Nostalgia through sound and style

R&B-pop artist Sophia Bel keeps her music fresh with hypnotic beats and moody lyrics

It was Britney Spears’ sophomore album, Oops I Did It Again, that made Sophia Bel want to become a singer when she was young. “I knew the whole thing by heart,” she said.

These days, though, the Montreal-based singer-songwriter has been listening to a lot of 80s and 90s house music and old jazz tunes for inspiration. Her newest track, “Winter,” dropped on March 24. The analog synth-based song features a 90s backbeat and drawn out, echo-y vocals.

“I was on a night out and I was coming home in an Uber, and I felt those late-night, post-party blues. I wanted to express that kind of ringing sound you can have in your head when you’re falling asleep after a party,” Bel said about her inspiration to write the song. “It’s about addiction and trying to get your life together.” The single premiered with an accompanying music video.

Bel’s music can be described as R&B-pop, but there are elements of jazz in it, too. “Right now, I’m really into 80s synths—like synth basses and keyboards. I’ve also been getting into vintage-sounding guitar pedals,” Bel said, adding her music has a nostalgic feel to it.

Singer-songwriter Sophia Bel’s sense of style is eclectic and vintage, qualities which reflect the essence of her music. Photos by William Arcand

Her personal style also bears this same nostalgic feel—her outfit ensembles are often reminiscent of those from an earlier generation—fitting, as she often shops at thrift stores. “I get inspired by either a memory from my childhood of a certain style that someone had, or I’ll have a t-shirt and I’ll build an outfit around it,” she said. “I enjoy being creative. For me [fashion is] a hobby, and it’s cool that it can help direct my image, and the vibes that I want to bring to my music,” she said. Her style, as she described, is “eclectic and slightly kooky.”

Bel is currently in her last year of the jazz music program at Vanier College. She said her studies helped her develop her sound. “I could write a catchy song [before], but now I can explore different textures, different sounds. I have a better view on the medium itself,” she said.

Her vocal technique has also changed over the years. When she first began singing at a young age, she would try to emulate powerhouse singers, such as Beyonce and Christina Aguilera. Now, she opts for a softer sound vocally. “I pay more attention to subtleties and the sensibility in the interpretation, and not so much showing off a huge voice,” she said. Bel’s voice on her recently-released tracks is soft, silky and smooth—nearly hypnotic.

While Bel is commonly known for her time on season four of La Voix, the Quebec music reality TV show, she does not want to be known as the reality show singer forever. She is grateful for the exposure the show gave her, but she said she felt she wasn’t portrayed in the best light—she was deemed the shy, awkward girl, which isn’t reflective of who she is or wants to be.

“The lack of control of your image when you’re on a show like that is kind of tough to deal with,” she said.

“[The show] taught me to be more authentic with what I want to share with the world,” she said. “It re-centered my focus—now I just want to focus on my art and the stuff I actually want to do.”

For her last performance on La Voix, she sang Lana Del Rey’s “High by the Beach,” a cover which she quickly became known for. “It was the performance that got me the most exposure. It was my most popular performance,” she said. So much so, she recorded a version of it on her Facebook page, which has over 74,000 views. “I got literally hundreds of requests to do my own version,” she said. Del Rey is also one of her musical influences.

However, Bel said she believes her biggest accomplishment is still to come. “A lot of people would say it’s La Voix, because it gave me a big boost in my development as a public figure,” she explained. “But my biggest accomplishment is my EP that I’m going to release—that’s how I feel right now.”

Her new EP does not have a release date yet, but Bel is aiming for the end of this summer or early fall. It will feature all new songs, which she described jazzy and sensual. Bel will also be involved with the artistic direction of the EP. “I’m inspired by space right now—aliens and spaceships,” she said, referring to the imagery she wants to incorporate in the EP. “I’m also thinking of the colour green and orange a lot. I don’t know if my inspirations are too weird,” she said with a laugh.

For aspiring musicians, Bel said, ultimately, it’s important to be authentic and develop a clear musical direction. “Unless you have something to say, no one’s going to hear anything,” she said. “[Your music] is not going to resonate if you don’t have a clear vision and a clear direction.”

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