Sophie Allison is remarkably prodigious. Seemingly attracted to music at the age of six, she began placing home recordings on Bandcamp as Soccer Mommy when still a teen, gaining a devoted following with the sincerity of her approach.
Moving to New York to study, she gained a deal with Fat Possum before deciding to return to her native Nashville; which means she’s part of a new wave of musicians who enter New York to study music, but leave the city to actually pursue it.
New album ‘Clean’ is out now, and it underlines just how correct she was with each of those choices, a rich, endearing, endlessly fascinating record that somehow manages to get under your skin.
“It did come into place very easily,” she admits to Clash during a phone call from the road. “There weren’t a lot of ideas that we tried out that we didn’t like. But it was very gruelling – long days, lots of work.”
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I didn’t ever really feel like there was gonna be an audience for me...
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Her debut album, then, is testament to the singular passion that drives Soccer Mommy forward. Initially working with the most basic of equipment, she placed her material online simply as a means to test herself, aware she was making her mistakes in public.
“I just put it out,” she says. “I did songs with my friends sometimes, but I didn’t ever really feel like there was gonna be an audience for me, to try to have a band or anything, when I was younger.”
“I just wanted to learn how to record and produce. I thought that was really cool, I am really interested in trying to make things sound cool and arrange songs in a recorded way. So I got like a four-track recorder and started doing stuff and just putting it on Bandcamp. Eventually I got better at recording and arranging songs that were just written originally on my guitar, and singing, and eventually it grew a following and now here we are...”
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Here we are, indeed. Soccer Mommy played her first UK show at London’s Lexington venue in January; with acclaimed poured on to her full length debut, Sophie will return in September for a show at the city’s Scala venue.
People, it seems, are listening.It’s a space that is informed by the positive impact of the internet, of the ability for new artists to easily share fresh material. “It’s definitely empowering,” she says. “I can just put it up at no cost to myself. If people listen to it, great; if people don’t listen to it, whatever; if people hate it, it’s not like I’m even gonna hear about it so it doesn’t really matter!”
“It’s not really as much of a risk as going into the studio and recording an album and trying to get people to buy it, and no one buys it, and you lose a bunch of money and feel like an idiot. I think that was definitely empowering. If it doesn’t take off, it doesn’t matter.”
The one thing that did matter, though, was music. Right from those initial recordings Soccer Mommy wanted to push herself forward, studying both songwriting and the production, the means by which those ideas become reality. “I think they’re definitely separate skills,” she continues. “I think that being better at recording made me a better songwriter. Not that I’m amazing at recording now, but having an idea of what I want a song to sound like helps me write it, I think.”
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It’s definitely empowering...
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“I find it hard to pin it down what is inspiring about other people’s songwriting. I’m more inspired by moments in my life that feel… y’know, dramatic. Like something you’d hear in a TV show and you hear the song in the background that comes in, what I imagine the soundtrack to the moment would be.”
“With some people it’s just like they just write a song and are just great songwriters, so they go to the studio and record the guitar, the vocal and then go home and it’ll be a great song,” Sophie continues. “It’s not as much thought into how the production and the recording is gonna make the song, it’s more about their song. It’s not much of a vision. Sometimes, for some people it’s not as much a productive vision.”
“Whereas when I make a song it’s like an extreme productive vision, almost to the extent where I can already imagine a music video when I’m making it. For me, it comes from a very dramatic imagining of the moment and the image and the scene, so to speak, that would go along with the production and the sound of the song. It has to match up with the scene I have in mind, the one that I’m feeling, to sound right.”
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This approach builds up to the intensity that surrounds ‘Clean’. From the bite of ‘Skin’ to the introversion of ‘Flaw’, the delicious character study that is ‘Cool’ to the transformative power of ‘Scorpio Rising’ it’s a record that works on several different layers, a fully fleshed out, three-dimensional document.
“When you’re writing something you just take the parts of an experience that were the most impactive,” she tells Clash. “I think it’s natural... most of the time art is meant to be beautiful and meant to be emotional. That’s gonna pull the more romantic parts from a relationship or a person or an experience. It’s just dramatizing it. Making it more dramatic than it necessarily was to get that feeling.”
‘Clean’ isn’t strictly a solo record, however. Sophie has gathered a small but full band around her, while the introduction of producer Gabe Wax saw her cede control over an aspect of her music for the very first time. “I wasn’t really interested in using a producer,” she reveals. “But I had talked to Gabe before, when I was still in New York, in college. He came to a show and we met up and had coffee and just talked about recording and the types of things he thought would sound good.”
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I’m very picky with how I want my songs to end up.
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“When it came to the time to record the album I did two demo songs with him. Every idea that he had was something I really liked… and I’m very picky with how I want my songs to end up. It’s not necessarily every decision, but the way they sound in the end has to have a sound that feels like the way I pictured it.”
“I just have a very specific picture for what each of my songs should sound like,” she continues. “It just happened to work out he had all these great ideas that totally worked with mine.”
A real jewel of a record, ‘Clean’ is already impacting on people’s lives; a few weeks back Clash battles the winter snows to catch an in-store at London’s Rough Trade East, and it was clear then that an immense bond was building between Sophie and her fans. It must be a strange experience, then, for such a driven, single-minded artist to watch her songs fragment and diversify, occupying different roles in the lives of others.
“It doesn’t bother me when people take it in a different way,” she insists, “because everybody experiences different things. With some people, it could remind them of a situation where they felt like this person was treating them like shit. With other people they felt like that because they were not even dating someone, they had an unrequited crush. Everyone can relate to a different situation in their lives.”
“Some people might remember it as an angry situation, others a sad situation, it’s different for everybody.”
The lesson here, we presume, is to be remembered; and with art as strong as ‘Clean’ it’s unlikely that Soccer Mommy will be forgotten.
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'Clean' is out. Catch Soccer Mommy at the following shows:
4 Birmingham Hare & Hounds
5 Manchester Deaf Institute
7 Dublin Grand Social
8 Liverpool The Shipping Forecast
10 Nottingham Bodega
11 Bristol Louisiana
13 London Scala
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