Free Range opens for Ratboys at Rumba Cafe on Friday, September 22. Doors are 8pm, music at 9pm. Tickets are $18.

Earlier this summer, Free Range made quite the impression at the Nelsonville Music Festival, The Chicago trio’s indie bedroom folk is quiet and sublime with hints of country twang on tracks like “Want to Know.” Led by Sofia Jensen, who has been writing and recording music since the age of 14, Free Range’s already amazing year, which includes releasing their debut album, Practice, playing shows with artists ranging from Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) to The Backseat Lovers, and performing at both the previously mentioned Nelsonville Music Festival as well as the Newport Music Folk Festival, continues with an upcoming support slot on the Ratboys tour. The second date of the tour finds Jensen, bassist Bailey Minzenberger, and drummer Jack Henry making their Columbus debut at Rumba Cafe for what promises to be one of the most memorable shows the club has hosted this year.

Before packing up the van and hitting the road, Jensen hopped on a Zoom call with me to discuss the origin of the band, covering Gillian Welch’s “Look at Miss Ohio,” and a surprising phone call from an Ohio police officer.

As a songwriter, you’re very mature for your age. Does the album reflect your true-life personality?

I would like to think so. When they are written, it takes a while until you start recording them. We were making the album for so long and we sat on it for a long time. By the time it came out, I related to those songs less. They weren’t really what I would be doing musically now, necessarily. But, it seems like they are an accurate version of me at the time they were written. It’s my own version of high school drama though I was pretty removed from high school life. I just played music outside of school and stuff like that. The songs blend in my experiences as a really young person and having pretty trivial experiences in school and being relatable to people that are not in high school.

Would you say that high school wasn’t an awesome time for you?

I wouldn’t say that. I ended up at a good high school, as good as I could hope for and got a fine education. But, I definitely don’t thrive in a classroom setting. I feel like it’s hard to relate to people. Covid happened halfway through my junior year and then pretty much everything was remote. I was honestly totally fine with that.

The year above us, their prom got canceled and I remember everyone was really upset. I was like, “They are so lucky that they have an excuse. ‘I can’t go because it’s not happening.’” We ended up having a prom that was in our gymnasium and I didn’t go. I was definitely excited to be done with it.

Do you think your friends and teachers are surprised at where you’re at in life today?

I had music teachers outside of school. My first-ever guitar teacher that I had for two years reached out to me earlier this summer. The record was still pretty new, it had recently come out and he ended up coming to a show of mine. That was the first real experience of encountering someone who knew me before I had ever played guitar and he saw me at very embarrassing moments as I was learning.

I wouldn’t say that anyone was like, “Yeah, I definitely expected Sofia to be doing this.” I don’t know what they expected, honestly, but people are happy for me. Having my guitar teacher come to a show was super emotional for me and cool.

There’s an old saying that it takes your entire life to write your first record. Do you feel any pressure to make a second record?

I don’t really have much of a struggle writing new songs because it really is what I spend most of my time doing. Thankfully, I haven’t felt any pressure to make a second record. I’m ready whenever everybody is, you just have to have the pieces fall into place for it to happen. Since I never stopped writing at any point while we were making the record, songs are starting to back up.

I think the pressure that I feel – I was just talking with the people that I work with and they all know how many songs I have – is that I have all these songs I’m sitting on but they’re not crazy good. They’re fine but it’s all about finding a way to put something together that I feel proud of. So much of the stuff I have is still in the voice-memo phase and not demoed or played with the band so I feel a little bit of pressure. The challenge for me is to be able to look at all these songs and try to imagine all of their potential and if that is worth chasing down. I feel like some of these songs, they’re great as demos because I can go anywhere with them, but if I were to actually go down an avenue with this song and maybe it’s not what I thought it could be, then it’s a dead end. I just have to hope that I don’t pick the wrong songs.

”Growing Away” is a great song. Was it a conscious decision to open side B with that song knowing that, for some people who aren’t paying attention and put side B on first, it’ll be the first song they hear?

The tracklist is done with the intention that people will listen starting on side A. I kind of forget that there are people that will start with side B. I was with people the other day and they asked, “Can I start the record on side B?” I was like, “I mean, sure, it’s my house.” Like, you can, but why? I don’t really understand. If you like the whole thing, why not just listen to the whole thing in the right way? But, yes, it was very intentional to open side B with “Growing Away.”

We picked the sequencing and thought about it all a lot. “Growing Away” being the first song on side B was a thing where I was like, “I’m going to move this around so this track can be track one of side B and that’s going to make it all come together.”

I think about that stuff a lot because I listen to old records and new records. When people come out with records now, it still matters to me because I’ll probably buy the record. And, it’s a super important moment when you flip a record. It’s silent for a second – it’s like two acts in a play where you don’t want the acts to feel disjointed.

Do you think people should listen to the album in order, from track one to track 10?

There’s not a narrative story that’s being told in order on the road. I think people should listen to music how they want to, and there’s so many ways to do it now. There’s nothing I can do about the fact that the majority of people like Spotify users, or whoever is listening to music on playlists, are adding songs that are popping up with their algorithm and putting them on playlists and that’s how they listen to music. I have no problem with that, but it’s not really what I do.

I would like people to listen to the record in order because it’s a whole body of work to me and I thought a lot about the order. But, I would hope that nothing is lost when the songs are taken out of context because I like to think that they all would individually stand on their own. Ultimately, I don’t think it really matters how they listen.

You contributed a cover of Gillian Welch’s “Look at Miss Ohio” to the Big Hug compilation. Were you a fan of the song or did someone ask you to take a crack at it?

I grew up listening to Gillian Welch’s music and David Rawlings music because of my mom. I love all of her music but that song, for me, when I was in middle school, was the greatest song in the world.

And, in middle school, I met someone who is now my best friend and her name is Gillian. In music school, I walked in and everyone loves rock music, like classic rock and punk and metal. And, I just listened to folk music before I got really into rock music. I met this person and she was like, “Hi, I’m Gillian.” And I’m like, “Gillian? Like Gillian Welch?” and she was like, “I was named after her.” That was such a crazy moment for me. It wasn’t that she just liked Gillian Welch, it was passed down from her parents and it was so important to her. Gillian Welch was a really big part of her life, probably bigger than mine.

My mom took me to see David Rawlings and Gillian Welch when I was in eighth grade. I was super tired and remember that we were walking out the door before the show was over and then they came out for an encore. They started playing “Look at Miss Ohio” and I wasn’t expecting because they were playing mostly his songs that night. I was like, “I know I just asked you if we could leave early but we have to stay.” I was absolutely sobbing. There’s just something about that song.

When we were on tour in the spring, we played at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville and that was our last show of that tour. I had been listening to that song a lot for the first time in a while and had the idea to play it at that show. We just learned it during soundchecks for the few shows leading up to that one and we brought out a member of the band we were opening for (The Backseat Lovers) to play guitar on it.

I really wanted to do something special for that show because it was such a crazy moment for me. It just felt like I couldn’t be any closer to country and folk music. We were in Nashville and she lives in Nashville. It was really fun to play so we kept doing it.

We played the song on the tour that we did, sort of a short run that we did over the summer. We played the Nelsonville Festival in Ohio and then played the Newport Folk Festival and we did that song at both of those, which felt very fitting. Then we got asked about the comp and I thought it would be really cool to make a recording of that song.

You mentioned playing the Ryman, and Nelsonville, and the Newport Folk Festival. You’ve done more in 2023 than many bands get to do during the course of their entire career. Does it all feel like a whirlwind or have you had a moment to sit back and reflect on all the cool things you’ve done this year?

I feel like the way that stuff has been spaced out has been nice because when we’re out and doing stuff, it does feel really overwhelming. It’s hard to process things as they’re happening to you. It’s worked out that, after these runs or these experiences or shows, we will come home and I usually have a moment to catch my breath. I was pretty exhausted after coming home from the Newport Folk Festival and have had a lot of the month of August to really not think about music. I mean, I think about music but in a business way. I feel like I’ve been able to take a breather and just focus on living my life, being outside and biking and stuff.

It can be very overwhelming and I can be slow at processing stuff. I feel like every experience we have is really crazy to me and it doesn’t hit me right away. This tour that we’re about to go on opening for Ratboys is not going to hit me until we’re on stage at the first show. That’s the only way my brain can deal with it or process it because it’s too crazy if I were to really think about it all the time.

With all these experiences, this may be a tough question, if not impossible, to answer. But, if you could go back and play one show all over again, without changing anything, just get to have the same experience, is there a show that comes to mind?

The record release show we played here in Chicago in February was easily my favorite show that we’ve ever done. I feel like I was struggling with releasing a record and then being at home and knowing people were listening to it but not being able to experience it with them. I’m at home, checking my phone too much and then feeling like I did everything wrong or thinking that nobody cares about the record. It was a weird thing to release music into a digital abyss.

I was just thinking, “I put all of my energy and soul into this and I really hope people like it.” I couldn’t feel much satisfaction about the record until the release show which was a week after we put out the record.

It was crazy. It was one of the first real headlining shows that we ever did. You know people are going to come but it sold out. A lot of my friends were there. We did a last song that was sort of an encore type thing. We did the song “Burned” which is a Neil Young song, but, technically, it’s a Buffalo Springfield song that he wrote. I know it because Wilco has a cover of that song on Alpha Mike Foxtrot which I’ve been listening to since I was a kid. I was like, “This is a really fun song that I’ve always loved. I think we should cover it.”

Then I had the idea that it would be a really fun thing if I invited people up on stage from the other bands, who are all my friends that I asked to open. I felt like I had been participating in the Chicago music scene that I am a part of now for two years at that point and I had just seen all these people and was in such awe of them when they played shows. And they’re coming up on stage, these people who are my idols in a very hometown-kind of way. All of a sudden it felt like everyone was on stage, all these friends and it wasn’t just people from the other bands, it was a lot of friends who came up on stage and sang the song with us. I think that’s easily the most musical experience I’ve ever had.

Have you visited any cities that you’ve thought that you could move to and be happy?

I’ve had a lot of moments in my life where I get this idea in my head that I’m like, “This is where I’m going to move.” The first tour I ever went on was two years ago. I was playing guitar in another band. We did a lot of stuff in the south in September and October – North Carolina, Tennessee. It blew me away. I was like, “I have to live here.” For a while I was saying that I was going to move to North Carolina, like to Durham. And I remember when we went and mixed the record in Texas, it was this very rural, middle-of-nowhere place, on a huge prairie. It was December in Texas and just perfect. I called my parents and said, “I’m going to move to Texas” and they were like, “No, you’re not. That’s crazy.”

That’s just the part of me that is restless and interested in new places but ultimately it’s very hard for me to find real reasons to leave Chicago. Touring is really fun because I see a lot of places that I really love but then I will come home and I’ll be like, “Those other places are not the same.”

I truly feel like Chicago is just the perfect city for me and it’s my favorite place. I don’t think I would really be happier anywhere else. I’m my happiest when I’m here.

With all the traveling and touring you’ve done, any tips or hacks you can share?

The biggest thing is having a portable charger because my phone is always dead, especially in the summer when I’m playing festivals. It’s a nightmare.

The biggest struggle on tour is keeping my clothes not wrinkled. And so I bring a steamer with me on tour usually even though steamers are really annoying to use. I’m still trying to figure that out.

I still travel with a giant duffle bag and that’s just idiotic. But, I have a really nice duffle bag that I’ve always used for touring.

Bailey has done some touring with bands that are a little older than us and have been doing it longer. They’ve gotten some hack from those bands, like better ways to pack with those smaller, hardcover suitcases and ways you can split the two compartments and then just roll everything up. They have it dialed in and I’m still not there.

I also lose everything every time I tour. I had this really crazy thing happen on the last tour where I lost my wallet. That sucked so much. I had bought a new wallet and then lost it the next day with all my stuff in there. That just has made my life so annoying in so many ways. Then I got a message on Instagram last week from someone in Ohio claiming to be an Ohio police officer and being like, “Did you lose your wallet?” This was two months after I lost it. I was convinced I was about to get scammed by someone. He gave me a number to call and I called it and it was a police station. They had put my wallet in a package and shipped it to me a couple of days ago. I’m still waiting on it.

My bandmates know that every time we get home from tour, I have a long list of stuff I’ve lost along the way. I lost my Birkenstocks on tour in the spring. That was probably the worst thing I’ve ever lost.

Nelsonville is about an hour away from Columbus and the annual music festival always boasts such amazing lineups. Did you know much about it before you played this year?

It’s a crazy festival. I didn’t know about it until we got on the lineup. I was shown what the lineup was last year because the year before had Yo La Tengo and Japanese Breakfast. But, I didn’t know this year’s lineup until it was released to the public. When we agreed to do it, I was like, “It seems like it’s going to be great. If it was this good last year, I’m hopeful.” And, yeah, the lineup was crazy.

I’m not really a festival person. I don’t like to be out in the sun all day because I get migraines. But, it’s really nice. It’s the perfect size and the right amount of people. It’s in the woods and there’s camping. All of the music was really, really great.

Did you get to see other bands?

I feel like I remember that more than actually playing. The most fun thing to do at a festival is feel like you’re seeing a million shows for free. I mean, I’m getting paid to play the show and then I get to see all these bands play and many of my favorite bands were there. We got to see Lucinda Williams and I just don’t think I would have ever had a chance to see her any other way because I can’t really afford to pay for her shows and she isn’t playing that much. So that was the craziest thing ever because I never thought I’d see her perform in my life.