Miss Grit: gritty guitar anthems tackling imposter syndrome

Each week in First On, we introduce a shit-hot artist you’d have no doubt seen opening the bill for your favourite act. This week, the New York-based Margaret Sohn on how early success prompted a examination of her self and why St Vincent's shredding skills changed everything for her

Somewhere in the once-bustling boroughs of New York City, Miss Grit is reflecting on another productive day in quarantine. “Now that I am back in isolation, I am actually writing more,” says the Brooklyn-based musician. “This time has given me a lot of power. I feel like I have grown – I’m not as concerned with the rules that I used to set for myself. I am finally feeling a sense of relief.”

You might assume that for an independent artist like Miss Grit (real name Margaret Sohn), the past year – which has seen the ongoing coronavirus pandemic utterly decimate the live music industry – might have been a period of uncertainty and hardship. Not quite. In 2020, a universal, catastrophic circumstance transcended into a time of self-realisation: she finally began to reconcile her anxieties about her Asian-American identity.

Shortly after lockdown began last year, the Michigan native turned to work on her second EP, ‘Imposter’, an ambitious six-song effort informed by her lifelong experiences of racial imposter syndrome – an internal conflict that was deeply felt as a Korean-American woman who grew up in predominantly white spaces.

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“I was always taught – not by anyone in particular, but more from the pressure that I put on myself – to adapt to those around me. I tried to reflect what I saw in others,” she says. “But then I came to New York, where you’re encouraged to be an individual, to stand out from the rest, and to embrace your culture and your background. So I think that contrast was really huge – it was pretty much a culture shock.”

Studying Music Technology at the prestigious New York University became a way to break through the many forms of discrimination she had suffered in the past, and connect with others who shared a burning passion for the guitar. Having been encouraged by her parents to pursue her beloved instrument – which she first picked up at six-years-old, fascinated by “the power it held” – her time at NYU was a transformative experience that led to her making her own music and effects pedals outside of class.

When she was starting out, friends and critics likened her subversive approach to alt-rock to her “ultimate idol”, St. Vincent. She doesn’t deny the connection: “St. Vincent is the reason why I bought an electric guitar in the first place. I was drawn to how she identifies as a woman guitarist – she made the guitar accessible to me.”

Yet it was the release of her remarkable debut EP ‘Talk Talk’ at the beginning of 2019 that changed her perspective on her artistry in a way that she didn’t quite anticipate. The acclaim that it received across online music publications caused the imposter syndrome from her youth to creep back in, so she started to spend a lot of time contemplating people’s perceptions of her. “The success kind of gave me a confidence boost,” she says. “But at the same time, I was like, ‘Are all these people sure? Is this for real? Maybe there’s some sort of mix up and they’re discovering my work by accident? Am I impersonating a musician?’ I don’t know. I thought I was just a flaw in the system.”

What Sohn had always prided herself on in the past was her belief in her talent – a distraction from the profound identity crisis that overshadowed her formative years. Yet this period of her life, which should have been so exciting and rewarding, left her feeling like a “fraud”, which she references on her new EP; I can’t quite smile/I did not win this prize of mine”, she sings on the introspective title track.

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These days, Sohn is closer to getting the balance in life. She describes how identifying the many obstacles that female and non-binary guitarists face has made her want to be more open about her skills set, and hopes that her honesty – “I really don’t know how to improvise!” – will encourage others to pick up a guitar.

“This EP has definitely been a learning curve. My imposter syndrome still comes up a lot, but at least now I’m able to identify it and use it to my advantage,” she explains. “Even just writing ‘Imposter’ was really helpful because for myself and a lot of others, it’s important to put a name to certain feelings.”

Now, she views her creative process as something close to catharsis: “I am more honest in what I’m writing, and I’ve been able to figure out the different parts of my life that were scrambled,” she says. “When writing the ‘Imposter’ EP, I was really able to untie the knots and smooth everything out – and now I’m able to move forward.”

Miss Grit’s ‘Imposter’ is out Feb 5

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