Steph Knipe embraces vulnerability on indie-pop album 'Soft Spots'

To Adult Mom's Steph Knipe, songwriting is akin to journaling — a way to process and put words to the often-conflicting feelings simmering just beneath the surface.

“It's that thing where my body knows how I'm feeling — it's present already, but it hasn't made its way out yet,” Knipe said recently by phone. “It hasn't reached my emotional consciousness. … When I'm feeling stuck or in-between, or feeling contrasting emotions, it's when I need to sort it out the most.”

Adult Mom's sophomore album, the intimate and accessible Soft Spots, is rife with these at-odds emotions. “When I feel like nothing, please tell me that I am something,” Knipe sings over lazily strummed guitar on leadoff track “Ephemeralness.” On the album's final track, the singer relates to a snowfall on the first day of spring: “Like me it was not ready for the warmth, despite all its waiting … I don't want the gift, but I do so much.”

“While I was writing this record, I was trying to figure out how to be in a healthy relationship and trying to learn how to not just love but be loved,” said Knipe, who identifies as nonbinary. “I think writing this record helped me to feel like I'm worthy of being loved, and then also to know the difference between being loved and not being loved, or being loved in poor taste.”

Wrestling with those emotions and distinctions, whether in their music or everyday life, required Knipe to open up in ways that aren't always comfortable. “It's like a double-edged sword sometimes because once you do open yourself up you can get all these amazing, good things that come into your life, but you can also be really ruined and traumatized, which has been my history with vulnerability,” Knipe said. “It's a question of, ‘How can you open up but also protect yourself?'”

And yet, the act of exploring that concept publicly — on Soft Spots and onstage — requires a certain amount of vulnerability, which, in a way, makes the album itself an argument for the benefits of vulnerability. In the studio, too, the Purchase, New York, act tried to sonically mirror that openness by including the sounds of the room and bits of talking before and after the songs. “A lot of spatial elements we changed to make it sound softer and more like sitting in a room with somebody instead of an overproduced recording,” Knipe said.

That perceived accessibility often emboldens Adult Mom fans who approach Knipe to talk about similar issues and emotions in their own lives. “I think whenever you're open, especially publicly, it does make people feel more comfortable to approach you and trust you because you're being so bare,” Knipe said. “Sometimes I feel uncomfortable ... [but] at the end of the day we all need each other.”