Local Artist Sophia Johnson Discusses Austin’s Music Scene


Nashitha Azeez

Discussing her experiences in the music industry, Sophia Johnson looks out to the audience to answer a question. Since moving to Austin in 2015, Johnson has made a name for herself in both radio and the live music scene. “When I moved to Texas, people [were] like ‘Oh do you want to come sit in my band? We can pay you in dinner and maybe some tips.’ and it was a completely different attitude and much more of what I’d been looking for,” Johnson said.

On Friday, Feb. 7, students in the International Baccalaureate program (IB) were invited to participate in a Flex Q&A session featuring local guitarist and vocalist Sophia Johnson. As an interactive approach towards teaching urban geography, IB-Prep Human Geography Studies teacher Mr. Tim Bray organized the event in hopes of encouraging his students to localize and apply the many concepts they cover in class. 

“One of the things that I hope through Mr. William’s and my class is to help [students] create a sense of personal connectedness to Austin as a place and the things that make Austin, Austin,” Mr. Bray said. 

The artist discussed not only her experiences in Austin, but gave attendees a taste of her own music, playing songs, and answering their questions about the in and outs of the industry and her creative process.

“I decided to flex in because I had an interest in music, but had never been exposed as much to Austin’s music scene. I found it interesting and was glad to have been able to get a chance to listen,” Katie Park ‘23 said. 

Hailing from Birmingham, England, Johnson’s move to Austin was a journey carved out due to her musical upbringings. With roots in both classical and electric guitar, she took part in her family’s folk and bluegrass act, The Toy Hearts, honing her craft,  and would eventually go on to tour around Europe and the United States. 

“I grew up in England listening to country music at home, and not even modern country music, very old country music, like Bob Wills, Hank Williams and Bill Monroe,” Johnson said. 

As her musical career began to take flight, the multi-instrumentalist and vocalist would set her sights on the Texas Hill Country, drawing from her love for Western Swing and honkytonk repertoires. 

“When I felt like I needed to spread my wings musically, the music that I love is here [in Austin]. What’s coming out of Nashville is different,” Johnson said. “It was Austin where I really made a very personal connection with. I really felt like this was the place that [I’d] been looking for. 

Now the front of The Sophia Johnson Band as well as involvement in a number of local projects such as Ida Red and the Women of Western Swing as both a vocalist and a guitarist, the artist takes time to reflect on her humble beginnings. 

“There’s so many different types of musicians that only qualify here, it’s like ‘Can you play and get up on stage?’ This is what I did for like six months when I got here, and it scared me to death, I hated it,” Johnson said. “I made a rule for myself when I got here that I had to take all the gigs or take every opportunity that was offered to me. But my inclination was to say no to stuff when I was just scared. I’m out of my comfort zone.” 

Dialogue surrounding a rapid transformation of the industry is shaping the landscape of a city that prides itself on fostering a distinct, robust, and eccentric at its core, artistic community. As the crux of gentrification and displacement affects the vibrance of a local culture that was the very magic that drew so many to Austin’s sanctuary of individuality, it poses questions about the perils of the profession in a now strained creative climate. Long ingrained in the city’s cultural fabric, the future of music remains uncertain, but for people like Johnson, the personal journey towards preserving local artistry started with finding herself. 

“A big thing for me moving here, [was] that I’m not gonna sound like I grew up in Texas, I’m like the weird English girl who plays country music, and accepting that and just being accepting of who I am gives me a story to tell,” Johnson said. “I might not be as authentic as some of the people that I ended up playing with, but I’ve just got my own little thing and I’ve just got to be okay with that.” 

Johnson’s music and show information can be found on her website and social media