One of the first songs that Sophie Allison wrote for Sometimes, Forever, her third album as Soccer Mommy, was a vivid daydream about self-immolation, a vision of fire as a purifying force, and a bleak nod to Sylvia Plath. “Darkness Forever” is a grotesque, sludgy song, cut through in its mid-section by Allison shrieking in apparent horror. It’s the centerpiece of Allison’s best album yet, and a demonstration in microcosm of how far the 24-year-old has come since releasing her first demos in 2016.
Allison’s debut album, Clean, was a promising collection from a clearly gifted and empathetic young singer-songwriter. 2020’s Color Theory — which I spoke to Allison about at the time for The FADER Interview — was more ambitious, a rumination on sickness and mortality split into three movements, inspired to some extent by the melodies of Avril Lavigne and Taylor Swift but lyrically in a different universe. Sometimes, Forever is the rare album that builds on that ambition. The darkness might overwhelm her at points, but there’s light here too: bounding melodies and careening guitars and witty, even funny, lyrical flourishes. It was produced by Daniel Lopatin (Oneohtrix Point Never), who most recently produced The Weeknd’s gargantuan Dawn FM. That Allison was excited to work with someone whose music seemingly exists so far from her comfort zone is a testament to her inventiveness; that her songs and her own flair for production completely steal the show is clear proof that she’s already one of her generation’s most interesting rock musicians.
Just before Sometimes, Forever’s release, I called Allison at her home in Nashville to talk about striving for perfection, allowing ugliness into her music, and writing a straight-up ghost song for the first time.
This Q&A is taken from the latest episode of The FADER Interview. To hear this week’s show in full, and to access the podcast’s archive, click here.
Just before the release of Color Theory, you and I spoke at The FADER office in New York. Maybe I didn’t realize at the time what was going on, but the interviews you’ve given in the lead up to “Sometimes, Forever” have suggested that was a pretty tricky time. What was going on for you in that period between finalizing the album and releasing it?
Sophie Allison: I was just burnt. The longest break I had was a month since I was 19. It had been a long time of going really hard and I was just tired. I missed normalcy. As much as I love traveling and touring, I missed hanging out with friends, relaxing, doing boring errands, not living out of a suitcase. I was still ready to keep doing more, but it was a blessing in disguise to have some time to chill. We were supposed to go to South By [Southwest 2020] a week before it got canceled. We knew we were gonna have to cancel the stuff that we had going in the summer, but at the time, there was still the idea that maybe by the fall, everything would be fine. It felt like an indefinite break and I treated it as such. I was like, “We’ll go back when we go back. There’s literally nothing we can do about that.” I would’ve never made that choice for myself.. It would’ve been very scary choosing to do that. It would’ve felt like possibly some terrible decision, even though in reality, it probably wouldn’t be that big of a deal.
You wrote about darkness and depression on that album, and I assumed instinctively that there was something cathartic about that: By getting it off your chest, you expelled and organized those thoughts on the page. Is that too simplistic a view?
It is and it isn’t. It’s thinking through something and not necessarily getting it off of your chest, but taking months of analyzing it and figuring out how I feel about it and what I think about it, and then being able to compile it all. It’s very satisfying in that sense, but of course you don’t write a song and say, “I’m over that, onto the next thing.” There are certain things that you write about that are consistent your whole life and are always changing. But when I write a song, it feels like I’ve figured out everything that I’m thinking on this [thing], and I finally know how to say it in a concrete way, and I don’t have to keep running through thoughts in my head constantly. [So] it does, in a sense, help stop that repetition and that cycle of driving yourself crazy thinking about the same things over and over again, but it doesn’t change how you feel about them. It just gives you a sense of self-awareness on the issue, so you understand yourself a little better.
Given all of that, and how burned out you felt before what was meant to be the Color Theory, tour, how creative did you feel in those first months of lockdown? When did you start writing again?
The first song from Sometimes, Forever was written in summer 2019. I wasn’t sure what the goal of the record was yet; I had just written a few things that I was having fun with. But having time to be at home and write… It wasn’t a surge of creativity, I wouldn’t say, but it did give me time to focus all the creativity I was feeling.
Tell me about “Still,” the last song on the album. If that’s the first song you wrote, did you feel pretty confident that it would go on a record?
I did want to put it on a record. Ending songs, I don’t know why, I always know. I’m like, “That’s it. That’s the closer.” I like ending things on a grim, beautiful note, but I didn’t know what the record was gonna sound like or what direction it would go. When I wrote the song, I was in turmoil. Listening back to the demos when we were going into the studio, I was like, “Wow, ‘Still’ is so different from some of the ones that were written six months later just in where I was in my life and how happy I was.” It’s crazy to look back on a song fondly but also be like, “I was really going through it.”
The fact you wrote “Still” and “Darkness Forever” back to back is… The word turmoil does seem appropriate. It’s not as long as [Color Theory’s] “Yellow Is the Color Of Her Eyes,” but I think it’s very much still the centerpiece of this album. I know we sort of overuse the word “cathartic,” but this one feels literally purgative.
When I wrote that song, I was obsessed with this idea of fire as a source of ritualistic purifying. I had this fantasy in my head of someone tormented deciding to burn down their house and themselves to expel all of the evil and free themself from darkness. I tend to be drawn to metaphoric ideas of cleansing and purging… when I’m going through something that feels like an outside force of darkness or evil has descended upon me. I love Christian mythology for that reason. I’m not Christian and I wasn’t raised Christian, but I think the ideas of good and evil and light and dark and purity are beautiful in a literary sense.
When we spoke in 2020, you said, “I’m pretty bad about obsessively reading things about myself, because I just want to know if it’s out there, what people think and try and perfect myself from it.” There’s been this growing sense, throughout your career, that you’re striving for a perfection that you know that you can’t quite get. Is that something you’ve only realized about yourself over the last few years?
Oh no, I definitely realized it before. I’ve been this way long before I was doing music as a career. I am a perfectionist — not in every sense of my life, but in things I care about — and I’m very driven. There’s no goal I could reach that would satisfy me. I think I’ve become more accepting of that. I shouldn’t even imagine it because there’s no goal that will be this romantic sense of success that’s unmeasurable in reality. I’m still driven to make music that feels more satisfying and more perfect, but not to expect some sense of satisfaction from things in life that are completely based on unmeasurable ideals.
Your burnout definitely comes through on “Unholy Affliction” — this sense of feeling mechanical and perfectly efficient, capitalism against creativity. You’re six years into a career. This is your third album, and there have been EPs and singles and a lot of touring, and then an enforced break. How much of a hamster wheel have you felt?
I feel it all the time, but since the last record, I’ve gotten better at realizing you’ve got to play the game, do stuff that you don’t want to do. You’ve got to do things that are just about helping the record sell [and not] what you’re passionate about, just like any other job. You don’t get to do everything that you want and nothing else. But I can’t try to care about a photo shoot. It doesn’t matter. I don’t even want pictures of myself, so it doesn’t matter how it turns out. It’s just something you do so you can keep making music.
There’s a purity of thought to that. It’s interesting because around your last record, you talked about mainstream pop influences you had in your teenage years. A lot of the artists you were talking about back then were forced to play the game. They had to care about photo shoots. Has some of your ability to reject that come from seeing how shitty it was for people in your position before?
At a certain point, you hit this wall where it’s like, “I can either spend most of my time being myself, or being the artist.” Not that they’re necessarily different people, but spending all your time around other musicians, other people from the industry, fans, going to parties with all these people and not your old friends from home, you hit this split where you can’t hold onto both lives tightly without losing one of them. I guess it does correlate to success — being more involved and more excited about doing lots of fashion stuff and knowing other celebrities and making connections and networking — but it’s just not for me. It’s just not what I want. So, if that means my growth will be slower, that’s just… It is what it is.
You were talking about your drive and your desire for perfection. Is scale a part of that? People aren’t ashamed to say, “I want to be fucking huge. I want to be massive. I want to be a superstar. It doesn’t necessarily mean I want to play the game, but I would be cool with that.” Is that something that enters your head? Or, is that sense of perfection, that ambition, purely geared towards, “I want to express this feeling I have absolutely perfectly?”
If this was a decade where people making music like me can have a big pop song as a hit, I’d love that. But it’s more about trying to make a perfect record or a perfect song and getting to see people’s reaction… and less, “Real success will be when I play Madison Square Garden.”
For all this drive for perfection, there’s still a beautiful sort of messiness to this album. It’s not like you’ve tried to sand down the edges here. If anything, your music has gotten more experimental as you’ve gone on. More sounds have come in. What has driven you towards these big, ambitious, weird sounds that have found their way into your records increasingly as time’s gone by?
I think pure beauty and ugliness are equally beautiful. With art in general, if you only show the beauty, it’s one-dimensional. Love is beautiful and safe and comforting, but it’s also the most painful thing in the world at times, and not even because someone’s hurting you. Sharing someone’s pain is intense, and it’s more than just soft and beautiful. It elicits a much more layered feeling when you can capture the good and the bad.
Is that part of what drew you to working with Daniel Lopatin?
I’m a big fan of his, and even bigger after knowing him. I’ve always thought his ambient stuff is so beautiful, but also eerie and nasty at points. I absolutely love it. When we were talking about the next record, my label sent over a list [of producers] and he was on it, and I was immediately like, “This is what I want to do. I don’t even care if he hasn’t worked on much rock stuff, I trust his taste.” Writing for this album had a magical sense to it, so I was like, “Whatever we do, it’s gonna be cool and different and we’re gonna have a really fun time.”
You’ve said you can get quite territorial with your music. You’ve been working with Gabe Wax for so long and you guys have a very deep understanding. Obviously you’re working with Dan because you want things to be weird and different and new. How easy was it to allow him in?
I don’t like sharing my songs unless I pick someone who seems like they get what I’m wanting to do. It’s about finding someone who I trust will get us there in an interesting way. There was a little bit of anxiety… but I just had this sense. I was like such a big fan [of Dan] that… I wanted him to go all out. I didn’t want him to come in and try to be safe and chill. So I wasn’t scared, just excited.
I wanted to finish by going back to where we were by talking about “Following Eyes,” which is maybe the first proper attempt at full-on fiction in the Soccer Mommy catalog.
The lyrical content dovetails well with the darker themes on the record. Was it fun to write?
Oh, yeah. It was written between two of the recording sessions [when] I thought the album was already done. I was playing around with this really heavy tuning and made this riff. I [wanted] to write a creepy ghost story with it and make it eerie and spooky and ghastly. And it was great. It felt like it had to go on the record because of the sound and the [theme]. It fit perfectly.
Have you started writing more yet? Have you been able to pause?
I’ve written one or two more, but it’s very abstract currently. It’s not some plan for the next record. I mean, I’m sure they will end up on the next record, but it’s very up in the air right now.