“I didn’t think that Clean would, you know, make us progress so much.” It’s the Friday after Thanksgiving, and like many Americans in their early 20s, Sophie Allison is enjoying the holiday weekend at her parents’ house – and that’s where the similarities to the rest of us end. Allison, the guitarist, singer, songwriter, and bandleader of Soccer Mommy, is preparing to head out on an East Coast tour in a matter of days, and she’s making the most of her last few days in Nashville, her hometown. There’s been plenty of hype around Soccer Mommy’s music, but that all went into overdrive this spring upon the release of Clean, her first full length record.
“I thought there would be growth for sure with this debut album, but I didn’t realize how much growth there’d be.”
And that’s just the thing: Soccer Mommy’s music is so pleasant to the ear that you’re almost tricked into glossing over how strong its gravitational pull is. Album opener “Still Clean” sets the tone, an intimate portrait of summer love that is nonetheless carnal, latent with violence, and charged with passion. Subsequent tracks “Cool”, “Your Dog”, and “Flaw” build on this energy while adding subtle nuance, and by the time downtempo solo number “Blossom (Wasting All My Time)” comes around you’re reliving past failed relationships, swirling in “what if” and “maybe” from years gone by. Allison’s voice – slightly imperfect but incredibly familiar and reassuring, like handmade ceramic – is the siren song guiding you down this path along with her.
If these songs feel deeply personal, it is because they are; Sophie Allison writes from the heart and experience. It’s impressive how much emotion she manages to communicate with such economy of words: her debut record barely exceeds half an hour, and most of its ten songs live (and die) in less than four minutes. But despite the short running time, Clean tells us so much about its author, and ourselves.
Soccer Mommy plays Washington DC’s Black Cat on 12/1, Baltimore’s Metro Gallery on 12/2, and the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn on 12/5 and 12/6. Clean is out now on Fat Possum.
Brightest Young Things: It’s been about a year since you decided to drop out of NYU and move back to Nashville to pursue music full-time. In the meantime Soccer Mommy has been playing around the country non-stop, and your debut album, Clean received rave reviews. Were you prepared for this to happen so quickly? How has your life changed significantly, if at all?
Sophie Allison: I guess I wasn’t prepared for it to happen the way it did. And it has changed my life – I’m much more busy, I’m working, and this is actually a career more than something I’m just trying to make happen. It’s really cool; it’s exhausting at some points – but it’s awesome.
BYT: Are you able to bask in these moments and enjoy them? Can you be fully present in them?
Allison: Sometimes! Sometimes I think I don’t really realize things are a big deal until they are over. But, I mean, I’m always excited to be doing things. A lot of the tours we do are with artists that I love so it’s less about being a big moment and more a thing I think is really cool, and playing with an artist I’ve admired. I was getting praise for the album and it definitely feels really good, but you don’t really think about it in the way that you’re “blowing up”. You don’t feel it in that sense. You feel the good feedback and take it in.
BYT: I know you played several dates this summer in support of Paramore, a band you grew up listening to. It is my understanding that these were the biggest venues you’ve played in your career thus far – and in the past year you’ve had the chance to play small club shows, huge stadium shows, and now you’re headlining larger clubs as Soccer Mommy. Do you have a preference between those three settings? Where do you feel most comfortable?
Allison: I think I feel most comfortable doing headlining stuff. And you know, bigger nights always feel – you always feel the energy a bit more when the crowd is there for you, and they’re into it. But there are also days where I love supporting, because it’s so easy. [Laughs] It’s such a non-stressful day when you show up to the venue later, play a set, and then get to watch a great band and relax a little bit more. It can be really fun to open for someone, especially when you like their music and are enjoying the tour. But I think that energy-wise I usually prefer to be headlining.
BYT: It makes sense – people are there for you as opposed to making time.
Allison: Yeah! Exactly.
BYT: I want to talk about Clean a little bit more. Your songs explore relationships and interpersonal dynamics in a way that names things and confronts insecurities or shortcomings head on. How much of it is conceptual as opposed to drawing from your personal experiences? What was the process of writing this record like?
Allison: It’s pretty much all from my personal experience. I use metaphor sometimes, but it’s all coming from things I’ve been feeling or have happened to me. And the process – it was pretty much a year of time that I was writing the songs that ended up on the album, as well as other songs that never ended up coming out. It was an interesting period of my life where I was in New York and a little bit more comfortable with it. I started seeing someone after getting over a previous relationship a few months prior, I guess, and I was experiencing a long distance relationship at the same time my career was starting to happen – and all the stress that comes with that. Kind of just everything changing, a lot, in my life.
BYT: You’ve talked about the challenges of being on tour, and doing little things to help you connect/remain human through it. Besides getting Thai food, have you developed other rituals or processes to cope with this unmoored life?
Allison: [Pauses] It’s hard. Getting enough sleep and trying to be healthy is a good part to just making you feel good and help with any anxiety or stress. But I also think having people that you like around you, in your band, that you can have fun with and that are respectful people and people you agree with on a lot of stuff. That’s good. I also think that taking time for fun and off-days in your free time is important: going to a store and walking around, and getting out of the venue; that can be really helpful.
BYT: Clean came out on Fat Possum Records. Does it matter to you who releases your music? Why Fat Possum?
Allison: At the time Fat Possum was the only label that was talking to me and I thought they were really cool. Obviously, they’ve had a lot of great artists in the past and I liked the A&R people and everybody at the label. It was an easy decision for me to just put that collection out with them. But I also didn’t really understand the gravity of what it was going to be when I put out this album. [Laughs] I thought there’d be like vinyl and I didn’t really understand it was going to be a career now. I of course wanted that, but I didn’t take it as seriously as it ended up being.
But it doesn’t matter to me as much who puts out the music; rather it matters to me what label I’m on because it matters what the conditions of my record deal are, and how it’s going to be like working with the people at the label. I don’t really care if it’s bigger so much – I’m trying to grow my career as much as I can while also maintaining a good work environment.
BYT: How big do you want to get? Do you see yourself becoming a pop star? I know you’re a big fan of Taylor Swift – do you want to grow to that scale?
Allison: I don’t know – I don’t think I would be a pop star. I don’t want to limit myself as to how big I can get, but I also don’t want to sacrifice the art for it. It just depends on what the limit is that you can keep your personal taste in the art without sacrificing anything.
BYT: Is there any artist or band that you consider a north star or reference point? Not to say you want to be exactly like them, but who do you think is doing it right?
Allison: Hmm. [Pauses] It’s hard to say. I mean, there are tons of bands that are still really big that I love – though some I don’t love every single record of theirs. I mean, Paramore is a good example: they’re a huge pop band that has really stayed true to themselves and kept making really great music. I also think Kacey Musgraves is a good example of that. And Mitski too! She’s gotten huge and still making the kind of music she wants to make, and I think people love it for that reason.
BYT: The first Soccer Mommy show was at Silent Barn, yet another DIY space in New York that closed last year. Do you think the nature of DIY scenes – both in participants and locations – is inherently one of turnover and change?
Allison: I mean, kind of. To be honest – I think sometimes it’s just not that sustainable, because it’s expensive to keep a venue open in a place like New York. A lot of DIY scenes people don’t want to come out and pay for bands they haven’t heard of, but the idea of DIY is giving everyone a chance to do stuff. So it can be difficult to make money on shows for bands that don’t have any following, but still wanting to give them a chance to grow one. Venues can lose money and it can be hard to get people to pay for even big shows. They don’t want it to be too expensive and they don’t always understand all the costs to keep a venue open. So, yeah, it can be difficult and that’s why so many places shut down. But I don’t think that it has to be! Maybe there needs to be a new way to get people to participate more in paying for shows.
Silent Barn started something that was really cool: they had a membership type deal, where people would pay monthly, and it was a great idea because it was a way to make up expenses. But unfortunately it was a little too late for them. Hopefully people can find a way around that in the future.
BYT: Is there a DIY scene in Nashville, outside of the country music space? Are you at all involved in that?
Allison: Yeah, there is one here. It’s definitely gotten less big because we’ve had a lot of venues close down – that started after the fire in the Bay Area, at the Ghost Ship. But yeah – for similar reasons: people couldn’t afford to keep the venues up and running, especially with fire marshals cracking down. But there definitely is a scene and I was much more involved in it before I was touring, because I’m not home very much anymore. There are a lot of cool bands involved in it, and there are many people trying to make it work and keep venues alive and book shows for all ages or bands that are just starting out.
BYT: The effects of the Ghost Ship fire have certainly continued to ripple out – we feel it in DC. Some venues have shut down, and people are generally hesitant to pay to see bands they don’t really know. It’s hard to keep places open.
Allison: Yeah! It is.
BYT: What can we expect from Soccer Mommy as 2018 closes and 2019 comes around?
Allison: Well, I’m doing some more touring starting next week – I’m doing an East Coast run. It’s pretty short but we’re hitting major markets to finish out the year of touring we’ve been doing. And then we’re going to do some international dates in Australia and Japan around December – January. We’re planning on doing some dates early next year – and hopefully new music soon. I’ve definitely been writing a lot, but I haven’t recorded anything. It’s going to take a little bit of time but hopefully as soon as possible.
Photos courtesy of Natalia Mantini