Soccer Mommy Is A 20-Year-Old Indie Rock Powerhouse
“Allison put down your sword/ Give up what you’re fighting for, cause/ He’s been waiting at the shore/ His feet are in the water/ He’s waiting for an answer,” are the opening lines on Soccer Mommy’s “Allison,” the first track on her official debut, Collection. The song is about the maelstrom of emotions that come from focusing on yourself instead of your significant other, and like the rest of Collection, it’s a vivid depiction of the messiness of love and what happens when young people attempt to keep the stitches of their conjoined lives together on that turbulent precipice of adulthood.
That Collection feels like such a fully realized and probing project is made more impressive when you learn that the album is, for the most part, a curated selection of re-recorded tracks that Soccer Mommy (20-year-old NYU student Sophie Allison) has written over the past few years as she moved from Nashville to New York. Two come from 2016’s For Young Hearts, another few from Songs From My Bedroom, and one from its follow-up, Songs From My Bedroom (Pt. 2). Collection’s haunting closer, “Waiting for Cars,” was released on the earliest Soccer Mommy record on Bandcamp, 2015’s Songs for the Recently Sad.
The album is occasionally dark and often wryly funny. “You smell like cigarettes and how chocolate tastes/ It makes me wanna die, but I guess I can wait,” Allison sings on the sweetly fatalistic “Death by Chocolate,” before launching into the chorus, “I wanna kill myself/ I’m gonna go to hell,” implying an overdose on the object of her affection.
Like Jay Som, Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield, and Car Seat Headrest’s Will Toledo, Allison is a guitarist with a keen understanding of how the instrument’s texture can color a song. The strumming on “Allison” is dusky and reflective; it feels like the sunset over the shore that Allison references in the opening verse, while the heavier chords on “Out Worn” convey the disillusionment that comes from realizing that someone has been contorting themselves for the sake of love and is beginning to bend back into a truer and nastier shape.
“You made your love like a forest fire/ I wanted someone to keep me warm/ You learned the difference after a while/ I’m sick of living in the eye of the storm,” she sings on the track’s walloping chorus. While she isn’t a breathtaking vocalist (at least not yet), she sells her lyrics with a mix of snark and vulnerability that really shines on “Out Worn.”
“Not the girl that you thought I’d be/ My makeup stains all your white tees/ Bite my nails ‘til my fingers bleed/ And I can’t always hide,” Allison says in the first verse, and it’s just one example of her penchant for well-articulated, occasionally morbid detail.
Though these tracks are fuller and more crystallized than their earlier forms, they retain the nicks and dings that signal great lo-fi rock, like the highly varied velocity of the piano on “Waiting for Cars” or the bleary-eyed sonic balance of “3 AM at a Party.”
Collection captures the stakes of being young and wanting to genuinely connect with someone. It’ll bring you back to the uncertainty and electricity of being in the passenger’s seat after everyone else has headed home and not knowing exactly how to proceed with the person to your left, as well as everything that comes after.
Despite being in the midst of an international tour that includes dates in the U.S., U.K., and Canada with acts like Jay Som, Stef Chura, and The Drums, Allison took some time to answer questions about her creative inspiration, the catharsis of playing her songs live, and the role of female indie rock acts today.
Do you feel like there’s a difference between the music you write when you’re in New York versus when you’re back home in Nashville?
There's definitely a difference. I think a lot of the stuff I write is a lot sadder when I'm in New York, just because I felt homesick and then I missed the person I was with. In Nashville, I feel more comfortable. I think the Nashville stuff is a lot more Southern-sounding, too, I don't really know why. It might just have to do with being surrounded by a harsh city atmosphere as compared a smaller city.
Could you name a few lyricists and guitarists who have inspired or informed your approach as a songwriter?
I'm a huge fan of Joni Mitchell, and I think her music has inspired me lyrically and guitar-wise. I definitely started attempting alternate turnings because of her music; I think "Allison" definitely reflects some of those chord structures. I also just think her lyrics are amazingly descriptive and they never really come off as cliché even if it's an idea I've heard before. I'm also a big fan of Mitski when it comes to lyrics. Her songs always struck me as very confrontational and confessional, and that's definitely the way I approach my writing. I also like the guitar work on Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville a lot. It's not the most insane guitar work, but I like the sound of the guitars on the album, and I like the structure of the chords a lot.
You mentioned in your Stereogum interview that there’s always an element of your songs that feels like you performing them alone because the songs exist alone in your head. I’m curious what the experience has been like performing them on the road and presenting them to an audience that might not be familiar with you or your story?
It's really cathartic to play my songs live. I'm a really non-confrontational person, so my songs are kind of like all the things I never get to say to anyone. Expressing those feelings in front of anyone—let alone a hundred strangers—is kind of terrifying but also really thrilling. The chorus of "Inside Out" always hits me really hard live. I think it's almost better for me that people don't know my story partially because it feels like a chance to stand out and partially because that makes it feel even more vulnerable.
There’s a quote of yours about how indie rock isn’t dead, it’s being taken over by women. I was wondering what you think has changed that’s finally allowed so many female bands and solo artists to get their proper credit? How do you feel Soccer Mommy fits in and adds to the current wave of rising female indie acts?
I think that rock music can thrive in oppression, so maybe that has to do with it. Despite steps towards equality most women are really aware of the oppression they face nowadays. It's weird because I think we feel that oppression, but it also empowers us to try to rise above. Empowerment is definitely a factor in this surge of female artists. I think a lot of women could be making great music but still don't feel like they're capable—in fact, I know that's the case for a lot of young girls who try to do music. I don't really know how I fit into all that. It's hard for me to see myself as meaningful, but people seem to like my music so who knows. Maybe my music is empowering some more young women to pick up songwriting/playing.
What have you learned in the process of re-recording some of your old songs for Collection?
Revisiting my old stuff has shown me what really gets to me and what has hurt in me in the past. Seeing where my vulnerabilities are has helped me with expressing myself further and finding out how to really get those feelings out of myself.
There’s a real sense of immediacy to the lyrics of songs like “Out Worn” and “Inside Out” that as a listener makes you feel like you’re really witnessing the events and emotions occur in real-time. I’m curious how go about making sure you capture that as you write?
I think I capture that immediacy by just writing in the heat of an emotion. Especially with songs like “Out Worn” and “Inside Out,” I wrote those pretty much straight through; they just kind of flowed out of me. When I get into a song, the things I need to express all kind of come up at once, and I just push it out as quickly as possible. I find that's the best way to make the songs feel like reliving a moment or a feeling.
“Allison” is a track of yours that really resonated with me, and I feel like that whole concept of focusing on yourself and your passion while being apart from someone you love is not talked about very often on records. What did you learn from that experience and how has it changed or shaped you as an artist?
That experience was definitely something that made me understand about caring about someone on a different level. It was a much more serious feeling, and it definitely tore me apart a little bit. That song helped me delve into deeper feelings of pain from giving yourself to someone on new songs I've been working on, and I think I'll continue growing from the relationship that spurred that song.
What kind of things do you hope that someone takes away from listening to Collection if it’s their first exposure to your music?
I hope they capture the growth that the album goes through. I really hope that young girls kind of see the toxicity of some of the feelings I experienced in earlier relationships. I didn't value myself very much when I wrote some of those songs and I think the newer ones show reflection on those feelings. I also hope that people just enjoy the songs when it comes to the melodies and arrangements. I think that while they have a lot of emotional value, they can also just be fun to listen to and to connect with.