feel like I tanked it when I pitched it to the group, but I guess there weren’t enough participants for me to be disqualified or David, who is the supervisor, saw that I was actually interested in making it. It was my first narrative work. I had done other home-movie-type projects with my sister, but it was the first project that I had other people come on to and that is an added degree of responsibility and you devote more of yourself to it. And I don’t really love the product, but I think I learned a lot from it. 

B: What do you think you learned from it?

S: I had never been in that role, I had never directed and managed a production with people who weren’t my family or when it wasn’t for a school project. This was entirely out of school. The onus of the quality was on me, and it was a story that I came up with. Also, I had to trust other people to not judge me. I think that that is my number one obstacle in the narrative world – the fear that people will think my ideas are dumb. It is such a silly idea but it holds me back for sure and I feel like it holds a lot of people back. The fact of the matter is that you have to go all hands in with “dumb stuff” before you know how to make good stuff. It’s kinda like when you turn on a faucet and you have to let the shit water come out for a few seconds. Not that it’s awful, there are definitely redeeming qualities, it’s just not what I would have liked it to have been. But that is all part of the process.

B: Well said. Are you working on anything else right now?

S: I am! I am DPing a project for the Screen Actors Guild. Well, they are putting together a film for this script that they have been working on for months and I am DPing and editing the project. So I have been doing production meetings for that, and I certainly do NOT have the qualifications for it. But I am really excited because it is a learning opportunity and I am really working hard to be ready. 

B: The Screen Actors Guild, like the Hollywood Screen Actors Guild??

S: Oh! No! It’s an Imagination Stage acting class for young adults/teens. Sorry, I should have clarified.

B: Oh okay. I was like, “damn, go Sofia!” I kinda want to go back to your experience in film. I know that you said you really got interested in it in 2020. Was there a pivotal moment that kind of flipped that switch?

S: Um, yeah actually. Watching Wings of Desire: The Angels Among Us. I watched that movie and for some reason I was in this mental state where I was watching it with a filmmaker’s eye. And I have always loved movies, but I was like “hm, I could do this.” I don’t know what about that movie specifically… Peter Falk just kind of radiates this good creative energy, good spirits. I guess it was that.

B: Do you have a favorite role on set? Directing, producing, acting…? Is there a role on set that speaks to you the most?

S: Well honestly one of my favorite things about doing film is that I haven’t done anything that I don’t enjoy and the more I do it the more I realize there are roles for me. I don’t know if I’m good at all of them. I really like editing and the more I do it, the more I think of that as my area of interest in film. But I think that film is so collaborative, and I think you will enjoy it the most if you are willing to get your hands dirty in the production experience, and I think that you will be most successful if you are able to stretch your bandwidth as wide as you can go. There is so much to learn and with each role, you could spend a lifetime perfecting it and that’s kind of cool and exciting. 

B: So the answer is no, you don’t have one that you prefer.

S: Well, I really like writing and I really like editing. I think that for me writing is kind of the hardest thing to do but I also enjoy it. I think that it’s the most fulfilling. So I guess those two… if I had to pick. 

B: Who are your favorite filmmakers?

S: I love John Waters. I think John Waters is at the top of any list. He’s also just one of my favorite dudes, he’s just an awesome guy. I was super into Cassavetes. At the beginning of my “film bro” phase, I watched the Cassavetes filmography and felt super connected. I like his depictions of complicated women. In terms of writers, I like Pheobe Waller-Bridge. Her magnum opus Fleebag really speaks to me. I don’t know if that’s what she would call it, but that’s how I feel about it. Is that the term? I feel like I’m butchering that. I love Darren Aronofsky too. I think that he’s one of the best directors out there.  

B: Sofia, when asked, why did you agree to this interview?

S: When asked… because I felt bad about many weeks of not responding about the newsletter. So I did feel a certain degree of responsibility there. Besides that, I like talking about myself so there’s that glaring one. Also, I don’t think I would call myself an artist even though I do a lot of art-related things so it was flattering honestly to have that label put upon me. 

B: How are you connected with Second World and our projects?

S: I got involved with Second World when I first started working with you, which was when you DPed my production that I shot over the summer. And then I think that snowballed into me helping – I felt a degree of responsibility to help you back – and also was really excited that you asked me to be a crew member on your sets. I had never really done that before. I had been on sets before, but never really in that capacity. Recently, you’ve entrusted me with the Newt which is really just such an honor. I think that sometimes you underwhelm yourself because you have such a fancy camera and you are just used to it. It is very rare that, maybe it’s just rare for me, but most of the people I work with have much more limited equipment. Being on your sets is much more technologically advanced, I feel like I’m living in a sci-fi story and I also feel that that has taught me a lot.

B: Did you like working with Newt?

S: I loved working with Newt! I miss him dearly. 

B: He’s right over there, he says thank you.

S: Well I bid him my hellos.

B: Well cool, Sofia! Thank you so much for doing this!


Interview by Benjamin Kapit
Transcription and Editing by Morgan Aspinwall

Lelia

As the screen opened for our preliminary meeting with Monarch Music Management CEO, Bella Bowman, Ela sat alert, exuding the same infectiously effervescent energy that she routinely brings to conversations. Once the talk of the minutiae of music management and marketing had fizzled, and Bella excused herself, Ela relaxed into her chair giggling about her excitement for the interview. 

Ela, an old friend with whom I recently reconnected is one of the few people I can honestly say lives up to her Instagram bio. She joined the Zoom call today very much in the manner that I have become accustomed to – sitting in her Chicago apartment turned music recording and production studio, wearing an oversized t-shirt (today’s with BIGGIE written across the front). The “androgynous pop star kid in chicago” effortlessly switches between appearing to be a 90s grunge muse and an indie-pop darling. The kind who would post pictures of herself dressed as Yoko Ono after a Tame Impala reference. This versatility transcends her wardrobe and has taken root in her music – the connective tissue in our friendship and the reason she joined me for the interview today.

To start: What’s your name? Where are you from? What do you go by?

My name is Daniella Brigatti, or, that’s my legal name. I perform under the name Lelia. I am a singer, songwriter, producer, and composer… among other things. My main thing is writing and recording music. 

I am originally from the Washington, DC area – specifically Rockville, Maryland… shout out Rockville. I now live in Chicago, so I’m based there. 

And your main thing is singing and songwriting?

Yeah… and producing for the most part. 

What drew you to that?

Um, it’s funny ‘cause I feel like nothing drew me to it. I think something would have to draw me out of it because it’s always been a part of my life. Ever since I can remember, I have been writing songs, so it’s hard for me to know where the passion for music came from. I started taking piano lessons when I was four and I would always get in trouble because instead of practicing songs, I would be writing songs. Um, so ever since I was little I just had this kind of natural will to write my own music. 

Would you say you have a process for writing music?

I would say that for me, music is really like therapy… another thing that drew me to it is having an outlet through which to express my thoughts and feelings. 

My process these days really revolves around me waiting for a moment of inspiration where I feel ready to sort of organize my thoughts about a really difficult emotional situation and it comes together in the form of a song. So normally, I sit down with my guitar for several hours, see what happens, and if I’m pleased with the song I’ve made then I’ll bring it to the studio and see if there’s production that comes to me. Sometimes it starts with random lyrics that I have to catch and write down and sometimes it starts with a chord progression that I really like. It’s usually one or the other.

What is your favorite thing, of your own, that you have worked on or written?

Oooh! Does it have to be released? 

No. 

So I’m working on an EP called Selfish and Improper and I think up to this point it’s the best songwriting, the best production, that I’ve ever been able to do. I think I’m always growing and I’m always gonna grow with my music, but at this point, it feels like a project that reflects my true self as an individual and my abilities as an artist in a way that none of my other works have at that level. So it’s called Selfish and Improper and I’m really… I think that’s going to be the best thing that I’ve ever made.

What is your favorite thing that you’ve made that IS released?

Um, so I released an EP last year called Moderately, with feeling. Honestly, I don’t know how I feel about the whole EP anymore, but I think the opening song, “The Celebration” might be my favorite song that I’ve ever released. It’s something that I honestly refer to still in my production. It was really, like, it came from a really deep place inside of me and I think it really, of all the songs I’ve released, just highlights what a song means to me in terms of the messages that I’m trying to send and the kind of production that I really like. 

What is your favorite project that you have worked on that wasn’t yours?

Oh! That wasn’t mine… So I have a frequent collaborator named David Feigelson and we release a lot of covers together of other artists’ songs that we try to turn into duets. He makes music under the name Snow on Mars and usually I get to take the lead on the production aspect of all the songs we release. 

What I love about working on covers is that you know, the song’s already written, I know everything about the song, all that I can really do is spice up the production with my own choices. So it sort of takes out the element of having to write or really get to know the song before you produce. I already know the song really well and I think that these projects we have worked on together are where I have grown most as a producer. It’s also what showed me that I wanted to start producing for other people in general. So, yeah. I haven’t worked on too much yet, though…

If you could have done something differently in your art, what would it have been?

I think I would have been less afraid to pour myself completely into it sooner. I think that a lot of artists spend a lot of time trying to convince themselves not to be artists, but I don’t think that it’s really a choice. I think that this is something that I’m going to do either way – it’s keeping me alive and it’s what I live for. So I think I wish I had silenced every other voice but mine much sooner, and told myself that if you have art inside of you, that’s worthwhile more than anything else. That took me a minute to realize, but now that I have embraced it I feel so much more able to create freely. 

I also think that I would have just cared less about what my parents thought, about what my peers thought, about what my family thought. I sometimes write lyrics or create videos that have content that makes my mom want to cry, but at the same time, it’s my truth. I think that if there’s one thing that I could change about my art it would be just fully stepping into my truth comfortably sooner. If that makes sense. 

It does make sense. I think I know the answer to this one, but I want to hear it anyway. What is something that someone said at one point in your life that continues to motivate you?

Ha ha… I went to a Jon Bellion concert with you. This was right after my senior year of high school and I was going into college. And I wasn’t planning on pursuing music. I think, I mean, I knew inside of me that that’s what I wanted but I was too scared to pursue it full time. 

At the time I thought I was going to study biology or something, you know, normal, and we were at this concert and we were watching the opener and you just turned to me and whispered in my ear and says “that could be you up there someday, that could be me and you up there someday,” and, um, I thought about it. I really thought about it when you said that, and I guess I had never realized it actually could be me up there someday. I thought that this was a massive pipe dream… But I think about that all the time now when I’m feeling discouraged. I think, “no, that absolutely can be me up there someday.” 

It was incredibly moving; it is incredibly moving when somebody else sort of recognizes your passion and supports you and motivates you. Especially at a place like a concert where it’s like all right in front of you. I sort of realized in that very moment that that really could be me someday and that’s what I want. 

Oh here’s a good one! I should let you know by the way that these questions were written by Morgan, so some of them are sort of passive-aggressive towards me…

What is your favorite niche techno-babble topic that your friends still don’t fully understand and don’t care to hear about anymore? Explain in as few words as possible. Go.

Haha, okay. Weird techno-babble topic… Can I think about this for a second because there’s quite a few and I want to pick a good one? 

Yes, take your time.

Um, so I’m just going to spitball because there’s a few things. So I’m a really really big fan of hyperpop. I am often trying to convince people of hyperpop’s merits. I think it’s like the dadaism of our generation.

Have you ever heard Mr. Brightside hyperpop? 

No! But I want to.

You have to! You should look that up after the interview.

I will! That’s incredible! 

I feel like hyperpop really inspires a lot of my production these days. Not like fully hyperpop, but maybe someday… I feel like there’s a lot of technical production aspects to hyperpop that just blow my mind that are really hard to explain to people. There’s a lot of, like, harsh distorted noises – a lot of noises that sound really rough and metallic. And I have an affair with compression. So I think that when you use incredibly loud, disruptive noise in a song and you’re able to make it sound beautiful and not jarring and painful to the ear using compression or the right reverb… it’s such a skill and such an ability that, with something like hyperpop, is so difficult to pull off. It’s like screamo, it’s like metal, like, that’s how hard it is to pull off. And I think that all of the production innovations that are coming out of hyperpop… I will, like, fangirl over and nobody understands unless they, like, make it. 

What artists do you admire the most? What about their work do you find so inspiring? 

Let’s limit it to three…

The first one that comes to mind is Phoebe Bridgers. 

Obviously

She is my mom… I think what I find most inspiring about her work is like how – she’s not actually my mom, for the record, I’ve never met Phoebe Bridgers. But I think she is such an individual, and in every single thing that she creates, you can see the honesty and the reality and the truth that she’s conveying. Her lyrics are beautiful, they’re ironic, they’re funny, they’re painful, and they’re always honest. I think she captures something about the human experience. Her first album she wrote during a bout of depression, her second album she wrote about dissociation and what it’s like to heal from trauma, and these are two things that I have experienced a lot in my life. I find it so wonderful how she’s so openly, honestly, and shamelessly shares her life and her story in such a beautiful way. 

I guess the second person I can think of is Grimes. She inspires me because of her process. She dropped out of college her senior year to pursue visual art and music full time. She produced her first album entirely on GarageBand, she has seen so much acclaim both critically and from, you know, the “Billboards” and whatever. She’s just been successful, however you choose to define that, but she still has done it through ground-breaking in music – doing things that had not been done before and she did it for a really, really long time, entirely by herself, which is very hard to find in artists that are known and successful. 

And I guess the third one would probably be Tyler the Creator because he’s another one of those artists whose music really really inspires me in terms of work ethic. He grew up kind of poor, worked at UPS for a while and had this dream, and unapologetically went all out with it. He is a black man that came out as bisexual openly in his music; his earlier work, his lyrics are really just things that are supposed to, like, aggravate old people – that’s how he would put it. It’s really jarring lyrics, it’s really good music, but he then sort of has continued his technical process to the point that, in my opinion, he has released three perfect albums in a row, starting with Flower Boy and ending with his most recent album. As a performer he’s incredibly creative, he’s incredibly good at performing and he really has captured production and lyricism. He’s always changing up his style and always executes so beautifully. I think that he sees all of his albums as works of art – these projects, these concepts – and that’s how I see my albums. So, yeah, I have a lot of love and respect for him too. 

But there’s too many, there’s a lot of artists…

Alright, here’s an interesting one. I’m not sure why Morgan put it on the list, but I’m going to ask anyway. (Morgan snips from the background that she only put interesting questions on the list and that I am being very difficult.)

Why did you agree to this interview when offered?

Um, because I love Second World and I love everyone I have met through Second World. I have worked with Second World for years and years and years and have had nothing but wonderful experiences, both in my professional life and my creative life – and socially – and I think that I love talking about my art, so if someone asks me to talk about that I will answer. 

Damn good answer. That actually brings me to my next one… how are you related to Second World?

Let’s see, I was an actress in one Second World film called Empire Fallen, which was a really awesome experience – a lot of fun. I do really love acting, I know it’s not the focus of this interview but it’s another one of the, like, things I do so, um, I met them through film and acting. More specifically, one of my frequent music collaborators is you, who is the director… founder…

CEO

CEO! Who is the CEO of Second World, and Second World is also the label under which I will be releasing my second EP. So, yeah, I have a lot of connections with Second World through various different forms of entertainment because they’re, like, always innovating and creating new stuff, and there is always a creative process underway that I can be a part of which is just fantastic. 

Last one: just for a few minutes, tell me more about this EP that you’re working on.

Sure! Okay, so, this EP is called Selfish and Improper. The title comes from two words that I was called a lot throughout my childhood by my parents or by, like, adults, and I think the whole concept of the EP is me as an adult – I’m 21 – finally living independently in this city, and there’s been a lot of existential shit that comes with that. A lot of reflecting on my childhood, a lot of reflecting on my relationships, and more importantly reflecting on who I am as an individual. All of these songs were written as I have begun to process of lot of trauma from my childhood, specifically relating to my parents, so this EP is a mix of my traditional singer-songwriter, folk sort of music, but also, as I said, I am really influenced by hyperpop, so there are way more elements of electronic music in this, of down-tempo trip-hop, that type of thing, and the idea was to bring together every musical inclination that I have right now and have them meet in sort of a symbiotic way and see how I can tell my story of being hurt and recovery, of forgiving, of not forgiving, of reflecting on my own story and identity, and reclaiming the label’s “selfish” and “improper.” Because okay, maybe I am and that’s not too bad actually. I’m really excited – a lot of songs about my mom, a lot of songs about my parents, a lot of songs about me. And I’m really excited to be working with you as one of my co-producers, I’m really excited to be working with Second World, I’m really excited to be working with Monarch, so it’s just really the most authentic, the most truthful piece of work that I have made to date. 

I lied, I have one more question. When people hear this new EP, when they listen to it, what  do you want them to feel? What do you want them to think?

When people listen to this new EP, I want them to feel held. 

Music for me has been a place to find fellowship and to be reminded that, in all of the plights of the human experience, I am not alone. That there are other people screaming these truths as much as I want to. I really hope that when people hear it, there’s something about the songs that they can find their own truth in and feel absolutely confident in listening to themselves first and foremost and to know that healing is possible… it’s difficult and it’s something that nobody does alone. And that everyone is healing. 

I want people to feel held, heard, seen. 

Thank you very much for this!

Cool! Thank you!

And then we talked about hex codes and fonts for the next 30 minutes…


Interview by Benjamin Kapit
Transcription and Editing by Morgan Aspinwall