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Get To Know: Miss Grit

Miss Grit looking into the camera holding a collection of black cables
Credit: evelyn freja

Get acquainted with Miss Grit, the producer and multi-instrumentalist whose debut LP explores themes of self-actualisation and identity with cyborgs

Margaret Sohn, the producer, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist who releases music as Miss Grit, grew up in the suburbs of Detroit, but attended college 500 miles to the east at New York University, where they studied music technology. Among their courses were sessions in electrical engineering, which led to a fascination with the creation of guitar pedals, and the as-of-yet unheard sonic vistas that a good stomp box can evoke. To them, it seemed like a dream job.

“Yeah, I was really into that for a bit,” the Brooklyn-based artist says. “If I was going to finish my degree. I think that’s what I’d be interested in pursuing. It’s still an option for the future.” It’s a goal that might have to wait a while. Sohn’s debut album, ‘Follow the Cyborg’, which is out now on Mute, is a hugely accomplished collection of tunes, and one that likely signals a long career in making music. Like its predecessors, 2019’s ‘Talk Talk’ and 2021’s ‘Imposter’, the LP brims with melodies that alternate between the intimate (‘Syncing’) and the arena-filling (‘Lain (phone clone)’). But it’s the textures, defined by synths, yearning vocals and Sohn’s guitar, that set Miss Grit songs apart.

Tonally, the guitars slot somewhere between the late ’00s indie rock that Sohn was raised on, the sky-saw timbres of classic prog-rock, and the wiry, sometimes slashing style of St. Vincent. (“St. Vincent was always a really big inspiration for me,” Sohn says. “She’s the reason why I bought an electric guitar.”) But there’s been an increasing reliance on synths in both their songwriting process and the resultant tunes.

“Synths in general have been a really great escape from guitars,” Sohn explains. “Once you get a certain way of working on a guitar, it’s really easy to stay in those patterns. But synths opened up a new, different creativity for me.” They credit a specific classic synth as playing a key role in their sound. “My first one was a Korg MS-20,” they say, “which has been a staple of all of my songs.”

None of which would mean much if the tunes weren’t there — and they have been, ever since ‘Talk Talk’. Sohn had played guitar in bands before, but that EP was their first stab at production. “I had never really even experimented with Pro Tools or Ableton before that, so it was all really new that first EP,” they say — and to hear them tell it, they’re still experimenting with the songwriting process, shaping textures into the gems that they become. “I’ve been trying recently to get into songwriting on one instrument, but it’s really, really difficult. The sonic world of everything is first in my head, and then finding the song along the way is kind of how the process goes for me.”

Sohn, who is of Korean-American heritage, has spoken in the past about fitting in within the confines of their white suburban upbringing. That may help explain why, lyrically, much of Sohn’s work deals with matters of identity, with varying degrees of directness. “It’s always been a big part of my identity, I think,” they say, “and something that’s been easy to pull from; something I could talk about.”

That theme has manifested itself in various ways, depending on the release. On ‘Talk Talk’, they wrote of dealing with relationships; the success of that EP led them to bring matters of self-doubt to the fore on ‘Imposter’. ‘Follow the Cyborg,’ which takes its name from an essay by The New Yorker’s Jia Tolentino, uses the metaphor of the cyborg to delve into matters of freedom and self-actualisation. (Sohn’s an avowed fan of films like Ex Machina and Ghost in the Shell.) That analogy is made clear in the title track’s expansively cinematic video, directed by Curry Sicong Tian, which depicts Sohn in various states of cyborg-ness.

When they spoke with DJ Mag, Sohn was preparing for a pair of Miss Grit live dates, one at Brooklyn’s Baby’s All Right on February 22nd, and the other two days later at LA’s Moroccan Lounge. “I haven’t played that many shows, so I’m still experimenting with what type of setup, or works best for me, or which one feels the best,” they calmly admit. “I’m actually not sure how the upcoming shows are going to turn out.”

We suspect they’ll turn out great — and even before ‘Follow The Cyborg’ is released, Sohn’s already begun thinking about the next album. “I’m kind in that process right now,” they say. “I’m already starting the songwriting for it.” Again, a career in guitar pedals will have to wait.

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Bruce Tantum is DJ Mag's North American editor. You can follow him on Twitter @BruceTantum