- Text by Niall Flynn
Soccer Mommy, aka Sophie Allison, is at home in Nashville, preparing to make soup.
The recipe – her mother’s – is for a white bean chicken chilli, one that falls somewhere in between a salsa verde and a broth. “I just went out and bought all the ingredients,” she says, genuinely excited. “It’s a big day.”
It’s going to be a big year, too. Because, even if you were to momentarily discount the delicious lunch she’ll soon be whipping up, it’s a great time to be Soccer Mommy.
Having been responsible for one of 2018’s most acclaimed albums in Clean, her studio debut, Allison went from indie up-and-comer to one of America’s most exciting and sought-after young stars. Almost exactly two years later, she’s about to put out the follow-up, which is, inconceivably, even better of its beloved predecessor.
Titled Color Theory, the record is split into three sections – blue, yellow and grey – each of which explore a different “problem” she grappled with growing up. Blue equals “sadness”, yellow “sickness”, whereas grey deals with “darkness, emptiness and loss”.
On paper, it makes for heavy reading. But that’s the beauty of the 22-year-old’s music. As she did with Clean, Allison is able to take the deepest, darkest thoughts and conjure up full-blooded singalongs. Take standout ‘Circle The Drain’ as an example: it’s so good, a beguiling and dizzy pop track, that you don’t realise you’ve spent the entire day happily humming the tune to a song about depression until it hits you like a truck about a week later.
“In a different way to Clean, Color Theory has just come out exactly how I want in every aspect,” Allison says. “I love all the art around it, I love the music videos, the lyric videos. The production matched the vision.”
“That’s something that’s really frustrating for me – when it doesn’t match every reference, or influence, or whatever that I want to hit. But I feel like I got it right.”
Is it fair to say that, when you were growing up, the Nashville music scene was a bit of a boys club?
It wasn’t the entire scene, it was really just the people I knew. All the people in the bands were mostly dudes. The thing is, they’re all really nice guys… but it’s hard when there’s no one else like you, in your view, doing it. You feel like you can’t do it.
I think the reason I started playing music so early was because people were playing music everywhere. I thought, ‘Anyone can do this.’ But when I was in high school, I stopped having that feeling – that anyone could do anything.
I don’t know why, but I just kind of got this sense that all the people I could see doing it my age were men. That made me feel like if I tried to do it, I’d just get shat on. And I wasn’t ready to take that.
So you felt like you had more to lose.
How did you overcome those feelings?
I think just leaving school. It was like, ‘I can do whatever – because I’m not going to have to see anyone that’s gonna be shitting on me ever again.’ We were all free of this weird microcosm and I was really excited to have that freedom.
What came next?
It was like a slow ease in. I started posting stuff on my Tumblr, thinking it would get kinda lost. I had a SoundCloud, but I didn’t tell anyone about it. Then I got a Bandcamp and actually started putting stuff together – I was slowly building my confidence.
But once I got the Bandcamp and I started trying to post EPs and stuff like that, my whole little bit was over. I was past the hump.
At what point did it evolve from something you were doing for fun into you thinking, ‘Hey, something could actually be happening here?’
I think it was when [2017 album] Collection came out. I was planning on still being in school when it came out. But then my agent started getting offers for tours. I was like, ‘Wow, I didn’t think I’d be touring. But I want to.’ So it was, ‘Okay, I’m not going back to school. This is the start.’
Is it true you’re still technically enrolled at NYU?
Don’t tell anyone, but I have not actually filled out my papers. At this point, I’m embarrassed to hit someone up like, ‘Hey, here’s my stuff for dropping out!’ It’s been years. Literally everyone I know has graduated.
I’m not enrolled in [any classes], obviously. I’m thinking at some point they’re just going to delete me from the system. If they hit me up again like, ‘Yo, if you’re dropping out, please fill out this form’, then I will do it. But I feel like it’s been too long now. I’ve procrastinated too much.
Clean, your debut studio album, was received incredibly well. Jon Caramanica at the New York Times named it his favourite of 2018. That must have been wild.
Honestly? I’m shocked any time that someone who’s anyone gives a shit about me. I’m shocked when anyone at all gives a shit about me. So when someone likes it so much that they say, ‘This is my favourite thing I’ve heard this year,’ I’m like, ‘Damn, there’s other shit coming out. Thank you, but at the same time, I partially disagree.’ [laughs]
Obviously it’s amazing to be thought of that in sense. To me, the idea that anyone out there who loves music was thinking of that album at the end of the year is amazing.
Did you ever find that kind of exposure overwhelming?
I find literally everything overwhelming. Every part of being alive. But in a way, you get a little numb to it. When 50 people tell you something in a day, you get to this point of it not really feeling like anything anymore. Unless, like, some random person who’ve you been a fan of for ages tells you something – then it breaks through that wall.
But yeah, it’s stressful. I think the harder part that comes with it – the part that overwhelms me the most – is social media. People don’t really say a lot of bad shit about me – I’m fairly safe most of the time, I don’t get a lot of mean stuff about me. But I’m always waiting for that to come, always on edge. I’m a little bit obsessive about it at times.
It gets to be so much anxiety: waiting for something to hit, but it never hits. It’s constant anticipation, nothing else. It’s almost a relief if I find someone saying some mean shit about me. You know, ‘I can stop looking for today. There it is, that was it. Breath out.’
I hear you. The waiting is the worst.
I have absolutely no idea how other people have learned to deal with that and get it out of their lives – besides deleting their social media, which I’m not allowed to do. People would be so mad at me.
If your team were to turn around tomorrow and say, ‘Hey, if you want to delete everything, you can’, would you?
Do you believe that it would tangibly improve your life?
Oh yeah, 100 per cent. In some ways, there’d be some things I’d really miss about it. There’s nothing like getting a bunch of people telling you they love you – that’s wonderful, that makes you feel better when shit’s annoying. But I would be better off.
What’s the strangest thing that’s happened to you since you blew up?
Hmm. I can think of the shittiest – the most inappropriate. So I don’t avoid meeting fans, but I definitely make it so I meet less of them. I’m happy to meet people, but I don’t open up at every show, like, ‘Whoever wants to come meet me can meet me!’ anymore – because weird shit has happened.
The weirdest one was back when I would still run merch, so anyone would come and talk to me. This one guy came up and was like, ‘I’m such a huge fan, I drove two hours to see you.’ I was like, ‘Oh that’s great!’ He was like, ‘I don’t want a photograph, or autograph, but would you run your face all of my sweaty shirt and get your makeup all over it for me?’ I was like, ‘… No.’
My jaw dropped. He was like, ‘Oh, is that too weird?’ I was like, ‘I have literally never said this to anyone, but yes. Sorry dude, get away.’
He seemed very unfazed by what had just happened. Like, ‘Cool, I get it.’ It was almost worse that he was unfazed. Like, maybe if he didn’t understand how much of a creep he was being, I might have thought, ‘Oh, this guy just thought it would be funny.’ But he just seemed like, ‘Okay, yeah, a lot of people say no to that. Well darn!’
You know, it’s different when someone isn’t trying to [be creepy] and is then clearly disgusted that they came off that way. But he clearly wanted me to be fine with it, out of discomfort.
To move onto the new album – it’s split into three sections, blue, yellow and grey. Each of those represents a different subject, all of them fairly heavy. When did that idea, of structuring the album this way, first come to you?
I think the idea started forming at a semi-early stage. I didn’t have any idea like that in the first couple songs, because when you haven’t written enough stuff, you don’t really know what you’re talking about yet – what the story is.
Eventually, getting closer to the middle, I started to see these three main ideas going throughout the album. They felt really intertwined to me. Sadness, sickness, darkness, death, decay… I felt they were this descent into madness. [laughs] Especially with the order they were going.
The blue section is about sadness but it still keeps it on the lighter side. It kind of felt as I was writing the album, it was this slow descent into darkness. When I had these main three pillars was when I associated yellow and blue with sickness and sadness.
Once I realised that, I was like, ‘Oh the last one is totally grey.’ You know, this lost, lack of colour. This emptiness. Once I had that realisation that this was what I wanted to talk about, I had a little bit more directness with the writing.
Given the subject matter, was writing a cathartic process for you?
I think the only really cathartic one was ‘Yellow Is The Color Of Her Eyes’. I feel like that was the only topic that was cathartic to finally talk about with myself. Now, that’s kind of passed. So performing it won’t really feel that way. But getting it out definitely felt cathartic.
Unless it’s something that I wasn’t able to admit to myself, writing doesn’t really hit that cathartic level. I think a lot of times, it’s just you getting your thoughts together. At least it is for me. Just kind of organising my thoughts and getting them in a way where I’m like, ‘Now I have this, I can look to it if I need to think about how I feel.’
As a person, are you good at establishing that dialogue with yourself when it comes to dealing with harder stuff?
Internally, on a lot of things, I know what I’m feeling. I may not know how to say it, but I know. If someone were to say something describing it, I could be like, ‘Yes.’ I’m in-tune with what’s going on with me a lot of the time. I’m in-tune to whether I’m denying it or not, or holding back. But sometimes, I think it’s hard for me to be honest about it to other people.
Is that where music comes in?
I think it’s a way to stop feeling like I’m hiding.
Color Theory is out on Loma Vista on 28 February.
Niall is Huck’s Deputy Editor. Follow him on Twitter.