Soccer Mommy On Frankenstein, Horror Movies, The Roches, & More Inspirations Behind Her New Album
Sophie Allison has always had a flair for the macabre. On the opening track of Soccer Mommy’s Clean, she imagines her lover eating her alive: “Left me drowning once you picked me out your bloody teeth.” On color theory‘s lead single “Lucy,” she descends to hell with the devil, enticed and terrified: “The root of all evil/ In a person with shiny eyes/ Hair like a feather/ Black leather and a charming smile.” She continues that eerie throughline on her new album Sometimes, Forever, out today. “Following Eyes” is a straight-up ghost story in the Gothic sense — she gets lost in the woods, drawn in by “the strangest light above the moor.” Behold!: “Following eyes/ A sound in the night/ Like something risen from below/ A horrible sight/ A chill in my spine/ I thought I must have seen…” On “Darkness Forever,” she plots out an exorcism by way of Sylvia Plath: “It’s warm in the kitchen/ Like hot sticky summer/ The demons are rising/ Up with the smoke.”
Allison’s writing style has always been florid and evocative, and she’s matched that this time around with a sound that’s equally expansive and expressive, building billowing soundscapes on top of her characteristically country-tinged ’90s alt-rock. Sometimes, Forever contains all the sharp and fuzzy pop hooks you might expect from Soccer Mommy, but it also contains taut spine-tingling howls into the ether and anxiety-inducing electronic breakdowns. Like its predecessor color theory, its an album that feels like a world unto itself and manages to surprise, delight, and sometimes terrify at every turn. It’s pretty great — one of the best albums of 2022 so far, even — and we talked to Allison about some of the inspirations behind it.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein
SOPHIE ALLISON: I read it in high school, as I’m sure a lot of people did, but I recently re-read it, and what really strikes me about the book is that it does such an amazing job of meshing this horror imagery and this classic terror with the most romantic language and the most beautiful scenery. Even Dr. Frankenstein himself — as he’s narrating his portion of the story, it starts off very romantic and beautiful. He’s amazed by the beauty of the world, so interested in it from a scientific standpoint. And it then falls into this dark, complete lack of romanticism.
I’m always interested in conflicting ideas and putting them together. Specifically on this record, a lot of the writing does just that in the same sense — these ups-and-downs and back-and-forths with being totally romantic or being completely pessimistic.
I was reading Frankenstein when I was finishing writing the album. “Following Eyes” came to my brain around that time. I was very inspired by being able to merge these monsters and demons and this dark sense of evil with romantic imagery and language.
ALLISON: Love is always an inspiration. Not for whole albums necessarily all the time, but it’s always something that’s been there. I’ve been in a relationship for six years now that is very happy — it’s obviously a huge part of my life, and it always peeks its head into a record a little bit. Just as many times as I think I’m having days where I feel completely dark and moody, I also have days where it feels like I’m waking up from a bad dream in a sense: to have love and beauty in the world. On this record, there are a couple songs that are specifically about that.
In the liner notes, you dedicate “With U” and “Shotgun” to Julian [your long-term partner and bandmate]. What do you feel is the contrast between those two songs?
ALLISON: “Shotgun,” when I was writing it, I was thinking very much about the early feeling of love. I was thinking back to some of the first dates and the first times that we spent together, the first time we started living together. I was 19 or 20 when all that was happening, and I wanted to capture the feeling I get when I think about those first days… For me, I’m very driven early on in relationships by needing that instant fun and entertainment, someone who can keep me on my toes. That initial feeling is so strong and so intense and also a little scary because it could be fleeting. I wanted to capture the craziness of finding love at the very beginning and not knowing where it’s going, but knowing that it’s something exciting.
And “With U” is a totally different type of thing, where it’s more about being deep in a relationship and feeling so completely devoted to someone, not being able to imagine your life without them and knowing that you will make it work continually and want to and you feel devoted to that. They’re both romantic and they have this sense of danger in them. Because I think, to me, love will always have a sense of danger — in trusting someone not only with your heart, but yourself and your intimacy. But that’s what makes it so fun. Being really close with someone and being in such a deep relationship that you can share their burdens and share their pains and vice versa. I think people like to imagine that love is always great and perfect, but one of the most beautiful parts in my mind is being able to have someone completely accept you for everything you don’t like about yourself… That creates its own kind of intimacy.
What’s your favorite scary movie?
ALLISON: God, I can’t even pick one. I love classic horror movies, like John Carpenter stuff. The Thing, Halloween — those two movies in particular are perfect films. I don’t think you could change anything about them. But I like stuff all over the board. Like Scream stuff that’s goofier … I know you didn’t ask, but I think my ranking of the Scream movies is 1, 4, 2, and then 3. I know that’s a little controversial. I feel like people don’t give Scream 4 enough credit.
I love Scream 4 … big Kirby fan. What did you think of the new one?
ALLISON: I didn’t think it was bad. I just thought it was kind of doing the exact same thing that Scream 4 already did. I feel like people forgot that Scream 4 happened, or maybe they thought people didn’t pay attention so they decided to just try it again. But it was fine — I wasn’t disappointed, necessarily, but I had low expectations. I can’t say it was my favorite, though…
Here’s another pretty controversial take, I think: I’m a big Resident Evil person as well, and I actually thought the new Resident Evil was really good. I feel like no one agrees with me, but I thought it was solid — it had some good scary moments, some good horror scenes. I tend to like horror that is kind of trashy. I just want to see some gore, I want to see some stupid jump scares. I love the classics — like, Suspiria is one of my favorites — but I also completely appreciate the stupidest of horror movies.
One I rewatched recently was this movie Kristy. It has Alice from Twilight in it, who is I guess what you’d describe as the villain. But it’s basically a super deep web horror thing where this girl is at college alone on Thanksgiving weekend, and everyone went home and people are chasing her and filming her and they keeping calling her “Kristy” — basically like a rich white girl. It’s terrible but it’s really good.
I might as well ask: Jason, Freddy, or Michael?
ALLISON: Michael. I’ve seen A Nightmare On Elm Street, but I’ve never been as into it as Halloween. And I do like the first Friday The 13th, the original, but yeah… I’m a Michael type of gal. Team Michael.
Were there any horror movies in particular that inspired Sometimes, Forever?
ALLISON: It was more just the general horror movie vibe. I love horror movies and I watch a lot of them, and I think one of the best parts of a horror movie is that creeping feeling when you know something’s coming, or you know something’s there but you just can’t see it. Over the pandemic especially, I watched a lot of horror movies alone at my house: The Ring, The Grudge. The Grudge is a great example of something inescapable looming over you. One I watched that I hadn’t seen since I was a kid was When A Stranger Calls. I think that was the first horror movie I ever saw, and it’s what made me want to keep watching horror movies. It’s that feeling of something is there, but you can’t see it, you can’t place it. Eventually you do, but… I think the scariest way to do horror is to not show it. Not show what’s coming, what’s there. At least not in full. That gives it the best sense of fear that you can get.
On a song like “Darkness Forever,” I really wanted to capture that creeping feeling. When I was writing the lyrics, I had this image in my mind of burning down this house to expel all of the demons. I wanted to get that on-edge paranoia. Then with “Following Eyes,” too, I really wanted to do a ghost story because I honestly think we don’t do enough ghost stories nowadays. I love vampires and demons but it’s all that kind of stuff nowadays — we need more ghost stories. I want to attempt a take on classic horror — make it something where it doesn’t have to be jump scares, just a good plot and a story that leads you to a place that has this huge ending but doesn’t need all of this crazy stuff.
You know what’s a good one that does that? The House Of The Devil. That’s a great example of something that’s just kind of going along the whole time and everything insane happens in the last couple minutes. I love that ability to take something that is spooky and creepy and not have it be overly dramatic.
ALLISON: This wasn’t a writing thing, this was more of a production thing. When we were in the studio, Dan [Lopatin, aka Oneohtrix Point Never] got really into the Roches. He was like, “There are these insane three-part harmonies and it’s super cool.” We were all really vibing on it and exciting about it and toward he end if recording, we ended up doing all of these three-part harmonies. It’s on “Shotgun,” “Feel It All The Time,” “Fire In The Driveway,” “newdemo.” It’s funny because growing up, I went to high school at an arts high school and I would do a lot of three-part harmonies with other people, but I hadn’t done it so long and it was really cool and something I would have never thought to throw on a track in the past.
I’ve never loved putting on backing vocals, but this time it felt really almost instrumental. I was able to go in and done one line that moves here and another line that moves later, so it had this weaving in and out effect. And it was definitely very inspired by the Roches — to imagine what they would do to get these backing vocals for everything. It turned out really cool because we could use those three-part harmonies as a synth in a lot of the songs. In “newdemo,” there’s a point where it’s just that and my voice — having that kind of moment is really cool. It’s much easier to do that with yourself than with two other people. The Roches are amazing at it.
ALLISON: Going into the recording process, the Cure were one of the main bands we were thinking about. It was something I listened to while making the album. I think they do a really good job with that goth-ness while also being able to make it fun — having these really poppy songs that still have that edgy vibe. That’s something I really wanted to do with this record, because I had songs that were much more edgy — stuff like “Darkness Forever” and “Unholy Affliction” — and I wanted to be able to meld that with the poppy songs. The Cure were definitely a production example to keep in mind: to have these good live band takes and being able to add delayed synths and washy things to give it a bit more texture and life and energy beyond just the band.
How do you approach making songs now that sound bigger than your earlier material but still keep that intimacy?
ALLISON: I think my way of doing it is that I just write the same way that I used to. I write with a guitar. I’m not sitting there writing a song going, “This drum beat will go like this” and all that stuff. I really think that if you have a song that is catchy and interesting — like, you can enjoy it when it’s just a demo or a voice memo of you and your guitar, then you really can’t mess it up that badly in the studio. And so when you get to go in the studio, you can just have fun and try out cool stuff rather than getting in the studio and realizing that a song really needs help. Not that I’m here to tell anyone how to write a song, but it does make it harder if you get in there and you have a chorus that needs work. If the melody and the song itself is strong, you don’t have to worry about it in the studio. All you have to worry about then is having a good time.
ALLISON: Nature has been a recurring theme in my writing because it’s something that constantly amazes me because it’s so beautiful. So many things that happen in life — whether they’re sad or happy or angry or whatever — have so many parallels in the world around you. Nature is the best thing you’ve got to pull from when trying to write in any sort of metaphoric or literary sense. That’s such a beautiful style of writing to me. Like I was saying earlier with Frankenstein, being able to take your moods and turn them into these reflections on the scenery and then turn that scenery into have some kind of poignancy with whatever you’re feeling or thinking about. It’s something that humans, at least in my experience, naturally do, and they create such beautiful writing.
It’s a consistent thing. I think living in Nashville, a really green place, has a lot to do with it. I can drive out by the lake in the middle of the night and just be able to sit there. I have such access to beautiful natural spaces. And not that I want to line this up too much with the pandemic, but when I was writing a lot of this stuff during that time, I wasn’t doing anything inside. The only stuff i would do would be go with my friends out to the lake or the Steeplechase or go on walks at Radnor Lake. Being surrounded by so much beauty when it comes to nature allows you to be more inspired by it than if you were in the middle of a city. It gives you that constant visual stimulation.
Sometimes, Forever is out now via Loma Vista.