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Keeping guitar music alive with Soccer Mommy

20 February 2018 | 12:21 pm | Kyle Fensom

Soccer Mommy sat down for a chat ahead of her debut LP to talk through female participation in DIY scenes, the return of emo, and how to accept yourself.

A lot of noise has been made in recent years about the supposed decline of guitar music. Far from being dead and buried, however, it was quickly recognised that the genre is being kept alive by women who, away from the glare of the mainstream, are producing the most exciting, urgent, forward-thinking guitar music today. The de-centring of guitar music from the mainstream has allowed for the inclusion of other, traditionally marginalised voices in the genre, with artists like St. Vincent, Mitski, Angel Olsen, Waxahatchee and more receiving long-overdue recognition. The list is endless. But you can add to that list the name of Nashville singer-songwriter SOCCER MOMMY (aka Sophie Allison), who first garnered attention with last year’s Collection, and looks set to cement her status with the release of her debut studio album, Clean, in March.

Described by Allison as evoking the sounds of “sitting in a field in the South in the summer at night”, it’s a record full of faraway guitars, sticky atmospherics, gentle drones, and painfully honest voyeuristic insights into every corner of Allison’s emotional terrain. Inviting comparisons to how artists like Springsteen or The War on Drugs similarly recreate physical landscapes through their music, it feels more large-scale and openly ambitious than anything we’ve heard from the Soccer Mommy project before. But at the same time the lyrics retain the universality and intimacy that distinguished Allison’s earlier Bandcamp work.

We sat down with Allison ahead of the record's release to chat about the return of emo, female participation in DIY scenes, and how we can all learn to be more accepting of ourselves.

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You took some time off from your studies at New York University to focus on touring and music – how’s that going?

It’s going great. Just playing a lot of shows and writing a lot of songs.

Why did you feel that decision was necessary? Did it give you a more liberated headspace to create?

Yeah, I mean mostly I just wanted to tour and get to play shows every night and kind of perfect the live performance. And it’s just so great to be able to travel a lot and play shows every night. That’s pretty much why I did it, because I just couldn’t be at school and still going on tours. But I think I still could’ve been like writing and being at school. It was really mostly the touring outside that that I thought would get held back.

What was New York University like? Pretty ambitious and cut-throat?

Yeah, I mean it was definitely, you know, a lot of work and a lot of stress but also I flagged a little bit because I was putting a lot of effort into my music and a lot of my focus into music rather than my classes some of the time. So I didn’t feel that competitive urge as much maybe some other people there do. It was fine, it was school but I just wanted to take time to focus on the music.

Sure, because your move to New York and the start of your musical career kind of happened at the same time. How did these experiences shape one another, do you think?

I think just being in New York and experiencing a different climate changed me a lot. I was really depressed when I first got there, due to this sense that it can be so overwhelming to move to New York. It can just be a very big, lonely place. I spent a lot of time reflecting on myself, and it was just a very pivotal point in my life, and I was writing all these songs and that’s when everything started too, when I was like reflecting on myself and learning a lot about myself. It was definitely a great time to be writing and having a project to fuel all that creative energy in to. It definitely sparked the start of this project.

Right now in Nashville Alt-Country and DIY scenes are kind of reclaiming the city from the multi-million–dollar country labels. How did being around these scenes inform your musical education and your song-writing impulses?

I definitely started listening to those scenes in high school and around the time I started getting into DIY scenes in Nashville I was listening to a lot of new music, stuff like The Smiths and The Cars and The Ramones even. And I started consuming a lot of DIY bands that I liked a lot, these sounds that were hot at the moment, that were very new and fresh. I think that all kind of went into what I’m making now, rather than just making the kind of stuff I was hearing on pop radio and everything, it definitely showed me this new style of writing with emo and all that kind of stuff. It definitely influenced me to write in a different way than I would’ve if I hadn’t discovered any of that stuff.

At the same time, though, I’ve read that you felt insecure as a female to express your interest in pursuing music because the scene operated as a boy’s club. Even today, you’re having to overcome the lazily sexist label of making “sad girl music”. Do you think micro-aggressions like this and others throughout your experience exclude and deter female participation?

I don’t think it’s necessarily a purposeful thing, but I think part of it is just, you know, when you are only seeing dudes play in a band and no one is pushing you, saying “Hey!,” like no one is giving you an easy opportunity, like an offer. It’s just like when you’re seeing all these representations of men playing music and there’s no one’s saying, “Hey, would you like to jam?” [or] “Hey, you should play in a band,” there’s not any encouragement – it can feel really exclusive. But it’s not like a purposeful thing, it’s just I think scenes need to strive to be more diverse and strive to encourage people to play music who are not just men. Because it’s such an encouraging environment if you go ahead and start doing it, but it’s a lot easier for men to do that when, you know, all their bros play music and it’s just much more… The industry is just really sexist, there’s a lot of hurdles that women face, I think, going into it. So we need to learn to encourage people who might otherwise not make music to do it if they want to. But I definitely felt that insecurity and that feeling of like no one would like it if I made it, and I would just feel like an idiot.

Absolutely. What I really love about your guitar playing is the way you use it as an extension of your inner-state. I’m thinking about how the guitar solo towards the end of ‘Cool’ detunes itself. For someone who finds the guitar such a personal instrument, do you think there’s been a recent trend towards marginalisation of guitar music in the mainstream?

I don’t know. I guess I feel like guitar music is kind of on the way out, in some ways. I definitely think the mainstream has erased guitar music a little bit, but at the same time this whole like emo, pop-punk vibe is coming into a lot of modern music, and so I think it’s kind of maybe coming back a little bit. Because obviously there are still big bands. I feel like there’s a chance that it’s kind of coming back from this place of “guitar music is kind of dead” and electronics is in and hip-hop’s in. I think that there’s a chance that, in the right way, it could come back and be in the mainstream again.

At the same time, I feel like women are finally receiving overdue recognition for making the most exciting, urgent guitar music today.

Yes, totally. I totally think that’s happening.

Is this a reason to be optimistic about guitar music?

Yes! I think that’s where the optimism stands, for sure, is in women making guitar music. I feel like that as men’s guitar music has kind of died out, it’s allowed it to have a rebirth almost – not that women weren’t playing guitar music before this, it just felt like it was so… it’s also such a time right now where men who are shitty are being called out for it, and it was such a sexist industry for so long and still is, but it feels like this whole social climate and everything is just allowing for women to get the recognition that they’ve always deserved.

You’ve talked about and touched on your emo and pop-punk influences already, but one thing that stuck out about the album for me is that I think these influences are growing more noticeable, especially in your vocal melodies. Have these genres always been reference points for you? 

Yes, I think they’ve always been. I don’t know if I would necessarily have recognised it, but they’ve always definitely been there I think. My lyrics have always been very emotional and usually kind of dark. And even the sounds sometimes would be kind of 90's emo a little, kind of like twin guitars. I think it was always there. But with the full production behind it, it’s kind of built that sound a little bit.

I read in an interview that you’ve described the sound of the album as “sitting in a field in the South in the summer at night”. How do you evoke this sonically?

Oh, yeah! I don’t know, it’s just like a feeling. I think I have trouble saying what or describing an album in any other way than the feeling attached to the sound almost. I don’t know why, that’s what it makes me feel like when I hear the sound that I wanted to bring to the album when I pictured it. But it’s just very ambient and it needs to be a bit gentle and feeling warm tones throughout it but not lacking in distortion in a very open way. I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but it just feels very warm and reminiscent, like reflective.

I hear a lot of open chords and sticky drones all over the album, none so than on my favourite track off the album, ‘Scorpio Rising’.

Thank you! It’s mine too.

You’ve always used your music as a cathartic mode of expression. But I feel like there’s been a shift in your lyrics on this album from inward-looking songs about relationships to something more outward-looking. How does this tie into the album’s themes?

I think it’s just like rather than just writing about relationships, it was about reflecting on myself and my internal feelings throughout how I experience life when I’m in a relationship, and how I’ve experienced those. It was just much more about me and about my general life. When I was writing a song, it wasn’t about like, “Oh, I’m sad about this feeling right now” – it was much more about a general, broad look at my life in every song.

So what have you personally learnt from making this record? What are you hoping others might find in it?

I don’t know if I’ve personally learnt anything besides you’re going to be who you’re going to be, and you can’t really deny it. You know, you’re always going to be the way you are and you can’t escape it. But I hope other people find solace in it. That’s all I can hope is that people connect with it, and learn to be accepting of themselves and learn to reflect on themselves as well.

Clean is out March 2nd via. Inertia Music - you can preorder it here.


IMAGE: Ebru Yildiz