Soccer Mommy Lets The Darkness In

Soccer Mommy Lets The Darkness In

"Why am I so fucked?" asks Sophie Allison, aka Soccer Mommy, on "Bloodstream," wondering whether sadness is an organic part of her circulatory system.

The song opens the 22-year-old's new album Color Theory, out Friday. It's the follow-up to 2018's Clean, which took Allison from Nashville DIY artist to New York Times-endorsed, Coachella-playing indie rock star. Allison is beloved for pretty, sad rock songs, sliced through by sharp guitar lines and bright melodies.

Whereas Clean was a break-up album, Color Theory is an investigation into the self — one that spares no bleak passing thought, painful memory, or personal demon. Sometimes Allison is blunt, painting relatable scenes of depression: not leaving your bedroom for a week, watching TV alone. Sometimes she's funny. "I'm the princess of screwin' up/ And you wear your armour/ And you save pretty girls like me," she sings on "Royal Screw Up." It's the combination of these traits that makes Soccer Mommy's gratifyingly intense emo melodrama stand out in a crowd of indie artists writing about the excruciating experience of being young and alive.

The album documents a period over the past couple years when Allison was struggling not just with depression and anxiety, which she's dealt with since she was a kid, but also intense and sometimes hallucinatory paranoia. Midway through writing it, she started to see three colors emerge: blue for sadness, yellow for anxiety, and grey for something more evil. Divided into three sections, Color Theory is a kind of diaristic rock opera, that starts with domestic scenes of self-harm, and climaxes with visions of ghosts and demons and death.

Clean got Soccer Mommy called the indie rock Avril Lavigne — for her lipstick and chokers as much as her influences and poppy melodies. But Color Theory eschews the easy catchiness Soccer Mommy's capable of. Instead, she leans into psychedelic palettes and asymmetric structures, choosing to conceal herself at times behind tense, distorted instrumentation.

Soccer Mommy broke out amidst a wave of young women who nudged aside the old guard and made rock feel wonderfully relevant again. These artists were sometimes discussed as a monolith, glossing over their unique sounds and intentions. Color Theory underscores the limits of those terms, showing Soccer Mommy as an artist evolving in real time, fiercely attuned to her own tender, twisted vision.

PAPER sat down with Soccer Mommy to talk creepy male fans, reading her mentions and her thoughts on the "women in indie rock" discourse.

Is Color Theory an album that you made from a dark place, or looking back on one?

From a dark place. I was in a tumultuous place while writing. There's stuff from the past in there, some of the stuff about my mom, but a lot of it was from while I was pretty much in the thick of it.

What was that thick of it — where and when?

It was a lot of stuff. Last summer, there was a long stretch of time where a lot of the "yellow" stuff — the anxiety stuff — came from. I wasn't sleeping a lot. I was hallucinating and getting really paranoid about something haunting me and watching me. Just this constant, intense anxiety and paranoia. I ended up getting something to help me sleep, and something to help with the other stuff. I still struggle with that, with just the feeling of being watched over by something and kind of, a dread following me. I was also just feeling really empty and lonely and depressed. That's stuff I've dealt with since I was a kid. But mostly the stuff I'm writing about has started since Clean.

What has been the impact of a touring musician's lifestyle on your mental health?

Sometimes I try to connect it to something, like "Oh, maybe it's the touring or something." But sometimes it feels completely unrelated. I do think that having an album blow up and growing a fanbase, having so many people paying attention to me, was not always good for me. It's a lot of stress, and I don't really like being in the spotlight in that way. I don't like people judging me when they don't know me.

So is there a chronology to the colors?

I wanted it to have this rising intensity, with a dramatic ending. The album starts with blue — sadness and depression, a lower energy emotion. It's kind of more lazy and passive. It builds into the yellow section, which is tense and anxious: it's about paranoia and sickness. That section's more on edge. Then it ends in grey, in this dramatic place, about darkness and devil and fear and death and mortality. Grey like the life is just fading from you.

Was the color structure something you came to while writing the songs or afterwards?

It was while I was writing. Halfway through writing, I started to kind of see these main three themes or moods.

Even if the periods in your life weren't chronological, did you write the sections in order?

No. It was random, but I started to recognize that I was writing about a few different things over and over again. And I'm pretty visual, I'll imagine a music video or a cover and I started to see a color scheme.

Do you have synesthesia?

Nope [laughs]. It's just my imagination, making a connection between color and a mood. That's kind of how I ended up with the colors.

Your songs are really intimate and personal. But there's also this dark grandiose drama. Where does that come from?

It comes from the melodramatic parts of feelings — the wallowing and the intensity. Sometimes I just either feel nothing or everything. The intensity of some emotions can only be captured by the more intense side of it. Those parts are actually easier to capture and explain than the more subtle things. But I like to put those kinds of little subtle mentions in too.

"Sometimes I just either feel nothing or everything."

The mundane, domestic details too.


Are you ever not the narrator of your songs?

I don't think so. I'm trying to remember if I've ever written one that wasn't me as the narrator, but I don't think so. I tend to write like I'm just talking something out, trying to get it all out of me. It's usually not a story that I'm weaving, it's more of like — I mean, I piece it together — but it's just me trying to talk to God knows who.

Tell me about writing "Bloodstream." It sounds like this song is talking about self harm. What motivated you to write about that?

I was really just writing about this contrast, of being young and vibrant and happy, and then the loss of that. It was one of my many ways of coping, especially in the last couple of years. So it was hard for me not to include it. The imagery is so visceral that it creates such a huge contrast, and captures something that without that, I wouldn't be telling really the whole side of it. I don't know. A lot of the stuff I wrote about in this album, maybe I'm going to regret it when it comes out, having people hear it. But I don't really think about that kind of thing when I'm writing.

There are a couple ideas that come up in a few places on the album, like this idea of being clean. What does that idea mean to you?

It's just being able to wash away things that have plagued you, things that really hurt me or affected me that I don't want to be there anymore. Like trying to make yourself a blank slate, from any sort of pain. I mean, it's impossible.

So it's like a healing?

It's not even a healing. It's more of a — I don't even think you can do it. It's this desire or drive towards trying to re-perfect yourself. Not even healing yourself, but erasing things from your mind, to erasing pain.

I think another thread is this experience, of having found someone that loves you, but feeling you can't live up to that love, because of how you're struggling.

Definitely. I have found someone who loves me and a really great partner. I often feel wish — it's not something I've been made to worry about, it's personal — that I could be like a perfect version of myself for someone. I spent so long thinking if I could find the right person, which I think I have… so it's me more wishing that could be the cure-all for my life. I feel like a lot of people think that.

We're sort of taught that, especially women, that love or finding a partner will fix all.

Yeah! We're taught to think, "This will fix everything, and you'll be better once you have that." Wanting to be able to flip that switch.

There's a real depth when you sing about that. So what is it like being in a band with your boyfriend?

You know, it's great. He's a big inspiration and an amazing musician. He himself is an amazing writer, and brings so many good ideas to the band. It wouldn't be the same without him, I don't think. Soccer Mommy wouldn't be the same without him.

How does the process around Color Theory feel different than Clean? Coming off of a breakout debut can be hard.

I mean honestly, writing it did not feel different. I did what I always do. It was just new topics. I didn't decide on an idea, or a theme or anything. I just started writing and songs came out. And it didn't matter where it was. I could be at home writing a song or in a hotel, or on a van ride just like in the middle of nowhere. And it wouldn't matter, it just all felt the same. Really the only thing that was different was that I was traveling. And the recording process was different because the band was there, before, it was just me and Julian [Allison's boyfriend and guitar player]. This time, it was everyone in the studio, and we had more time to work out parts than when we were at home doing it. Other than that, it just felt like, making another record.

Did you feel more pressure this time?

I don't think about that kind of stuff when I'm writing. I just write compulsively so I can't. I came up with an album really fast, and I thought it was better than the first. I think a lot of people stress about that because a lot of people spend years writing their first album. But I just spent the year before Clean writing it. Then I did the same thing again. It felt really natural. I mean, there's definitely some of those worries like "Oh, what if Pitchfork hates it" or whatever. But that comes way later, like when the album's done. But it's too late at that point so it doesn't matter.

Color Theory is more psychedelic in places, garage-y in places, moving away from the folky moments. How did you decide what to lean into sonically?

I have a lot of the same influences as during Clean. It was partially just about time, we had more time to layer it, and bring in more ideas and mess around more. I came in with an idea of what I wanted, where I was like, "I want some parts to feel really like gentle and angelic" and then really noisy and other parts and like just kind of blend those two ideas together with a lot of contrast.

A lot has been made of your pop influences. You've said you'd love to chart a Top 40 Soccer Mommy song. What would it sound like?

My thing is, I would only want that if it sounded like it does now. I wouldn't want to make something for a chart. I want to be able to make something that sounds like what I make, and have that be like huge. I want to gain that kind of success, but only if it's non-compromising. I mean, I make really pop-y melodies, stuff that could like be catchy enough.

You've talked a lot about your love of Avril Lavigne and Taylor Swift. Did you listen to Avril's new album?

I didn't.

How about Taylor Swift's new album?

Lover? That's the last one, right? I listened to some of it. I didn't like Reputation. So when the first single came out, I was like, "I'm really not going to like this." That song "Lover" is ok.

Yeah it's a very inconsistent album.

There was some stuff that I was like, "that's kind of cool," but I didn't really give it a full listen. I think she's a bit lost. I did watch her documentary, though. I thought it was sad. It was lonely. It made me sad for her. But it also felt like someone wrote a script and talking points were going to happen. Which is fine.

You don't have a celebrity documentary yet. But I feel like indie fame is its own weird complex. In some circles, you're an A-list artist — you go to Bushwick and it's like "Oh that's Soccer Mommy!" — but you probably feel normal most of the time.

I feel like a normal person. I don't really enjoy being known... I mean I like getting free stuff [laughs]. That's fun. I like people liking my music. There are some parts that suck about it, of course. People don't treat you the same anymore. They only talk to you about that. You run into an old friend you haven't seen in years it's just like, "Oh, are you on tour?" and it's like, "no" and that's it. People stop seeing you totally as a human being. But that's not everyone. A lot of the time I feel pretty normal.

Craziest fan encounter?

I haven't had it too bad. Mostly because I stopped going out to meet people after shows.

When did you stop going out?

I mean, I used to run my merch, so I had to. I've definitely had weird men be weird to me. Nothing too insane.

Was there one thing that made you stop?

Yeah, there was this one time where I was like, "We've got to change something, I can't do this." Some guy came out to the table and was like, "Oh, I love you, I drove hours to see you. I don't want a photo or an autograph. But will you smear your face and makeup all over my sweaty t-shirt?" And I was like, "Noo."

Oh shit! Ew.

Yeah, it's really odd. That was probably one of the ones where I was like this is probably going to be the last tour where I do this. Then I started paying the guys to do merch.

I feel like it's particularly bad for artists who make such personal music. People feel intense things listening to your songs, and they want to express that to you.

Some people don't realize that you're just like a stranger. Coming up and saying really intense things, it's kind of awkward. Sometimes people are really respectful about it, and it doesn't cross a boundary. It just kind of depends on the person. I think everybody has that problem — fans not knowing where the boundary is.

Do you read your mentions?

I do... compulsively. It's bad for me but I do it anyway. I'm just obsessive. I don't like social media, I kind of wish that — the thing is I liked it before. I liked using Twitter and now it overwhelms me. It's hard to say I don't like it, because I do like it, I just wish I could like exist on it not as me.

"It's just obviously sexist, like, 'Girls can make music. Here's a bunch.'"

You've expressed frustration with this sort of like "indie female" tag. Does that come from the fact that you don't identify with the group of artists you're grouped with, so it feels artificial or untrue? Or are you resistant to having the focus being put on your identity instead of your music?

It's a little of both. My big problem with it is that, some of the artists that I get grouped in with, I'm like, "Yeah, I do kind of sound like that." And then some of them, I'm like, "I really don't, and I can tell the only reason why you're lumping me in is because it's the same genre and we're women." That creates a larger problem of like, "These people are one unit." For example, like booking at a festival, there are some festivals that won't let you know, a certain band plays if I'm playing. It's like, "you pick one." I've literally confused many times with other people from those groups on a blog.

You've literally been confused, for like Snail Mail or something?

Yeah, I've literally been up to next to someone's photo, and it's someone else's photo with my name. That kind of confusion happens because no one is even paying attention.

It's just laziness.

It is a laziness. It leads to this weird thing where no one is even paying attention to who's who, we're all basically the same to them. That's not the case with so many of these artists. We're all so different. It's just obviously sexist, like, "Girls can make music. Here's a bunch. We've listed them a million times, so I'm just going to list the same ones." It's really frustrating. There's no reason to do it. You can write a review of someone and name a couple of people that they're similar to.

But be specific.

Yeah. And like, back it up.

Photography by Brian Ziff