SOCCER MOMMY — AKA SOPHIE ALLISON — IS ONE OF Gen Z’s brightest voices, a 25-year-old beacon mining through a familiar world of industry apathy and internal, contradictory forces. On her new record, Sometimes, Forever, there’s a give-and-go between distance and desire, misery and joy; full-hearted ballads bleed delicately into thoughtful, doomy concertos. Allison pumps spark into stagnation, asserting that the depressing parts don’t come without a belly of magic in tow. “I think that feelings, in general, aren’t as one-dimensional as we imagine,” Allison says over the phone, from her house in Nashville. “Trying to have something be sad, but beautiful and soft, it hits you in a different way than something that’s just sad.” 

Talking to Allison feels like the right kind of familiar. She’s navigating onward through a post-college, pandemic world — but long before COVID-19 hit, her music was already evocative of fluttering joy in small spaces, too many feelings and not enough arms to hold all of the devastation. Now, two-and-a-half years into it, her work is as urgent as ever, with those spins of grief becoming needed reminders of the even smaller emotional vacuums we have to work with.

“I think it’s something where [I] have to pull from real things that do have an emotional attachment to me, or just things that make you feel it,” Allison says. Her arrangements on Sometimes, Forever are tight, her articulations constantly fluid and the impassioned magnitudes of her lyrics are always centered affectionately. “You can put down 1,000 lines and the ones that make you really feel it are the ones that are going to stick out,” she adds. 

Read more: MUNA are entering a new era of radical vulnerability

Sometimes, Forever is a career-spanning document for Allison. It’s her third LP, last in a trio of albums written back-to-back-to-back. She and the band recorded it at Sound Emporium, a studio in her hometown of Nashville, over the course of 2021. When Allison became a beloved indie rocker with her debut, 2018’s Clean, she was still making stripped-down, lo-fi records in her bedroom. Fast-forward to 2022 and you can hear the stems of her backtrackings and the intricate arrangements of synths, guitar and percussion. Soccer Mommy is no longer one woman and her guitar; it’s a full machine electrically arranged around itself.

“Once you have access to [a studio], you’re able to imagine things that you wouldn’t have imagined before,” Allison says. “I was so used to recording in my bedroom. I didn’t know how all of this worked. The more times you go in and get new ideas, the more broad your imagination gets.”

The new album also marks the arrival of a new collaboration. Helming the production on Sometimes, Forever is Daniel Lopatin, the synthesizer whiz who moonlights as Oneohtrix Point Never. Since 2019, he’s written and composed the Uncut Gems soundtrack and helped shape FKA twigsMAGDALENE, the Weeknd’s Dawn FM and Charli XCX’s CRASH. Sometimes, Forever releases Lopatin from his sometimes pigeonholed presence in the industry as the “synthy, electronic guy” by punctuating a long-held interest of his: rock ’n’ roll. “He was equally excited about recording the band and recording the basic tracking as he was adding things on top of it all,” Allison mentions. “And when it came down to adding those things on, he had a big picture in his mind of what could work, and it was all great.”

Read more: How PinkPantheress uses 2000s nostalgia to craft a sound both familiar and fresh

Sometimes, Forever isn’t bereft of synthesizers; it flirts with them cleverly. Lopatin’s production is one of its organic complements, and his compositions align well with Allison’s songwriting, building a sound that is proportional to her dense and ambitious storylines without becoming an overwrought machine. “I think that one of the most amazing things a producer can do is be able to make parts of a song feel like their own and make it so that everything is perfectly lending itself to the other parts of the song,” Allison says.

On tunes such as “Unholy Affliction” and “Darkness Forever,” Soccer Mommy’s sound is far away from the racing dream pop of color theory, as Allison culls a swell of industrial, grunge-y static, capturing Depeche Mode as much as she is Soundgarden; “With U” and “Shotgun” glitter even when walls of mountainous guitars unfurl inside them; opener “Bones” sounds like a cut from color theory, as it’s a widening hallway of regret and heartache, full of Allison’s textbook ’90s alt-rock guitar tones and buzzing syntax, with the standout line “I think your heart could use a tourniquet,” lush, centered and buzzing before falling into a crescendoing coda of distortion.

“I think that the first track always has to be something great because, in my mind, if I put on a record that I haven’t heard before and the first song is boring me a little bit, that always kills it,” Allison says of deliberately placing “Bones” at the head of the tracklist. “And if the first song is one of your favorites, you just put that on and let the whole record play. I did want it to be something that was recognizable and not just completely left field, even though all of that left-field stuff was coming.”

Read more: Kate Bush says ‘Stranger Things’ gave “Running Up That Hill” a “whole new lease of life”

That left-field approach is nothing that’s significantly out of Allison’s sonic topography; rather, it’s a desire to build resonance through experimentation. The destinations in her songs have always been the same; on Sometimes, Forever, her arrival is just rerouted. Lopatin and Allison have a symmetrical approach to composition, with Lopatin interested in triggering memories with sounds and Allison in pulling personal imagery from her past. “[Memory] is constant in his music,” Allison says of Lopatin’s work. “It’s not something that I’m always thinking about, but it’s something I do love.”

Lopatin’s production visualizes Allison’s world-building and never lingers on a single presentation too long, making Sometimes, Forever the first Soccer Mommy album to appear in so many shapes. Allison is more in control of her language than ever before — transcribing wounds, falling in all kinds of love and obsessing joyously over fleeting moments in her relationships — while working with new studio elements, like overdubs and vocal echoes. 

Read more: Kid Bloom throws an ’80s party on debut album ‘Highway’

“Being able to make a song sound in a way that has a familiar feeling, for me, is less like, ‘Oh, I really want to work with this thing that seems to remind me of this’ and more like, ‘I want to be able to capture emotion,’” she says. “I do love trying to get that feeling, and I think [Lopatin]’s really great at being able to craft something that puts you in a very specific place.”

Photo by Sophie Hur
Photo by Sophie Hur
loading...

SOMETIMES, FOREVER IS PERFECT AND BULLETPROOF, but not by conventional standards. Allison, who’s proclaimed she’s chasing the unattainable goal of making flawless work, set out to create a record that emulates the raw, live sound she works through every night onstage. The result is a collage of experiments, techniques she dipped her toes in on Clean and color theory that have become fully realized and sound exactly like what she’s been working toward for half a decade. “To me, [a perfect album] is not that everything’s automated and sounds flawless at every point,” Allison says. “It’s just being flawlessly your vision and what you wanted it to be. So, for me, I love those kinds of imperfections. I think those are things that make something perfect.”

Read more: Yeah Yeah Yeahs share first song in 9 years, announce new album ‘Cool It Down’

Those imperfections, the mystifying, sometimes intoxicating, industrial quakes and murmurs atop hard-lined riffs and dense power hooks, add a shred of new darkness to the record a darkness born from total artistic freedom and joy that builds off what she touched on in songs such as “Feed” and “lucy.” Without them, Allison says, Sometimes, Forever would lose all of the life that makes her excited about music. “Even albums that you would coin as perfect, like The White Album or Pet Sounds, there are people that hate that shit. There’s no universal perfection,” she adds. “I don’t ever think I’m gonna go into the studio and record two songs and then do a couple of songs down the road and then put them on an album.”

Aside from the two years she spent in New York while in college, Allison still lives where she grew up. When she isn’t touring, she’s at home in Nashville with her longtime boyfriend, driving a white pick-up truck with a “goddess on the loose” bumper sticker and maintaining a slower pace — eons removed from the bustling hubs of Chicago and Los Angeles, where clusters of like-minded musicians cohabitate. “When I’m off the road, all I want is to be able to chill and be relaxed and see my close friends, go see some movies, hang out outside,” she says. “[Nashville] provides all of that for me. It’s where my family is. I don’t feel a need to be super in a scene.” 

Read more: Watch Phoebe Bridgers’ new “Sidelines” video

Allison is at the forefront of a budding sector of indie rock, where artists are crafting their images around the communities they keep, championing friendships and the unglamorous norms of not being a rock star 24/7. Part of Allison’s community includes live shows, which she fully embraces, as she centers the sounds of audience connections and touring on her new album — substituting automated and rehearsed arrangements for organic, improvisational tones.

Sometimes, Forever rebels against being neat and tidy and adopting commercialization, as songs grapple with both perfectionism and the pressures of careerism. On an album where Allison is at her most vulnerable, she’s also meditating on the external pressures of her own artistry and the industry she works in more than ever.

“I like writing songs and playing them. And, in a perfect world, I would love to only do that. I wouldn’t ever have to do a photo shoot again. It would just be purely about music, and I wouldn’t have to divulge anything about myself,” Allison says. “If I wanted to just make music, I could. I could quit and post it online myself and have to work a normal job and all that kind of stuff. If you want [making music] to be a job instead of a hobby and a passion, you have to make it a job.”

Photo by Sophie Hur
Photo by Sophie Hur
loading...

Read more: Jenna McDougall continues her mission of empowerment through new solo project Hevenshe

During a press run for color theory in 2020, something Allison said about wanting to keep growing until she hit the ceiling was taken out of context. Understanding that if you hit the ceiling, you’ve got nothing left to accomplish, she was speaking more about the internal drive to keep being a better songwriter than about selling out to achieve stardom. The sky isn’t the limit for Allison; it’s just another checkpoint, as she’s continuously ascending upward and discovering new personal milestones to reach for.

“I don’t want to write a song or record a song in such a way I’m hoping it will have some sort of success,” Allison says. “I do want to play bigger shows and be able to reach more people with my music, if they’re interested in everything I have to offer. I want to be able to keep growing, but off of the back of what I actually want to make.”

Allison has been compared to everyone from Liz Phair to Taylor Swift, for her curtness, scouring stories told behind sugary melodies and an empowering, never surrendered chronicle of youth. On Sometimes, Forever, she opens up in a plainspoken, heartsick way, letting herself fall in love, even if the outcome is going to be a tangled, gutting fallout. She’s sharing other people’s pain and learning to accept all of it. “It’s almost like looking at a sun and it’s burning your eyes, but that doesn’t mean you don’t want any more sun,” Allison adds. “I really love mixing that kind of stuff. I think it gives a sense of depth and reality, rather than just making it something where it’s like, ‘I feel happy all the time. I love this. It’s amazing.’” 

Read more: Recording Academy adds five new awards for 2023 Grammys

There’s an unintentional theatricality to the three-dimensional body of work she’s created. Light-years removed from her Bandcamp days, she’s no longer cobbling songs together and posting them online soon after. Instead, she’s stretching themes of crushing familial trauma, isolation and mortality across three records — constantly returning to past ideas with a newfound curiosity and upgraded syntax, welcoming a continuity and mark of growth in her own catalog.

“It feels connected, and it feels like something that deserves to be tied together by the sonic because these things all came from the same time and place. You want to be able to have it be so that you can look through these songs one by one, but you can also sit and listen through the whole record, and it’s gonna have this energy that is something that’s literally impossible to recreate.”

“I don’t know how to feel things small,” Allison reflects on Sometimes, Forever closer “Still.” As she continues deconstructing the pitfalls of growing up by way of unlearning self-doubt, romanticizing her own uneven relationships and exploring new sounds, textures and rhythms the emotional magnitude in which she interacts with her environment remains its own moment, no matter what shape it takes on any given song. She’s a perfectionist chasing imperfections, already toiling with where she’ll reach toward on the next record, relentless in her desire to not compromise her vision for anyone. Allison’s aiming to play bigger rooms and make records that sound like it. Four years in and her voice is now a wide spectrum of humility, of gossamer confessions that are always fluid, moving across genres and taking multiple albums to fully articulate the heaviness of.

This story appeared in issue #407, available here.