Having followed her career throughout the years, I was thrilled when I heard a Sophie Chen song on Spotify’s “Café Montréalais” playlist. After studying music in the U.S. and making a name for herself on the music scene in Asia, the Chinese-French-Canadian singer returned to Montreal in 2017. As a long-time fan, I was thrilled to interview her last month!
九九 Sophie Chen – A Music Journey
Alexandra Margs for Jano Lapin (A.M.) Thank you so much for chatting with me today! To start, can you tell me a bit about your musical journey?
Sophie Chen (S.C.) Music has been my entire life. Since I was little, my parents put me in singing contests and shows. I was the girl with the belting voice that was compared to Mariah Carey or Céline Dion. At some point, I realized that I didn’t want to go to university as my peers did; I just wanted to make music.
A.M. So what brought you to study at the Berklee College of Music in the states?
S.C. I was always writing music, but I didn’t know how to make a song from scratch (producing, editing, mixing). So, when I received a bursary from Berklee, I decided to study sound design to learn how to do just that. Actually, the songs I have released in the last couple of years have been my own productions, and now, when I work with another producer, we can vibe much better.
A.M. It was amazing seeing that you were on The Voice of China! Was this after you were done with your studies?
S.C. I was in my last semester when they contacted a friend. Unfortunately, she was unable to go, so they invite me instead. I got eliminated right away, but it was a unique experience that got the attention of a notorious label in Taipei. I was 20 years old and so excited about this prospect that I signed a 7-year contract with them.
From Hardship to Strength
A.M. I saw the music video you had put out with them, it looked amazing (above). How did this experience go?
S.C. I quickly realized this was not the best for me. Part of it was an artistic clash and different visions; it felt like different galaxies. But I was too young and stoked about life, so I went along with everything. At first, I wrote for other people, then I released an album, but it wasn’t on my own terms. There was pressure to lose weight, to look different, and the songs I composed didn’t sound like me anymore by the time they were done. I was constantly tired.
In the end, I wasn’t able to carry on with what they wanted to do. So, after a lot of conflicts, we decided to part ways. But I would still be on the contract. I couldn’t put out any of the new music I had recorded or work with other producers there; it felt like 7 years lost.
A.M. What did you do then?
S.C. I couldn’t make music in Asia anymore, so I came back to Canada. Basically, for a year, I was feeling super down and burned through all my savings. Then, I got an office job and kept writing music on the side, but I had no motivation to release anything – I felt beaten down.
A.M. You did ultimately put out some new music, this time in French. How did you come to this?
S.C. I have always been writing in French, it’s my first language, and I love it. I started writing in English to reach more people. But being back in Montreal and writing for fun, it was mostly in French.
Eventually, my dad had a fatal seizure, so I wrote “Un autre été” to grieve – there was no money to be made from my French music, and producing the song entirely myself was not a breach of contract. So I released it on Spotify. A lot of people liked it, and more people started following me.
Rising Back Up
A.M. This song broke my heart; it’s beautiful from the very first note… Would you say that the positive response you got is what kept you making music in French?
S.C. For sure. When I left the label, I wrote a song that I was very proud of. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to release the song if I was the one singing it. Luckily, the producer found another great singer, and the song blew up. (over 28 million views on YT) This was a massive validation. But it was also hard for me because this was the most personal song I had ever written.
So I told myself, f**k it, I’m in Montreal now! I started releasing more French music and doing shows in French. I also started doing what I wanted to do, and being myself like dye my hair ridiculous colors, etc.
S.C. Doing a show for 40-50 people, performing the actual music I wanted to, was very satisfying. It was also awesome to have a girl come up to me after a show telling me how represented she felt seeing a Chinese woman singing in French; no one else was doing it. I’m happy to be one of the first ones, but it’s also frustrating to not see Asians represented in French music here.
A.M. What do you feel like you have learned throughout all this?
S.C. I always had to juggle the cultural differences of being both Chinese and Québécoise. It took me a long time to get comfortable with every aspect of who I am, but going through this and having all of these other experiences, I can say that I truly know myself now.
A.M. You got involved in some virtual projects during covid – how has the pandemic affected you? What are some good things that have come out of it?
S.C. I gained so much weight! But, I also wrote a lot and got to reflect on the future. I had been thinking of returning to Asia to pursue my career there for a while, so when I decided to quit my day job during the pandemic, it pushed me to take action towards this.
九九 Sophie Chen: New Horizons
A.M. What projects do you have in the works?
S.C. I am looking forward to releasing some music I recorded before leaving Taiwan, including some songs produced by one of my favorite producers Skot Suyama. I also started a French EP that I would love to complete.
A.M. What are some of your favorite collabs?
S.C. I was so happy to have David Campana, a Montreal underground artist who I am in awe, record a verse on my song “Seule”! I also have two collaborations in the making that I am excited about: one with Reejo and Shotto Guapo.
A.M. Finally, what are your hopes/plans for the next chapter of your career?
S.C. Besides making new music, my dream would also be to act: creating video, sketch comedy à la SNL, being a talk show host – I used to do improv and love theater!
A Multilingual Performing Artist
For years, Sophie Chen has recorded popular songs for her YouTube channel, as many singers do. However, Sophie does the harmonizing background vocals herself AND performs these songs in other languages! More often, it will be in French, English, or Mandarin, which she speaks fluently, but sometimes she will go above and beyond, like in the video below. Eight languages?! I was shook.
This is another favorite of mine: her version of Despacito (over 1.1M views!) – no need to roll your eyes at me; you know you were super into this song the summer it came out! Although mostly in Mandarin, you will also have a fun sorpresa in the pre-chorus. Vous l’avez trouvé?
At the moment, Sophie Chen is back in Taiwan, has signed with a new label (SKR), and is already making new music. I can’t wait to hear her newest single coming out in December! You can keep up with Sophie Chen’s music and news on her website and her IG page.
Lastly, to discover more musicians we love, you can check out our feature of the 5 albums to listen to in the summer of 2020 here.
JMSB alumna with a business mind and a creative heart. Prefers any environment where she can combine the two. World traveler who is at her happiest in airports/train stations/bus stands because that usually means she is on her way to explore a fascinating new destination. Curious about the process and history of creators such as Gaudí, Dalí, and Chanel to name just a few. Montrealer who loves discovering art and stories that set the soul on fire, making them all the more exciting to share!