Right before the proverbial handbasket dropped the lid on 2020, Sophie & The Broken Things released a joyously melancholy EP of street-level angst and heartache that charmed with lilting melodies and shades of alt-ish country. Conceived as a sonic calling card, the Nashville-based outfit (named in honor of a Julie Miller tune) spent the last two years biding its time, waiting to deliver Delusions Of Grandeur, a full-length stunner that makes good on that original 4-song promise, artfully punching above its weight with compelling narratives, sly wit, and gorgeously garish guitars.
Bandleader Sophie Gault navigates details with hard-won authority, throwing open windows and doors to expose, soothe, and provoke. Mixed and mastered by Ray Kennedy (Lucinda Williams, Chris Knight, Nanci Griffith), Delusions Of Grandeur is cool and unpredictable as a Saturday night and solid as an oak pew.
AI- I wanna start with a little background. I know those are kinda the cliche questions that aren’t a whole lot of fun– but I’ll try to get to some good ones in as well! You’re from Oneonta, New York?
SG- I’m actually not from Oneonta. I’m from the DC area, originally. Maryland area.
Oh! I saw that you spent quite a bit of time on a Maryland farm growing up?
Yes! My family moved around a lot, but we lived on a farm on the Eastern shore of Maryland while I was a teenager. Most of my teenage years were spent on the farm in Snow Hill.
What was on the radio at home?
We listened to this local station a lot that had a good mix of stuff on it like classic rock. They also played a lot of Kathleen Edwards on the radio.
One of my favorites!
Yeah, she’s great! That’s where I found out about her– and she’s been killing it lately!
How did you get started playing guitar and performing?
I slowly got into it. My dad plays guitar, so I wanted to learn how to play because at family reunions and get togethers, everybody’d be playing guitar. I had uncles and cousins that played guitar, so I just kind of gravitated towards it ’cause of that. I played talent shows at school and stuff like that, battle of the bands. I was in the high school jazz band, played guitar.
Were you writing at that point?
I think at that point, I knew I wanted to ’cause around probably 15, 16, I was discovering Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams and Bob Dylan, I was getting into all the great writers and thinking, “Oh, maybe I’ll start writing songs.”
And then very early 20s, you landed in Nashville. What was your first impression there? And tell me how you got from that point to the EP that you released in January of 2020.
I was just kinda soakin’ it all in when I first got to Nashville. I didn’t know how it worked down here or anything. I came in a little bit blind, and I didn’t really have a plan for anything. I just wanted to learn how to write songs better, which I found a lot of great writers in town and I observed what they did and tried to do what they were doing. I played a lot of writers rounds and just tried to develop my craft with it and spent a lot of time doing that.
I loved the EP by the way. I know I’m not tellin’ you anything you don’t know, but it seems like so much longer than 2020 that it came out!
(Laughs) Yeah, really!
The only problem I had with it was that it was an EP, that it didn’t seem like there was enough! When did Delusions Of Grandeur begin?
Most of the songs on Delusions Of Grandeur were songs already at the time of recording the first EP. Originally, the only reason why we recorded an EP was because we wanted something to sell at shows. Dan [Jones], the one that recorded, engineered it, and played drums on it was working for free, and we were doing it whenever we had the time to work on it. We were kinda DIYing it– that’s before Petaluma came in and we got the deal with them. We were just like, “Here’s four songs that we’ve done,” and released it on its own, but it was supposed to be on a bigger album. Those songs would probably have been on Delusions Of Grandeur if we hadn’t have done it that way.
I’m also a huge fan of Ray Kennedy, and for my ears, you could not have engaged a better person to mix that album. But I understand that he was a little bit more involved than just that?
Yeah, he was every step of the way, very supportive and anytime we had any questions about anything, he was just ready to answer. It was a big help having him involved.
How did you come to meet Ray?
Petaluma was the contact there. We sent him an email and were like, “Hey, would you be interested in mixing the album?” And he said, “Yes!” This was right at the beginning of the pandemic, so we met up in a parking lot outside and he let me borrow this tube microphone. Originally, I was just gonna send in tracks and we were gonna fly everything in and do everything separate. We ended up going into a studio [with] a friend of ours.
So you met him to get a microphone because he wanted you to have that particular microphone to record your vocals?
(Laughs) Yeah! I was gonna be recording it in my house ’cause the pandemic had literally just [started]. Things were just starting to close down, the fear was in the air with everything. It was crazy times– and that was the plan originally!
Tell me about where you recorded and also tell me about the Broken Things. Is this a regular group or is it sort of a rotating cast?
It’s for a large part of it been rotating. Over the course of when I first came up with the idea for the band and the name and everything, we’ve gone through a lot of different people. But the three guys that are in it, they’ve been in it since all of the Delusions Of Grandeur stuff started– Twon Haugen, who played bass and co-produced it, Lemmy Hayes, and Jules Belmont. We recorded at a friend of ours house, Ryon Westover. He calls his studio Grey Gardens Studio.
“Churches and Bars”, the song is just fantastic. I love the line, “She’s got you, but I’ve got your records in my car.” To me that echos the sentiment of “Kickin’ Stereos” from the EP, that emotional, physical attachment to music. You cram a lot of great guitar tones into that song. I love every single one of ’em, and I feel like this album is much more representative of your guitar skills as opposed to the EP, which it was there, but it was understated.
That has a lot to do with mixing, and it was recorded differently. We took a way more live approach this time around. We didn’t do vocals live, but we did a scratch track with acoustic guitars, bass, and drums all together in the same room. I think that made a really big difference ’cause it’s more realistic as opposed to doing everything overdubbed. I think that’s probably why it sounds more like me.
Were there albums or guitar tones that you had in mind that inspired you for that track and then some of the others on the album?
Not in particular. We kinda just went in there with no plan at all, which I’m happy we did it that way ’cause Jules has a huge palette for guitar tones. We just let him have free reign of whatever he wanted to do. I know that I like a lot of tremolo on guitar, so he did that, and I like a lot of fuzz, which on “Churches and Bars”, we got a lot of fuzz guitar on there. I was playing some fuzz through a pedal called a Big Muff, and Jules was doing some kind of analog fuzz that him and Ryon figured out how to do. It was just really fun. We were like kids messin’ around with all these different sounds!
I believe that you have mentioned something in that vein, that the songs and making this album instilled you with that same feeling that you had early on as a teenager playing music.
For me, my favorite part of the whole process is the recording ’cause you just get to have fun with it. You already have the songs– you’re not really working. I mean, you’re playing at that point. You’re gettin’ to bring to life these songs that you’ve waited so long to share.
Tell me about Logan Ledger getting involved. How did that come about?
The song “Trouble”, I’d had that one for years, but I had never thought it would be a duet. And then the thought just occurred to me one day, I was like, “You know, this could be a really cool duet if we plan it out right!” We were thinking about people that could do it and Logan’s name came up. I already kinda knew Logan from my early years in Nashville– we had some mutual acquaintances– so we just reached out to him and he was like, “Yeah, cool. Let’s do it!”
I had wondered if you had initially conceived that as a duet.
No, it wasn’t at all! I’d sang it by myself for years!
“Heavy Metal”, more great guitar tones! Lyrically, I found it to be very Springsteen-esque. I love the ’80s jangle pop sounds. It’s so evocative, I can actually see the montage in a film with that playing in the background to get everybody from point A to point B and stop the evil corporation from taking over the camp! What do you go for when you’re after those songs? Is there a theme in your mind or does the song just lead you where it’s gonna go?
I think the song definitely leads you where it’s gonna go. I rarely go in with a whole theme. I’ll start with one line in my head, and once I have that first, initial line… A songwriting friend of mine told me it’s like catchin’ it out of the air. It’s just floating by and you just catch it and you just gotta go with the flow, see where it takes you.
Well, that brings me to “Parting Words”, confronting mortality, the final impression that you might leave on this plane of existence. Where did that song come from?
That’s not my song, actually. That’s the only cover on the album. My friend Ned Brower wrote that song, and I used to be in a band with Ned called The Spectacular Average Boys up in Oneonta, New York. He wrote that song years ago probably when he was like 27 or something like that. We used to sing it together. I always thought it was just… It hits you really hard. I always remembered it, always loved the song, and it was the perfect time to do it. I mean, right at the start of a worldwide pandemic when everyone’s contemplating their mortality?