Sophie Allison arrives fully formed on Fat Possum full-length ‘Clean’
After graduating high school a few years ago, Sophie Allison left her Nashville home to study at New York University, eventually deciding on a music business major. Her transition to college life, though, was a rocky one.
“It was hard. It took a long time to adjust,” Allison said recently by phone. “I was very lonely for a long time, and I also spent a lot of time on music because of that.”
Before NYU, Allison had already been making lo-fi recordings of her self-described “chill but kinda sad” bedroom pop and uploading the songs to Bandcamp under the Soccer Mommy moniker. She turned heads in 2016 with For Young Hearts (a limited-edition, eight-song cassette on Orchid Tapes) and in 2017 with Fat Possum compilation Collection. Both releases revealed a young talent who seemed to arrive fully formed; Allison's pretty, plain-spoken delivery and crisp, open-tuned electric guitar lend her songs of love and longing a warm, casual (and occasionally biting) incisiveness that somehow enables Soccer Mommy to sound both wide-eyed and world-weary.
While Clean fits in nicely next to other recently released albums by talented young songwriters such as Lucy Dacus, Snail Mail and Jay Som, Allison's musical makeup is informed by everything from the Who and Springsteen records her dad played around the house to the pop stars she embraced growing up, such as Avril Lavigne, Hilary Duff and Kelly Clarkson.
Allison's relatively isolated existence in New York allowed her to focus even more time and energy on Soccer Mommy, and the songs from that transitionary period of her life eventually found their way onto the recently released Clean (Fat Possum). The record maintains the sound her fans fell in love with on Bandcamp, but with the added benefit of a full band and pro studio work from Soccer Mommy producer and multi-instrumentalist Gabe Wax.
The songs, too, sound more confident and self-assured. “I think that I just matured as a person and as a songwriter,” Allison said. “I got better at it. I put a lot more work into it, too. The album has more time spent on it and more work behind it to make it perfect.”
On Clean, Allison spends much of her time singing about times in her life when she wasn't as sure of herself. On “Cool,” she describes the type of girl she wishes she could be: “Mary has a heart of coal/She'll break you down and eat you whole/I saw her do it after school, she's an animal.” And on “Your Dog,” she lets her lover know she won't be dragged around on a chain: “I want a love that lets me breathe/I've been choking on your leash.”
It's a sentiment and theme she sums up best on Clean's reflective final track, “Wildflowers,” which she wrote after most of the other songs on the album. “I want to be who I wasn't,” Allison sings over down-strummed acoustic guitar.
Allison can trace that person she wasn't back to her high school days in Nashville, when she got involved in the city's small, young punk-rock scene. “You know everybody in the scene and see the same people at every show,” she said. “There was a show every weekend back then. That was the thing to do in town.”
Even though Allison had been writing her own songs since the age of 5, she didn't play in a band or perform her own songs. She didn't know how to start a band, and a lack of confidence, fear and anxiety held her back. Now, she exudes confidence in Soccer Mommy's emotionally bare songs.
“I don't have a problem being someone who writes emotional songs as a woman,” Allison said. “I think people use [‘sad girl'] in a degrading way, and it makes you a one-dimensional person when the songwriting for that kind of stuff often isn't. You don't want to be stuck as a one-dimensional person when you're not.”
Living the life of a touring musician has also contributed to her sense of self-assurance and self-reliance. “I don't do anything I did two years ago. … Moving and starting touring at 20 definitely made me grow — being on the road all the time, having to deal with finances and trying to be people's boss,” said Allison, who put NYU on hold and now calls Nashville home once again. “It's a lot of work.” But she wouldn't have it any other way.