As a young girl, Sophia Bastian once made a promise she thought she could keep.“Grandma,” she started, completely unprovoked. “I will never drive a car or smoke or listen to rock music.”
She was very serious. The young Ballet Academy dancer in Munich, Germany, was proper—with her formal leotards, white tights, rigid bun and trained technique. And she wouldn’t be distracted.
Until, at age 14, she flipped on the radio. Then she let her curly hair down. And she was finally free.
“Ballet is such an all-encompassing world that, when you’re really in it, nothing else really quite exists,” Ms. Bastian said during a recent interview. “When I left after 10 years, I had to really loosen up, just undo the tension in your body from classic ballet. I had to relearn everything. That’s when I discovered music.”
Sitting in the gallery of the Sag Harbor Fine Arts Center last week, the fresh-faced 26-year-old—who moved to Manhattan almost a decade ago and frequently visits family on the East End—still looks the part of a long-necked ballerina, coming in at 5-feet-11-inches tall, rocking leg warmers and a messy bun,
Except now, whenever she performs, Ms. Bastian trades in her tutu and pirouettes for fitted overalls and song—big, bold sound melding classic soul, jazz, blues and hip-hop that has been compared to the likes of Amy Winehouse and Adele.
“Who would be mad at that?” she said of her musical influences. “They’re awesome.”
On Friday, February 14, the sultry soul singer/songwriter will play the Parrish Art Museum’s new Friday night music series, The Lounge, which premieres on January 31 with husband/wife duo Edith Gawler and Bennett Konesni and concludes on March 14 with the Richie Siegler All-Star Quartet.
Ms. Bastian’s Valentine’s Day set will stick to songs from her two EPs, she said. Her most recent, “Juvenile Blues,” was released six months ago and has scored airtime on MTV and the BBC, which helped her land her first tour across Europe. The better her songwriting becomes, Ms. Bastian has realized, the scarier it gets.
“I feel like I’m really throwing myself out there with these songs. Usually, it’s a dude that breaks my heart,” she half-laughed of her inspiration. “But that’s what everyone says, so I kind of take that back. I write mostly when things are hard for me to talk about. There’s always a sincere and honest trigger that writes a song. I never thought, I still don’t think, that my music is not mainstream. I just feel like mainstream moved somewhere else.”
Growing up, Ms. Bastian—who is half-German, half Cuban-Nigerian—listened to anything but popular music. She was too busy choreographing new routines to Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” in her downtime, spinning around the house with lofty dreams of dancing professional ballet.
“I had this one really snobby teacher. We were taught, ‘You either sing or you dance. If you do both, you’re not gonna be good at either one,’” she said. “Which is obviously not true.”
At age 11, her ambitions started to shift. The young girl and her brother, Antonin, got their hands on a tape recorder. And that’s when she started to sing.
“I remember one time, I said to him, ‘You know, what we’ve just done is this big of a step,’” she held her fingers an inch apart, “‘on the whole scale of how good we need to be to make it.’ I did want to make a point to him that, like, ‘I think what we’ve just recorded is decent.’ And it must have been really serious because he still makes fun of me for it. Laughing, like, ‘Yeah, this is how delusional you are.’”
This past Christmas in Germany, her brother did not have much to say when Ms. Bastian brought home her first Billboard feature.
“I asked him, ‘Okay, so where on the scale do you think we can fit this? Because you dropped out early,’” she smirked. “And that’s so not me. I’m not a braggy person at all, but my siblings and I are just very harsh with each other. So I needed to bust that out. And I know that, secretly, he’s very proud.”
Luckily, he had his own ammunition: her promise to Grandma all those years ago. And he had no problem teasing her relentlessly about it.
“I do listen to rock and roll. And I do drive. So it’s just the no smoking that I stuck with,” she said. “So that’s something. I’m just lucky that I’ve been able to navigate my way up to here. This is kinda crazy, sitting here in Sag Harbor talking to you. I hope I can stay on this path and stay making music.”
She nodded to herself, bundling up in a purple scarf before heading back out into the cold.
“Yeah,” she mused. “Definitely.”
The Parrish Art Museum will kick off a new music series, The Lounge, with husband/wife duo Edith Gawler and Bennett Konesni on Friday, January 31, at 6 p.m. in the club setting of the Water Mill-based museum’s Lichtenstein Theater. The series will continue with Sophia Bastian on Friday, February 14, at 6 p.m. and the Richie Siegler All-Star Quartet on Friday, March 14, at 6 p.m. Tickets are $10, or free for members and students, and include museum admission. For more information, call 283-2118 or visit parrishart.org.