“I listened to a ton of Avril Lavigne this year,” says Sophie Allison, the 20-year-old songwriter who releases lo-fi love songs as Soccer Mommy. “Under My Skin was the first CD I ever owned. That’s how this person came about,” she tells me, gesturing toward herself.
Sophie has giant brown eyes, today made up impeccably with bright lavender eyeshadow. Her stick-straight brown hair hangs evenly over a hooded sweatshirt with a heavy-metal-style logo, which she stole from her younger brother, who she just remembered is turning 18 in two days. It’s the tail end of 2017 and we’re at The Bean, a coffee shop near New York University, the school from which she is currently on leave. “Now I don’t wanna go back to school at all,” she says when I ask about her decision to take the year off to tour and make music. “School is so not fun in comparison.”
Sophie has known she wanted to make music since age 6, when she first picked up a guitar. But it wasn’t until several years later, after climbing over a hump of insecurity, that she actually started doing it. In high school she dated a boy in a punk band and hung around the “outskirts” of the Nashville rock scene — but she was nervous to tell anyone she wanted to be a musician herself. “I thought it would be weird for me to say that, out of the blue,” she remembers. “It felt like it would be too big of a deal.” With a little bit of distance, Sophie realizes that her youthful insecurity stemmed, at least partly, from the way the scene operated like a boys’ club: “It was the little things — not being asked to jam, or not being considered for this new band,” she remembers. “Sometimes you have to say, ‘Hey, I’m here and I do this. Check my shit out.’”
The summer before she left for college, Sophie started uploading her own misty and faraway-sounding guitar songs to the internet. Though they don’t immediately conjure images of Avril Lavigne’s major-label-backed rebellion, Sophie’s compositions are hinged on the kind of angsty, melodic directness that you’d expect from someone who considers listening to “Don’t Tell Me” a formative experience. In 2016, Sophie’s album For Young Hearts was released on cassette by Orchid Tapes, the little label behind early projects from other home-recording artists like Ricky Eat Acid, Yohuna, and (Sandy) Alex G. And last year she assembled Collection, an album-length compendium of new songs and re-recorded old ones, something like an understated primer to Soccer Mommy’s bedroom-rock universe.
This March, Sophie will release Clean, a new Soccer Mommy full-length that she says is about yearning to change yourself but ultimately realizing that is not really how the cookie crumbles. “You gon’ be like that, is kind of the lesson of the album,” she says. “It’s a realization that you can’t deny your emotions. It’s in the stars.”
On “Cool,” a power-pop stand-out with a wiggling hook that reminds me of “Teenage Dirtbag,” Sophie admires the moxie of a stoner girl who’ll “break you down and eat you whole.” There’s also a Liz Phair-esque unrequited-love song called “Skin” that nails the experience of irrationally trying to get to know someone’s insides before you’ve come to terms with your own: “I’m clawing at your skin trying to see your bones … I’m just a puzzle piece trying to fit just right.”
“You can’t deny your emotions. It’s in the stars.”
And then there is “Scorpio Rising,” the record’s slow-building centerpiece. “You’re made from the stars / That we watched from your car,” Sophie sings, her voice crescendoing in tandem with her radiant guitars. “I’m just a victim of changing planets / A Scorpio rising and my parents.” It’s a perfect shout-along lyric, one that feels both timeless and extremely of-the-moment. Sophie calls it the most personal track on the record, and I say that makes it the wisest.
“The more you accept, the more you comes out,” she tells me at The Bean, simultaneously summing up her current life outlook and getting at why listening to Soccer Mommy feels so damn cathartic. “It’s all self-discovery, in the end.”