The Montreal artist embraces her emo upbringing on her debut EP, Princess of the Dead, Vol I.
Montreal-based songwriter and producer Sophia Bel is a child of the early and mid-2000s, a product of Avril Lavigne and the emo malaise of shopping malls. Her self-released debut EP, Princess of the Dead, Vol. I, digs deep into these roots, with anthemic vocal performances that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Sum-41 record.
Starting in 2018, Bel began work on her EP alongside fellow Quebecois producer CRi. It’s largely an exploration of her own psyche, inspired by a “Freudian process” of unpacking childhood trauma and listening to the music of her formative years.
We caught up with Sophia over the phone to discuss the album’s inception, reclaiming the word “sadgirl,” and how astrology app Co-Star brings people together.
Princess of the Dead, Vol. I is out now.
Princess of the Dead, Vol. I takes its title from a nickname bullies gave you as a teenager. Can you talk about your decision to reclaim that moniker, and how it plays into the rest of this release?
Sophia Bel: I was inspired by my childhood and music that I listened to during my childhood and teen years, so a lot of emotions from back then kind of came back out.
For this EP, the title just kind of made sense—it was so in sync with everything that inspired me. Reclaiming that name, “Princess of the Dead,” [as] something more positive felt right with the content of the album and the songs that I wrote.
You grew up in Quebec City and gravitated to the skate-punk and emo culture of the early 2000s. How would you say that background has influenced your music?
Well, the artists I was listening to back then were Britney Spears, Avril Lavigne, and my brother was listening to a lot of blink-182 and Good Charlotte, pop-punk rock bands.
For this specific release, I was feeling anxious and depressed and found myself going back into the past to revisit things that kind of forged my personality, as a way of processing what was wrong in my head. So it was kind of a Freudian process—going back to what I was listening to in the same years of these memories I was revisiting, which ended up triggering all sorts of memories, as well as inspiration.
So creating this EP gave you a sense of closure over that period of your life?
Yeah, I would say that. And as I created it, I wasn’t really thinking conceptually. When I was looking at everything I had made for Princess, the title just really made sense. It’s funny—I kind of wanted to exploit the fact that, at the end of the day, if you can have a laugh about whatever you’re going through, you can make it that much easier. I would rather laugh at myself and the silly bullies that were calling me that silly name than hold a grudge for my whole life. Forgiving and moving on always helps.
There’s no shortage of diverse influences that went into this EP. You cite blink-182 and Avril Lavigne, but you also include Moby, Alanis Morissette, and Dido as inspirations in your track notes. How did you approach condensing those different genres and influences into your final output?
I think it’s just natural [that] what you’re listening to will influence what you’re making. I don’t think it was really a conscious thing, though sometimes there’s one thing where I’ll be like, “Oh, that’s so Avril Lavigne!” and get excited about it. But I only am reminded of these influences after we make the track—it’s never the other way around.
I never consciously try to emulate a specific artist or genre; it’s all kind of done naturally. And my goal is to make something that’s authentically me.
Could you tell me a bit about how you approached writing the lyrics?
I usually just jot down an idea in my phone, just as I’m living my life. But usually I’m just kind of jamming on the piano, finding some chords, starting with an idea I wrote down on my phone or coming up with something spontaneously. I’m always writing about what I’m going through, letting the words coming into my head flow through and seeing what happens. I have been trying more exercises like free writing, where you just write down everything without second-guessing it.
You worked fairly closely with Montreal-based producer CRi in creating Princess. Can you describe what your process was like as collaborators?
The first song we wrote together was called “Me and My Friends,” and that was the first time we met up to make music. We made that track in three or four hours, maybe less. And from there, we just had this really great creative chemistry—I started bringing him songs that I had started, and he [added] his own flavor to them, made them sound really huge.
We still write songs sometimes—I have a couple of songs that I want to put on Vol. 2 that I did with him. Usually I bring him a demo, but there are some songs that we wrote and produced together from scratch. I feel like he’s taught me so much in terms of production and arrangement, just [from] working with him and getting to know his creative process. He’s definitely had an influence on me and what I personally produce.
Your Twitter bio describes you as “sadgirl3000.” There’s been an ongoing discussion in music about the usage of “sad boy” and “sad girl,” given how it’s frequently used in a pejorative context, and how some people use it as this ironic self-descriptor—
Yeah that’s kind of what I did. I think it’s more ironic, just referencing that whole emo aesthetic. For me, it was just kind of a silly, self-deprecating nickname.
Like your EP, trying to find humor in the darker facets of life.
You recently posted a trip-hop cover of “Old Town Road.” Are there any other recent releases you’d like to give the Sophia Bel spin next?
It is kind of in my project to make these short covers that are really my own rendition, completely switched up. But I don’t know, maybe people could send me requests? [Laughs] I don’t know what songs to do next honestly.
Are you still jamming Lil Nas X?
Sometimes! We actually played it at my launch show, and that was really fun. Everyone got really excited, because the intro starts and you don’t really know what song it is yet, and then when I started with the lyrics, people were like, “Oh shit! That’s the cowboy song!”
“It’s the yee-haw agenda!”
For the record, I don’t really use Twitter. I have like three friends who use it in Quebec… you have to be really witty and funny, and I’m just more, I don’t know, emo sad girl.
You did indicate on your Twitter that you use Co-Star, which I know a lot of people have diverse opinions on.
Oh, yeah. I mean, I think it’s fun to add your friends and look at your compatibility. We’re at this point as a generation, at least where I’m from, where more and more people consider themselves atheists or agnostic. I feel like Co-Star and astrology concepts are ways people can channel their desire for something.
Kind of a less codified spirituality.
Yeah, it’s kind of all fun and games, but people always need to feel like there’s something more. I don’t identity with anything specific, but [talking about] the subjects of mutuality and openness is definitely a good thing.
What can we expect from Princess of the Dead Vol. II? What’s next for you?
I think you should expect something a little darker. Sadgirl3000.
Is it gonna get even sadder?
Not sadder. I don’t want to say aggressive, but just a little sassier, a little meaner. But it’s not mean. I’m a nice girl.