Punk Feminism: Sofia Verbilla

Day of the Girl's "Punk Feminism" series highlights the voices of people in marginalized groups in the punk/DIY music scene. It is such an honor to talk to musicians about their experiences in this community. This time, I had the pleasure of having a conversation with Sofia Verbilla of Harmony Woods, of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Sofia Verbilla is an 18-year-old indie rock musician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the frontperson of Harmony Woods. She began playing guitar at the age of 10 and started writing her own songs last year. Very active in the Philly DIY music community, Harmony Woods is an indie-rock project influenced and often assisted in recording by Modern Baseball and their members. They recently played their first full-band show, comprised of Sofia, Lexi Campion and Sean Rynkewicz of Grayling, also a Philly-based band, and Chance Halter. But even more exciting, Harmony Woods has their first first full-length LP out on Honest Face Records on May 5th. It’s titled Nothing Special, but Sofia’s band’s first official release will be more than special. It is a major step for a relatively new band breaking out into the world of digital music. The first single, “Jenkintown-Wyncote” can be heard now: it’s a catchy poem with great riffs about Philly public transportation narrated by Sofia’s honey-like voice.

Sofia’s determined nature is inspiring. I talked with her recently about activism, her music and upcoming album, and existing a young woman in the punk/DIY music community for Day of the Girl’s “Punk Feminism” blog series. Sofia knows what she wants, and is working really hard to make it happen. You can listen to Harmony Woods’ current songs, and soon her new album, on her Bandcamp. It was very cool to see how successful young women can be when we really set our minds to something. Sofia had a lot of really important and inspiring things to say, and talking to her was an incredible experience. Check it out below!
– Lucy Danger, Day of the Girl Action Team Member

 

Lucy: So how was your show last night?

Sofia: It was really fun! It was really cool, I liked it a lot. It was our first full-band house show, so it was very exciting.

Who else is that, the full band?

At the time it’s me, my friend Lexi who is in a really sick band called Grayling, and then my friend Sean who’s also in Grayling, and then my friend Chance.

Cool! How long have you been playing music? Either by yourself or with other people?

I started playing guitar when I was 10, and then for the first few years of playing an instrument I joined School of Rock-type camps where I would just play cover songs with other kids, so that was my first taste of being in a band, I guess. And then I started writing songs a little over a year ago. And then I formed a full band. It’s been fun.

It sounds awesome! So before that, doing covers, that was mostly with other people, or solo stuff?

I started writing songs by myself, all by myself. I’ve never actually seriously written a song with another person. Well – for the record that we did, I wrote the song on acoustic guitar and then my friends who played on the record, they wrote their own parts. But the songs themselves were composed... by me if that makes sense. I don’t really know how songwriting works? I don’t really know the terminology...

Well I know even less than you, so that sounds good to me.

Haha, I just write on acoustic guitar, pretty much. And then I bring it to my friends and then they make it sound cool.

Nice! So your first little release has been on Bandcamp for a while now, and the response to this: Did things change for you after you put that out, because more people could reach it?

Yeah I mean, I had my first show like May of last year and it was just me, and then about a month later I put out the demo and I guess that way people could listen to my music before they saw me at shows to see if it would be something they’d be into. And then my friends supported it and stuff, and it was really cool. I don’t know, I don’t think it really reached a lot of new people, I feel like playing shows definitely helped me reach more people than being on Bandcamp, at least at the level that I’m at now, if that makes sense. I feel like for smaller bands playing live gets them more noticed than just having stuff on the internet, if that makes sense.

Definitely! So, how often do you play shows?

I used to play like, one every week, but I’ve been kind of doing a little bit less, cause I would get burnt out a lot. I try to do like one or two a month.

Totally. Do you have a favorite show, or is that asking too much?

Definitely the wildest show I’ve ever played was probably this acoustic show at TCNJ [The College of New Jersey], with The Obsessives solo, so just Nick, and Jake and Bren from Modern Baseball. That was a really important show to me, but I kind of blacked it out of my memory cause I was really nervous. I had been sick that week, and I was really afraid that I wasn’t going to sing well, cause my voice kept cracking, so I don’t really remember it? But people told me I did okay, so I guess I did.

I believe it!

Thanks!

So, your band’s Twitter bio says “lo-fi by circumstance.” Do you want to define that? And if you had access to really fancy recording equipment, do you think that your music would sound very different?

Yes, absolutely. So that, I kind of just made that up. I made this Facebook page, that was the first social media thing we made. And they made me put a description in order for the page to be created, so I just thought of that in the spur of the moment, and basically what it means is that–I don’t consider us to be “bedroom pop” or whatever, but due to the lack of recording equipment that I have in my house, the fact that everything that’s on the Bandcamp right now, that was recorded with my phone, it’s just kind of like, these are my circumstances here, it kind of sounds like poop, but ideally it would not.

Was that the recording process for your your new upcoming album, just on your phone?

No, that was done full-band, it was recorded at The Metal Shop in Philly by Jake from Mobo [Modern Baseball] and it sounds all fancy and stuff, it sounds like a real record! (Laughs) I’m excited for people to hear it!

That’s awesome, I’m really excited to hear it! And I know you tweeted a little bit about that being mixed and stuff, you being excited about that.

Yeah, yeah, mixed and mastered and having it finally be done, that was cool.

So, you talked about how–so you play shows pretty often, even now, so what is the environment like at shows for you, as a young woman playing in your local DIY scene?

People are usually pretty supportive, and nice. I feel like there must be at least one show where I was the only woman or femme person on the bill, which is kind of upsetting, but the reason I started this band was because I had all these bands that I loved, and not nearly enough of them had women in them. So I was like, huh, maybe I can be looked up to by someone in 10 years, who is like me now, if that makes sense. That makes me sound kind of full of myself. I don’t know, I just want the music scene to be as diverse as humanly possible, that’s definitely an ideal for me.

Yes! So, do you actively try to play bills where you know you won’t be the only non-male person or is that not really an option?

I mean, I try really hard. A lot of the time–I have a lot of friends who book shows, and they’re really cool about having diverse bills, but if a band has all dudes on it and someone asks me to play, I’ll try to play it cause then in a way I guess I’m diversifying it a little–if that’s even a word–you know what I mean?

Yeah! So, you have an album coming out later this year, and I want to know, does being in a scene that is often “overinhabited” by white men affect your songwriting?

In a way, it makes me want to be more open about issues that people would consider more “feminine” issues; most of my songs are love songs, and they’re very–kind of gooey. There’s so many tough guys, I feel like we should try to be a little more vulnerable. I feel like my songwriting is very vulnerable, and that’s definitely influenced by the fact that there’s a lot of macho-ness that goes on; I kind of want to counteract that.

Definitely! I think that’s a really great goal to have. Following up with that: stories kind of pop up in this scene pretty often, too often, regarding white male band members in the scene who turn out to be abusive or just lacking crucial knowledge for interacting in this scene. What is your reaction when things like that happen, and how do you deal with it?

It’s really, really upsetting to me. I feel like people grow up mostly–people who are raised as men grow up in a way that that behavior is kind of normalized, that macho, toxic “I can do whatever I want” behavior is very much normalized, and I feel like a lot of that stuff wouldn’t be as common if children were raised better, if that makes sense. I know that’s kind of speaking really broadly, not just in this scene, but in the world overall, if toxic masculinity didn’t exist, I feel like abusive behavior wouldn’t be as frequent.

I agree! There are, however, a lot of movements out there right now to support and highlight the perspectives of women and people of color in this community, so how do you contribute to those conversations and those movements?

I guess if I see a cool band that a lot of people don’t know about, I’ll try to get the word out, tell my friends about them, post about them on social media. Because being a well-known band is a very arbitrary thing, but it’s kind of how the scene works. The more–we need to get people to care about bands with marginalized people in them. It’s kind of dumb that the goodness of a band is defined by their Facebook likes and whatnot, I think that’s really shitty, but it’s just kind of the way it is, so I feel like word of mouth and spreading that band through word of mouth and through social media is the best way to get that band more well-known. Those bands get more well-known, then other marginalized kids will grow up listening to those bands, and I guess have the confidence to start their own bands.

And in terms of money, too, if more people are listening to that band, that’s supporting diverse art.

Yeah, exactly! It’s a shitty, fucked up capitalist world we live in, but yeah. Everyone’s ruled by money.

Haha, you’re right! So you talked about Jake and Bren from Modern Baseball earlier, I know you’re a big fan of them, and they have been making a concerted effort recently to be more inclusive of diverse musicians and just increasing diversity at their shows, so what does it mean to you that such an influential band in the scene has been taking those steps?

It means a lot to me. I got into Modern Baseball when I was a freshman in high school, about three years ago, and they weren’t really doing much when it came to diversity in the scene and awareness and stuff like that, but neither were any other big bands unless they had marginalized members already. So watching them grow and develop over the years and learn, and try to use their platform for good is really heartwarming. And that goes for every band who has started to do that, like The Wonder Years and stuff.

Yeah, absolutely. So what are some of the most rewarding or successful experiences that you’ve had as a female musician?

I played this show last summer in a suburb of Baltimore in this really cool basement, and they were all high school kids playing which was really cool cause I’m a high school kid, but also there were just so many young girls at that show, and after I played my set, so many of them came up to me and were so sweet, saying the nicest things. I don’t know–if I can inspire young girls, if I can make them feel like they can do this, that’s all I want to get out of this, you know what I mean?

Yeah!

So that was really big for me, feeling like I was inspiring people, if that makes sense.

Definitely. And that’s why you said you started the band in the first place, to make girls feel like they can. So, who are some other female musicians, either in genres similar to yours or not, artists who have inspired you, either as musical influences or just as people.

Definitely Mitski, and Julien Baker, and Cayetana, and Camp Cope. There’s just so many. A few years ago, I had this turning point where I was like, oh my god, all the bands I listen to are these really annoying dudes singing about girls who broke their hearts, I’m sick of this bullshit, and I found this Spotify playlist of punk bands that were fronted by women, and it kind of changed my life! I was like oh my god, this music is so good! It was the music I was listening to before, except I can actually relate to it. Discovering all those incredible women was tight! And really inspired me.

Yeah! I kind of had a similar experience. So I know you’re going to Drexel, right? Congrats on that, first of all!

Thanks!

Do you have any plans to, or do you want to pursue a career in music?

Yeah! I’m actually studying music industry, which is the same program that Jake and Ian from Modern Baseball majored in, where you take a combination of music business classes and recording classes, so they just kind of prep you to be in the music industry. I want to perform music as much, as long as I can, as long as I can afford to, but if the day comes where I can no longer afford to, I would like to be involved in the industry somehow, in a more business-y aspect.

That’s awesome. It’s so cool that you have a plan for all of this, and you’re doing it! That’s great.

I try!

So, what advice would you give to other young women who want to start playing and recording music?

Don’t think that you have to be the most talented person in the world in order to exist. I still go through that, I go through periods where I don’t feel good enough, I feel like just because I’m not the best it means that I’m not worthy, and just try to shut those thoughts out as much possible, keep going, keep writing, keep putting your music on the internet, keep playing shows, and just do it. You’re never alone, there’s always going to be people like you who are doing what you’re doing and who will be there to support you.

Okay, that’s awesome, I think that’s pretty good advice!

This isn’t a problem for like women of course, but just people in general, teenagers in general, stop giving creeps a platform. This is reference to the Moose Blood news that’s come to light recently, just remind yourself and others that just because a guy has a guitar doesn’t give him the right to treat you like shit.

Absolutely. That’s a really great final note to remember. Thank you very much for participating! It means a lot to have you on here, and the perspective of a young women.

Thank you for having me! I’m really stoked that I got to be a part of it.


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