Sofia Wolfson showcases musical journey during set at Thunder Road

Sophomore Sofia Wolfson performs at the Genghis Cohen music bar in Los Angeles, Calif. on Jan. 5. Courtesy Izzy Cassandra-Newsam
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It was a typical Tuesday evening at Thunder Road, one of Somerville’s premier music clubs. Rain fell through the chilly air of autumn’s evening darkness. Located right off Somerville Avenue, the venue is simple enough: exposed brick interior, advertisements plastered on the walls for its famous “Americana Sundays” and a humble stage with a sign donning the club’s name.

Around 8 p.m., casual bar-goers and music fans engaged in small talk as Sofia Wolfson began to tune her guitar. Mild chatter continued as she began her first song, but it didn’t take long before her presence captured the attention of the room. A half-electric/half-acoustic set, Wolfson had one foot in her old work and the other foot in a new project she’s releasing next year, representing the transitional phase the Tufts sophomore is going through in her musical career.

To etch out the beginning, though, you would have to retrace steps all the way back to when Wolfson was six years old and began taking guitar lessons. Raised on the Beatles and similar classic folk and rock acts, she developed a musical ear at a young age.

I was always obsessed with songs and lyrics opposed to riffs, so when I was nine I started writing little tunes about my friends, about 3rd-grade heartbreak, and so on,” Wolfson told the Daily in an email. “I got more serious about writing music towards the end of middle school. I always knew I wanted to be a musician, but the feeling was solidified after my first gig in 9th grade. I was so nervous but I loved the feeling of sharing songs I had written and having their words resonate with people.”

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A Los Angeles, Calif. native, Wolfson’s artistic talents grew at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, and the slew of local venues in the city didn’t hurt either. At age 16, her abilities manifested into her first official project, the full-length album “Hunker Down” (2015). Most of the songs were already staples of her live performances, but they took on new life in this studio recording.

It was also Wolfson’s first taste of the difficult task juggling academics and the recording process, a struggle that assuredly accompanied her to Tufts. During her set at Thunder Road, Wolfson told the crowd about the midterm she had taken that same morning, resulting in a resounding laugh of nostalgia from the 21+ crowd.

Since moving across the country, things have changed for Wolfson, like any other student. Her music has evolved quite a bit since her middle school songwriting days, and it seems that she’s continuing to take steps with every song she pens.

“When I started playing gigs early in high school, it was just me and an acoustic guitar,” Wolfson said. “I played a lot more folk and was greatly influenced by bands of that year like First Aid Kit and The Lone Bellow. By junior year, I started playing more with a band, which really opened things up for me sonically. I started writing more music with them in mind and moved more into the alternative style. I still love to play acoustic guitar but I found something really special in playing electric, both solo and with a band.”

That passion was evident on Tuesday, when Wolfson seamlessly weaved through her discography with both her electric and distinctively dark cherry acoustic guitar. Her folk roots are still present, but Wolfson brings a bit of a raw alternative rock passion in her guitar playing and vocal performance, reminiscent of artists like Margaret Glaspy and Madison Cunningham, whom she cites as current influences.

Her new environment has also impacted her artistic process: Leaving the sunny skies of Los Angeles changed her perspective, and the long New England winters give her the chance to focus deeply on her craft.

“Tufts has shaped my songwriting greatly because coming from Los Angeles, I had never experienced weather before,” Wolfson said. “During the winter months, I spent a lot of time in the music building or in my room writing. It gave me this space to just focus on one task: writing new music, opposed to also thinking about a ton of gigs and recording.”

Wolfson’s first project in this new stage of her life came in the form of a three-song EP titled “Side Effects” (2017). It differed a bit from her debut record, which was mostly an effort to record and release songs Wolfson had already created. “Side Effects” was a collaborative effort, a culmination of the efforts of many talented producers and musicians.

“‘Side Effects’ is a project that was produced by Marshall Vore and was a longer, collaborative experience,” Wolfson said. “We focused on the non-literal interpretations of these songs. We didn’t want it to be simple, yet we wanted to go with the instrumentation that the song needed. We spent a lot more days in the studio for this little EP, working with a ton of different musicians like Jason Boesel, Dylan Day, Mason Stoops and more. In the end, I learned that it takes time to find the right sounds and to capture a lot of unique tones.”

The EP features three stellar tracks, including “Snake Eyes” and “Capsule,” two crowd favorites from Wolfson’s Thunder Road set, which was the opening act of the evening for Offbrand, a local alternative funk rock band. The EP’s second track, “Write it Down,” featured in TUTV’s “Tufts Unplugged” series earlier this year, and a music video for the song was released in March.

Moving forward, Wolfson has plans for a new project, one she worked on back in Los Angeles during the summer. Another EP, which doesn’t have a title yet, is expected to be out in early 2019. She’s already been workshopping a few new tunes from the project and played a few during her set on Tuesday.

She will have a chance to further refine the new tracks this weekend at a gig at the Rockwood Music Hall in New York City. She also has plans to play new shows in Boston soon, the details of which are forthcoming.

Wolfson has come a long way since picking up a guitar with the Beatles in her heart. Her music has grown throughout high school and into her second year of college, and from her passionate solo set on Tuesday, it seems as though 2019 will be another important step in her journey.

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