We Went Skateboarding With SOAK
Northern Ireland’s most promising singer-songwriter tried to teach me how to kickflip while I quizzed her about skate culture and sacrificing the social pleasures of teenage life for touring.
Bridie Monds-Watson is one of the most unassuming musicians you will ever meet. Performing as SOAK, the eighteen year-old from Derry, Northern Ireland, has already released a single via CHVRCHES’ label Goodbye Records, been shortlisted for The BBC Sound of 2015, toured with Tegan & Sara, and signed a deal to release her debut album Before We Forgot How to Dream via Rough Trade Records. I know, right? What have you done with your life lately?
The first time I saw her video for “Sea Creatures”, the first single from her forthcoming album, it threw me through a loop. Who the hell was this easygoing but also totally tender songwriter documenting growing up with an insight most people only manage in retrospect? In a landscape of cookie-cutter singer-songwriters with the same backgrounds, same tales of heartbreak, same haircuts - she is a brilliant example of someone who has totally nailed their own steez in a way that feels real, relatable, and above all, compelling.
Combining her twin passions of songwriting and skateboarding, SOAK spent most of February on a free skatepark tour of the UK and Ireland. On paper, that might seem like an unlikely pairing of interests (like, try picturing James Bay ripping a halfpipe), but if you think about it they both mainly involve falling over, hurting yourself, and doing it all over again.
I spent my teenage years on either ice skates or rollerblades; the only part of me that ever connected to a skateboard was my arse. Even then, I never got further than sitting on it and rolling down the hill next to my house. But as I inch ever closer to an age box where I no longer qualify for a Young Persons Railcard, I figured it’s about time I learned how to stand on two feet. So, on what was fittingly the wettest day of the year, we met up with SOAK at Mile End Skatepark ahead of her in-store show at Parlour for a quick skating lesson. She tried to teach me how to kickflip while I quizzed her about skate culture, keeping it real, and sacrificing some of the social pleasures of teenage life to go on tour and hang out with boring old people like me.
Hey Bridie. How’s the tour been so far?
Yeah, good thanks. Tiring. I’ve had today and yesterday off though.
Do you try to use your time off to skate?
Mostly I try to sleep and watch a lot of Netflix. I went to the Lego gallery yesterday, which was interesting considering it’s just a lot of bricks, but still not quite as good as I thought it would be.
So, your music definitely has some tangible Irish roots. What was your local music scene like growing up in Derry?
In the beginning I wanted to play as many gigs as I could, so I just accepted every offer that came in for like two years. The local scene was mainly DJs and a lot of folk bands or cover bands. There were two rock bands that were, like, good, but it’s pretty bland. Like everywhere, it has waves where it’s super busy and then nothing going on at all.
Did you feel different from all that?
I didn’t find myself feeling different when I started out, but I was trying to do something a bit more interesting.
It must feel weird signing a record deal with Rough Trade around the same time as collecting your A-Levels. Does it feel strange going home after being on tour?
I think I’ve probably gotten into the flow of it now that I’ve been doing it seriously for about two years. I know how to be comfortable when I’m away and I know how I’ll feel going home. I’ve got it all organised, so it’s cool. But beforehand, because I’m only 18 now, it was so hard to leave all my mates. They were all going to parties and I’m hanging around with 30 year-olds. I think I had to grow up quite quickly to do it. Touring involves a lot of stuff that you would do if you were living alone. You have to be more independent. Like, if I wasn’t doing this I wouldn’t be walking around London on my own today.
True say. You seem quite relaxed and honest in the face of all the attention that’s been thrust upon you recently. Some singer-songwriters tend to play the dark, mysterious angle or adopt a certain persona, but do you think it’s better to be open?
I think it’s cool when people do that, it seems like fun, but I couldn’t do it. I’m not that cool. My music is so honest and based on real-life stories, so if I tried to talk about it and pretend things weren’t as they actually were it would just be a wee bit awkward. I wouldn’t have much to say. Sometimes I wish I could cultivate that kind of mystery, but I just can’t [laughs].
Would you still say your music expresses parts of you that nobody else gets to see? Or is it even more open than that.
Ever since I was young I’ve always used music to organise things in my head and share things without directly having to say them. It’s so much easier for me to use words as a disguise. I think I do that a lot less now, but it’s where I start and what makes me want to write something - the process of getting things off my chest. Now I look at it more and think about it in more of a public way. I know I’m putting it out there, so I think about how people might pick it up better and stuff like that.
I read an old interview where you talked about meeting musicians that you idolised and feeling really disappointed by them. Was that in reference to anyone in particular?
Nah. I suppose I’ve been really lucky that I’ve toured with a lot of bands that I really like and I haven’t been disappointed, but I’ve done a lot of one-off shows with people and thought oh wow, you’re a massive dick.
Is that why you keep things super open, so there’s no illusion?
Yeah. Like this is it, sorry! [laughs]
Okay, here we go. I’m going to attempt to stand on this thing and not die.
A lot of skating is learning how to fall. It’s all about not being afraid to hurt yourself.
That is not comforting. What’s the first trick I should learn?
Being able to change direction is pretty important.
Look at me now, mum! Okay so we've done a trick sort of. Now for more questions. What first got you into skating?
I lived beside my best mate, from the age of 6 until I was 14, on a really steep hill and we’d roll down it. Classic young person skating. He was really shit at it. He couldn’t stand up. I started learning Ollies and stuff and he couldn’t do those either so he stopped, and then I kind of stopped because that was my mate I did everything with, and we continued to climb trees and stuff. Then I started skating again when I was 13 and stopped when a hammer fell on my hand. That was a pretty dodgy time. Finally, I started again about a year ago. That’s when my mates really got heavily into it so it was a good opportunity to show off what I already had pinned. I don’t think I’d skate at all if it was just me, by myself. I’d probably cruise a bit but because all my mates do it now it’s a classic thing to do on a nice day.
A few publications have made a point of highlighting your sexuality. How do you feel about that?
It used to annoy me when specific gay magazines would get in contact, but that’s kind of their job at the same time. I think it’s up to the person whether they want to be represented as that as their main point, like a selling point almost. For me it’s like, nobody tries to promote themselves based on the fact that they’re straight, so why do it in the opposite way? Although I do think it’s good to give some sort of guidance to young people where you can, you should definitely not take advantage of that opportunity.
Have you ever encountered any instances of people not taking you as seriously as they should because of your age?
I’ve had a good time to be honest. I haven’t had any terrible experiences or anything so far. Definitely when I was starting out - like, before I had management on board or anything - people were just like okay, you’re a short, even younger than you actually are lookin’ girl with a guitar. And I wasn’t taken very seriously back then. But I think I’m taken pretty seriously now. Back in the day I’d have like a really shit soundcheck and people would be like yeah you’ll be fine with that, and it’s like no, I won’t, and they’d be like yeah whatever. So it was stuff like that, I suppose. But it’s all good now.
That's good. So, are you big into skate culture or do you just like doing it?
Not really. I feel like a lot of skateboarders become a bit… I don’t know, classically there’s a lot of just dick skaters out there who are like “I’m really good and you’re just starting so I’m gonna take all the space and not cut you any slack.” Also there’s like no girl skaters. I have no girl friends that actually skate.
Okay, so what’s an easy trick to learn for people like me starting out?
Ollie is a good place to start. You wanna keep your right foot at the front, pop the back with the left and jump up. Try to keep both feet on the board the whole time. You want to land on the bolts - that’s the strongest part of the board.
I have to say, I am doing a GREAT job of correcting the gender imbalance right now. Skating is all in the arms, right?
I thought so. Serious interview face on though, why do you think skating is so male dominated?
You know, I’ve been asked that before and I just don’t know. It’s sad. The other day VICE ran a story about this 17 year-old fashion model that skates and that’s so sick, but that’s the only time I’ve seen anyone with an audience do something like that. Classic skate videos are typically groups of teenage guys ending up in fights and getting really pissed and doing stupid shit, kind of like Jackass on a deck. It’s all really laddy. Maybe it’s considered unflattering or something, but then so is running.
Where are your most frequented skate spots?
Where I live is so shit for it. There’s a place called Ebrington Square, which is like - the actual size of the skate park would be about the size of this tunnel. It’s just ledges and stuff. It’s not good. We used to have this car park that we skated in that was supposedly not owned or used, so we just went there and built our own ramps and stuff. But it got destroyed, because druggies would come in and burn shit.
Have you got to see many cool parks on this tour?
Oh man, yeah. So good. So far I’ve seen five or six top parks that people have put a lot of work into. Concrete parks too. We don’t have any of those where I live.
I’m going to give this ollie business another go.
Go for it.
Arms! I think my fear of falling on my face is holding me back.
Falling is all part of the fun - but try to keep your feet further apart and you'll be able to balance better.
Right, more questions. What’s the weirdest/nicest experience you’ve had on this tour so far?
I mean, because it’s such a strange tour to do - like, even if you did hear this kind of tour had been announced you’d expect Gnarwolves or someone to be doing it, not me - I expected it to be pretty odd. But all the venues have been really accommodating. Some of them have been giving out free pizza and beer to the audience, which is really nice. They didn’t have to do that. There’s been one or two shows that have been a bit dodgy, just like, really boring teenagers sitting behind the desk not really helping. That’s only happened once or twice though, the rest have been so good.
Yeah, I guess the cool thing about skate culture is the sense of community. Do you have any skate shops back home with that kind of vibe?
Not really. There’s one. Well, there used to be two but one got shut down and that was actually really good. Like, really scummy but really well done. You could kind of do anything in there you wanted.
Your Twitter bio proclaims a love of dinosaurs and dragons. If you could be one for a day, which would it be?
I love the idea of a T-Rex, but that’s typical, right? I have a T-Rex and a Stegosaurus tattooed on my leg along with lots of other really stupid things, like this tooth. I’d quite like to be that - oh, I forget it’s name, it’s kind of like a giraffe dinosaur?
Like the first ones you see in Jurassic Park?
YES. One of those.
I want to say Diplodocus, but don’t quote me on that. You’ve got loads of mad shit coming up - festivals, shows in New York. What are you most excited about this year?
We released a thing of everything I’m doing until September, and that just makes me nauseous to look at. There’s so much on it. It’s a little bit overwhelming. We try to clear a week every month where I can just go home and not do anything and chill with my friends. Or we fly them out somewhere, which is a bit weird. It’s really cool to be going to New York though. And SXSW too, I’ve wanted to do that for so long so it’s cool that’s finally happening. Australia will be mad but the flight is scary and some of the festivals are going to be great. But I’ve really got to gear myself up for it.
Do you still get nervous on stage?
I’m definitely more used to it now and I have a clearer idea of what I’m actually doing. Like, I’ve always had my songs, but I’ve got the “stagecraft” and stuff like that pinned now. If anything, I talk too much sometimes. Like if I get one laugh I’m like ah-ha! I’m funny now. I’ve found a friend. I’m in it for you, one person.
I think I've achieved as much as is possible for one afternoon. Wanna show me how it’s done?
Before We Forgot How to Dream will be released on June 1 via Rough Trade and is available to pre-order here.