Interview: Soccer Mommy On 'Color Theory,' Writing About Her Mom, Floppy Disks Ahead of the release of her new album Color Theory, Soccer Mommy's Sophie Allison spoke with NPR's Audie Cornish about her songwriting process, her '90s inspirations and her career ambitions.
NPR logo

Soccer Mommy On 'Color Theory': 'I Want To Keep Growing Until I Hit The Ceiling'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/808956494/812645065" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Soccer Mommy On 'Color Theory': 'I Want To Keep Growing Until I Hit The Ceiling'

Soccer Mommy On 'Color Theory': 'I Want To Keep Growing Until I Hit The Ceiling'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/808956494/812645065" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Twenty might seem young to put out a critically acclaimed, year-end-best-of-list-making record. But Sophie Allison got started early, like 5 years old early.

SOPHIE ALLISON: Oh, I'm sure there's video. I mean, my mom still - like, I can't even remember the lyrics for the first song I wrote besides, like, the hook. And she can tell me, like, every word I wrote to it.

CORNISH: Oh, that's very sweet (laughter).

ALLISON: It's sweet and annoying...

CORNISH: (Laughter).

ALLISON: ...When I don't want to hear terrible lyrics that I came up with when I was 5.

CORNISH: What was your genre then?

ALLISON: I guess it was country leaning.

CORNISH: Oh, wow.

ALLISON: It was - the song was called, "What The Heck Is A Cowgirl?"

CORNISH: Her music has evolved a bit since then.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLOODSTREAM")

ALLISON: (Singing) Hydrangeas blooming off the branches of park trees.

CORNISH: Now Sophie Allison records as a Soccer Mommy. The Nashville-based singer went from a child-sized acoustic guitar to bedroom-recorded self-releases to indie stardom with her last record. It was called "Clean." Her new release is called "Color Theory." Lyrically, it has the same introspective, vulnerable feel that first won her fans. But with a little more experience under her belt, Sophie Allison had the production chops to layer and sharpen her sound.

ALLISON: This time around it was great because I came in having all these ideas that I could convert into a specific, like, musical parts. Like, being like, I want to add a drum machine here that has this type of beat going on.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GRAY LIGHT")

ALLISON: (Singing) Looking at you. Watching the shriveled flower you bloomed.

I feel like one where I shifted the idea based on what was going on in my head was probably, like, "Gray Light." The demo was two acoustic guitars. But I think when we went into the studio, I got this idea for that opening drum machine, just having it be really drawn back and almost cold and, like, is swelling. And I think we nailed it. But yeah, it sounds completely different.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GRAY LIGHT")

ALLISON: (Singing) I can't lose it. I'm watching my mother drown.

CORNISH: Now if you don't mind, I have to ask about the lyrics because I think some has been written about the fact that your mom has been dealing with cancer for a very long time. And in this song, you're - I mean, you're - this line of I'm watching my mother drown, can you talk about how you decided you wanted to talk about this in your music and how much you wanted to say in your music?

ALLISON: You know, it's funny. I didn't ever decide I want to talk about this. I think when I write, I get these guitar chords, and then I just start kind of singing random things that come to my head and start building beyond that and end up finding myself having written about something that I don't even know I wanted to write about. So I think that's why it came up, which is that, like, it was really hard being away from home so much. And...

CORNISH: This is while you're touring?

ALLISON: Yeah, this was while I was touring. And, you know, it was just - it started to give me, like, almost, like, separation anxiety.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GRAY LIGHT")

ALLISON: (Singing) Am I just like you? Am I going to be there way too soon?

CORNISH: This song, though, is direct in talking about the idea of having your own fear of death.

ALLISON: Yes. I think - I mean, that's something...

CORNISH: And you're really young for that.

ALLISON: Yeah, I guess I am. I feel old. But it really is just taking a look at yourself, seeing this reflection of, like, you know, your mother, like, something that could be you in the future and wondering if that will be you and wondering if you'll even get that far in your life.

CORNISH: How has your family reacted to your music? Because as a parent and knowing other parents who have gone through this kind of thing, you kind of want to shield your child from it. So, you know, to maybe hear music in which it's like, nope, they've sort of fully absorbed what's going on and have a lot of fears about the future, I'm wondering what that is like.

ALLISON: I really honestly haven't talked to my family that much about the songs that are out. My mom has the album. But whenever she tries to talk to me about it, I tell her to stop (laughter) because...

CORNISH: You do? Really?

ALLISON: Yeah, I - you know, I'm kind of like, this is the deal. You can have it, but you can't talk to me about it.

CORNISH: What are you afraid of?

ALLISON: I mean, I talk with my mom all the time, and she knows most of the stuff firsthand. But I have a hard time revealing this much of myself on a record. And I can give it away, and I can say everyone can hear it, but I don't like the feeling of saying, you can hear it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOCCER MOMMY SONG, "CIRCLE THE DRAIN")

ALLISON: I'm often kind of, in my music, torn between a lot of genres and sounds. Like, sometimes, it can be a little bit more confessional and, like, slow. And then other times, it like kicks in a lot more and can be a little bit more rocky or poppy. "Circle The Drain" has a lot of, like, sounds...

CORNISH: Oh, let's do it. That's a fun one.

ALLISON: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CIRCLE THE DRAIN")

ALLISON: (Singing) I want to be calm like the soft summer rain on your back, like the fall of your shoulders.

This song is really about, like, kind of having, like, depressive episodes and how sometimes, even when none of that stuff is happening, I feel awful, just as a lot of people do.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CIRCLE THE DRAIN")

ALLISON: (Singing) Hey, I've been falling apart these days, split open, watching my heart go round and round, round and around.

CORNISH: You know, one thing about a song like this is it has a sunniness to it, a kind of Sheryl Crow-ish sunniness to what you're describing is dark. Is that on purpose?

ALLISON: Yeah, definitely. I mean, I think I wanted it to feel like this really sunny, like, beachy jam from, like, the early 2000s while also being, like, hiding, feeling just, like, bogged down, I guess, because, I mean, that's kind of what happens with people at a time. Like, the outside can be going through life, and then the inside is struggling.

(SOUNDBITE OF SOCCER MOMMY SONG, "LUCY")

CORNISH: You know, one of the things I noticed when I was reading some of your background is that you want a mainstream hit. Like...

ALLISON: I would totally have one.

CORNISH: ...You're not in the business of trying to be like, indie story for life. Like, do you - is that going against the grain, or what are your ambitions?

ALLISON: I mean, I think people don't - really don't realize how hard it is to write a song that can just get caught in your head on a loop because I think that that's the strongest way to deliver a deeper message sometimes, is have something that just kind of grabs you in with all that and then have people say, oh, wow. This is, like, screaming for help.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LUCY")

ALLISON: (Singing) I look in the mirror. And the darkness looks back at me.

I will never compromise the sound of anything I do or my integrity, but I want to keep growing until I hit the ceiling.

CORNISH: Sophie Allison performs as Soccer Mommy. Her new album is called "Color Theory."

Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

ALLISON: Yeah, thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LUCY")

ALLISON: (Singing) Oh, Lucy, please quit taunting me. Oh, Lucy, please...

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.