While no shortage of American liberal-arts undergrads have wondered whether the degree they’re working toward will be any use in the real world, for 20-year-old singer-songwriter Sophie Allison, those doubts got too loud to ignore. “It got to the point where I would be in class emailing my agent,” says Allison, who, until recently, was a music-business major at New York University.
Her escape plan: Going all-in on her touring and recording career as Soccer Mommy. So far, it’s working like a charm. Since starting the project in the summer after high school, she’s grown into one of indie-rock’s most relatable heartbreak kids, distinguishing herself with her sharp lyrical eye – especially when she’s singing about loneliness and letdowns. She built an audience through introspective bedroom recordings released via Bandcamp – many of which were rerecorded for Collection, her 2017 debut for Mississippi-based label Fat Possum. Her second album for the label, Clean, is light-years more self-assured than her previous work. The prevailing mood is similar – “chill but kinda sad,” as she puts it in her Bandcamp bio – but the songwriting is tighter, the sound is brighter, and every emotion hits 10 times harder. It’s a confident step forward into the alt-rock canon that makes everything she’s done before now sound like an audition.
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At ease in a back booth at a retro-styled Brooklyn diner, wearing Doc Martens-style boots, jeans and a Billy Ray Cyrus T-shirt that she picked up on a recent tour opening for Phoebe Bridgers, Allison seems frankly ecstatic about the creative breakthrough she’s made with Clean.
“I feel like it’s a lot better than the last one,” she says, flashing a big smile. “And I don’t really care if people say it’s not, because it definitely is!”
She chalks that growth up to a sequence of epiphanies she experienced as an NYU undergrad living away from home for the first time. “I went through a lot of maturing in a year or two,” she says. “I left all my best friends, and I didn’t really want to make new friends, so I spent a lot of time inside just being depressed.”
Around the same time, she was processing the collapse and aftermath of a long-distance relationship with a guy back home in Nashville, yielding songs like “Last Girl” (“I was just like, ‘Damn, this person doesn’t care about me,'” she says) and the single “Your Dog,” which opens with the words “I don’t wanna be your fucking dog” (sorry, Iggy) and ends with the declaration, “I want a love that lets me breathe/I’ve been choking on your leash.”
Throughout Clean, in its sharp verbal punches and unhurried melodic swerves, you can hear Allison’s close study of four decades of feelings-and-guitars music. She grew up loving Taylor Swift – her 2006 self-titled debut is a favorite – and later got into timeless teen-angst bands like Sonic Youth, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Nirvana and Slowdive, followed by mid-2010s indie favorites, including Alex G and Mitski, towards the end of high school.
But while Allison had been writing her own songs since age 5, she didn’t take music seriously as a life path back then. “It just seemed like if something crazy happened and I got a career started, that’d be cool, but I didn’t even know how that would happen,” she says.
By the end of her freshman year, she’d worked up the nerve to submit a demo to the influential lo-fi indie imprint Orchid Tapes, which had released Alex G’s career-making DSU two years earlier. Label founder Warren Hildebrand went on to release Soccer Mommy’s For Young Hearts in a limited edition of 100 sparkly gold cassettes in the summer of 2016. The tape, recorded mostly at her dorm room in New York’s East Village, got enthusiastic press coverage and is now a coveted collector’s item, going for as much as $70 on Discogs.
Last spring, after completing her sophomore year, Allison dropped out of NYU to focus on recording Clean, which she did in the fall with producer Gabe Wax (Deerhunter, the War on Drugs). She’s since toured with some of her idols, including Mitski and Slowdive, and moved back to Nashville, where she’s much happier. All in all, leaving college for indie fame wasn’t a hard choice.
“So easy!” Allison says, laughing. “It would be so awful to have missed out on everything I’ve done. I can’t imagine being in school right now.”