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The Importance of Growth: Soccer Mommy Talks Life Leading Up To 'Clean'

Monday, 22 October 2018 Written by Helen Payne

Photo: Natalia Mantini

At Thekla, Bristol’s famous floating venue, Soccer Mommy’s Your Dog gets the best reaction from the crowd. Its sentiments reach further than its three minutes of poppy guitar licks as Sophie Allison tells us: “I don't wanna be your fucking dog.”

Only just in her early 20s, the singer-songwriter has done a lot of growing up in a very short space of time. In three years she’s risen from the ranks of a high school punk scene in Nashville, through a successful bedroom pop period and is now at a point where she’s selling out headline shows across the UK and the States.

Although she’s currently tangled in a sticky web of contemporaries who, on a surface level, occupy a similar space (artists like Phoebe Bridgers, Snail Mail et al) and have duly been lumped together by the press, Allison makes it clear from a sofa in the back room of  the venue that she won’t be pigeonholed after a cursory glance. To reiterate: she’s not going to be anyone’s dog.

Her aptly-titled early releases - ‘Songs From My Bedroom’ and ‘Songs For The Recently Sad’, which emerged back in 2015 - play as basic recordings of her voice and guitar. They’re lo-fi, grainy and ensconced in the walls of her childhood home. This year, on the other hand, saw the arrival of her debut LP, ‘Clean’, driven by a full band.

It delivered summery pop twinkles like Last Girl and Skin alongside spare songs in Still Clean and Blossom, which are heart-melting solo moments with a sharp melodic edge. Production credits were headed up by engineering heavyweight Gabe Wax, who’s previously worked with the War on Drugs, Fleet Foxes and Beirut. This collection of songs is Soccer Mommy’s most pristine material to date, proving just how much growing a person can do in such a short time.

But that progress only comes with hard work and a gruelling schedule. Going flat out at the sound of the starting pistol definitely takes its toll. After dropping out of her music business degree at NYU to take on touring with the band full time, Allison had no idea what this new world would have in store for her. She’d never been on the road before and it took some getting used to. Then ‘Clean’ blew up.

“What it’s like now is more what I pictured than what it was like a year ago,” she says. “It’s really hard when you start. You can’t really have a job. You’re not making money on the road. You’re losing money all the time, and you’re sleeping on floors half the time. You’re eating shit, you’re doing crazy drives. I was cramped in a Subaru with all the gear. When you’re first starting you destroy yourself in hope that all the work you put in will be enough to pay off afterwards.”

Allison now appears to be enjoying the fruits of those early labours. She has no trouble bringing out swathes of Bristol fans on a rainy Tuesday night, and will soon hit arenas as opener for country superhero Kacey Musgraves. Thekla gradually fills up and a lingering buzz passes between bodies fussing in wait to see her owning the stage. The presence of local hero and westcountry tastemaker Big Jeff also means Allison’s is the band to see tonight.

Much as she is maturing as an artist musically, Allison is also branching out thematically. Her early work largely dealt with heartache, unrequited love and those oh-so-relatable teenage dramas, but her focus has shifted. “I think I’m just at a different point in my life where I’m not experiencing heartbreak,” she says. “I think I’ll always still write about relationships, friendships, love and stuff like that, but it’ll be in a different way. More a sense of how I am in a relationship, my own faults and flaws that I’ve found, and other important things in my life too, like family.”

Looking back at ‘Clean’ with the luxury of hindsight, Allison is still happy with the results. Her bright, bubbly demeanor demonstrates how proud she is of her debut album being something that’s truly hers. But pride doesn’t necessarily equate to confidence, especially when your peers are producing top drawer work. There’s always the next hurdle. “I still have to write another great thing,” she says. “Just as easily as you can make a good album, and everyone can love it, your next album can be not good. Then it’s over, you know? You just gotta keep making good stuff.”

At the same time, Allison loves the artists she’s paralleled with. She supported Bridgers on tour around the US earlier this year, and is good friends with Snail Mail’s Lindsey Jordan. But that doesn’t stop the irritations from piling up. A recent article on the ‘scene’ - as much as it can be termed that - confused Allison and Jordan in a photo caption. “Lindsey texted me that and it was just like, LOL!” she says.

Bridgers, meanwhile, based a recent music video on a meme that collects ‘lookalikes’ known as “Is this @phoebe_bridgers?”. “We’re compared a lot, and we’re friends,” Allison adds. “Genre-wise it’s similar, but our albums don’t sound alike. It becomes this thing where you’re not individual at all.” She adds “so many other female artists feel the same way.”

The disparity of representation between genders is a problem. There may be this group of young women playing indie-rock, but no one would glibly group together Elliott Smith and Ed Sheeran: two white men wielding acoustic guitars. “We get treated differently,” Allison says. “The whole press cycle for us is so different. It becomes sensationalised, and happens so fast. Then everything about you is this idea of you.”

This dark cloud could be said to have a silver lining, though. Being categorised in this popular scene does give the Soccer Mommy name a boost. Allison is conflicted on this point. “It can definitely blow up your music, but it all becomes so sensationalised,” she says. “You don’t want to be lumped in with everyone else.”

Allison’s stage presence makes her point immediately. She’s herself on stage: funny and lively between songs, chatting casually with the audience while tuning, and making jokes with her band.  “Have a personality,” she says. She certainly does. She is going the right away about not choking on the leash of the “indie-rock girl”. Her advice? “Do what you want to do, do what you like to do, and don’t care what anybody thinks.”

Kacey Musgraves Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue October 23 2018 - BRISTOL Hippodrome
Wed October 24 2018 - YORK Barbican
Fri October 26 2018 - NOTTINGHAM Royal Concert Hall
Sat October 27 2018 - LONDON SSE Arena Wembley
Sun October 28 2018 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Academy 
Tue October 30 2018 - MANCHESTER O2 Apollo
Thu November 01 2018 - GATESHEAD Sage
Fri November 02 2018 - GLASGOW SEC Armadillo
Sat November 03 2018 - LIVERPOOL Philharmonic Hall
Sun November 04 2018 - BELFAST Waterfront Hall
Mon November 05 2018 - BELFAST Waterfront Hall
Tue November 06 2018 - DUBLIN Olympia Theatre

Click here to compare & buy Kacey Musgraves Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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