COVER STORY: Soccer Mommy On Following Up Breakthrough Album

Soccer Mommy comes roaring back into 2022 with an album that tops even their near-perfect last LP, Color Theory. We caught up with the Sophie Allison to learn more about her background and how she prepared to follow up such a critically-acclaimed effort this time around.

You grew up playing music, so I’ve read: what drew you into that at such a young age?

I always loved music, I started playing when I was like six years old. It was one of my first actual memories, probably. I always really liked it and was really enthusiastic about it.   I had seen a charity concert and was really enthused by people playing and I got a toy guitar and I started playing it. It didn’t even tune! So, kind of terrible. But I instantly didn’t want to put it down.

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That’s kind of amazing. Do you still have that toy guitar?

I do! It’s more like a prop than anything! Untunable nylon strings.

When did you start writing music? What did that look like?

That was when I wrote my first song, at that age. And I kind of kept liking doing it. Obviously, they were very stupid little songs when I was that young. I never really stopped, and I started taking guitar lessons pretty young to actually try to learn chords and stuff. But I think for me it was always a way to write music. My interest was always in writing songs more than playing guitar or singing. I just kind of kept at it.

What is your writing goal now? Are you a person who has an album concept in mind, a tour concept in mind, that you’re working toward? Or are you writing all the time and cherry-picking from that output to create the album, create the tour?

For me, it’s never been this sense of trying to think about making stuff to release. It’s kind of the same as it was when I was younger doing it. I write songs, and when I really like something, I keep it. Obviously, now, I know that when I really like it it’s going to end up being on an album. 

And what is that writing process like? Is that getting inspired and picking up a pen and paper, or are you sitting down and going, “Today, I would like to write”?

I just play guitar all the time, you know? When I’m at home sitting and watching TV, I just have a guitar in my hand a lot of times. I just kind of start playing stuff. It always starts with a guitar and finding a chord progression or something that I like, a melody, or a riff that I like. And then I start thinking of melody and lyrics to go with that.

Further down the line, your Soccer Mommy career kicked off via Bandcamp: what tools were you using then?

Still just me, in my room, writing songs! But I got a little recorder, a little before I started doing all that stuff and just posting music online in general. At that point, a lot of it was really inspired by learning how to use this recorder, learning how to record things, and just being excited over the idea of being able to record this song that I wrote on my guitar and add drums or bass, even in a sloppy way, but to just be able to get this arrangement put together. That’s how it all started! I would really just use that box, with its own internal mic, record stuff on to that and mix it a little, put it online.

I still use it all the time for demoing! I think that those sound great!

I know a lot of folks in that same era as you have come up in that same situation of making art in their bedroom just to make art and then they put it out there and it blows up. 

Definitely. The first time that I was putting stuff up, I was definitely nervous about it. I’d put stuff on Bandcamp or Soundcloud at first and not even really tell anyone. If any friends heard it or anything that was nice, but it was very much just for breaking that wall down a little bit. Then, I was just excited about recording stuff and writing new musicto record.

Eventually, I started feeling comfortable enough to share it, post it on my Twitter, whatever. Honestly, it was great, at that point, I think especially when you’re kind of just doing it yourself before there’s any labels, and tons of fans or anything like that, it’s all very positive, it’s very empowering.

It definitely got crazy when things started picking up, I never expected any sort of growth. The only thing that I thought with putting music online was eventually it’d make me more comfortable about playing some shows around town, joining a band, that kind of stuff.

Now, we’re talking the day after you had a Grammy nomination for an album, Color Theory! And we’re talking about…what number album is this?

I guess three?

See! I didn’t want to be inaccurate! It felt fuzzy!

I would say three! I think Collection is just rerecorded versions of stuff that was just from Bandcamp. For Young Hearts is only eight songs.

If we print it, it will mint it! We’ll call it three. This is your third album. What’s it like moving into this era where everything you’ve done has been well-received and critically acclaimed, Color Theory having a Granny nomination.

I’m excited! Release times for records are always stressful because there’s so much anticipation. You have this moment where, I’m really happy with it and everyone who’s been working on it with you loves it too but then you have this thing of imagining like, “Wow, only twenty people have heard this!” and everyone is about to have the opportunity to hear it and there’s a lot of opinions flying around. I’m super happy with it and I think everybody in the band is super happy with it, excited about it. We’re just excited to play, even at soundchecks and stuff, just working on the new songs. We’re excited, I’m excited to move on from Color Theory, in a sense. I’m still very happy with that album but I want to grow, I want to do more and we’ve been obviously kind of trapped in it for longer than usual. It’s really only a couple of months longer than my usual turnaround time.

Did life during Covid ever feel like a return to that more intimate era of working more solo?

Honestly, it felt the same as every other time. For me, writing is always the same. I don’t cowrite or make beats first or do any sort of production beforehand. I just sit there and I write on my guitar. Once I feel like it’s completed, I might demo it but honestly a lot of the time I don’t even write stuff down unless I’m working on lyrics and having to kind of work through some certain parts and tweak them a lot.

Maybe it felt a little more like a couple years back, because it felt like I had some free time to get excited about not just writing the songs but trying to mess around with making demos and stuff and play on my computer after these songs were already written on guitar. Whereas usually we’ve been touring quite a bit since we started and it’s pretty busy.

What was it like working with producer Daniel Lopatin of Oneohtrix Point Never? I feel like I can hear him very distinctly in certain places, all of the little beeps and bloops, in the beginning of the song With U, for example, a lot of little cosmic flourishes throughout the album.

That’s a great way to say it! I was personally a very big fan of his and the idea of doing this album with him was great because I felt like, just even from the demos, some of the songs were going in a different direction and I really wanted to explore that and get kind of weird with it.

I really wanted him to bring exactly that mystical element, vibe, to the album. I’d always been a big fan of his stuff and kind of knew that that was something that he’d be good at. I really wanted him to just kind of go for it and do a bunch of stuff that no one would usually expect me to be doing, and he totally did.

I don’t want to feel trapped in just doing guitar stuff. I don’t want everything to just be beautiful. I think it’s so much better when it’s got a lot of beauty and a little bit of ugliness, shock. Not to mean ‘shock value.’

But there’s a contrast.

Yeah, exactly, that makes it intriguing and exciting. Like you said, on the song Unholy Affliction, that outro is basically the live take with almost nothing on it, there’s a little bit of a synth thing.

It sounds that way! It sounds raw.

Yeah, I think that we spent most of the studio time just getting good live takes that we were really happy with, with the band just trying to get that. We’ve been playing together for a long time on stage and we’ve kind of already been doing– I don’t want to say experimental because that’s a little much but – kind of having fun jamming off of each other a little bit more and more working off of each other’s stuff. It’s not rigid, it’s not like we’re playing the exact thing that’s on the record every night.

Nirvana is a great example, where they can get this really good live take and you don’t need that much else. I wanted there to be that. And to be able to take that, since Dan is so great with messing around with tracks and giving them interesting sounds and tones and putting cool effects on them and stuff. We basically wanted to get that first and then take it and fuck around with it and make everything get a little bit weirder.

What are you looking forward to being the first single from ‘Sometimes, Forever’?

Well, “Shotgun” just came out, so that’s the first. And then the next one, we already know, is going to be “Unholy Affliction.” They’re going to be a little different from each other and I think that’s exciting, I like to keep people guessing. I’m not only going to write this kind of song, and there’s going to be other stuff going on the record that maybe you’re not expecting. Or maybe you are expecting! I don’t know what people are expecting of me. [laughs] I think it will be cool to have some back-to-back stuff that’s different from each other.

I think that that provides a good contrast, an idea that we’ve talked about extensively here, so I think that that’s a cool way to do that. Are either of those songs your favorite track off of this record?

Ooh, that’s hard! That’s really hard!

I know, it gets to be like Sophie’s Choice, no pun intended!

I do really love “Unholy Affliction,” I’d say that’s one of my favorites. I’d say that “New Demo,” that’s probably one of my favorites, as well. I do also really love “Do It All the Time” — I think that those are kind of my top but honestly, I’m really happy with all of them and it kind of changes all the time.

And you’re touring right now! What are your favorite venues and cities to play?

Pretty much anywhere I’ve ever played in Boston I’ve had a great time! I don’t know why! [laughs] Obviously, New York has great venues but that’s kind of a cheap shot. Nashville has some good ones, I feel like we’re struggling a bit right now with not enough mid-sized venues, though.

One of the ones I just announced that they’re going to move somewhere else, they’re going to be closed a while. But obviously being from Nashville somewhere like the Ryman, I’ve never played but it’s like a dream to play a place like that. Chicago is really great! Thalia Hall is obviously amazing, that one is beautiful. They have a lot of good-sized theaters, more than somewhere like Nashville. A really fun one is in Philly, my sound guy used to work there, a place called Johnny Brenda’s is really great. And there’s The Saturn in Birmingham, which is super cool. It’s a great time when we’re there.

Does it feel good to be touring again?

Yeah, oh my god, it’s great! I was getting mildly bored with my life. It’s been nice and we’ve been lucky enough to not have trouble with Covid. But, you know, fingers crossed, we’re all trying to keep safe. It’s been good to get back out!

**Photos by Sophie Hur

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