Can't Erase The Hue: Soccer Mommy Interviewed
22-year-old Sophie Allison has a lot of eyes on her. The Nashville-based singer-songwriter, who has performed under the name Soccer Mommy for the last five years, was only 20 when she released her 2018 debut album ‘Clean’; it became one of the most widely lauded indie rock albums of the year, even showing up on best-of-decade lists as a highlight of the 2010s.
Though Allison was young, her songwriting stood out as near-preternatural; it was both witty and honest, felt both personal and universal in how it explored jealousy and self-esteem within relationships, and it was all delivered with Allison’s perfectly-executed pop sensibility. Now, as she gears up to release its follow-up ‘Color Theory’, in some ways it’s off the back of triumph.
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“2018 was one of the hardest and most unhappy years (of my life),” says Allison. “(Touring) is definitely an escape if you’re dealing with something at home. But if there’s big shit going on that’s affecting your day-to-day life, it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing. You can try and use work as an escape, but it’s not gonna actually help you, ‘cause then you’re just gonna be having breakdowns at work when you finally break, you know?”
“Then you’re just gonna be losing your mind at your job. ‘Cause you can’t just ignore problems in your life and expect them to just disappear. They’re just gonna come back and they’re gonna come back harder.” “Playing the shows was fun. But there were other parts of my life, stuff that’s on ‘Color Theory’, that were going deeply wrong.”
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‘Color Theory’ is so named because it’s split into three coloured sections, each representing one such struggle, each a specific theme that Allison began to notice she was drawn towards during the writing process. The first section, comprising the first four songs, is blue; that represents sadness and depression. It touches on her struggles with self-harm, on the periods of depression-fuelled isolation and social withdrawal that she went through during college, and on past relationships that broke down.
The next section, yellow, represents sickness. “It’s about a lot of different kinds of sickness,” she says. “‘Crawling in My Skin’ is about a lot of paranoia and anxiety that I’ve experienced, and even hallucinating and having night terrors. And ‘Up the Walls’ is about seeing something like that affect my relationships, and wishing I could just turn it off and not have to have people I love see me that way.”
Between these two songs, functioning as a central point of the record and also its longest song at seven minutes, is ‘Yellow is the Color of Her Eyes’. That song deals with the colour yellow most literally, as a sign of physical sickness; namely, the terminal illness that Allison’s mother has been suffering with since Allison was a pre-teen. “It talks a lot about the times when it was a little bit more visceral. And the denial, and then the acceptance of it that you eventually have to get to,” she says.
The song ends with the heartbreaking refrain: ‘Loving you isn’t enough / You’ll still be deep in the ground when it’s done / I know the day when it comes / I’ll feel the cold as they put out my sun’.
The final section, grey, is where things “go downhill”, Allison says. It stands for death and decay, for darkness, for giving in to your demons. The record’s closing track, ‘Gray Light’, again touches on her mother’s illness; it grapples with watching a parent shed the expectation of immortality we tend to place on them, and with how that shakes Allison’s perception of her own mortality. “It’s a descent into madness in my mind a little bit. It touches back on my mom’s illness. And projecting it onto your future, wondering if you’re gonna be like this one day, or wondering if you’re not gonna even live that long. Just the harshness of reality.”
‘I can’t lose it, the feeling I’m going down / I can’t lose it, I’m watching my mother drown’, she sings, the record’s parting words. The feeling of slowly losing a loved one is something that, despite only being discussed directly in a couple of songs, permeates the entire record; the sadness and the helplessness it brings feel integral to the feeling of each section, a presence that, much like grief itself, won’t be dispelled.
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‘Color Theory’ is a dark record, one that deals with deep-seated, uncomfortable truths; the way in which Allison makes them seem obvious and natural, writing about them with clarity while still conveying their weight, is in itself a testament to her strength as a writer. But it’s also a new way of displaying her strength as a writer; the themes she’s dealing with here are far heavier, far vaster, than anything she drew from on ‘Clean’.
It’s a change that came simply from the changes in her life, she says. “I’m never gonna change my approach. I don’t think I could. I just write songs in the way that I do, where I start just blurting out shit I’m thinking about, and if I touch on something I keep it. I think I was just in a very different place in my life from when I was 20. The stuff that was eating me alive when I was 20 was what ‘Clean’ got written about. And the stuff that sticks with me now is different. Sometimes you just have to take a break for a little bit, and your life has to change a bit, for you to have something new to say.”
The record sees her tread new territory musically, too, feels more complex, largely in how she builds production into songs as a key player rather than an unnoticed background role; something allowed by Allison’s building studio experience and extended studio time. It also contains some of her most pop-focused writing yet. “I love that mixture,” she says, “of this poppy melody that’s really catchy and something you could totally sing along to, and then the music is weird as hell. I think it’s nice to make something that sounds like early-2000s pop, and turn it on its head a little bit.”
For Allison to take the record out on tour will be the final step in this new evolution of Soccer Mommy. “Once you put it out, it’s everybody’s,” she says. “It’s not really yours, and it’s not something private to you. It’s like, you just told everybody how you’re feeling. They all know how you’re feeling and they’re all gonna say it back to you. Right now.”
What’s key is that 2020 finds Allison dealing with that in a much better place than the last time she did it. “Part of that’s medication. Part of it is other things, too. I always so wanted to be doing this, and I think all the work that I did put me in a place where now I have a platform that is gonna help me be able to play, for hopefully a long time.”
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Soccer Mommy's new album 'Color Theory' will be released on February 28th.
Words: Mia Hughes
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