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Sophie Simmons on finding her own voice: ‘I was just a normal preteen, and that wasn't enough for the industry I was born into’

Lyndsey Parker
·Editor in Chief, Yahoo Music
·13 min read
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It couldn’t have been easy for Sophie Simmons growing up in public. She was only 11 years old when she was first thrust into the spotlight on Gene Simmons Family Jewels, a long-running and hugely successful A&E reality series that starred her mother, model/actress/former Playboy Playmate Shannon Tweed, and her rock-star dad, the notorious bassist for KISS. While Sophie says her parents “made it as normal as possible growing up” and were always “such strong and down-to-earth people, just like the coolest,” as she started to embark on her own career path after that show ended in 2012, she struggled.

Sophie dabbled in modeling for a while, but as a size eight girl in a size zero world, her frustration (which inspired her to launch her own body-positive clothing line for the Style Club in 2014) eventually led to her decision to quit, with her mother’s encouragement. What Sophie really wanted to pursue was music, but she was reluctant to go into that line of work as well, fearing the inevitable comparisons to her other famous parent. But eventually, she couldn’t deny her true calling — and, by focusing on electronic music and writing for other artists too, she found her own voice.

Sophie’s voice has now extended to the printed page with the release of Secrets I Would Never Say, But I Would Sing, a book of poetry collecting both unused “raw, intimate ideas” scribbled in the notebooks she carries around at all times and lyrical snippets from her original songs like “Black Mirror” and “Paper Cut.” Speaking with Yahoo Entertainment about the book and her career journey, Sophie, now age 28, shares more raw and intimate thoughts about the sizeism she has experienced in show business, the fears Gene Simmons had for her when she decided to become a musician, why the myth of nepotism really needs to be debunked, and how she found “solace” in songwriting.

Yahoo Entertainment: You have a new poetry book that just came out, called Secrets I Would Never Say, But I Would Sing. … I assume these poems are not inspired by one particular incident or person, but they do seem inspired by personal relationships, romances, things like that. What makes you go, “Oh, I need to write that down?”

Sophie Simmons: I think it's a personal form of therapy for me, in a way, to say things that I either wouldn't say to people's faces, or feelings that I really have for someone that I would never say, or thoughts on the world, even that I feel like I can't share on social media. It's just an outlet to get everything out, so I can better understand what I'm feeling and what I really do want to say.

'Secrets I Would Never Say, But I Would Sing,' by Sophie Simmons (Photo: Icon Publicity)
'Secrets I Would Never Say, But I Would Sing,' by Sophie Simmons (Photo: Icon Publicity)

It's interesting that you mentioned the social media thing. I am wondering as someone who grew up in the public eye, like you were on television starting at about 11 years old. And even before that, you were obviously from a famous family. You kind of came up just as social media was starting to come up. Did you have to deal with a lot of trolls?

Oh, definitely. We grew up at a time that was honestly the worst, because not only did we have social media, but we still had rampant tabloids. … So that was definitely weird as a kid, to feel and be a part of. And I think that's why maybe I really enjoy songwriting now, is it's like a bit more of a private experience. So I think I found some solace there.

Is there anything that stuck with you from that time?

Definitely what stuck with me, or what I realized at a young age, was there was a standard of beauty that I didn't fit into at the time. Like, I was not a socialite type of girl who was like really into makeup and fashion and going out and all those things. I was kind of a bit more nerdy. I played volleyball and I liked computers and I was chubbier as a kid. I was just a normal preteen, and that wasn't enough for the industry I was born into. So it was really hard to find within myself, like that space to be comfortable with who I am. And that definitely came later with age, but I mean, all thanks to my parents.

Did you feel like a certain pressure, that you were the daughter of these people, to look a certain way or to live up to the standard of beauty that you're talking about?

Yes and no. I think when we went to family events, like for a premiere or something, there was always like a panic of like, “Oh my God, what do I wear?” And then we tried, or when we were on the show, we had a stylist, and they would bring clothes that were in the sample size. And like, God knows I've never been a sample size! And so that was super-hard, to continually try on clothes that I knew were not going to fit me. … It's really hard, because you would think that stylists and makeup artists are there to help you feel comfortable, but a lot of them are just trying to fit you into this mold of what they know how to do. And so there's very few people, I think, in the industry who really take pride in their work and are willing to work with people on an individual basis, based on what they're most comfortable with. We definitely see more of that now with designers designing not only just sample sizes, and are dressing stars on the red carpet that are fuller-figured or just normal. I think that's so important for young girls to see. I didn't really get to see a lot of that. Like, I was on the tail end of the ‘90s supermodels. Everyone was like, stick, stick-thin. And that's just not how I'm built.

Sophie Simmons, Gene Simmons. and Shannon Tweed in 2012. (Photo: Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage)
Sophie Simmons, Gene Simmons. and Shannon Tweed in 2012. (Photo: Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage)

Do you remember any specific incident? Like, someone comes to a photo shoot knowing you're the subject, and brings size two or size zero clothes? Did you have moments, anything like that?

Oh, literally every… like, I don't know, a single photo shoot that that's not happened to me. I don't know a single time. And it's not like they don't send your sizes ahead of time. Like, I'm not lying when I say, “Hi, I'm an eight, please don't bring a zero. I won't fit in it.” Like, I don't mind being an eight. Like I'm completely comfortable with how I look, and I'm very happy with my body. But what makes you doubt that is when people look at that, ignore it completely, and then just bring a zero and expect you to fit into it. And then you start going, “Oh, should I really be fitting into that? Like, is it my fault?” Or you start blaming yourself, because you don't want to be [difficult], especially on a shoot. This is why I really don't model anymore. I would always feel like the burden for not fitting into the things that the stylist brought, like I was “ruining” it. But really now, looking back and being older with some more perspective, they knew who they were hiring for the shoot. They should have brought things that fit. And I hope now things like that aren't happening as often. I mean, even just for girls that are not in the entertainment industry, or boys as well, when we go into stores, we want to see sizes that are inclusive and that fit us. We're the ones buying the product. It's like, they don't want to take our money? We want to buy the clothes like that!

Your mother, what advice did she give you — particularly when, for a while, as you say, you were pursuing modeling — about how to not let that get to your head and mess with you?

I mean, the only things that I could model was like swimwear and lingerie, because that's where they kind of accept a bit more of a bustier person. Like, I was never doing high-fashion stuff; I was always doing something a little bit more on the sexy side. And I was really young and not necessarily wanting to do that, but I felt like, “OK, this is what people do when they're in my situation — we go and we model, or we become socialites or whatever.” Like, I thought that's what I had to do. So my mom was very clear when she said that I didn't have to do it and I could quit at any time, and no one was expecting me to do that. And she definitely made sure I still went to college, and all the things that you hope your kid does. And I think just through trial and error, I found that [modeling] wasn't something I wanted to do. But I think if I didn't experience it, I would still think that I had to live up to those beauty standards. You kind of have to go through it and be like, “This is some bullcrap. I don't want to do this,” to really know that, “OK, I'm comfortable with myself, and I don't really want to fit into that mold.”

Sophie Simmons in 2020. (Photos: McLaren Ray)
Sophie Simmons in 2020. (Photos: McLaren Ray)

Obviously you're focusing on music and the poetry book and stuff, but is that something you're still wanting to do more of — more fashion design?

I don't think so. I think I avoided music and songwriting for a long time because I just didn't want to do what my family did, but I knew deep down that [music] was always what I wanted to do. So also that was a struggle, just continually purposefully not doing what your passion is. That was definitely something I struggled with.

I've talked about this with Louise Goffin, who is Carole King's daughter, Dhani Harrison, who is George Harrison’s son, and Ozzy’s daughter, Aimée Osbourne. All of them have said at some point, their parents kind of sat them down and said, “Are you sure you want to do this?” Because first of all, music in general is hard, no matter what. But although of course there will be opportunities that maybe a second-generation musician will get that someone who isn't would not get, at the same time there's another layer of difficulty — the comparisons people will make, accusations of nepotism, whatever.

I actually think mostly people don't give [second-generation musicians] the chance. Like if nepotism really worked in this sense, do you not think me and Aimée would be already the biggest pop stars of the world? Like, it just makes no sense. If it really helped, I would be signed to a label. I'd be signed to a publisher. I would have No. 1 singles. I don't. I'm a completely independent artist and songwriter. I write for people based on recommendations of artists who liked working with me, who then refer me to their friends. It's a grind, but it's something I really enjoy. And unfortunately, the era of those big rock stars is just not helpful. Now with streaming, they have no experience with it. My dad has zero idea how Spotify works. He doesn't understand how people make money now. And that was a big conversation we had, where he said, “Hey, I really don't think you should do this.” Nothing to do with my talent, but just purely, it's so much more difficult now to make a dollar than it was when you were selling physical records and able to tour. … He was just concerned about me being able to make a living off songwriting. Even at the beginning, like in the golden age of music, it was still difficult to make money as a songwriter, but now even more so, and it's much more about quantity than quality now to make a living as a songwriter. But I can't avoid that. It's what I want to do with my life. So if that means, you know, I'm not living the most lavish of lives, I'm cool with that, because I get to do what I love every day.

Did you ever feel any pressure, whether external or internal, to sort of do something more metal or more hard rock, given the fact that — at least hypothetically — there would be a ready-made audience for that? You’ve obviously have gone in more of a dance direction with your music.

If I had done something rock, or if my brother had gone into rock or something, I'm sure there would be some crossover. But still the age difference is 40 or 50 years from an original KISS fan to now, and music and streaming and even radio has changed so much. So, a lot of the music that I make is never going to reach the ears of those people. And a lot of stuff that I get on social media from KISS fans is like, “Oh, we don't like this music. It's too pop, it's too dance.” You know, they're diehard rock people. They don't get it, the music that I write. Which is fine.

Do you really get crap from KISS fans who basically want you to sound like a female-fronted KISS? Like, what — do they want you to spit blood or something?

I don't really know what the expectation is, but I just know that no matter what you do, you can't make everyone happy. So you just have to make yourself happy.

I mentioned that obviously you started in reality television at age 11 with Family Jewels, and then went on to want to do music. So what made you go on another reality show, The X Factor, in 2012?

The story behind it is I was trying to get meetings with publishers and labels, and no one would meet with me. I couldn't get a meeting with a label. I couldn't get a manager. The only people telling me they liked my songs were my parents. And I was like, “You know what? This doesn't really count. I need an unbiased audience of music professionals who are just going to tell me, super-cutthroat, if it's good or bad. And if one of them says, it's good, then I'm just going to go for it.” And I passed the audition. So I was like, “OK, I'm just going to do this, and I'm really going to commit to it.”

Aside from your own music, who have you written for?

I've written for a lot of dance artists, like you said, so Yellow Claw and Sam Feldt and then some pop artists like Ella Henderson. I just started writing for everyone. I've really found that I love finding new young artists and writing for them, so I have one artist, Leah Kate, who's now going viral on TikTok with a song we wrote for her. I really like helping people who can't get the big meeting, get a good song, and get them a meeting. I wish someone had done that for me.

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