Since her earliest Bandcamp recordings, Sophie Allison has been painting her songs in increasingly vibrant colors. As the songwriter and lead singer of her band Soccer Mommy, Allison produced the autumn–hued Clean, and released Color Theory, with its sickly tones of yellow, blue, and grey, weeks before the COVID–19 pandemic hit. The palette for her new album, Sometimes, Forever, has the most depth and shade of any Soccer Mommy record to date—thanks in part to a team–up with producer Oneohtrix Point Never—but it hasn’t been an easy road to get there.
When Allison and I connect via phone, we’re both in transit—I’m in the backseat of a car on the way to a friend’s house in New Jersey, and she’s in the midst of her tour, which will include a stop in Philly this month. Over the course of our conversation, we chart her journey from the first songs she ever wrote to becoming a celebrated indie darling and, yes, a Bernie Sanders—approved meme.
Music has been a part of Allison’s life as far back as she can remember, even if she spent years thinking it wouldn’t be enough to pay the bills on its own. “The songwriting itself is like the same thing that I’ve been doing since six years old,” she says. Since then, her process has remained the same in a lot of ways. She sits around playing guitar until she finds a chord progression she likes. From there, Allison starts coming up with ideas for melodies and lyrics.
“I’m never recording stuff and working on other parts while I’m writing songs,” she says. “It’s always just me and a guitar.”
Allison describes music as her “sole real passion in life,” but she arrived at New York University with a different plan. She would still be making music all the time, "playing gigs and being really involved with it,” but major in English and Music Business. As these things go, it wasn’t too long before Allison’s passion caught up with her. “In my freshman year of college, I was making music so much and really devoting so much of my time to it that I wasn’t—to be honest—very interested in anything going on at school, and anything going on with this idea of having this major for this other career,” she says.
Around the same time, Allison started to post her earliest recordings to Bandcamp under the Soccer Mommy moniker. The first of these was songs for the recently sad, a collection of lo–fi bedroom indie cobbled together from fuzzed out guitars and rudimentary drum tracks. It revealed Allison’s gift for uniquely bittersweet songwriting, with hooks that get stuck in your brain like Laffy Taffy and lyrics that hurt like papercuts. People started to take notice.
“That’s around the time when I started to think maybe it was a possibility to actually do it as a career,” says Allison, “because stuff was kind of taking off on Bandcamp, I had labels talking to me.”
Eventually, she put out her first full–length, for young hearts, on Orchid Tapes in 2016 and her second, Collection, on Fat Possum Records a year later. She began to build a devoted fan base online, teenagers who fell in love with her acid tongue and raw vulnerability. She wasn’t afraid to wear her love for Taylor Swift right alongside her more “hip” forbears like Liz Phair, a proposition that becomes less radical each year—thanks in part to Soccer Mommy and other kindred bands.
Soccer Mommy would go on to expand from a solo project to a full band by the time Clean, Allison’s debut album proper, came out in 2018. On that record’s opening track, “Still Clean,” she spins a twisted fairytale, painting a lover as an “animal” who “took me down to the water, got your mouth all clean / Left me drowning, once you picked me out your bloody teeth."
These songs in the shape of fables or parables crop up again and again in the former English major’s discography. The way she tells it, “I love fantasy and I’m obsessed with metaphors where basically it’s taking this normal thing like heartbreak or love and turning it into this dramatic story that’s got this violent aspect or this mystical aspect.”
There’s plenty of mysticism to be found on Sometimes, Forever, too. The brooding “Following Eyes” describes “The strangest light above the moor” like a will–o’–the–wisp in the Middle Ages, and “Darkness Forever” embraces even more sinister imagery: “It’s warm in the kitchen like hot–sticky summer / The demons are rising up with the smoke.”
For Allison, metaphors and dramatizations aren’t just a way to flex her muscles as a songwriter; they’re essential to survival. “There are definitely songs on the album where, when I was writing it, I was using this element of fantasy as escapism from the reality of it,” she says. Soccer Mommy’s music often deals with weighty subject matter—Clean trafficked primarily in heartbreak and Color Theory was a concept album about depression—but her escapist approach doesn’t mean she’s backing away from these themes.
“It’s a good way to write something that feels a little bit outside of yourself while also being able to write a story that feels like it was written with actual investment,” Allison says.
On the flip side, the aesthetics of high fantasy were all over the moodboard during the making of Sometimes, Forever. In addition to her favorite TV shows and books, Allison drew upon references to nerdcore tabletop games, even though she’s “never played Magic: The Gathering or Dungeons & Dragons. I don’t know anyone who would even try to play that with me.”
When it came time to translate those inspirations to tape, Soccer Mommy turned to the talents of Daniel Lopatin, sometimes known by his alias Oneohtrix Point Never. On paper, it’s an unlikely pairing; Lopatin makes glitchy, vaporwave–adjacent electronic music and film scores for movies in which Julia Fox was “Josh Safdie’s muse.” But it ended up being a fortuitous meeting. Allison is up front about the fact that she’s “not the producer type,” so “Daniel helps me to gather my ideas … to realize the fantasy world of the songs.”
Sometimes, as with “Bones” or “Shotgun,” that sounds like carving out more shape and dimension in Soccer Mommy’s pre–existing indie rock. That said, some of the most jaw–dropping moments on Sometimes, Forever happen when she lets Lopatin push the limits of her sound. He rains down shooting stars on “With U,” and breaks “Unholy Affliction” apart until it’s practically a husk of a song.
It’s stayed constant in many ways, but Allison has also shifted her songwriting process as her band and sound have expanded. “As I have started making more and more professional sounding albums … there’s a new layer to the demoing phase,” she says, “[I'm] trying to figure out cool parts, structural stuff, with dynamic builds and things like that.” “newdemo” is a perfect encapsulaiton of that, layering MIDI choral vocals and electronic embellishment on top of another of her tales—this one about a “creature that feeds behind closed doors.”
Now, Soccer Mommy is on tour; their shows are “a mix of old songs and new songs, some singalong moments and some more stripped down stuff.” With such heavy subject matter, one wonders if it’s emotionally taxing to play them ad infinitum. But Sophie Allison doesn’t see it that way. “The album has so many elements of fantasy in it for me, and I think part of it came from writing these songs at a time in my life—” she cuts herself off, asserting, “They’re really fun for me now, and they were really fun for me when I was recording them.”
The music Allison makes as Soccer Mommy is proof of where following your muse can take you, and that it’s possible to find beauty and pleasure in the pain. All it takes is a little bit of magic.
Soccer Mommy is performing at Franklin Music Hall on Nov. 11, 2022. Doors open at 7 p.m.