When you get dressed in the morning, or choose a background for your Instagram story, chances are the colour you gravitate to says something about your mood. Brights on a good day, black on a crap one – colour can make a big statement to the world about where your head is at.
For Sophie Allison, aka Soccer Mommy, embracing light and shade isn't just about knowing which hoodie to pull on. For her second record, the 22-year-old Nashvillian went all out and doused her brain in a muted rainbow of blue, yellow and grey. What results is 'Color Theory' - a ten-track, three-section exploration of all the emotions sent to break us.
"The blue section is about sadness and depression, it's about heartbreak, and it also talks a lot about water, so the imagery matches that mood," she tells us. "'Yellow' is way more high strung, talking about physical sickness, but also anxiety and a warning feeling. And then grey is obviously just this void... lacking joy, it's about death and evil in the world. I think it's also about all the things that take a piece of your soul - death and grief obviously - but also dealing with feelings of wanting your own life to end. It's really just a personification of all the evil in the world, morally – stuff that trips or seduces you, the more subtle evil that battles with your moral conscious as you try and make it through the world without getting degraded."
If the topics feel heavy, it's because they are, but this open and confessional approach to songwriting is one that has been a long-time coming for Allison. Having pricked the ears of critics and fans alike with 'Clean', her 2018 studio debut hinted at her experiences of mental health but often hid it within traditional love and heartbreak, masking some of the more entrenched issues underneath. This time around, both her lyrical and musical palettes are much more expansive, benefitting from a longer gestational period in the studio and the support of her bandmates, who were involved in recording from the very off.
"I couldn't have made this record as the first one just because I was in a completely different headspace. When I went to record 'Clean' I had never really recorded in a big studio before, so I didn't know anything besides these ideas I had and give these feelings that I wanted to convey – nostalgia, and like, warm summer breeze," she laughs. "Now I've had that experience, I've learned a lot about what I want to do with a vocal to make it sound the way I want. All of these [mental health] problems still existed, or at least a lot of them did, but a lot of it wasn't as pressing for me back then as relationships or loneliness were. On this record, I'm in a happy relationship, so [the lyrics] are more about things I've had the space to realise are still fucked up about me. It's kind of like, oh, yeah, let's deal with the shit that's just been piling up around when I wasn't looking…"
Even while talking about the darkest of days, Sophie laughs often, never allowing herself to lapse too far into self-pity. Nowhere on the record is the humour of Soccer Mommy better represented than on Royal Screw Up. Channelling the early 00s angst of her hero Avril Lavigne, it's a veritable listicle of all the things she perceives to be wrong about her, gleefully finger-plucked over a melody that is both menacing and stirring in its brutal self-deprecation. Backloaded against 'Bloodstream' ("There's someone talking in my forehead/That says I'll never be enough") and 'Circle The Drain', ("watching TV alone till my body starts aching"), both instant career highlights, surely she recognises that all this dark humour at her own expense feels a little harsh considering the undeniable 'bop' status of her work?
"I have to start with that before I can start being honest," she explains. "It's the way we all are with ourselves - we sit around and make jokes, but there are these fucked up sides of us that are really hard to live with. That song makes jokes, but it's also revealing all this overly honest stuff about how I am as a person. Not only am I a screw-up, but here are all the reasons; I'm just going to take a minute, to be honest about them and basically warn everyone. It still has that slightly humorous element, but it's definitely still emotional."
A sense of personal exorcism also comes at the hands of the records seven-minute opus, 'Yellow Is The Colour Of Her Eyes'. Sitting at the heart of the record, it details the hardships of reconciling with the nature of her mother's terminal illness and the guilt of missing her when out on the road.
"I've never had that moment that artists always talk about where I write through a song and the thing I'm dealing with is solved," she admits. "I think 'Yellow' is probably the only time where I have had a moment like that, where it helped me work out the distress I was feeling inside. I feel like I don't usually have that, but the melody and the lyrics came really easy, I just had so many guitar parts and figure out how the arrangement was going to go. Things have definitely been better since I got that out."
In the spirit of striving for better, Sophie is still trying to find ways to cope with the pressures of an increasing audience. Being famous was definitely never part of the plan. Still, talent makes it something of an inevitability, a trade-off for the joy that comes from forging connections with her band and her fans, and for the lessons she has learnt from honing her craft supporting everyone from Vampire Weekend and Paramore to Kacey Musgraves and Wilco.
2020 sees her take on an epic headline tour across the US and Europe, armed only with her band, a copy of farming simulation game Stardew Valley ("nothing bad ever happens out there") and her preferred the coping mechanisms of holding fistfuls of ice when things all get a bit too much ("as opposed to doing things that are like, unhealthy or harmful to myself or others"). It's going to be a challenge, but it's one she knows deep down that she is ready for.
"I'm so much happier this time around with both my playing and writing. I feel that this record says so much more about me as a person and speaks more to my skills as a musician," she says. "My coping mechanism since I was like 12 was to just ignore stuff, or maybe joke about it at most. It's not always easy, but it's good to feel like I've finally been able to get a bunch of stuff off my chest."
Taken from the February issue of Dork. Soccer Mommy's album 'Color Theory' is out 28th February.
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