Soccer Mommy thinks about demons constantly
As she prepares to release her second album, 'color theory', the Nashville musician talks to us about self-criticism, depression and fighting evil through song.
Photography Brian Ziff
For a while now, Sophie Allison has had demons on the brain. “I really want a gargoyle to stand in my room,” she says, a few hours before she’s due to visit her local flea market to hunt one down. “Other than that, maybe some goblets... I'm always looking for gothic pieces that I can put everywhere.”
The 22-year-old is currently furnishing her new house in her hometown of Nashville, Tennessee, where she lives with her boyfriend and older sister, and has decided to stay for the foreseeable future. “I go to my parents' house where I grew up most days,” she explains.
Sophie, better known as Soccer Mommy, began making music under the moniker while at university in New York in 2015. Three years later, she’d dropped out of college, toured with Paramore, and made Clean, a "ferocious howl" of a record that The New York Times called the best album of 2018. Now she’s gearing up for the release of her sophomore album, an intensely personal record that moves through three distinct emotional worlds, visualised thematically as three different colours (blue, yellow and grey).
As she gears up for its release this Friday 28 February, we caught up with Sophie about the darkly intimate themes that run through color theory, the tricky business of resisting corporate capitalism, and feeling like you’ve said a bit too much about it all.
How did the concept for color theory come about? Why'd you pick those three colours?
The concept kind of chose the colours for me. As I was writing, I noticed that there were three main themes that I was just kind of circling in my writing. One of them was sadness and depression. Connecting those ideas with blue is a pretty easy link to make, but there was also a lot of water imagery in that section that contributed to that decision. Next was this higher-intensity feeling of anxiety, paranoia and sickness -- both mental and physical. I think yellow has always been something that I've associated with madness, but also just physical illness -- it's a sickly colour. The last section, the grey section, represents this full descent into darkness. It’s about death, immorality and things decaying over time, and you decaying over time. Grey is the lack of colour, and that connected, for me, with the emptiness of that final part of the album.
Did you draw from any specific inspirations when making the record?
I think there were a lot of different influences on the album, but they’re all from a similar time period: the late 90s and early 2000s. I think that's why it has a lot of the sounds that it does. I'd been listening to a lot of Tori Amos' album To Venus and Back, and that was a big inspiration for stuff like the drum machines in songs like "grey light". I was revisiting [Wilco's] Yankee Hotel Foxtrot a lot too, and that's definitely one that also has this kind of contract between soft beauty and harshness. We were also thinking of a lot of 2000s pop too, albums like Avril Lavigne’s Let Go, or Sheryl Crow's self-titled, stuff like that that I go back to a lot.
I feel like this record has some of your most raw and relatable lyrics, like when you talk about depression-watching on “circle the drain”. Do you have a show or a movie you gravitate towards when you’re in that kind of headspace?
When I'm feeling really low I'll watch Studio Ghibli movies. I go to Howl's Moving Castle a lot. Castle In The Sky is another one, and Princess Mononoke. I think they just remind me of my childhood, so I can just go back to them for comfort. It can also be just me binge-watching anything out of a desire to just sit in my bed, but I haven't really done that in a while because, fortunately, I am on medication!
You’re quite self-critical in places on this album; songs like “royal screw up” in particular come to mind. Did it feel at all cathartic to get those feelings out?
I don't usually have big cathartic moments while writing. I don't even know what that would feel like. When I'm writing lyrics, the draw to doing it is perfecting it. I'm a perfectionist and I always have been. It never feels like when I'm writing something that I'm just writing to get it out of me, or that I’m saying to myself, "I'm going to feel so much better after this. I'm going to feel cleansed." It feels more like I wrote a paper for a class, I just finished it, and I'm going to get an A.
Your track “lucy” is about the demon Lucifer. What inspired you to write a song addressed to the devil and, more specifically, to give him a nickname?
I mean, I write a lot about demons, honestly. People keep asking me about this other song I wrote [“Feed”, for The Turning soundtrack] about a demon eating your body, and I keep being like: “I'm literally constantly thinking about demons, so it's very easy for me.” But really, the core of that song was trying to put a face to this feeling of exhaustion from a fight with morality, and to make that a bit more humorous. I'm still so tired all the time, trying to be my best self when so much of the world makes it hard for you to be on the side you want to be on. I think I channel a lot of my frustration about things that I think are evil and corporate into a literal demon. In my mind, that's the devil.
Last year you said that there was a chance you might “hate the album in the end and decide to scrap it” . Obviously that didn’t happen, but did you ever come close?
No! I honestly felt like I loved it the whole time. I guess the only thing that made me start to be like, "God, why did I do this?", is when I started releasing it. You just begin to think, "Why would I tell people all of this stuff?" It's like I impulsively tweeted something really personal and now I just want to delete it, but you can't really delete an album the way you can delete a tweet. Which is fine! I want it out there, because at the same time I think the music's great: I want people to hear it, and I want it to be out in the world. But there is an internal conflict there.
Soccer Mommy's color theory is due for release 28 February via Loma Vista. Her European tour kicks off on 4 June. Be there.