Softee is the DIY popstar persona bred by Nina Grollman. Originally a midwestern sweetheart from Moorhead Minnesota, Softee grew up as a theatre kid and went on to study drama at the Juilliard School in New York City. After graduating, she started out in the New York theatre scene before landing a Vevo session with Lorde and a Broadway debut in The Iceman Cometh alongside the likes of Denzel Washington. Following years of making her own music on the side of all this success, Grollman decided to make an EP and the alias Softee was born, playing shows around Brooklyn and more recently at The Troubadour in London. She’s all about embracing your soft, sweet and sensual side through dramatics and dance - drawing musical influences from the 80’s, Charli XCX, Gwen Stefani, Kate Bush and Robyn.
You grew up doing theatre and went to Juilliard for drama. How do you think your acting background has informed your music?
Oh, man. I just feel like I live for drama and I think I'm really interested in heightening, dramatic storytelling. And that's why I love 80s music so much because I feel like it's the peak of that like campy, storytelling era. The thing I love best about the genre of 80's pop is the way they elevate and heighten something like a love song into like this character - almost like a caricature. Obviously you're always playing a character when you're acting, but I like really campy acting, so I feel like I really channel that when I'm writing music and when I'm performing.
I do hear a lot of 80's influence in your music. Is there anything else that attracts you to the 80's besides the campiness and theatrics you see in it?
Synths. I don't I don't know what it is about synths, but I think they are some of the most diverse, interesting and powerful instruments there are. You can play a synth and make it sound like a xylophone, and then you can play a synth and make it sound like fucking outerspace. There's just like an endless variety of things you can do. And I think synth is one of the main instruments of 80’s pop.
You live in the big apple now - Bushwick more accurately, but how do you think being born and raised in the midwest has impacted what you make?
Oh God. Probably having too much time on my hands in the winter. My mom raised me on a lot of Prince and Stevie Wonder, so I just think generally I was very familiar with 80's music growing up. That's what my mom listened to. So, I think it was like a combination of the musical influences my parents raised me on, plus having a lot of time on my hands. Like, sitting in my bedroom when it's freezing fucking cold outside negative twenty-five degrees. It's disgusting. It's obscene how cold it gets. And sitting on my computer with my shitty $10 microphone, making covers of In The Jungle. That's where it started.
Do you feel a connection to the idea of being a 'Midwestern gal'?
I wear like a badge of honor now. I used to be like super ashamed of it because I didn't want to be perceived as like a small town girl or whatever. But now it's really weird that I'm from Fargo. It's kind of unique. It's definitely shaped me, and I think helped me be more grounded and genuine about things. I really do think in the community I grew up there’s an aspect of really looking out for each other and being nice. Being nice sounds so trite, but 'Minnesota nice' is a big thing in Minnesota. I guess living in New York now kindness is almost not the norm at all. But I try to bring that with me from where I grew up - being kind and genuine.
Do you feel like Softee represents you as a whole, or do you feel you view Softee more as a fractional part of you? Or would you say that Softee is more a persona and a character you play?
I am very gay and I make it known at my shows and it's obvious in the music. But I do think when I'm playing shows I go into the mindset of, 'I'm putting on this Softee armor', which is really helpful channeling that energy. When I play shows I'm really, really, really, really, really trying to channel confidence and pure ease and being a pop star. I'm not confident all the time in real life, but onstage I'm very, very, very, very overly confident. And think that's part of the Softee brand, if you will. Overall, Softee is an idea of softness and sweetness and sensuality and embracing all of that while being super hyper-confident in that. It's unapologetic vulnerability. While also being like a fucking pop star.
Is there any aspect that you're able to emulate through Softee that you wish could be more part of your everyday outside of music?
Yes, because the way I walk on stage as Softee is just utter confidence. Even though inside I might be freaking out and hyper nervous, I try my hardest not to project that and be completely like, 'Yeah, I'm a fucking pop star. Here's a smash. Here's another smash. Here's another banger. These songs are amazing.’ And I've gotten feedback that it's really empowering, and a good energy, and people like that. I feel like I ride that wave for an hour after shows. I try to carry that energy every day, but it's hard. When you're onstage, that's your opportunity to say anything, but you don't often get that same platform or attention in real life. It's just different when you're performing. It's a persona. I wish I could fuse the two a bit more actually. Maybe I will. Maybe I'll get there one day.
How did you hone in on your specific music style? Some people spend forever trying to have a focus, or a sound, or a brand for themselves. How did you get there?
It's definitely going to evolve. I think for this E.P. I tried to make it as cohesive as I could. And it just so happens that the music I'm loving right now and very inspired by is a mixture of really current, futuristic dance-pop and 80’s classic fucking bangers. So, that's just where I started. I wrote a bunch of songs, and re-contextualized them with my newer knowledge of producing and production, and then I sort of revamped them to sound a bit more like what I want the album as a whole to sound like. And what I want the listener to get out of it. I want it to be super fun boppy and danceable. All of those ingredients formed what the sound is at this moment. And that could really change with the next project.
Can you tell me more about producing your own music?
That's been the best part of the process. I've learned so much about myself musically. I've expanded my limits. For so long, I felt so limited by the fact that I couldn't produce and I just kept expecting someone to walk through the door that was going to solve my problems. It was wasn’t until six months ago that I was like, ‘Wait a minute, I want to be self-sufficient. I'm going to do this myself.’ And it's been the most empowering thing because I realized that I do have the knowledge, and I don't need to wait for someone else to tell me because I do have it in my head. Now I can make my musical ideas come true. I can make it a reality. I still have a lot to learn, but I feel like it's possible whereas before I was just feeling like I needed to wait to find the right collaborators. And yes, collaboration is great and I have had some amazing co producers on this album. Gabe Goodman and Blaketheman1000 have taught me so much about what it means to produce. They've given me a lot of tools, and this E.P. wouldn't be possible without them. But it just reinforced that it's all there inside of my head, it just needed to be refined. I think as women it's a common narrative - especially in the music industry because it's so male dominated on the production and engineering side - that you need a guy to help you. That's really what I've been fed for a lot of years. So, I realized that's not true and that it’s only me that knows myself best, and knows my sound best. Producing has been the greatest gift.
Can you guess what my favorite song off the album is?
Is it Crazy Bitch?
No, but I did really love that one. I was going to ask the inspiration behind it, so talk about that first.
Basically my mom was getting gaslit at work really badly. She had a horrible boss. If you know my mom, she's one of the sweetest people on earth and wouldn't hurt a fly. Pretty much everyone who meets her is obsessed with her and in love with her. So, it's insanely shocking that this man was shitting all over her every day. She has twenty plus years of experience and he would tell her awful she was at her job, which wasn't true. He was just using her as a scapegoat to solve problems within the department that were his responsibility, but he needed to throw someone under the bus. And she would just complain to me every day and be so, so, so, so devastated about it. It got me so frustrated, and at that time too I was experiencing similar things and work. At the time I was working with a lot of older men. And a lot of men were great, but some of them were just really condescending, so the song came out of that.
What were you doing for work?
At that point I was working on a play, and I was experiencing some of that gaslighting and condescension. And yeah, it just kinda came out like, ‘Fuck this shit. Yeah, I might be a little crazy but you're way worse and you're using me right now for your own personal gain and to make yourself feel better.’
One last thing so sorry My favorite song - and the song that I cried the first time I listened to it - is Married. I'm getting emotional now. After the song ended, I replayed it again. My two favorite lines are, ‘I’m terrified of getting married, mostly I’m just scared of getting old.’ And also, ‘You’re the only person that knows what to say when I’m on my period’. Can you tell a bit about the story behind that song?
Oh my god, thank you so much. That means the world to me. That's my favorite song I've written so far. I was alone in London at the time and I didn't have anything to do. At first I was really excited to be alone because I hadn't been in a really long time. Living with my girlfriend and being in New York, you're almost never alone. Even on the subway. Even when I'm at work. You're constantly surrounded by people. And so, I was I was really looking forward to being alone, and then I realized being with my thoughts was a lot. It was more than I was expecting. One night I couldn't sleep at all, and I just remember being really overwhelmed with how much I missed my girlfriend. I guess it’s the whole absence makes the heart grow fonder thing. It was very insomniac night. I wrote the whole thing in one night. It was a manic writing period. It's really a love song about being in a city where you don't know anybody and really just missing the person you love, and having some distance and lonesomeness makes you appreciate them so much.
interview AUDRY HIAOUI
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