(photo: Shervin Lainez)

“I love when gas stations have pumpkin seeds,” Soccer Mommy’s Sophie Allison tells me over the phone, recuperating at home in Nashville after a successful first SXSW. She’s getting ready to buy her own tour van before setting out for the West Coast in support of her official studio debut, Clean, out now on Fat Possum. I had the opportunity to catch up with her a few days before the band hit the road.

Sophie felt rested from "a good night’s sleep," even though she had just returned from Austin. “It was a good first South By, for sure. I mean, it was exhausting, but that was much expected.” Soccer Mommy made a big splash at Fader Fort with powerful live renditions of Clean tracks like “Your Dog” and “Scorpio Rising.” Between performances, Sophie spoke with the likes of Nardwuar as well as Tyler Andere from PORTALS.

“My boyfriend Julian Powell plays lead guitar. Graeme Goetz plays bass, and this guy Ryan Elwell is drumming.” Julian co-starred with Sophie in Soccer Mommy’s video for “Your Dog.” “He’s the dead guy!”

I first caught onto Soccer Mommy’s music in early 2016, when Mat Cothran tweeted a link to songs from my bedroom, a two-part follow-up to the debut songs for the recently sad EP, fresh off Soccer Mommy’s Bandcamp page. “Yeah. That was definitely a moment,” Sophie remembers. Now, the band's current tour is selling out fast, and she's also opening for Liz Phair this summer. “I’m pretty excited. I mean, that’s kind of like a — not only a dream tour to see, but to get to be on it is pretty amazing too. I get to go, like, every night! It’s great.” Soccer Mommy’s upcoming April 7 show at Bottom of the Hill with Madeline Kenney and Rose Droll sold out just a few days after we spoke.

Dreaming up lyrics and melodies at as young as five years old (“What the heck is a cowgirl / What could it be?”), Sophie acquired her childhood guitar at a benefit show and has been rocking ever since. Sophie learned to play drums through her many summers spent at Southern Girls Rock Camp while growing up in Nashville. “At the end of the week there’d be a huge performance and every band would play one cover song that they learned throughout the week. It was really fun,” Sophie reminisces.

After graduating from Nashville School of the Arts, Sophie purchased a TASCAM four-track recorder and started recording songs from her bedroom, where Soccer Mommy was born (the band name, for the record, comes from @sopharela’s Twitter name, not the other way around). “I was kind of starting to get into the local DIY scene with my friends who recorded their own stuff. I just wanted to do something really simple, to see if I could start getting into it,” Sophie recalls, uploading demos "just to kind of get it out there and practice experimenting with these songs.”

As Soccer Mommy was starting to connect with fans online, Sophie moved to New York City in August 2015 and began studying Music Business at NYU. Just a few months after uploading her first EPs to Bandcamp, Sophie was invited to play her first Soccer Mommy show at the Silent Barn in May 2016. Shortly after, Sophie got in touch with Warren Hildebrand of Orchid Tapes, who subsequently released Soccer Mommy’s June 2016 solo effort For Young Hearts on a limited run of collectible gold cassettes. The introspective heartache of the lyrics combined with captivating guitar hooks offer emotional catharsis at a unique, yet universal level, solidifying Soccer Mommy as a voice that deserves to be heard far and wide, by hearts young and old. Sophie was also running her own DIY label called Soccer Tapes at the time.

As Soccer Mommy’s presence began to grow, she was joined by a full rock band to release her first 7-inch single via Glad Fact Records signing to Fat Possum shortly thereafter.

Silent Barn is now set to close its doors within the next month, and Sophie stresses the fragile importance of sustaining inclusive spaces for emerging artists. "[It’s important to have] someone who’s willing to help give you a start,” she says, though she acknowledges the harsh financial realities of keeping DIY and all-ages venues open. “So many bands that are huge now wouldn’t be a band at all if there wasn’t anyone who was willing to give them a place to play gigs, when they didn’t have any fan base.”

By the fall of 2017, Sophie had left school at NYU and moved back to Nashville in order to pursue music full time. While her music education was valuable in teaching her the basics, her firsthand experience in the industry helped her become more successful in navigating historically male-dominated scenes. “I feel like classes I took were definitely helpful,” she says, but, “When doing stuff like signing a contract, or being my own manager, or trying to book my own show, I feel like a lot of it I have learned through experience more than through school.”

Soccer Mommy’s full-length studio debut Clean was released March 2 on Fat Possum Records, receiving glowing reviews from mainstream press outlets. “Rolling Stone was really cool, that was a new one. And yeah, Pitchfork was pretty crazy,” Sophie admitts. “I thought I’d probably get, like, a seven-point-something...that’s kind of a hard thing to get. I feel like, usually, it’s given to bands that they have continuously loved. That’s kind of a new thing. So yeah, it’s pretty cool.”

On the lauded LP, Soccer Mommy incorporates more experimental elements into her production. Careful listeners will notice the demo take spliced into the final refrain of album opener “Still Clean,” or how the tape starts to waver and slow during the coda on “Cool,” achieving a moody, almost disorienting effect. “I think that’s something I’d always had wanted,” Sophie tells me. “I’d always wanted it to have this big — almost, you know, like — ambient, noisy intensity to it. I feel like that just makes it feel more cinematic, almost. It’s just more of an intensity when you have these swells of ambient — I feel like it kind of captures a very natural, worldly feeling, almost. Especially for the vibe I wanted for the album. I just wanted it to feel like the summer, and kind of like, the fallout of summer."

Although the lyrical themes on Clean are cohesive and thoughtful, the musical foundation comes first. “I usually start with chords, and then from there I kind of like, start installing melodies and lyrics,” Sophie says. Although Sophie still touches on relationship-oriented themes as a means of catharsis, her latest work represents a new level of emotional growth and self-understanding while also establishing her footing as a fully-realized rock musician.

“I feel like it’s more of a catharsis for me. I mean, I’m not super closed off to people who I’m close with. I don’t think I’m great at communicating my feelings. I’m just a lot better at communicating it through songs,” Sophie tells me.

There are two standout tracks on Clean, and one of them is at the end. “I think it was just like a reflection on everything that’s happened to me," she says of album closer “Wildflowers”. “I kind of started it earlier and stopped writing it, and eventually came back to it,” she says, after writing the rest of the album, and specifically after the events that inspired its emotional centerpiece, “Scorpio Rising.”

“I don’t think you can really change yourself that much; you can grow,” Sophie explains to me, trying to pin down the epiphany that led to her writing such a climactic song. “I think just through trying to be someone else after going through a lot of stuff that made me feel like I had grown a lot. I think by trying to go into new relationships and go into a new period of my life being a different person, completely.”

In her lyrics, she illustrates the duality between her true self and the idealized version of who she wants to be, especially on Clean’s first three songs. While she might sometimes “wanna be that cool,” she definitely doesn’t “wanna be your fucking dog.”

“I think it was more of a metaphor that started with ‘Still Clean’ as kind of like the difference between, like, a dog and like a wolf almost. Kind of a domesticated animal, and like, a predator, I guess,” Sophie elaborates when asked about her lyrical inspiration. “I think that kind of showed the contrasting traits that I wanted to be, and like, who I was. I think it kind of shows two sides of me, even. Kind of something domesticated and held back, and then something more flesh-controlled I guess, and uh — you know, more animalistic.

“I’m definitely more of a cat person than a dog person, even though I love dogs too.” Soccer Mommy is great at connecting with her fans at a deeply human level, and proves that it's still entirely possible to feel "cool" just by being your authentic self.

Soccer Mommy, Madeline Kenney, Rose Droll
Bottom of the Hill
April 7, 2018
8:30pm, SOLD OUT

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