Ólafur Arnalds interviews Sofi Paez

5 Minute Read

Ólafur Arnalds talks to the inaugural signing on his OPIA Community project; Sofi Paez and her album Silent Stories.

A pianist and composer hailing from San José, Costa Rica Paez explores the fusion of piano, voice, and the electronic in a quest for self-expression – like all of us right?! Fluent in both Spanish and English, she draws inspiration from the tapestry of daily life and the natural world that envelops her.

In 2023, Sofi’s EP “Circles” catapulted her into the spotlight, capturing widespread acclaim and positioning her as a rising star in the music scene. This acclaim led to a pivotal moment when she was personally selected by Ólafur Arnalds to perform at the launch event for his OPIA initiative. It was there that Sofi was unveiled as the inaugural signing to the OPIA label.

So we thought it about right that we ask Ólafur to interview Sofi and delve into the depths of her creative process, exploring the inspiration behind her compositions and reflecting on the transformative power of artistic community. For contet the interview took place some months back…

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Ólafur: Hey! How are you?

Sofi: Helloooo! This weather is really depressing… I mean, the first year it was kind of okay because Berlin was new. And then it got boring, right? Now it’s not new and it’s kind of really sad. What about you?

Ólafur: A little bit the same. I just got back from LA and also from Ireland, and it was raining everywhere. Raining in LA.



Sofi: Oh, and how was it?

Ólafur: It was good. In LA I was there for the Grammys, it’s my second time and it’s a bit much. Just the whole thing, you know? But of course, cool to be a part of. And I went to Cork to work with Talos, we made some new music and had some good times.

Sofi: That’s cool. Sounds really nice. Yeah, I mean, I can imagine it’s a bit much, but also fun. It’s a bit much because the whole thing is a bit over the top.

Ólafur: The whole thing in LA is very over the top, yeah (laughs). It was raining so much and people in LA are not used to rain, and the city is not built for rain. So the city was literally flooding at the Grammys. So everything was a bit crazy; it was quite hilarious to see all these celebrities in their hair and makeup getting super wet and their dresses and suits getting wet. Of course, myself included, but I had a sense of humour about the situation.

So, a question! The obvious first one for me is: what role online communities have played in your musical upbringing or your career? Not only online community, we can talk about community in general. But yeah, for you I think particular online communities, because I know you grew up in Costa Rica and were a little isolated from the rest of the instrumental music scene that you kind of dreamed to be a part of. And therefore, online has played a big part for you. And I just wanted to go through that story a little bit with you.

Sofi: I’ve been trying to think about this as well because I think it’s something from when I was a teenager. I remember going into online communities of bands that I loved. I was a true Paramore supporter and had no access to any shows or any merch or anything. So I felt like the only way to really connect with people that felt like-minded was through these online communities.

During COVID, I was like, how do I connect to other people if I can’t leave my house? And it was really interesting because I think being online in those two years opened up so many doors that I didn’t even realize at that moment. I was just like, oh, I’m just hanging out, especially on Discord, you know, with OPIA. I was also part of Askjell Solstrand’s Discord community. And from there I met a lot of friends. Eventually, I met him and he was like, you should do music. And I was crazy enough to pursue that.

I had finished my bachelor’s in piano performance, and I was completely burned out because the classical world is very tough, just not for me. So I was like I’ll just keep teaching piano, but I’ll just be a graphic designer – and during those years, I didn’t play much piano at all. And it was only when I heard, for example, your music that I even started to play with the idea of becoming a composer. I met a friend there who was like, I just bought a piano and I want to play songs by Ólafur Arnalds, and I was like, I don’t know who that is, but cool. I felt so secluded into such a classical upbringing, and this type of music we do is also not so popular in Costa Rica. So for me, really the community and the online aspect of it, I think made all the difference. It’s why I’m here, which is really cool. It’s a crazy experience.

Ólafur: So your musical education was quite strict classical.

Sofi: I studied classical piano. My teachers emigrated from Russia to Costa Rica and formed their own piano school. Eventually, I went to University and got my degree in Piano Performance. And I was like, yeah, I’m going to be a classical pianist. And I did the competitions, piano recitals, orchestra stuff, which of course prepared me for now, but it was quite hard for me personally.

Ólafur: Yeah! So you were getting a bit burned out by classical music, if I understand it correctly, and then discovered a new kind of classical music through online communities?

Sofi: Yeah, exactly. Which then would bring me to my question. Tied up with this online community. How did the idea come to be? Did you expect it to be like how it is today, and do you remember our first contact there?

Ólafur: Yeah, so I’ve been fascinated by communities or musical communities for the last, I don’t know, 10 years or so. There’s a few answers to why basically I think. Myself, I experienced a lot of isolation, so I really longed for community. I guess I didn’t have much because like in the music scene, when I started doing this kind of music, there weren’t that many people doing it. Like three of us or something. We were not really that welcome in classical music halls. And also the pop world or electronic world thought we were too classical. I feel like sometimes there was just always this feeling within me that was like, oh, I wish I had a scene. I wish I had a community to be a part of because we’re just kind of like going against the current all the time. And of course, that’s what you kind of want to do as an artist, but actually, it can be a little bit lonely sometimes. Then on the other hand, I grew up in Iceland in a kind of a smaller suburb, and I had some friends in high school and stuff, but right after high school, I just go on tour and I lose touch with most of my friends. But I also didn’t really have a tight-knit community at home because I was always away. Like six months out of the year, I would be on tour or I was living in LA for a bit or I was living in Berlin for a bit for work. And at the same time, I started thinking about like why we do music, you know, what are we doing if it’s causing all this isolation, like why is that happening? And there’s something wrong with that because wasn’t music a communal experience to begin with? Like that’s the whole point of it.

The second part of your question. Has it become what I expected? Yes and no. Like, of course, the idea is changing and changing. But it’s also evolving. And that’s very natural. And it’s still not in a finalised state. It will probably never be in a finalised state because that’s the nature of organisations that a lot of people contribute to. So I remember noticing you on our community server, our Discord server, where we do all the chatting. You posted either a song or maybe you just asked people’s opinion on your promo picture or something like that. Do you remember? So I thought okay, I’m going to go check out the music that she’s putting out and I was like, Oh, this is actually really good. I was programming my BBC show at the time and I decided to put it on and the BBC people loved it and everyone kind of just really loved it. So yeah, that’s how I remember you.

And also, actually:The first time I got in touch with you was when I was playing Mexico. Right?

Sofi: Thats true! To moderate the Spanish speaking channel on Discord that existed back then because there was so much influx.



Influx of people speaking Spanish and it was getting quite chaotic and I didn’t understand what was happening in the server anymore and I knew you speak Spanish.

I was like, can you please be a moderator? Because I’m pretty sure someone just offered another person weed on the server. (both laugh)

Sofi:  Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was so funny because I remember joining the conversation and I’m like, oh, my God, what’s going on in here? And then, of course, I started moderating and everything calmed down.

Ólafur: But now it’s too late. You’re already a moderator. Now you have to help us out.

Sofi: Yeah, too late. I get messages now that people who discover me through you and they’re like, that’s so crazy because I’m also Costa Rican or also doing music and it seems so crazy. And I’m like, yeah, yeah, I know. I think it’s crazy too, because it’s just so far away. I mean, I live in Berlin now, but It’s just completely different, but I think it’s really cool.

Ólafur: Yeah. So why did you move to Berlin?

Sofi: It was not part of the plan. I was actually going to move to Spain. I just needed one person to believe in me, to actually push me to do music and that’s kind of what happened. I was like, okay, tomorrow I’m quitting school. I’m quitting my job. I’m moving. I had met someone in Berlin who also did music, Rosa Lee Luna. I really liked what she was doing and she was looking for musicians to join her band. Before a trip to Norway to meet Askjell I went to Berlin. We had a couple of writing sessions and I didn’t know how it was gonna be because I was coming from a more classical more piano world and she was more pop and we got along so well and the session was so beautiful and we were like oh my god where have you been all of our lives this is amazing. So three months after, I moved to Berlin – because it felt right.

After I moved I also realized that I had been building many friendships online with people that lived in Berlin. So I actually moved and I was meeting these people that I already kind of knew from online, but in person for the first time. So like when people tell me, oh my God, moving to Berlin is difficult because you sometimes don’t find your people. I think if I didn’t have that community, those friends, it would have been very hard to fit in here because it’s a tough place.

Ólafur: Yeah, I think sometimes if you’re moving to a foreign country, you just need like one touch point, right? Or it’s so much easier to make friends if you already have one friend. Like if you move alone, you don’t know anyone, I can’t even imagine where to start.  Like, do you just go to a bar and hopefully… Hello? I just moved here.  That makes it a lot easier. If  you already know some people.

Sofi: How do you see the role of a musician now compared to when you started?

Ólafur: I guess our purpose has not changed, right? Whatever that is, and maybe that’s different for every person, but I still like to see the purpose of music being this communal gift. You know, it’s a small gift you give to your community or the world of connection.

Of binding people together in a way that nothing really else can because it kind of supersedes or surpasses any opinions, differences. This is why I sometimes have such a hard time with musical boycotting or something like that, because ideally I want to think of music as something that’s kind of above all that.

The reality isn’t always that, of course, but that’s the idealist in me who likes to believe that music is above anything, you know. And that is its purpose. That is the role of music : to be above all these things. Music is why we’ve been able to go to like every corner of the world and play for people who are so different from us. Like, it’s taken me to Iran. It’s taken me to China, the US, Portugal, like every corner, that’s so different. People are so different, but the feeling in every place is the same and it reminds us of our pure humanity, who we are behind all of those layers. And I think that is the purpose of music.

Sofi: I imagine it must be really nice to feel this same feeling, even if you’re in a completely different place. Is there a particular moment that you’re like, oh my God, this moment really moved me.

Ólafur: Yeah, I just always remember one of my first kind of real realizations of what a big effect music can have. And of course, people often have these stories and I meet them and after a show taking selfies or something like that. And they tell very emotional things. It’s hard as a person to hold these things. I’m sensitive and you can’t always take all of it in. So I think the story that had the most effect on me was maybe an email I got rather than someone I met because I think I was in a good state. I had a beautiful show. I came back to my hotel room and I’m reading my emails and I see an email from a girl who had very serious mental issues. It was causing very deep depression and she had attempted to end her life. She was in the hospital. Basically she woke up in a hospital very disappointed that she had been saved. She had to stay in the hospital for some days and was just like, I can’t wait to get out of here because I’m going to finish what I started, you know. And her friend came by and gave her an iPod. And there was just a shuffle of songs in there, and the first song she just put on was one of mine. And she said that in that moment, something just clicked.

And I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what it is in my music or whether it had to be my music that did that or whether it could have been anyone’s music in that moment. She was ready to hear it, you know? And she just thought, huh, this is beautiful. And then after that comes, Oh, life can be beautiful. Oh, wait, maybe I don’t want to die. Oh, I want to get out of here and live a great life. And she listened to that song on repeat for the whole time in the hospital, went out of there determined to change her life around. And my concert that she came to was the one year anniversary of when she had to go to the hospital. At that moment she had really turned her life around and didn’t feel her depression anymore. For me, that was like a really, really gorgeous story to read. And I replied and I had tears in my eyes. So strong somehow this story.
It made me think : if I can have one story like this, all of this is worth it. Like if you can save one person’s life basically with what you’re doing. So all the shitty stuff that comes with what we do, it’s all worth it for stories like that. Even if you don’t always have the mental space to receive them. You know they exist, you know people go through this stuff on a daily basis.

Sofi:  Wow, that’s an incredible story. So many things sometimes line up. that’s really powerful, that’s really beautiful.

Ólafur:  Do you have a personal story or a personal experience that drew you to the music that you create? Like that inspired you to create the music that you do apart from just like

“I don’t like classical music anymore, but this is how I can still play. “

Sofi:  For me, the piano became my main thing because I was in a very hard moment in my life and I was depressed and my dad was like, okay, maybe we need to get her to do something so she can feel okay. Of course it was a bit extreme because I was thrown into a very strict kind of education. But for me, I know it sounds super cheesy, the piano saved me. I’m a very emotional person. I think I feel everything super deep and the piano for me is something that has always been constant, you know, even in those moments where I was not playing and I feel very detached from it. It feels like home. I didn’t even know I had it in me to start composing, creating. It’s a very powerful thing because sometimes I’ll be playing something and I remember being in the deepest hole and thinking I was never gonna come out of there. I have to remind myself, that when things are very, very rough, there is always some sort of hope and that’s the thing you must never lose. I don’t know, maybe you wake up and you have a good coffee. I mean, I don’t drink coffee, but orange juice and you’re like, okay, this is nice and that becomes your highlight. The piano still sparks something in me that I cannot explain with any other thing. So for me, the piano was like my saving from that really, really dark period. Sometimes you need…a bit of stability in your life.

Ólafur:  Yeah. Yeah. It’s the one constant in my life too. Well, not necessarily the piano, but just the composing is the one. Meditation too. It’s literally just meditating, right? So I really understand from that point of view also how it helps with mental health. Because you’re just concentrating on one thing, any other thoughts just leave.

Sofi: It’s really nice when you get this really deep disconnection also in shows, because sometimes it’s not so easy to be present. Like present enough to disconnect, you know? You go into this trance that I can never explain it to people who don’t play music, but…

It’s like everything and nothing at the same time. And I just love that feeling. I love that feeling.

Ólafur: Yeah. I think that everything and nothing feeling is “flow state” for me. You get into the state of mind where it’s just exactly in that perfect flow where you just forget about time. You’re in the studio and you forget to eat or make dinner or call your mom, like anything. Just nothing exists except what you’re doing when you manage to get there. It’s the most incredible feeling in the world because it’s something just so surreal about feeling like you’re alone in the world. But actually, there’s, I don’t know, like hundreds or maybe even thousands of people sitting around you. But you forget that they’re even there.

That is such a strange, beautiful feeling.

Sofi: Yeah, it’s really cool. I love it.  I have lighter questions now. I wanted to ask about a favorite show or movie that you saw recently.

Ólafur: I just watched Poor Things two weeks ago. It was just one of my favorite things I’ve seen in a long time. I have to recommend everyone to see this film. We’re talking the night after the BAFTAs and it just got like four awards at the BAFTAs last night. Yeah, I think four, if not more.

Its Gorgeous. It’s so strange and so beautiful. So off-putting somehow. Terrible. Terrifying. With amazing, beautiful score. Have you seen it?

Sofi: No, but it’s on my list. I really want to see it. I almost saw it last week, but I ended up going to see All of Us Strangers. Did you watch that one?

Ólafur: No.

Sofi: Ah, beautiful also. Really. It’s one of those movies you come out of the movies and you have this feeling of like, you know, what did I just watch? It just keeps your brain engaged and also the score is really beautiful.

Ólafur: I’m starting to really feel like a return to movies. I feel like the TV show industry got a bit over-saturated. And I feel like most people are feeling this and I am hopeful that we start seeing like a shift in the focus again, because the last five, 10 years have just all been about TV shows.

Sofi: Yeah, also there’s so much to see, like you shouldn’t have access to it all at once. Binge watching shouldn’t be a thing.

Ólafur: It has devalued the art form a little bit for me. So it’s like, OK, what’s the show of the week? You know, and everyone is raving about it, like whatever it is, you know, Beef – or whatever came after that. Like everyone is watching it and everyone is loving it. And then next week, there’s just another thing. And everyone forgot about the thing that was last week. And there’s just so much stuff.. But please do recommend a good TV show to change my mind.

Sofi: Good TV show. I mean, my favorite ones are old shows. My all time favorite show is Fleabag. And you’ve probably seen it.

Ólafur: I fucking love it.

Sofi: I think it’s so brilliantly written. And every time I feel like watching something, I watch that. But yeah, it destroys your soul a little bit. It’s a bit crushing.

Ólafur:I think my favorite TV show that I’ve seen is, I mean, those older ones, of course, like The Wire or Breaking Bad. Sopranos even, but like more recently in the streaming era, the OA.

Sofi:I didn’t watch that one.

Ólafur: I think that’s my favorite one.  We asked you to be a part of this show in Berlin where we were launching OPIA Community and you played a set but then we also played a set together where I had invited you and like six or seven other friends to kind of each spring one of their songs and then each person would kind of add to it and we would all work together on a communal set in a concert. So it was you, it was JFDR, it was Talos, it was Lisa Morgenstern, it was Dustin O’Halloran, it was Sandrayati.

How was this experience for you?

Sofi: Well, it was a bit crazy. I’m not gonna lie. But in a really good way. Because going into it, I was like, how am I gonna feel? I’m gonna freak out. Because I hadn’t met personally with any of these people. I only knew Lisa from before, which actually was great, because then it made everything feel lighter. I felt like I was a bit of an outsider because I feel really new in this world. But it felt really comfortable. And to be able to see the songs come to life and when we would practice, it was like, wow. It brought me back kind of to that feeling of this magic happening because of everyone coming together from different backgrounds. So it was a really, really cool experience. That night is kind of a blur to me, if I’m being completely honest. It also just felt really different from a traditional concert. Like it was way more laid back and I think people could really feel it. And I think that’s also such a nice thing about your music, because I had also never seen you play before that night – that you just like, okay, time to be here, you know? I think the audience could feel it. And I could feel it as well, that night was crazy.

Ólafur: There’s one thing I’ve learned.

I think if everyone is open to magic happening, magic will happen. And if I’m putting together a group like this, the most important thing is to get open-minded people, to get people who I know will be excited about the experience. Like who I know are maybe fans of someone else who is there. Like maybe Dustin loves Lisa’s music or maybe Talos loves JFDR music.

Sofi: Talos! It was like, oh my god, who’s that? I think he didn’t know Lisa from before, but afterwards we were chatting and you were still rehearsing with Lisa and he was like “oh my god. It’s crazy, her voice is so beautiful.”

Ólafur: So yeah, that’s like the thing to keep in mind. You put together a group and if you know that they’re going to be excited about each other, magic will happen.

They all step up and become a part of something. And then you don’t put pressure on anyone., if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. It’s okay. Like, it never becomes a job. But we can just go on stage and we can just be like, okay, we’re here now. Let’s do something fun, you know?.

Sofi:  Yeah. I really felt it and that helped a lot.   And I actually wanted to ask a question that was maybe more for the beginning, but when did the idea of the OPIA label came to be?

Ólafur: Yeah, why am I doing this again? (laughs)
Well, OPIA  started with just one festival in 2019 and then after that we started the Discord server and then the community started growing and I started seeing all these talented musicians in there – like you – and we always wanted to have another festival and maybe do them regularly. Our first festival was before COVID so we never were able to do them regularly because COVID came and put all those plans aside.

At some point we had a couple of thousand people in the community and I saw how much talent was in there. I had a long meeting with my management and I was like, Hey guys, I think we should make something out of this. It’s like a really unique opportunity. Like how often do you see a community like that forming naturally without anyone forcing it, there’s so much talent in there. We should support this and make it become something more, maybe there’s an opportunity here to create something really unique in the music scene.

So it was not supposed to be just a label and it isn’t, you know, it’s just a part of what OPIA community is. It should not be thought of as a record label, I think. It should be thought of as a community of like-minded people, of creative people, of people who want to get together around a common interest and meet each other. And that’s the idea. And our role is just to support that. Whether it’s gonna be record or a publishing deal or a live show or writing for a magazine.

Sofi: Yeah, it’s been so cool to see it come to life and it’s gonna be so nice also to meet people, from the community in the shows. It’s also really nice, also really special part of it, I think.

Ólafur: Why did you accept our offer to release music under OPIA Community?

Sofi: A good question. I just felt like everything had happened so organically. And I had such a strong gut feeling, like this is the right thing to do. I feel comfortable with you guys because it kind of felt like I knew you. And I think for me, it’s really important to have people in my team that you can approach and talk about and be open with. Are these people I feel comfortable with that I can even have easy but also hard conversations with, because it’s also part of the whole industry. And that’s why I accepted because it felt like it could be a match for both of the sides. Yeah, and also I had, you know, met people through that community as well, and I was active in the community. So yeah, it made sense. It was just natural.

Ólafur: I think that’s the most important part of signing to any label for anyone. Do you like these people?

Sofi: Because you’re going to be working with them a lot.

Ólafur: Yeah, are you going to enjoy working with them? Because it’s going to be a lot.  What are you up to now? What’s your next project?

Sofi: We are releasing the album this month which is very exciting! And then we have some tour dates around Europe. Stay tuned on socials.

I feel like I gave birth to a really beautiful baby and I can’t wait for people to hear it. I don’t know what I had in mind about doing an album, but it was quite the experience.

Ólafur: It is quite an experience. It’s just such a big body of work, isn’t it?

Sofi: Yes. How do you know when to stop? It’s like I could go on forever because it’s never ready, but then at some point you need to Let go

Ólafur:  It doesn’t stop. It can only stop because you decided it stops. There is no end to music. Music is never finished.

Sofi: Yeah. And for you, what do you have planned for this year?

Ólafur:  Well, right now, a couple of things I can’t talk about. I’m writing music. I want to release some new music. Maybe Next year, I’m just starting. And I want to go back on tour and try to change things up somehow, maybe do it a bit different to what I did the last few years. But also we are playing Kiasmos shows in the summer.. So we are starting to prepare for all of that as well.

Sofi: That’s cool. It’s gonna be fun for the summer also

Ólafur: Yeah, a party.  Well, it was a pleasure to talk to you in this nice way.

Sofi:  Likewise.

Ólafur: You’re very talented and I’m so excited to be working with you. Can’t wait for your record.

Sofi: I’m really, really, really happy. And yeah, it’s been super nice to meet. I mean, today and other times it’s always such a fun experience to also get to pick your brain. So yeah, thank you.

Silent Stories is out now on OPIA

Listen to Silent Stories