Looking for an introduction to the sonically surreal but lyrically very real world of Sophie Allison, known to indie-pop audiences as Soccer Mommy? Then advance to the second tune on her sophomore album “Clean” and soak in a song called “Cool.”
It’s a snapshot of romantic distance, a tease that thematically reads like a modern day version of the Velvet Underground’s iconic “Femme Fatale” from over 50 years ago. Even the chiming guitar intro sounds like vintage Velvets, but Allison’s vocals offer a presence and clarity all their own as the music swells and blurs around her like a ‘90s Mazzy Star record. Then it sonically swerves off kilter and implodes, as if someone pulled the plug on a record player (remember them?) bringing the song to a reluctant fade and finish.
“A lot of these sounds were created in the studio, but they sort of come out of what the song was,” said Allison, who brings Soccer Mommy to onstage life with her first Kentucky performance at The Burl. “The songs were very, like, fully formed. Some of them didn’t change that much in the studio. But the production kind of brought them to life. All of the substance was there. We just had to build around it.”
If that seems like a fairly workmanlike approach to record making, it is. “Clean” constitutes Allison’s first full-length studio project. Her debut album, “Collection,” and a previous grab bag of EP discs were cut on her own — specifically, in her bedroom. “Clean” made the leap to a fully realized recording with help from producer Gabe Wax, whose client list includes War on Drugs, Deerhunter and Beirut. But it’s still the songs raging under the studio accents that have gained national notice for Soccer Mommy. The New York Times called her songs “generously tender, pushing and pulling between preternatural composure and emotional disintegration.”
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But here’s the wild part. Allison is only 20 years old, yet her songs speak to any age.
“I like to think the things I’m talking about are pretty universal to most people. I don’t think that they are specific to my age or anyone else’s age, really. It’s just kind of a picture of your life. There is an intimacy to the songs, but it doesn’t feel like you’re telling a person a secret. It’s like when making the record you become so excited for anyone to hear it.”
Something else the recording studio brought out in Allison was discipline. Recording at home meant no deadlines, which, in turn, translated into a certain formlessness of a work ethic.
“Yeah, when I was making my EPs, I was very much not on a deadline. I just kind of did it whenever I felt like it. I didn’t really have goals when making the songs in terms of how I wanted them to sound. It was more like an experiment. I would just add on parts until a song felt like it was done. There wasn’t much of a direction for it.
“With ‘Clean,’ it was very much like building the songs. I had a specific idea in mind for every song in terms of what we wanted it to sound like and what we wanted it to feel like. It felt good to work with a producer who knew a little bit more about what he was doing than I did when I was recording my own stuff. It started as a little seed and kind of grew from that. Sometimes I could really see how it was going to form fully. I could see all the pieces falling into place.”
What set in motion the music Allison took out of her bedroom and into the studio? Partly, it was her Nashville roots. But she also soaked up music at an early age — as in before turned 20.
“I was definitely influenced by the fact that there was a music scene for young people when I was growing up in Nashville,” Allison said. “There was a lot of punk and garage rock, stuff like that, but I don’t think genre-wise anything there really influenced me that much. But I do think that got me into a lot of older music that influenced me.
“I’m thinking of music I heard when I was real young that might have affected the way I write. Maybe Bruce Springsteen. There was always a very intense feeling to his music. I feel I probably held on to that a little bit.”
Read Walter Tunis' blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com