Soccer Mommy on resisting music industry bullshit: “It’s easy when you hate it”

Soccer Mommy on resisting music industry bullshit: “It’s easy when you hate it”

“I don’t enjoy being a public figure and living my life through that lens,” Soccer Mommy’s Sophie Allison explains from her home in Nashville one quiet morning a week before the release of her new album. Since releasing her debut record ‘Clean’ in 2018, she’s become one of indie rock’s best-loved and most-respected songwriters, even picking up a Grammy nomination on her second album, 2020’s ‘Color Theory’. Off stage, though, the 24-year-old says she just wants her life to be “normal”: “The people I hang out with, they’re my friends from high school – I don’t wake up and go about my day as Soccer Mommy.”

Her desire for regular life is one of the “million reasons” Allison got off social media in 2020 – you’ll still find Soccer Mommy accounts on different platforms, but they’re looked after by her management team rather than the musician herself. “I realised my Instagram was like a business – music Instagram – and the only people I talked to on there were other musicians or celebrities or fans,” she says. “It wasn’t the same as having an Instagram where you post selfies and your friends comment, ‘Cute!’, you know? I just didn’t want to do it anymore.”

The deluge of opinions on her work also became something of a burden, even though the star notes they weren’t necessarily negative views. Even so, she found herself constantly looking up what people were saying – behaviour that weighed on her mentally. “It was just a lot of anxiety,” she recalls. “I think the final nail in the coffin was when the pandemic started and we were really stuck at home.” With nothing else to do, she found herself in a vicious cycle of scrolling through one app, closing it, searching around her phone for a minute and then reopening the same app only to find nothing new going on. It was time to break the cycle.

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Around the same time as she purged social media from her phone, Allison began the main stretch of work on ‘Sometimes, Forever’, her third official studio album. She’d already written its sparse closing track ‘Still’ at the end of the previous summer, and the undulating glitter-and-shadow of ‘Darkness Forever’ a couple of months after that. Shortly after ‘Color Theory’ was released in February 2020, another wave of inspiration hit. “I was already ready to move on [from that album] and I had the time to be really focused on [working on music],” she shrugs nonchalantly.

When lockdown came, nothing really changed for the musician – apart from not being able to tour the album she’d just released. Her response, though, wasn’t one filled with fretting and disappointment; instead, she looked at things realistically and pragmatically. “There’s always more albums,” she says matter-of-factly. “In my mind, it was like, ‘We’ll play the songs on the road still’ – and we did end up getting to do a little bit of touring around it. I was like, ‘Yeah it’s a bummer, but I’m onto the next thing already’.”

The isolated state of 2020 didn’t affect how a new batch of Soccer Mommy songs was being written, either. Allison describes herself as a solitary writer and has said frequently that she will never co-write with anyone. “I’m a very people-pleaser type of person – not to a crazy extent but I’m usually very happy to negotiate with people and find a middle ground on things, and I don’t ever want to do that when writing a song,” she explains of why writing is such a sacred thing for her. She’s tried to work with others on songs before, recalling times in high school when she’d collaborate with friends but end up sitting back in the process so as not to “destroy” her ideas or have to run the gauntlet of insecurity.

“Just writing lyrics, in general, is so cringe-y,” she grins. “It’s so embarrassing. Writing with someone else adds a layer of not wanting to throw out something stupid. It’s also so uncomfortable to have to be like, ‘I don’t like your idea’. I don’t wanna have to say that to somebody. It’s just never been my thing.”

Production, however, is a different kettle of fish – as evidenced by the fact that the songwriter made the unlikely team-up with Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin on ‘Sometimes, Forever’. “With the production, I have a very big picture imagination – it’s not as much [about] specific ideas, and more very vibe-based,” Allison says. “I am very touchy about producers, though. I have to make sure that it’s someone that I trust has tastes that match mine or is working with what I’m wanting to do.”

Lopatin was someone who fit that bill, as well as someone she’d admired for a long time. After the idea was initially suggested by someone at her label, Allison got in contact with him but didn’t expect him to respond with interest. “I had no idea what was going to come of this, but I just knew it was going to be cool at the very least,” she smiles.

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For the unexpected coming together, she says her vision was always that the producer would take the songs she’d started working on into “some weird stuff”, adding: “I wanted to get really weird with the atmosphere and the world around it all and he was really great about knowing exactly where to take it to the next level and where to just be super washy and vibe-y and beautiful.”

Beauty is a key component of Allison’s new album, often experienced in contrast with darkness or ugliness. On the aforementioned ‘Darkness Forever’, soft sparkles of sound cushion lyrics that reference poet Sylvia Plath’s cause of death, while Allison’s own horror story ‘Following Eyes’ is driven by glints of bright guitar in its choruses, chasing away the eerie atmosphere of the verses. These moments feel like the idea behind the record’s title playing out in front of you, highlighting the notion that feelings and things – whether good or bad – never last forever.

“The album’s basically all contrast between light and dark, beauty and ugly, love and loss, hopelessness and hope,” she explains. “I wanted it to feel like whenever you’re in one of these emotions, it’s all-consuming but then it can also just end as quickly as it started and turn into the exact opposite thing.” That grand plan seems to mirror how Allison herself experiences things, if the lyrics of ‘Still’ are anything to go by: “I don’t know how to feel things small / It’s a tidal wave or nothing at all.”

“When I’m in a certain state of mind, it feels like that’s all there’ll ever be,” she agrees. “It feels like that’s all there is and it’s all there has ever been. It’s really easy to fall into the intensity and forget that things can be extremely intense. That’s totally valid, but also they’re not constant in your life – there’s ebbs and flows, there’s ups and downs.”

Although she had already been going to therapy prior to 2020, the pandemic-enforced lockdown enabled the musician to focus more of her time on it, no longer having to find a quiet corner of a venue to speak in or time sessions around long drives on the road. Delving deeper into therapy, she says, helped her “see things from an outside perspective and not be so swallowed up by things when I’m in them”. She adds: “I’m very big on self-reflection and I feel like, with writing, that helped me be able to reach some deeper things and things I hadn’t really touched on before.”

“When I’m in a certain state of mind, it feels like that’s all there’ll ever be”

Some of the topics Allison broaches on ‘Sometimes, Forever’ include the purpose of hope – or hopelessness – on the restrained fuzz of ‘new demo’; the hunt for liberation from your demons on the country twang of ‘Feel It All The Time’; and a rumination on craving success but not wanting to get caught up in the industry machine on the dark metallics of ‘Unholy Affliction’. “I don’t want the money / That fake kind of happy,” she sings on the latter. “But I want perfection / Tight like a diamond.”

Asked how she avoids getting sucked into industry politics on her quest to achieve all she wants, Allison replies, “It’s easy when you hate it,” leaning back on her couch with a playful spark in her eye. “I’ve always been a driven person and an overachiever – I don’t want to become someone who’s just trying to make music that they think other people will like and sell themselves.” She acknowledges that she does have to “play ball a little bit”, but isn’t a fan of having to “give away pieces of myself just because I want to make art”.

If the musician was still active on social media, it seems unlikely that she would be on board with being told she had to make TikToks to sell her music – an issue stars including Halsey, FKA twigs, Florence + The Machine and more have been speaking out against lately.

“I think it’s awful that people have to – for lack of better words – be shaking their ass on social media to get their music across,” she nods, but concedes she can see it from the industry perspective too. “I don’t know what labels are supposed to do – they’re looking at the numbers and going, ‘People are finding music on TikTok; people are buying music because of TikTok’. It’s also not inherently evil – it just gets to the point where it’s not fun anymore. It’s selling things; capitalism comes into the picture. It’s not pay-what-you-want on Bandcamp anymore.”

Soccer Mommy
Soccer Mommy CREDIT: Sam Keeler

Even since Soccer Mommy broke through with ‘Clean’ four years ago, the music industry landscape has changed so much. If she were starting out today, she reckons it might have been harder to cut through the noise. “But I probably would have a TikTok just because I wouldn’t have gone through the wringer yet with social media. So I’d be like, ‘Yeah I love TikTok’ and post my songs on there and be a Gen Z-er and enjoy it a little more.”

Over the years since ‘Clean’’s release, Allison has experienced a lot of success. Yet, in typically grounded form, she says her idea of what that means hasn’t changed much along the way. “The goals are different, but it’s the same mentality,” she shrugs, pacing around her kitchen. Given she can now call herself a Grammy-nominated artist, those aims must be somewhat more grandiose, right?

“It’s just simple stuff,” she counters. “Playing bigger venues I’ve never played before. Bigger production and have the shows be more professional. We still haven’t been on a [tour] bus and I think we’re gonna do that in the fall so that’ll be nice.” The sublime ‘Sometimes, Forever’ might be about to propel Soccer Mommy to even greater heights, but it seems Allison will remain always keeping it real.

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