Swear Jar: SOAK Interviewed

Swear Jar: SOAK Interviewed

Catching up with SOAK on their upcoming album, nostalgia and creepy masks…

Irish singer-songwriter SOAK’s first album ‘Before We Forget How To Dream’ debuted in 2015, garnering critical appraise and a nomination for a Mercury Prize. Since then SOAK (aka Bridie Monds-Watson) has been honing their soulful and diaristic style and returns with a new album ‘If I Never Know You Like This Again’, a work as heavy with nostalgia as it is light with hope.

A significant step for Monds-Watson in coming into their own, the record takes on a more guitar heavy feel, drawing influence from the likes of Pavement and Radiohead to create their self-aware tracks.

Clash caught up with Bridie on all things on the upcoming release, how their creations help them process life and some influences that helped them along the way.

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So your third album is being released on Friday! How are you feeling in the run up to the release?

Honestly I keep forgetting! I think I’ve only really got excited in the past two days, just cos there’s been such a gap between the first single coming out and the album. I’m like finally! When you’re sitting with the songs ready for so long it gets annoying, so I’m just relieved it’s finally time to release it and hear what people think.

There’s quite a gap between 'Grim Town' and this new work, in the meantime there’s been a global pandemic and many of us feel quite changed. With that in mind you feel like you approached writing with any new perspectives?

Yeah, I think so. Definitely how I wrote my last record was so different. With this album I was obviously forced to spend a lot of time alone, even though that was kind of my intention for the process before the pandemic even hit… but literally having no real crutch of hanging out and writing with someone else forced me to rely on myself a lot more. In the end I think that was really important for me in terms of learning to trust myself and doubt my work a little less. I don’t know if I would have learned as much about myself if I was writing in a different scenario.

That also romanticises it a bit there were obviously moments where I felt like I was going a bit insane, listening to your own voice all the time and analysing your thoughts to that degree is kind of intense.

I can imagine! I saw you wrote most of this album through lockdown, a time where a lot of people felt pretty creatively stagnant, was it difficult for you to keep motivated?

It was hard to keep motivated but I think it was harder to get inspired. I was lucky enough to have a studio set up in my house so I would work on the songs 9-5 nearly, but sometimes I’d start writing and be like what the fuck am I gonna say, no life is currently happening around us, I don’t wanna talk about how miserable and sad this all is. So I think because of that I reached into the year prior and all the things I longed for. I had to process a lot of things that I was avoiding and confront them, so I definitely reached into those in terms of finding inspiration. It was odd.

Speaking of processing things, I’ve seen you describe your tracks as ‘song memories’, lyrically they often feel diaristic in nature. Are there any songs that you’ve written that have helped you process certain memories in ways you wouldn’t have otherwise?

I think most of my songs. I can be quite an avoidant person when it comes to what I’m actually thinking or feeling and I don’t think I truly sit down and confront them until I’m writing a song or writing lyrics. I think that's why they come off like journal entries because it’s the most in touch I ever get with myself. Sometimes I’ll just see what comes out of my brain and then look back at it and be like woah, okay, that’s what you think. I’ll surprise myself!

Once an album is done that’s when I start to notice the recurring themes. I know now with perspective that I was clearly working through a lot of identity questioning. Also just trying to work out where I stood in the world and what I wanted the future to look like.

Your music has a timeless quality to it but sonically there’s definitely a shift to a more mid-90s guitar led vibes in the new album, was there a conscious stylistic shift or did it happen quite naturally in the process of writing?

I think it happened quite naturally. One of the first songs I wrote for the album was Bleach and that’s a really guitar centered song and that set the path for the rest of the album. I was just really leaning into the guitar because it’s been my main instrument since I began writing, but I think you get into your habits of chord progressions and how you play and I was getting bored. I wanted to find new things to inspire me and to get excited, I think that's why it became such a guitar heavy album because I wanted to get the most out of it. My music taste has shifted as well so all those things led me in that direction.

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You’ve cited ‘The Bends’ by Radiohead as a big influence on the new work, what is it about that album that speaks to you?

The range of it in general, I can really appreciate how it literally goes to every little emotion you could feel. It’s so big and so small at the same time and I love how it came after ‘Creep’ had its big moment. Even the title track ‘The Bends’, speaking about fame in that way and how de-stabalised they were. It’s really impressive to me how they stayed so raw with the huge success they had. Their ability for melody is mad and just these incredible guitar sounds and tones, I just find it so exciting. Great for singing along while driving. It’s definitely a central album for me.

I’m paraphrasing but in a previous interview you mentioned there are certain artists that you identify with and who you feel understood by, could you tell me about an artist that makes you feel understood?

Yeah! At the moment I’m listening to a lot of Big Thief, I’ve been a big fan ever since I first heard them but specifically the new album! It’s amazing, there’s so many lines that Adrienne comes out with that I’m like oh my god, yep, that’s it. There’s a real nonchalance to it, the intention is not to be overly articulate or to seem impressive. It’s just so honest and so many of her lyrics will just get me in a really painful way that it nearly feels like an attack. But a welcome attack.

For sure, some of her lyrics are a bit like a punch in the gut! You said that sonically you didn’t feel a need to fill in the gaps like you did in ‘Grim Town’, could you expand on that?

I think because my first album got attention and I was quite young, it took me a while to figure out where I wanted to go, what I wanted to make and what I wanted to sound like. On the last record it felt like that was an experimental time to try and figure those things out. I tried writing with different people and in different ways I realised after I was kind of writing what I thought people wanted from me. I didn’t want to disappoint and so I maybe wasn’t writing from a place of thinking ‘what I wanna do and what do I think is cool?’ What’s great though is I’ve learned so much through each album, and in certain ways this album almost feels like the first album I’ve ever done. I feel like I actually know what I’m doing for the first time.

I know you and Tommy Mclaughlin have been working together a long time, how was it constructing this particular album with him?

It was really joyous. And quite exciting actually. Every couple of months when it was safe to, I would fly and hang out with Tommy for a week or two and we would look at all the stuff that I’d made and workshop it. It kept me going, being able to hang out and bounce off of someone else and we know each other so well now cos he’s played in my band for years, I made my first record with him. We’ve done so much together creatively, he’s just someone I trust and respect so much. When he was excited about the music it would make me excited to make more.

When it came to recording we all just had so much fun together messing around!

It sounds like it was really important for you to have that, especially at that time.

Honestly, like I’d never made an album with all of us hanging out at the same time like that and now I don’t think I’ll ever not make an album that way. It just felt like the right way things should be done and felt almost like summer camp… which is odd cos most of my band are nearly 40! It was good craic.

I’d say there’s a lot less space to doubt yourself when you’re creating with people and you can all hype each other up and inspire each other.

Yeah for sure. Especially when those people are so into what you’re doing, it just makes you wanna work harder!

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There’s a lyric in purgatory “so it’s just me and me” which seems strongly reflected in the (disturbing but endearing) music video, could you talk about the concept behind those visuals?

Yeah! So the first video we put out for the album was ‘Last July’ and that’s quite sweet and nostalgic. I wanted to go as far away from that as we possibly could so I said to Ellius Grace, who made the first one, just have a think and let me know and that’s what he came back with. He was like SO, you’ve been kidnapped by someone wearing your face and I was like yes. This is exactly what I meant when I said go in the opposite direction.

Initially I was pretty freaked out at the idea of seeing my face on someone elses face but also quite intrigued… It was a fucked up video to make, the mask is weirdly realistic in person but it’s heartwarming in a weird way! But I’m really happy with it, it was fun to actually act for a day.

There is also a lot of symbolism in it. That lyric you mentioned; “Me and me and the world in between” is a really important line for me for so many reasons.

They actually gave me the mask, I keep it in a box in my room and it feels very haunted. I can’t give it away because the idea of someone else having it is weirder!

Time to pull some pranks with that I reckon. I understand you’d been living away from Ireland for four years before the pandemic and returned to write and record the album, what are some of the things you missed about Ireland?

For the most part I missed my family! Coming home in the intervals throughout lockdowns like, obviously I love and appreciate them anyway but there was definitely a new level of fun and comfort being around my family. I have two brothers and we’ve all lived separately for the past three or four years and suddenly everyone was home. I realised if I continued to live away I wouldnt have that closeness with them. I missed the familiarity, the people, the culture. I missed it all, you know, I wanted to be closer to them.

Finally, if you had to pick only one track from the new album for everyone to listen to, which track would it be and why?

Ooh that’s hard! The one I’d pick today… There's a song called ‘Neptune’ and each line of the song is about a different memory I had with my best friends. I would write another line whenever I really missed them. It was a great comfort to write because it was hopeful and had a sense of escapism where I could just remember all the best bits. It’s a song with a lot of longing but it’s also an appreciative song, where I’m like I like these people so much and I don’t know if I’m ever going to meet anybody else who I’ll be as close with… which is really irrational and probably not true but still.

No I think that’s totally rational, it always feels like that in the moment and that’s still an important feeling regardless of if it lasts forever.

Yeah! Exactly. I just really missed those people and now I have this song chronicling my memories. I’m really fond of the imagery in it and I’m really excited to play it live. There’s so much going on musically and there’s this growing intensity that’ll be really fun to scream!

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'If I Never Know You Like This Again' is out on May 20th.

Words: Oshen Douglas McCormick

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