Listen to the latest single from the 20-year-old singer-songwriter's excellent upcoming album, 'Clean.'
Photo by Shervin Lainez
Twenty minutes into her solo headline set at The Lexington in North London last month, with the last clean chord of "Your Dog" ringing out of her all-white Stratocaster and into the audience's applause, Sophie Allison tried to relieve a little tension. "That song is about nobody giving a fuck about you," the 20-year-old said with a faux-peppy inflection, grinning. She swigged from a bottle of water. "I hope you liked it."
"Your Dog" was the first single from Clean, Allison's forthcoming debut LP as Soccer Mommy, out March 2 on Fat Possum. When the song was released at the beginning of this year, it signaled a shift in tone for the Nashville-raised singer-songwriter. The songs she'd uploaded to Bandcamp as an undergraduate at New York University—brought together on the eight-track EP Collection—had been honeyed bedroom pop: night-out anecdotes, fleeting feelings, vague depression, heartsickness. "Your Dog," conversely, bristled: "I don't want to be your fucking dog / That you drag around / A collar on my neck tied to a pole / Leave me in the freezing cold."
That same sense of betrayal is there on "Still Clean," the album's opener, premiering below. Over a lone, reverberating guitar, Allison slides in and out of a high falsetto, still fixated on feeling like a mistreated pet. "In the summer / You said you loved me like an animal," she sings. "Stayed beside me / Just enough to keep your belly full." The song is still vulnerable and unguarded—she's still left to drown or lost in the forest—but she's marked an antagonist, and she won't let that go.
Some of this is just maturity—Allison, like anyone, became a different person between the ages of 18 and 20. She took a temporary leave of absence from college and moved back to Nashville in the middle of her sophomore year to focus on Soccer Mommy full-time. So, while lyrical allusions to her home and her past are strewn across the record, the often lonely intensity of living in Manhattan in one's late teens still hangs over Clean. It's a compelling, often troublingly intimate listen, and one that will inevitably have Allison spoken about as one of 2018's most exciting breakout indie musicians.
Before her set at The Lexington, I sat down with Allison to talk about the album, her writing process, and her new emotional clarity she found in solitude.
Noisey: Clean feels like a far more confrontational set of songs than anything you've released before. Was it a conscious decision to write like that?
Sophie Allison: I don't know if it was necessarily conscious as much it was just how I was feeling. I think the ones that were the most expressive for me became my favorites. And I think I have become better at expressing myself in my style; I think I've just become more eloquent at writing in my style than I was when I was 18. I've grown a lot and that's kind of naturally made [the songs] more confident and more eloquent. I spent a lot of time like reflecting and learning from my past mistakes and learning from like past relationships, like how it felt and just thinking about that. I was going into a new relationship too, and I didn't want to be too vulnerable or too weak in a relationship again. I didn't want to feel always like I was saying things or I wasn't saying things I wanted to say or like the person I was with didn't want to do things for me that like weren't easy.
So you were going into a relationship as you started writing? Because a lot of the time this feels more like a breakup record.
That's what a lot of the early songs that I wrote were definitely about. I mean that's what all of them were about. Just like the feeling, things I experience throughout, like going into like any relationship I guess. When it first started, I didn't want to be vulnerable. I didn't want to be someone that was going to be doing everything in a relationship or being taken advantage of. I don't think I ever dated anyone who in conscious way was just taking advantage of me. But I used to always feel like, if I had a problem with something or I had an issue, I shouldn't bring it up, I should just let it go. I didn't want to be like that. I wanted to be more confrontational about my feelings. And I just kind of found out that you can't just like close off feelings anyway. You just have to be more confrontational, more open about your feelings. You still have feelings about things. They're still gonna be there, regardless of whether you tell people.
That's where all of it, the maturity of it, came from, just reflecting on my feelings more than I used to, and also just being more grown as a person
Is there any sense in which writing something like that at the start of a relationship is a pre-emptive strike?
I think it was partially that when I started the new relationship, I was going to be going away to school. We weren't doing to date. We weren't going to be together when I left for school, we were just like hanging out. So I didn't want to feel any certain way towards this person. We ended up dating anyway when I went to college, so it was long-distance. That was definitely part of the pain. It was just because I was away a lot, I was very insecure about the relationship, and vulnerable because I was scared that it wouldn't work out. I think that's kind of where the fear and vulnerability in it comes from. It's just like not wanting to like be in a relationship because you're scared of getting hurt and trying to like not feel a certain way, but still feeling that way anyway.
I mean, it's kind of similar to a breakup—wanting to be over it, but you're not. And then, yeah, just having to be away from someone you care about. Songs like "Still Clean" definitely aren't about a new relationship as much as they are about past relationships where I worry that it's going to turn out the same way. I mean I think it was just kind of like partially like these two different relationships, or really every relationship I've ever had with someone. Even if it was like a crush or anything. All these different relationships, and me kind of like fearing this one isn't going to work out, so I'm trying to like close myself off to it. But eventually realizing you can't do that and falling back in almost the same patterns and just realizing I have to be more reflective and more hopeful about my feelings I guess.
Is that how you deal with things emotionally, rather than writing them down in prose or just thinking about them? Are you an automatic songwriter?
Yeah, definitely. I mean, I reflect on my life a lot more than I used to. I used to be very emotionally closed off and didn't want to talk about it. I didn't want to think about it, and I think that's partially why I write. I just used to not really tell people if I was upset by something or if I was hurt or if I liked someone, I was upset about that or heartbroken. So I kind of always use music as a way to get it out of my system and kind of clean myself of these feelings. And that's definitely the, the area of my life where I don't express well. I think I express myself like pretty well with like other things like, I don't know, social issues or music that I like. The hard thing for me to express is relationships and being insecure about myself.
Did moving to New York to go to college have a part to play in you figuring yourself out, becoming more open?
It definitely was very lonely when I first moved. I didn't want to make friends really. I was kind of just bored with people. I would spend a lot of time just in my dorm making music, and that definitely made me write a lot more. But also, living there helped me like experience new things and mature as a person and have more drive to work at what I was doing and want to make it happen and want to make it like big and a full production. I think it definitely like just like gave me more drive and more time to work.
That's one big difference between this record and Collection —it really is a full production. There are some more left-field, ambient mini-interludes that crop up here as well. What were your reference points for that in the studio?
When I met Gabe [Wax, producer] the first time, he asked what the album should sound like and like what I wanted. I was like, "I don't know, I just want it to sound like if we were in a field in the middle of the summer in the south at like 2:00 AM." I think when I write songs, I'm inspired by moments. Like, if I'm so upset and I feel like I'm in like a movie or a TV show, I feel like I like there's this type of song that should be playing. It's cinematic, almost. It's very imagery-based. I try to convert like this scene into a song
How do you do that?
I don't know! It just comes to you. Like, with "Your Dog," it's a really angry moment. But monotone anger, a moment when you're so upset and down on yourself. You kind of match it to that. I don't know how to do it exactly.
But from the sounds by the scenes you were describing these things are probably going back a few years, not just a year or so. It must be kind of weird being back in Nashville and reliving some of that Does revisiting those places dull those memories for you?
No, I don't think so! Certain places feel really romantic to me. I never get it in a sad way. It feels like this just feels like this park is very much like a place I could go on a summer night when I want to be alone, reflecting on my life.
Oh, always. Always alone. Always in your head. Maybe at a party watching something happen or in a moment watching something happen. But always alone. That's when you're thinking the most. I get it from the moments where I felt something, but didn't say it.
Clean is out March 2 on Fat Possum. Pre-order the album here. Soccer Mommy is touring through the spring; find those dates below.
2/12/18 Birmingham, AL @ Syndicate Lounge # *SOLD OUT*
2/14/18 Nashville, TV @ High Watt # *SOLD OUT*
2/15/18 Atlanta, GA @ Aisle 5 # *SOLD OUT*
2/16/18 Asheville, NC @ The Mothlight #
2/17/18 Raleigh, NC @ King’s # *SOLD OUT*
2/20/18 Washington, DC @ Rock & Roll Hotel # *SOLD OUT*
2/21/18 Philadelphia, PA @ World Cafe Upstairs #
2/22/18 Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg # *SOLD OUT*
2/23/18 Brooklyn, NY @ Music Hall of Williamsburg # *SOLD OUT*
2/24/18 Boston, MA @ Great Scott # *SOLD OUT*
3/3/18 Leeds, UK @ Headrow House
3/4/18 Manchester, UK @ The Castle Hotel *SOLD OUT*
3/6/18 London, UK @ Moth Club
3/7/18 Brighton, UK @ The Hope
3/8/18 Paris, FR @ Supersonic
3/9/18 Amsterdam, NL @ Sugar Factory
3/12-18/18 Austin, TX @ SXSW
3/23/18 Nashville, TN @ The East Room
3/27/18 Lexington, KY @ The Burl *
3/28/18 Bloomington, IN @ The Bishop *
3/29/18 Chicago, IL @ Schubas Tavern *
3/30/18 Davenport, IA @ The Raccoon Motel *
3/31/18 Minneapolis, MN @ Bryant-Lake Bowl Theater *
4/3/18 Spokane, WA @ The Bartlett *
4/4/18 Seattle, WA @ Barboza *
4/5/18 Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge *
4/7/18 San Francisco, CA @ Botton Of The Hill
4/10/18 Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo *
4/11/18 Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar *
5/4/18 Brooklyn, NY @ Rough Trade
* with Madeline Kenney
# with Phoebe Bridgers
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