When Margaret Sohn released her debut EP under the Miss Grit moniker, Talk Talk, they never expected it would receive as much attention and acclaim as it did. Rather than eliminating feelings of self-doubt, the positive response reignited the sense of imposter syndrome she had experienced both as an artist and a Korean-American, to the point where she felt more like “someone who was impersonating a musician.” Sohn, who grew up in white suburban Michigan before moving to New York to study music techology at NYU, tackles these gnawing anxieties head on with her formidable new EP, Impostor. Though the singer-songwriter has acknowledged similarities between their music and that of artists like Mitski and St. Vincent, whose influence can be heard throughout the record, the six-track collection radiates newfound confidence and ambition in a way that centers more on her own musical identity. Despite being entirely self-produced, the songs teem with explosive dynamics and rich atmospheres that not only showcase Sohn’s impressive production skills but also hint at a promising future. “I have nothing to say,” Sohn repeats on the standout ‘Blonde’, their voice slowly disintegrating as it sinks into some abyss. By the final track, she proves otherwise, signing off with a simple yet powerful directive: “Let me smile.”
We caught up with Margaret Sohn for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series, where we showcase up-and-coming artists and talk to them about their music.
You first picked up the guitar around the age of six. Do you have any memories of what it was like when you first started learning and playing?
I think I was just really excited to have this new thing that I was exploring. My mom would always tell me that she never had to remind me to practice or anything, and I was just really self-motivated.
I remember trying to write a song in high school, but I was really – I think I had in my mind that songwriting had to be done on acoustic guitar and playing chords and taking the more singer-songwriter approach, and that really didn’t work for me. So then once I had tried that, I was like, “Okay, so I guess songwriting isn’t really for me, I don’t think I’m cut out for it.”
It’s interesting that you say that, because I know that while you were studying music technology at university you were drawn to effect pedals, not just experimenting with them but also the idea of making them. I’m curious if being a full-time musician was always your first dream in your mind, or if there was a reason that you ended up gravitating towards that side of things as well.
I just wanted to be a guitarist in someone else’s band, basically, like playing backup for someone or helping other people’s bands form. But my first attempts at songwriting were in college, or first attempts with the production method that I was also using – songwriting and producing at the same time. I started that way because I wanted to just prove to myself that I could write music that I liked. And I wasn’t really taking it seriously then to pursue songwriting and being an artist at that time.
How did your mindset change?
I think it was just the confidence boost of releasing the Talk Talk EP and having it being received well by other people. Like, I didn’t even really dream of other people who I didn’t know listening to my music, so that was kind of just a big shock to me.
And of course that relates to the themes of this EP as well, with the idea of the imposter syndrome. When did you first fully grasp what that term meant or saw your experience reflected in it? How did you realize it’s different from just feelings of self-doubt?
When I started writing this EP, I didn’t really go into it being like, “Oh, I’m gonna write about imposter syndrome.” But it was more like, I was just writing these songs and they happen to have this common thread throughout them. And I realized that that was what imposter syndrome is like, basically these feelings of feeling like a fraud in a lot of different aspects of my life. And realizing that it was different from self-doubt because – I guess the way I can put it best is that I really just felt like I was faking being a musician or faking being a Korean-American. I guess it comes from a lack of confidence maybe in myself, but it’s also just part of my personality to always just be realistic about things and kind of talk myself down from getting too ahead of myself, and that’s how it gets ingrained in these different parts of my life.
You obviously created the moniker before before releasing your first EP, but for someone who’s only become familiar with your music now, because of the title of the new EP, they might assume you created this moniker as a way of separating your artistic and personal identity. Do you feel like it serves kind of a different purpose now, or has that always been part of the idea behind it?
Not so much separate, but kind of being able to step into these shoes and be able to express myself to the fullest, I think. Because having a different identity to step into allows me to put aside my insecurities as Margaret and all my social ties to people and just how I want to present myself in everyday life and be able to forget about those things as Miss Grit. I think before, when I was creating the Talk Talk EP, it wasn’t on my mind that I was creating music under Miss Grit, because I wasn’t even in that mindset that I was gonna release music and play live shows. So I think creating the Talk Talk EP was much more of a personal thing, like I was creating music in my bedroom. And I think some of those insecurities of Margaret kind of like played into that more, with the Impostor EP I was able to have a little bit more confidence and be able to say what I wanted to say more clearly.
I think that definitely comes through musically, especially in your decision to self-produce and expand your sound in many ways. Was having that confidence reflected musically more of a conscious decision or something that came subconsciously?
I think a little subconsciously, just because I was getting really excited writing this record. And I think guitar plays a big part in it too, like I was in the kind of live show mindset and arranging music so that it would feel really powerful to play in a live setting, and I think being a guitarist had a lot to do with that too. I just really wanted to create music that felt really good to play and feel empowered and expose some of my personal insecurities and be able to use all of that and combat it with a more powerful sound.
Now that the EP has been released, what do you feel like you’ve learned from the process as a whole? And what do you hope listeners take away from the EP?
I think looking back, just because it was so long ago that I was writing this – I think it was like two years ago now – I was in, like, live show mode, I was playing my first couple of live shows and I think I had a lot of rules for myself back then and trying to fit some template that I had in mind for myself, so reflecting now I’m just hoping to be able to write more freely in the future and not be too concerned about rules or templates I need to fit.
I hope my listeners are able to relate in some way. I think imposter syndrome is a really common thing and people probably deal with it in a lot of different aspects of their lives too, so I hope there’s just something in there for everyone.
What can you tell me about any new material that you’re working on currently? How would you compare it to your previous work?
It’s kind of funny, because the Talk Talk EP I wrote alone in my dorm room and in isolation, and then the Impostor EP, I was writing it with other people in mind, like other musicians playing my music and my band. And then this new music that I’m working on is written, again, alone in my room, in quarantine. So I think maybe there might be some more similarities to the Talk Talk EP with this new material that I’m writing. But I think I know myself better as a songwriter a little more, just because the Talk Talk EP was some of my first experiences writing and producing myself. The Impostor EP felt really good to write just because I was able to address the feelings I was having in those moments and write in the atmosphere that I wanted to write in. And I feel like I kind of closed that chapter in my songwriting phase and now I’m able to move past that and go full steam with this new material and try to create new atmospheres.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
Miss Grit’s Impostor EP is out now.