I want to be the same kind of person I was when I was 17,” explains singer-songwriter Sophie Allison, clad in a black slip and scratching the crescent moon tattooed on her upper arm. “When you start making a living and go from being a regular person who’s always at home to someone who’s always working and getting sucked into the industry, it can be very…” She searches for the right expression . “You lose yourself a bit.”
Allison’s flaws are evident in her work. The 25-year-old from Nashville, Tennessee, who goes by the moniker Soccer Mommy, is a musical vessel for collective millennial angst. Lyrical melancholy is smuggled under distorted guitars and pop melodies. “I’ve hardly left my room for the past week,” she sings on “Bloodstream,” a track from her 2020 album color theory. “Happiness is like a firefly on summer evenings / Feel it slip through my fingers but I can’t catch it with my hands.”
She’s a great conveyor, her music oscillating between genres and time periods. You can hear the mid-tempo lurch of ’90s Billy Corgan, the emotional surge of I’m With You-era Avril Lavigne, and the thrashing mayhem of early Breeders. On her new album Sometimes, forever — which chronicles recurring bouts of misery, exhilaration, and emotional withdrawal — she draws from trip-hop, sixties psychedelia, and Scooby Doo haunted “I love the spooky vibe,” she laughs, before stopping to rummage through her purse and show it off Buffy the vampire slayer keyring.
if Sometimes, forever explores the emotional terrain of being in your twenties, it’s suitably rocky. The album’s sequencing results in an initially strident shift between moods, from suicidal thoughts (“Head in the Oven Didn’t Sound So Crazy,” on Sylvia Plathian’s “Darkness Forever”) to earnest redemption (“I’m Not Thinking Anymore…Sinking…Drowning in all my lonely thoughts”, on the ascending “Don’t Ask Me”). However, it makes it a feel-good blanket of a slab. There is no set way to live and feel, Allison suggests, and that’s perfectly fine.
Allison’s musical rise came quickly. While studying music business at New York University, she was spotted performing in small clubs and bars, and she created her material herself in her bedroom. After signing a deal, she moved home to Nashville and dropped out of college. Cleanher first LP, she subsequently voted the best album of 2018 The New York Times. color theory propelled her to fame and industry recognition, but internally she was struggling.
“I was a mess,” she recalls today, sitting in a record shop in east London. “I felt like I was connected my whole life. I knew I wasn’t happy and I knew things had to change, but I also felt like I had to move on.” She repeats it for emphasis. “Go on, go on, I have to go on.” When her star rose, there were many industry parties, meetings with this or that producer, touring with her heroes (Liz Phair, Paramore) as well as her colleagues (Phoebe Bridgers, Mitski). She loved meeting other musicians. “But you end up getting sucked into a world where you never really have time with them just because you’re so busy. But I honestly don’t like making new friends either,” she laughs. “Like meeting new people, sure, maybe we can meet up, but I’ve got enough friends. It’s hard enough juggling about six relationships in your lifetime. I don’t need 30. To each their own, but having a lot of casual acquaintances just isn’t my thing.” Can she count the number of friends on two hands? “Oh yeah”. One hand? “Um… I think I need two. If I count family and such, then yes, two.”
The pandemic that has restricted the promotion of color theory and a planned world tour at least allowed Allison to decompress. She went deeper into sessions with a therapist and — most importantly — got off social media. Allison has never had a problem meeting fans in person and said they’ve always respected their boundaries. However, it was different online. “The internet is so dehumanizing,” she says. “It makes people braver to say rude things or things that are awkward and weird. It’s so easy to put a sexual comment on an Instagram post.” Are these people assuming you won’t see it? “No, I think they want you to see it. Or want you to give something back to them so they have a story to tell. And they feel like they deserve a private glimpse into your life – and nobody does. If an artist wants to give that to people, then cool. But nobody should expect that.”
Aside from her own fame, she was also tired of even being online. “I suddenly realized how bitter everyone on the internet is,” she laughs. “I was so tired of seeing people having a hot take. Even from people I like, there’s this need to always have a dramatic opinion, or sh*t at some band because they’re “lame” or whatever. And it’s like… oh my god, who cares? Like, get out!” When she reached that moment of realization, I ask, did she feel like she finally had clarity? “Not at all!” she is panting. “I felt like I was going out of my mind. I thought am I crazy? Am I the only person who hates this?”
Allison’s social media accounts are now controlled by her label, to which she occasionally sends selfies and messages to upload. I’m curious if her label protested. Especially at a time when more and more artists – including FKA Twigs and Halsey – have opened up to the pressure of creating TikToks and promoting themselves online. “I’m sure they didn’t like it,” she says. “But they didn’t complain either. Stuff is still being posted. I’m sure they would definitely love it if I did more social media, but they didn’t say, ‘You’ll be dumped if you don’t.’
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However, speaking to Allison one gets the sense that she wouldn’t be heartbroken if she were. When you talk about the industrial side of her work, she shrugs, while listening carefully when the conversation veers to her love of producing or the television she fell in love with as a child (Buffy, Doctor Who and the BBC Three werewolf series be human were biggies in their household) or their spirituality.
“I’m not a witch,” she says with palpable seriousness. “But I believe in witchcraft and I’d like to get there someday. I made many offerings to certain deities at certain times of the month. Or burn herbs or show devotion. Not with any expectation of anything in return, but I’ve definitely toyed with stuff, although I wouldn’t call it witchcraft. It’s more of a belief in magic and a belief that there are many gods or ideas that we can interact with if we choose to.”
A track further Sometimes, forever – the sunny but paranoid “Following Eyes” – lets Allison usher in “the witching hour” while other songs intermingle with death and the afterlife. color theory trod similar paths, particularly tracks related to her mother, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer at the age of 12. Is there a connection between her interest in magic and her experiences with death, or at least growing up with the specter? “I’m not sure,” she says. “Death is definitely very intriguing and intriguing to me. And difficult. But with magic there can be positive and negative energy. The spiritual world is so much more than anything else. And I don’t think the thought of death gets any less confusing if you believe that there is something after death or that there are spirits that linger. Or less scary. Or less difficult to manage.”
Lately, she’s learned to be comfortable with this kind of uncertainty. It’s good if you don’t have all the answers. Prior to therapy and her social media exodus, any kind of pain would engulf her whole. “Things just felt all-encompassing all the time,” she says. “Or so is all there will ever be. But now I know they can be over just like that.” She snaps her fingers. “And then you move on to the next thing.”
Is this what it’s like to be in your twenties?
“Maybe that will change one day, but I don’t know exactly,” she grins. “I wasn’t old yet.”
“Sometimes, Forever” is out now
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/features/soccer-mommy-interview-sometimes-forever-b2112171.html Soccer Mommy Interview: “I’m Not A Witch But I Believe In Witchcraft”