Soccer Mommy On Her Tender, Insolent Indie Rock Debut And The Intricacies Of Her Songwriting

Pop Music Critic
03.05.18 12 Comments

Ebru Yildiz

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“In the summer, you said you loved me like an animal.”

Those are the words that will introduce most of the world to the music of Soccer Mommy, aka 20-year-old Nashville songwriter Sophie Allison. Dark with desire and blunt with loss, that opening line of that song, “Still Clean,” is emblematic of Allison’s ability to gesture at the wild and tender aspects of love in ways that make age-old aches feel newly bruising. Her debut album, Clean, came out last Friday on Fat Possum, and though it’s her first proper full-length, it follows up a recent smattering of Bandcamp one-off tracks released by the label as Collection in 2017.

Where her early demos were beautiful in a bleary and tentative way, the best moments on Clean border on insolent; Allison has plenty to rail against — including herself — and the anger is a nice companion to the small griefs she mourns and battles through in her music. For instance, on one of the album’s standouts, “Your Dog,” she typifies her status in the relationship as a pet on a leash, sleeping on the edge of the bed, and snarls against it: I don’t want to be your fucking dog. The rebuttal, of course, is that yes she does, and will continue to be. There’s something so reluctantly familiar in both the resentment and the quiet resolve that makes this song intractable, and tangible in a way that few songs about relationships ever manage to be.

Though she’s just at the beginning of her career, Allison has a grip on the kind of songwriting that appeals to people in every stage of their lives, because it’s about emotional processes, not necessarily conclusions. After graduating high school, the young songwriter moved to New York City to attend NYU, where she felt the freedom to begin releasing music in earnest, played her first show at Silent Barn, and shortly after landed a record deal with Fat Possum. Now, she’s putting school on hold to focus on her blossoming career. I recently spoke with Allison by phone about her own process behind putting together a first proper full-length, some of the intricacies of her songwriting, and how it felt to drop out of college to be a full-fledged musician.

One of my favorite songs on the record is “Still Clean.” It felt like the concept of being clean on the record was connected to not being attached to the wrong kind of relationship, or something like that. How do you sort of envision that?

It’s this idea of being clean of a person or wanting someone to not — after a break up wanting someone to not be clean of you and hoping and wanting someone to not be stained by another person. Wanting someone to wait for you, wanting someone to… that romantic idea, even that he’s waiting for you forever and you’ll wait forever. It’s this over-romanticized idea that’s so theatrical and dramatic that just isn’t healthy and isn’t what you should want. It’s kind of just reveling in this idea of wanting to be certain ways because it’s cinematic or would make you feel like you’re the type of person that you want to be, but really it’s just all feeling the feelings. You’ve got to be realistic, I guess.

Another of my early favorite songs is “Your Dog,” which obviously a lot of people know at this point and clearly connect with. On the song, you’re writing about the kind of relationship you don’t want to be in … obviously, it takes being in one like that to learn what you want to avoid. Does writing about what you don’t want help you remember to stay out of it or does it help you feel, sort of, empowered again?

Yeah, I think it’s kind of empowering. I think it’s empowering because a lot of people — I think it kind of came from a place where I’m empowered for this moment, but it’s probably not gonna last. So, it’s not totally there, it’s kind of a moment of strength, but, you know, in the end, I kind of find out that I can’t just change who I am. And want to be different — and just be different all of a sudden. But, yeah, I think for a lot of other people it’s empowering. The song itself, it is. In the sense of the album, it’s not totally [Laughs].

Did your process change for this record since you were writing songs with an album in mind, instead of just one-off tracks for Bandcamp?

It actually didn’t feel that different for me. I was writing it knowing I was making an album, which definitely changed it to like, ‘Oh, I’m writing, like, a full thing, there needs to be like connecting ideas here.’ But it ended up being really easy to make it all connecting just because of the point I was at in my life where every song was kind of about this progression I was going through anyway.

I started writing this over like a year of my life, which is definitely the longest I’ve ever taken to write something before releasing it. It was pretty crazy to do that. It sometimes felt like it was driving me insane a little bit. Just taking so much time to work on it, not knowing if people were going to like it, not knowing if it was going to be good, and then still having to write more and more and put so much effort into it. That was very different than what I had done before.

In the past when you wrote a song you would kind of just put it up on Bandcamp right away?

Yeah, pretty much, I would record it, mess around with it for a couple days, and then just like throw it up on the internet whenever I was kind of done with it.

And I read that you initially sort of were keeping your songwriting a secret. Could you talk a little bit about what the impetus behind that was? And how you decided to stop and just be open about it?

My friends knew I wrote songs and everything and they’d all heard them, but, like, I definitely wasn’t in the scene, I wasn’t, like, local writer or anything. I just kind of did it for myself. And then, it was kind of a process where I finally threw a song up on Tumblr, and then SoundCloud, and then eventually Bandcamp. I was posting my music on social media and stuff. But, it was really more of a recording project for me because I got a TASCAM and I wanted to learn to record stuff and see what I could do with it. So, it was really more me trying to record things and trying to make my songs sound like a recording, you know? More than it felt like I was a songwriter.

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