Writing and Photographs by Erandhi Mendis
“Pretty sure I saved this on TikTok the other day…”
That was my reaction to having Sophie May’s new single Doppelgänger land in my inbox. This strange quiet experience in my bedroom felt like a microcosm of the 2023 music industry and its agility. We are all acutely aware that the ecosystem is saturated – cut-through has never been more challenging.
Yet, here was an artist that had permeated my algorithm (probably more than once), with 30 seconds of lyric that was memorable and catchy enough for me to recognise away from my phone. And by some delightful accident – appear in my emails with a stream for their upcoming single.
A few weeks later I recounted this story to Sophie in the upstairs office at Greville Records and despite the fact that this must happen to her often, she seems earnestly shocked and appreciative. She was visiting Australia on a whirlwind tour, combining headline shows with playing the Groovin The Moo circuit, and when I discover that she’s half Australian we settle into a chat about record stores and stalking your partner’s ex.
Are you excited to do the record store show tonight?
Oh definitely, it’s so fun because it feels low pressure. And I don’t know, being in a place that feels like it has character makes you feel more comfortable too. It’s nice!
Agreed. When I first got sent your song doppelgänger, I realised that I had actually already heard it online – so hats off to you for, you know, having some level of control over my TikTok algorithm. It’s such a relatable song – what inspired it?
Haha – I love that. You know, I think what inspired me to write it is what we were talking about earlier, how the topic of comparing yourself to a partner’s ex is so common. I feel like everyone has, and if they’ve not done it, they’ve thought about it and it’s such an embarrassing feeling most of the time, especially if you’re in a healthy relationship or a happy one, and also because what is in the past is in the past. It doesn’t matter. But because it’s so universal, I suddenly thought, okay, how do I kind of make this icky feeling into something that is more of a joke almost? Because most of the time it’s not a rational feeling anyway, so to take it completely seriously would be doing more harm than good so I felt myself wanting to write this song because when you shine a light on something you do realise how silly it is.
Totally, I really liked the way that you approached poking fun at that feeling of shame, but it’s also very real.
Yeah, it’s real. It’s very real. Jealousy and comparison is such a deep feeling, and it’s everything that we’re insecure about, but it’s suddenly giving it a place to go. Like ‘she’ or whoever is not the issue, it’s what you’ve already felt. And then you’re spiralling going, “but maybe they have everything that I do not” or whatever.
How do you deal with those feelings of jealousy and comparison in your own life?
I think it’s trying not to feed it. You know, I think like anything, if you nourish it and feed it and give in to it, it will grow and get stronger. So honestly neglect is the best way [laughs]. And also being really kind to yourself. So when you do have moments of being like I’m gonna stalk their Instagram and I’m gonna burn myself – it’s also being able to afterwards, you know, get a hug from your friends or your mum or whatever, and laugh at it and sometimes talk to your partner about it as well and be like, look how dumb this is that I feel this way and often depending on the relationship you can both laugh about it.
One of my favourite parts, I think it might be the second verse of the song, where you sort of touch on intrusive thoughts. Do you have advice that you give yourself or advice that you give your friends when you are having these, like completely irrational thoughts?
Totally I mean, it’s the bane of my life [laughs]. I have so many intrusive thoughts and I like joking about them, but there are definitely some I would never say out loud. I think the best advice I’ve ever been given for intrusive thoughts is if you’ve ever been to a restaurant like a sushi chain restaurant where there’s like a train going around. You know the ones?
Went to one last week!
Great! So if you imagine your mind as the sushi restaurant, your thoughts, you know you have thousands a day, and it’s like if you’re in this restaurant, you might pick one up off the conveyer and say, I like this one. I’m gonna keep it and I’m gonna eat it. But then there are some which come around and you’re like, I don’t know if I love this one but you pick it up and you might look at it for a while before going, I don’t have to eat this.
That’s very profound.
Haha yeah it’s great advice. Because I was like, you know what? OK, I have this thought. It’s not me. I don’t have to eat it. I can put it back.
When we were prepping for this interview, we asked some of our followers what their experiences were with having doppelgänger exes and so on and so forth. And one of the really common things that cropped up was people accidentally liking a photo while stalking. Has that ever happened to you?
It’s definitely happened to me, but it will be so much more obscure. It will be like the girlfriend’s mothers cousin.
Oh you’ve gone too deep.
So deep! At that point it’s almost like maybe it won’t matter because they won’t know who you even are and in those situations, you just have to throw your phone in the bin you know? And also just remember we will all be dead at some point.
Hah yeah when things go real bad, that’s where your brain goes. The other thing that I wanted to touch on – because I love the title of the song – I was thinking, what about, doppelgängers in music? And I’m wondering with your career, have you felt any comparisons, or have people ever made references?
Yeah, that’s such a good question, I think luckily, most of the time people will never do that to your face. Unless it’s someone big, it’s always easy to compare someone that’s dead or whatever. You know what I mean? And you’re like, cool! But if it’s someone the same age, kind of similar vibe, people don’t usually say that to your face. I think because maybe it suggests you lose that individuality. And you can get insecure about that, but I think most of the time it’s usually myself – I’ll be the one comparing myself to other people in a similar field within my mind.
Exactly. And you might get in that spiral for a second, but I try not to let it bother me because when I look at those artists, it’s usually because I’m admiring something that they’re doing. And then I think, well, I don’t really have that same voice or I don’t really have those same lyrics, but that’s a good thing as well. They might be similar to you, but they’re not you. And that’s the most important thing because ultimately, no one is you. So if you’re doing exactly what you like, you will always end up standing out – you might be similar, but it will be different.
I love that. I think particularly in the age of social media, where everything’s so accessible, you can often feel like you don’t have a unique voice.
And so hard. In the online world there’s so much amazing stuff out there that you see, amazing writing and amazing lyrics – it can kind of make you realise how normal you might be as well. But as long as you’re being honest it’s always going to work.
Absolutely. How have you enjoyed the tour so far over here?
I’ve really enjoyed it. I think I found Australia very refreshing. I think London… I’ve grown up there, you know, it’s my home, but I find the English people stereotype very true [laughs]. They’re closed off in certain ways, you know? I found over here, people seem to be a little bit more involved, even if it’s rowdiness, it’s still emotion. And I think in London, because there are so many people coming in and out, the crowds can be a little bit more like ‘go on like show me what you’ve got’. A bit more artiste, arms crossed.
Yeah, this is so far from that.
Here I feel like people are a bit more “thank you for coming!! We know it’s really far away!”
I mean, it’s such a long flight. Are you able to spend a bit of time exploring while you’re down under or do you have a pretty tight schedule?
Yeah I’m getting a few days. I mean, my brother lives in Melbourne and so I’ve been staying with him and I haven’t seen him in over a year, so it’s been super nice. It’s always lovely to explore a bit like on the drives through Groovin the Moo where you can stop and have a look at things. But the nicest part is being able to see my family members.
Ohh that’s so nice. And obviously you released a stunning record last year so I’m wondering how you feel now touring that live at festivals like Groovin.
Yeah, hmm, it’s been interesting [laughs] I think that it’s nice just seeing the response to which songs seem to do the best or get the most reaction from the crowd and luckily it’s aligned with the songs that I also love performing live the most. I also realised how a lot of those songs were written in lockdown when I didn’t have to perform – and had never performed – so I didn’t understand the idea of needing to breathe. I have some songs… Bruises and Scratches is one where I managed to fit a word in every syllable, there’s no breathing room and so I do find singing it live I’ll have to do a bit of a deep breath mid song and then keep going so it’s been a big learning process.
What are the songs that you love performing?
Yeah, I think I really love performing the more acoustic songs, naturally, because I don’t have a band and so they feel like they connect the most with the audience. So With The Band I love performing and I love. Some Italian Mountain and Loverboy – and also they’re a bit more chill haha easy to sing.
I love that. Make it easy on yourself!
Exactly, keep it simple!
There’s been such a big resurgence towards autobiographical music being more accepted within, let’s call it gen pop or mainstream music these days. How does writing about your own experiences make you feel as an artist?
Hmm for me it’s like my only language. Music wasn’t something that drew me in, it was lyrics and writing. I mean, I kind of fell into songwriting because I was doing slam poetry really embarrassingly. And like I was obsessed with when my older brother went to university to study English. I remember just getting all the fun bits – no assignments I’d just watch all the content that he was given and there were all these slam poets and Ted Talks and I was just like oh my god. It blew my mind. So I think lyrics for me is what makes me excited. And it’s kind of the whole reason I even play guitar.
So doppelgänger is a single…can we expect more music from you this year?
Definitely. I’m gonna have another song coming out very soon. Hopefully in the next month or so and then an EP!
You can keep up with Sophie May on Instagram