Photo by Brian Ziff
Soccer Mommy On 'color theory,' Impulse Depop Shopping & The Demon Living In Her House
"A lot of people think I have synesthesia," Sophie Allison laughs. "But I do connect a lot of emotions with colors." Throughout her new album as Soccer Mommy, Allison separates the darkness in her life into three sections themed to different hues. Color theory begins in a "Blue" territory focused on depression and being a loner; "Yellow" follows, with songs centered on physical and mental illness; and the album ends in "Gray," ruminating on mortality and death. Across these borders, the young Nashvillian shares a very real relationship with pain, self-doubt and insecurity, delivered without pretense. The lyrics are unvarnished and personal, yet engulfing in their relatability. And though those three emotional areas may feel closely related, the difference between colors is palpable.
Allison deals in intimate detail, yet her curiosity and compassion bring the listener closer with each syllable. We all have our demons—some both literally and figuratively. "God, I keep promising myself I'll stop talking about demons," Allison says, midway through discussing the record, which arrives on Feb. 28 via Loma Vista Recordings. But the potential of an evil spirit inhabiting her home is only one item on the list of concerns powering Allison’s songwriting.
The record’s complex take on indie pop and alt-rock is also indebted to other women familiar with darkness—Allison reveling in '00s MTV icon Britney Spears and '90s chamber-pop luminary Tori Amos in equal measure. The spiraling patterns of "circle the drain" daub her paranoiac depression in a deceptively warm swathe of Clinton-era acoustic guitar and splashy cymbal. The expansive "lucy," meanwhile, finds Allison dealing with heartbreak embodied in a devilish form, her voice floating by in daggered falls. The seven-minute epic "yellow is the color of her eyes" explores her mother’s battle with cancer in a sparkling churn at once heartbreaking and endearing.
Allison spoke with the Recording Academy about the mood-building of defining her album in colors, how astrology ties to her need to express herself musically and the potential of a demonic presence living in her walls.
What are you up to today?
I'm at Target, looking at some blenders. I just want to start blending! I want to make smoothies and to stop having to eat meals. Only liquids, that's what we're working toward. I don't have to use a plate, I could use the same water cup I've been using for days. It's great!
2020, the year of the liquid. I’m new to America and Target is fascinating.
Target has everything. I don't like ordering things online. I need instant gratification. The one exception is that I'll Depop stuff because it’s just other 25-year-olds who posted their clothes trying to make 20 bucks.
I got stuck on Depop the other day, scrolling for hours—imagining the life that each little piece of clothing can have.
"My life's going to change when I get it." And then, in reality, nothing's going to happen. It's a problem. It triggers an insane impulse shopping thing that I didn't even know was alive in my body. I used to have to go to the mall and it'd be the whole day, but now I just sit and scroll, and then buy a million things.
I do it a lot in the back of the tour van. When I'm on tour, I don't have many outfits, and I start getting really depressed about the fact that I don't like any of the clothes I own. It starts becoming this insane meltdown situation. Then I buy a new wardrobe on Depop, and once I get it, it's really fun—for a couple of days. I'm just going to go through this cycle for the rest of my life, over and over again.
I was completely absorbed by your new album. It's one of those all-consuming records—but it didn't overwhelm.
That's good. That was the worry for me honestly. It is very dark. There are definitely going to be fans that are like, "This is destroying me right now." And I'm like, "Sorry! Oops."
These songs are so confident and self-assured. There's that inkling of doubt laced in, but you are singing right from the authentic core. How did it feel to get this all out?
The writing helps. The thing is, I'm still dealing with the stuff I wrote about. I've never found it hard to write about dark things, but I do find it hard even to tell people when I'm feeling dark things. I'm very much the type to be in denial. I've gotten better at it, but I still would joke about it more than actually talk about it. Writing isn’t different than saying it to myself in my head a million times a day. It would probably be really hard to write about that stuff without it destroying me if I wasn’t used to it. But the place I was coming from when writing the album is already kind of destroyed.
Clean was all about not denying your feelings, and now there's this commitment to the now, to what's happening to you. There's a lot of pain and difficult emotion, but it’s entirely relatable rather than overly dark.
Yeah. It's literally the stuff that was happening to me at the time that I was writing—especially some of the stuff in the "Yellow" section, like "crawling in my skin." It's not metaphoric. It's about having sleep paralysis and really bad paranoia and hallucinating and not sleeping very much. It's hard to not be honest. But in some ways, I could have been more honest.
How could you have been more honest?
There's always more I can say. One thing that's really important in writing about really heavy subjects is to not get bogged down in the moment when you're feeling really upset. At least for me, I go through mood shifts. I'll be really intensely low about something and then later it's like it never happened. So for me, it's partially about finding the balance between over-exaggeration and the normal feeling.
Are you writing in the phase where you're feeling down, or are you writing in the aftermath, where you're a little bit more separated from the emotion?
It varies. You can usually hear the difference. Some songs are way more reflective, while a song like "royal screw up" is laying the intensity on the whole song. I wrote that song in five minutes, sitting in my bed at my parents’ house. I just started singing lines and tweaking it until it felt right.
Is there anything on the album that is the antithesis of that song, something that you labored over?
"bloodstream," definitely. That was one where I had the chorus and all these visual ideas for the lyrics, comparing blood to a river and looking back on childhood. But it was very hard to piece it all together and have it sound like lyrics. It just sounded like a bunch of words.
Not a lot of artists talk about self-harm. It's something that people intentionally hide, but you explore it with tenderness and subtlety. How did it feel to sing those lyrics in the booth?
Honestly, it felt great. It's not fun to have this public image and pretend to be fine all the time when I'm not. I want people to know that I'm not fine so that they won't take advantage of thinking I'm fine. That’s especially hard with social media. I want to give fans stuff they want, but at the same time, it triggers mood problems for me because I'm thinking too much about what people think of me. It's just too overwhelming and I can't stand it.
The songs allow you a moment in time to step back from.
Maybe. To me, it honestly feels more like when I listen to Britney Spears songs from before she kind of lost it. I'm like, "She's screaming for help!" I'm telling everyone about it. I'm telling anyone that's riding in the car with me. I'm like, "Do you hear that line?" I'm being a really big freak about it and I'm kind of like, "I hope someone's at least noticing that I'm also kind of losing it." [Laughs.]
In "night swimming," you contextualize the themes by pairing the emotion with ambient crowd noise. You acknowledge implicitly that the audience might be going through the same darkness.
That's a really good point. I really wanted the record to sound like early 2000s pop music—the most fun music. When you’re with the girls and trying to party, you put on early 2000s throwbacks. I wanted it to sound like that, but also like I'm trapped in the body of a doll and I'm trying to get out. [Laughs.] I wanted it to have that feeling of relief from hiding in something. It is really common to feel trapped in that way. A lot of people don't want to be a burden with their emotional stress. It is stressful! It's stressful having your friends burden you with a lot of emotional stress. But we do it because we care about people.
Tori Amos is actually one of the only direct influences I can cite for this album.
I really heard her in "gray light."
I literally was like, "To Venus and Back, let's do it on this track!” I'm glad that came across. Tori Amos is the energy that we're channeling on all of the drum machine sounds.
I was so struck by how interconnected all three of the album's themes could be—fear and sadness and physical sickness. But when you put a color to each, it's easier to differentiate them.
It's a whole mood. The songs in the section don't have to be exactly on the same topic to be about the same energy. I’d been steadily writing since the last album, and we recorded about a year from the release of Clean. I've written other stuff in between, including this song that I wrote around last January for a horror movie called "The Turning." That was really fun. It was really easy. I would love to keep writing songs for horror movies because I am really connected to these horror ideas, having experienced hallucinations and paranoia and stuff. Also, I think there's a demon trapped in the walls of my house. Everyone keeps saying it’s an animal. But I know it’s not an animal. I had a demon possessing me and following me around, and now it's in my walls.
I connect a lot of my paranoia with monsters and horror stuff, probably because I watched a lot of that sh*t growing up. When I start getting paranoid that someone's watching me and following me, I'm like, "It's a mythical creature."
I used to think the demon was in my brain, but I got it out and now it's in my house, in the walls. I said this incantation to banish it from my body while I was in my living room, and then all of a sudden we started hearing noises in the wall. I saged the entire house except for by my bed, because my boyfriend was in it and I didn’t want to sage his face. And then that night I wake up at 5:00 AM and it's right there behind my pillow, some noise, something crawling around.
You need something stronger than sage.
Yeah, I know. I need to get some help. But the point is, I love writing songs for horror movies. When I wrote "Feed," I thought, "I'll just talk about demons. I can do this all day."
It takes courage to speak so openly. I’m thinking specifically of "yellow is the color of her eyes" and "gray light."
In terms of braveness, I still can't talk to my mother about these songs. She'll be like, "I like the new song. I'm so happy to hear—." And I'm like, "Stop. Please. I can't. I get it. Thank you. You like it. I feel good. That's all I can take from you.” I don't want to have a deep convo. I'm uncomfortable with that kind of stuff too. The reason I write it out is my Taurus Mercury. My communication is very solid if I get the words in a way where I'm like, "This is it. It's complete."
Did your mom listen to those songs?
Yeah, she's heard the album. I'm close to my mom. She understands I don't want to talk about anything emotional. I'm not very good at doing interviews and stuff like that because I’ll ramble and I can't concisely say exactly what I'm trying to say. When I write something, it’s the finish line at the end of a bunch of rambling. I want to get the words right so I can feel at peace with it, satisfied. When I don't feel like anyone is fully understanding what I'm trying to say, it's internally frustrating.
Do you have a different relationship with Clean now?
The songs are really good songs, and I feel really happy with them. Lyrically, some of it sticks hard and it's gonna stick forever, but some of it is just not the life I'm living anymore. Honestly, a couple of months after an album comes out, for me, it loses the sense of attachment because it's not mine anymore. It's not something I'm sitting privately recounting and listening to and being like, "I got this right and this means a lot to me."
Do you think about your place in this world?
I think everyone does, regardless of what they're doing for a living. I'm hoping my purpose is to keep playing music. I'm hoping I'm blessed with that ability to keep doing this for the rest of my life. I will always play music but I'd love to be blessed with the ability to perform and be an artist for the rest of my life.