Host intro: Ever since Sophie Allison started sharing bedroom recordings under the name Soccer Mommy, listeners from all over have been moved by her emotionally incisive songs. WNXP’s Jewly Hight says that she finds the tools to sharpen her expression not just in obvious indie rock influences, but the dedication to craft that she absorbed in Nashville. That’s especially evident on the third album from WNXP’s Nashville Artist of the Month. Just before it came out, Allison took Hight on a tour of hometown touchstones.
Hight: Soccer Mommy has gotten a lot of coverage over the last half-dozen years. Features on the band often begin with its founder, Sophie Allison, launching her project online while she attended New York University.
That was a pivotal period, but it wasn’t the true beginning of the story.
Hight: So where are we?
Allison: We are pulling up to the East Room, where I have played shows and been to many shows.
Hight: The East Nashville venue is just as Allison remembered it, at the end of a semicircle of small shops.
Allison: Then you go down a little alley, which we are walking down right now, and there’s a door.
Hight: She caught plenty of bands from the local DIY scene here, including one that played after her prom. It was a big deal to her when she graduated from paying the cover charge to getting booked herself.
Allison: And yeah, I was still just such a fan. …It felt like I was just another person in Nashville playing shows, pretty much.
Hight: Allison packed that room with a hometown crowd before hitting the road to promote Soccer Mommy’s first studio album. Then she packed her band mates and gear into the very Subaru wagon that she’s driving through Nashville right now.
Allison: I would talk about it every night on stage. People would laugh at me, that I was doing that in a tiny, little Subaru. But you make it work!
Hight: Plenty of indie music careers require dues-paying like that. But Allison also grew up close to a less modest side of the business. Her family home was around the corner from Music Row, the epicenter of songwriting and recording activity in Nashville, and a few streets away from the historic studio Sound Emporium. She used to walk by the place when she roamed the neighborhood with friends.
Allison: I honestly didn’t know it was a studio when I was younger, but I knew it was something music-related.
Hight: It’s the largest studio that Soccer Mommy has recorded in. Allison is back on the premises exactly a year and a day after wrapping up sessions for her new album Sometimes, Forever.
Hight: She’s surprised to see that amidst the framed photos of the studio’s respected country and roots clients — and the plaques commemorating hits made here — a doodle that she drew in marker is still hanging on the wall.
Allison: That was my attempt at drawing everybody in the band.
Hight: It’s a cartoon of the five of them, with “Soccer Mommy” scrawled in bubble letters underneath.
Allison is aware that her band stands out from others who’ve worked here, but the 25-year-old is pleased to point out that an artist she listened to as a kid, Taylor Swift, recorded her debut album in these rooms.
Allison: So to be in a studio that things like that are recorded and know that you’re having that same acoustics and stuff …it gives it this magic, like kind of anything’s possible, basically.
Hight: Allison’s been trying to figure out what she could do with music since she was little. Her parents didn’t have industry connections, but supported her quest.
Allison: You know, I wrote that first song, whatever, as many children do, and started learning guitar, you know, just basic chords and stuff. I was very young. Obviously I wasn’t becoming a prodigy.
Hight: She picked up more fundamentals studying jazz guitar at Nashville School of the Arts. But learning swing standards didn’t grab her like attempting to capture angsty originals on her laptop at home.
Allison: With my art, I was always and still am very much a perfectionist, and perfect in the sense of not things needing to be perfect all the time, but everything feeling right.
Hight: The first tracks that Allison uploaded under the name Soccer Mommy might have been fairly lo-fi recordings of her songs, but she was always hungry for new studio techniques, new ways of applying effects. If she could expand her sonic vocabulary, she could create music as grand and vivid as her inner world.
With each album, she’s explored further. This time, she did it alongside a producer named Daniel Lopatin, who’s kind of a mad scientist with synthesizers.
Allison: When we brought him in, I didn’t want him to hold back and, and be like, “Okay, well, I’m making an indie rock record. I got to chill out. I can’t do all these crazy things.“
Hight: This is also the Soccer Mommy album where Allison spends an entire song communicating the dissonance she’s felt between her artistic and commercial ambitions.
Allison: It’s talking about this struggle with the affliction of drive for success in the midst of not liking all the stuff that even comes with success. …So there is that side to just how I feel about the industry in general. But I don’t think it could ever overpower just wanting to make music.
Host tag: That was WNXP’s Jewly Hight retracing the true Nashville journey of Soccer Mommy mastermind Sophie Allison. Find all of our Nashville Artist of the Month coverage at wnxp.org.