Splendour Interview: Soccer Mommy (USA) on her Australian live debut and not writing with others

Soccer Mommy, the project of Sophie Allison, has had one hell of a year. From being relatively unknown as the calendar year kicked off, to releasing her debut LP Clean to critical acclaim and being one of the most talked about new artists in the world, it’s far to say the future is looking bright for this Nashville based artist. And off the back of all that, Sophie and her band made their Australian debut over the weekend, playing an exclusive set at Splendour in the Grass festival – a brief, yet lengthy detour as the group tour the US with Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks.

Before she jumped on the plane back to rejoin the tour, I sat down with Sophie to reflect on the last few months, the release of her debut LP and we talk about how (and why) she doesn’t want to write with anyone else.

We were just saying it’s kind of a bit of a bit of whirlwind trip for you. But you’ve done that a couple of times this year now! I remember it was the same for The Great Escape as well. It was pretty much fly in and fly out…

Yeah. That one, I mean, we had a couple off days with that, but I was doing shit. I was working. So they weren’t off days for me. But it was one show, fly back out.

Literally playing on the beach though in Brighton.

Yeah. Cold beach day.

It was a cold beach day, but it was warm in that room.

Mm-hmm!

The Great Escape show seemed to come about quite quickly after things had really taken off for you. Talk me through that. What’s it like being on the other side of that where you’re like, “Whoa! Things are happening really quickly.”

It was odd. I still don’t really perceive it as it is. I mean, we were doing well before Clean came out, and it seemed like we were getting on good tours, and people liked the music, but yeah Clean definitely blew up. You get a Pitchfork Best New Music, and it changes everything I guess in America…

It’s amazing that that still happens too isn’t it?

I’m pretty shocked! I’m pretty shocked that that can really change … I think that, if that hadn’t happened, Clean still would have done really well because so, like … it also just happened to be that every other blog, like for the most part was really into it too.

College radio and all that stuff too…

Yeah, exactly I think if we hadn’t gotten the Pitchfork praise we still would have done really well. I think it just also happened to come at the time when the album came out and everyone else was liking it. But, yeah it’s weird. It kinda just really quickly changed everything, like all the shows we played were like sold out and we probably could have done bigger venues all of the sudden I don’t even know if we would be like, doing well at those shows. So it’s been a whirlwind.

Are you finding yourself almost having to catch up then, with like people paying attention now. We’ve gotta like, up our game, we’ve gotta kind of figure out a bit more what we’re doing. ‘Cause often you can get away with a lot when you’re just starting out and your first album comes out and you can kind of play some shows to next to no people and just experiment. But here, everyone’s paying attention to what you’re doing.

I don’t think it’s too difficult because we had a year where we were playing. We did some big shows like before Clean came out, like we played with like Slowdive and we did a Mitski show. So we were definitely playing shows that I’d still be very excited about playing today. I mean I’m excited about all of them, like everything that we did I was excited about and I still would be excited because it was all music I liked. But some of them would still be big offers for today, so I think that we had already like kind of had pressure on us to do really well. I think that the band at first though was very thrown together. And we didn’t really have a lot of practise time between different bands….

When you say between different bands, what do you mean?

Like different hired musicians. You know that we’re like switching out for every tour. Which is pretty much what it was, like every tour we were switching out people. Now it’s pretty steady so it’s a lot more professional, I think sounding.

Yeah.

Yeah.

Is the band that we saw at Splendour the same you had at The Great Escape?

Everyone but the drummer. I basically have two revolving drummers at the moment.

So will there be a point you think you’ll have sort of like a stable band and you’ll write with them on the record and, and that sort of stuff? You know, where do you think things will kind of go in that direction?

I’d like to have a stable touring band. I don’t think I’ll ever really write with anyone. I don’t like doing that. And I like playing the stuff on the record mostly.

Do you play every instrument on the record?

No, I can’t play piano, so there’s someone playing piano. And there’s a drummer. Just because, we wanted to do live trackings so, obviously I can’t drum and play guitar at the same time. And also, the producer, Gabe Wax played a lot of stuff on it. You know, little synth parts or production elements. And my guitarist played on it some. He did some lead guitar stuff on it.

Tell me a little bit about kind of that collaborative process with Gabe. You have written the music but of course sitting down with the producer there are certain things that they add in to the mix.

Yeah I loved it. I love working with Gabe, I love Gabe as a person, and he’s an amazing producer, I mean it just like totally changed everything to have him working on it because I just feel like, I didn’t really wanna work with anyone because I didn’t want someone like … I didn’t wanna have all these ideas and then have someone make it not what I wanted it to be but Gabe just instantly knew everything I wanted. You know? Just liked all the same stuff as me. Liked all the same music as me, liked all the same ideas, and it was just like, rather than someone just taking these songs and doing all the stuff and then sending me it, it was more like us you know in his like, home studio throwing out all these ideas and experimenting with stuff. Just like working together on it to make what I wanted. It was awesome.

I mean I feel … I was looking at the list of stuff he’s worked on and I feel like I’ve sort of grown up with a lot of the artists he’s worked with.

He’s only 23. Isn’t that crazy?

That’s ridiculous.

I know. It’s amazing.

I’m offended.

Yeah, but I mean, yeah, he’s amazing. I’m so excited to work with him again in the future. And it was awesome.

You’ll stick with him for the next record?

Yes! I would love to. I can’t imagine trying to do it with someone new. I just like, I don’t like sharing ideas really. ‘Cause I’m very specific. I just don’t like telling people, “No, I hate your idea.”

You’d rather not have to even get to that point.

Yeah. I’d rather just not have to feel uncomfortable. I don’t know. It’s just like it works well … I wanna keep doing it and keep experimenting further. And keep doing things you know I didn’t even think to do on Clean and wanna try, that I know Gabe would be good at.

Have you already started kind of experimenting with what you wanna do next?

I haven’t recorded anything. I’ve started writing new stuff. But even still I don’t know when I write I can’t really tell yet what the whole production is gonna be. ‘Cause it’s more… there are some ideas, from songs with some production elements that I wanna try to use, but it’s not like every song has this particular backing track in my mind that I need. It’s more like I just want it to have a certain vibe to it.

Do the lyrics come first?

No. Chords and melody. Basically it goes: chords, melody, lyrics, are pretty much last. It never was the idea first. I think that I mean I kind of write the lyrics based off of like … the vibe of the chords. And then they’re kind of like, once I have a melody … I feel like melody sometimes and lyrics kind of come together at the same time. But the lyrics can kind of be written like completely … I don’t even need the music sometimes, to write the lyrics. I can just think of them. Kind of separate from the music.

So you’ve been touring the record now for a few months. And people are getting to know the songs. And I imagine as an artist who’s been writing this music for a while and building that catalogue and building that reputation, it must be satisfying now to be playing shows where people are singing along to those songs, and they know every word to every song you’re playing.

Yeah! I mean it’s really cool. I think that even when we just did the first headlining tour it was kind of like that, ’cause the shows all did really well and people had had like a moment with the songs. I think we started it in the very end of March, so people kind of had a little bit of time to get to know the songs. And people learn ’em fast. People will learn ’em really quick. So I mean yeah it’s really cool. It’s something I didn’t really expect to have happen immediately.

So since the record’s been released, what’s surprised you most about the response to the record and also about how the kind of the tours have gone?

I mean I guess I just didn’t expect the record to get received as well as it did. I thought it would get a lot of good reviews. I was really happy with it and I thought it was a huge step up. So I thought it was gonna get some attention and I thought it would be really good for us. Maybe get some good support tours. But I definitely didn’t think it would be putting us at this level and, and it reflects in the shows, you know? When the record’s doing well, the shows sell out and people come and they’re really excited to see you, and then you can kind of do whatever you want with your life, you know? You can kind of go play these shows and know it’s gonna be a good turnout, and not have to worry about it. Bring on bands like for tours that you really wanna hear every night. And kind of makes a lot of the stress go away. It’s nice.

That’s gotta be a good thing. Is there anything when it comes to kind of this level of touring, coming to Australia, going to the UK for these short stints, you know is there anything that surprised you about kind of how touring works? And how hard that can be? From an outsider’s perspective, you see all these bands doing these things, living this glamorous life. Then when you do it, maybe it’s not as glamorous or maybe it’s not as easy as it looks?

I mean yeah it’s definitely hard sometimes. I think it was harder though before Clean came out and it was… I mean we are touring a lot now but before, you know, it was like I was just starting so there were a lot of solo tours to the UK where I was alone and I was jet-lagged for a week and I was super stressed about like getting this album to be perfect and that was being fit in to every little break I had and I was broke. And I mean I’m still pretty broke but … I don’t know –

Well you’re in good company. Most people in here are really taking advantage of the free booze… let’s leave it at that.

Oh I’m sure they are, yeah. I think it’s a really weird lifestyle to be a musician because you’re like broke and you’re stressed out and you’re having to work all the time… but you’re also living a glamorous life about half the time. Half the time is like you’re on a twelve hour flight and you’re not sleeping or dragging all your shit across the country and then the other half your drinking like at a free bar in Australia and you’re at like a resort. So it’s like a very strange microcosm of being in this elegant world but also having … like living this great life and this terrible life in the same.

If I ever get upgraded to business class, I look around and say to myself, “I am literally the brokest person here.”… “I’ll have three more Scotches thank you!”

Exactly.

I sort of delve into that a little bit just ’cause I think it’s such an interesting time in your career right now where you’re kind of getting to see both sides of it all at once. And you know, as things progress, you’ll be kind of more disconnected from that. And you hope, you know, you’ll be not broke and not feeling like that.

See but even when you’re not broke you still have to like…

Work.

Do the labour. The manual labour half the time. So yeah it’s like you kind of get this, you’re always gonna have this weird stuff that you feel like no one that you know does. Because they just get to relax. But also you’re also doing stuff that no one you know gets to do because it’s really crazy and glamorous.

I have this image burnt into my mind of being at SXSW and seeing J Mascis from Dinosaur Jr. dragging his own equipment down 6th Street and going, “yeah… nothing much changes.”

Yeah, it really doesn’t.

Well, thank you so much for your time. It was great to see you today. Hittin’ Splendour, a very brief tour but I’m sure it won’t be the last time we see you down here.

Yeah hopefully not!

Soccer Mommy are already back in the US, touring with Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks. To find out more, follow Soccer Mommy on Facebook.

Photo by Natalia Mantini