Sofi Tukker On Their Busy 2018, Heart-to-Hearts With Uber Drivers & the Unreleased Music They're Sitting On
The duo tells Billboard about their personal highlights from the year
As 2018 winds down, Billboard is asking some of the artists who helped define the year in music to look back on their accomplishments, favorite memories and pop-culture obsessions from the past 12 months. Check out other interviews with St. Vincent, Anne-Marie, Kali Uchis, Dan + Shay, Swae Lee, Lauv, Old Dominion and Mitski.
For eclectic dance music duo Sofi Tukker, 2018 came with -- as member Tucker Halpern says -- "a lot of firsts." The list includes releasing their first album, Treehouse, a buzzing jungle of club grooves which has since been nominated for a Grammy; launching their own record label and artist collective, Animal Talk; and even making their U.S. television debut on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Did we mention they just wrapped the second American leg of their world tour?
Though their sometimes over-packed schedule taught Halpern a thing or two about balance ("We learned that we’re not superhuman," he jokes), he and bandmate Sophie Hawley-Weld are already mapping out an even busier 2019, which will include tour dates in Mexico and Eastern Europe and, they promise, new music. Below, the two collaborators and friends recap their year, from Uber driver heart-to-hearts to unreleased remixes and why connecting with fans made 2018 their best year yet. It may be Sophie and Tucker's treehouse, but everyone's invited.
What are you most proud of accomplishing in 2018?
Sophie Hawley-Weld: The first thing that comes to mind is the music we’ve created that we haven’t actually shared yet!
Tucker Halpern: She’s teasing you, because you haven’t heard any of it. But probably the most important thing we did for this whole year was how much we toured and how many people we were standing in front of and feeling emotionally connected with. That was probably the most exciting part. We released our first album this year -- a lot of firsts.
Sophie: I think that’s ultimately what gave us all the energy to write all the new music, too. We were just so filled with so much love and connection and were kind of just...vibrating. We were both experiencing so much catharsis and were able to also channel that and create things for the future.
Tucker: One other thing that stands out to me that was special to this year is that we really zoomed in on the most important thing to us as community. We’ve gone way out of our way to bring people that inspire us and that we love and get so excited to wake up next to every day on tour.
Sophie: [Laughs] I just pictured this big bed with everyone waking up.
Tucker: I was thinking the bus, but okay! We started this artist collective called Animal Talk, and we started having parties with that same name, and they’ve been so totally nuts -- all crazy blowout, sold-out things that have inspired us and created this whole excitement around this growing community that's so positive and joyous. Especially [with] what’s going on in the world, and even what’s going on creatively in the world, I’m extra proud of that community that we’ve gone out of our way to start building.
How do you juggle all these different projects?
Tucker: I’ll be in the back of the bus, and we’ll be like, “Oh my God, this is the best idea ever! I love this, I love this!” And then we’ll just start sending emails and making it happen. And the next week, we’re actually doing it, and the next month, it’s actually an LLC. We get so excited that we can’t not do it.
Sophie: A friend of ours -- the tattoo artist that did Tucker’s tattoos on his hands -- came with us on the tour bus for a week in Europe. And she kept saying she was expecting to come on the tour bus and have everyone be really fucked up and lazy all day. And we’re totally the reverse. We’re getting offstage, heading right to work, waking up, getting right to work, because we love what we do. We’re on this mission to experience and spread and share joy and community, so it’s hard not to work on it. It’s super contagious.
What was your most memorable fan interaction of 2018?
Tucker: There was a young girl at the Detroit show who was there with her mother. I saw her after the show at the merch table, and her mother explained to me that [her daughter had] been dealing with debilitating anxiety. I told her she can stand with us the whole time at the merch table. I had dealt with anxiety before. She had this drawing that she made for us, and it really meant a lot to me that she and her mother told us that she was having a lot of trouble in school and getting bullied. Our music was the only thing that made her happy. The picture she drew is actually still my home screen on my phone, and people ask me about it every day.
Sophie: That was really special. It blew us away how connected people seem to feel to our music and to what we’re putting out. This one show in Norfolk, Virginia, there were two really young girls in the front row. I remember feeling this really special moment of almost looking at my younger self and that informing how I wanted to be. Like, how do I want to be to my younger self? What would I want to portray? They came and danced onstage with us, and then we got to hang out with them after. It’s a really fortunate position to be in, and we take the responsibility seriously.
You toured around the world in 2018. What were your favorite cities to visit?
Sophie: One of the really memorable ones was Moscow. I don’t think I had any sense of what Russia would be like. We’d never been to Russia before. When we got there, there were people at the airport with our faces on pieces of chocolate, and we were like, "What’s going on here?" The show was packed with thousands of people, and we were so shocked. I mean, pleasantly. It was the most surprising, amazing experience to go somewhere for the first time and have such a connection.
Tucker: All of Eastern Europe felt that way. I’ll have to shout-out Tallinn, Estonia, because that was the most shockingly amazing, beautiful show. Good vibes, great food. And then definitely when we went to Brazil. It’s always the best time ever. Every year, I’m going to say Brazil, for the rest of my life.
If you could go back in time to 11 months ago, what advice would you give yourself about 2018?
Tucker: Maybe say “no” to a couple things.
Sophie: Totally. [Laughs]
Tucker: This was our year where we learned that we’re not superhuman, and when a month- or two month-long tour ends, you can’t start the next tour the next day. We need at least five days to sleep and rest or else we’re going to lose our minds.
What’s one thing, big or small, that you regret in 2018 -- and no saying "no regrets"!
Tucker: We made a Troye Sivan remix that was one of the best pieces of music I’ve ever worked on in my life. It never got put out, and I regret it. It’s not my fault that it didn't get put out, so it’s not really a regret, but...
What song was it?
Sophie: It was “Bloom.” It’s really good.
Tucker: Oh, it was sooo good. I still listen to it on my iTunes, and I just get pissed every time.
Sophie: I think I would also just say there were some moments when I was so overtired and overwhelmed by our schedule more than anything that I made a fuss. I got really upset. There’s never a point in doing that, because everything passes. So I think I would just make less of a fuss when things were hard.
What’s the song you couldn't get out of your head this year?
Sophie: Oh my god, that Marshmello song that was with the Egyptian singer [Amr Diab]. “Bayen Habeit (In Love).”
Tucker: I’m gonna say “Blacklight” by The Ting Tings. I loved it.
What’s the best concert or performance that you saw this year?
Tucker: I know what Sophie would say and don’t know if she would remember it.
Sophie: Tell me!
Tucker: Let me answer for you, and you’ll answer for me. I’m going to say Aurora. The way she dances and sings was mind-blowing.
Sophie: It was so good! I’m going to answer for Tucker by saying Armin Van Buuren. It was Lollapalooza Berlin, and it was really crazy, because we were in the Olympic stadium from like 1940 or something. Just think of the most fireworks and the most fire and the most stuff you’ve ever seen.
What’s a trend or change you'd like to see happen in music in 2019?
Sophie: I think there's totally a space for sad music, so that you can listen to it and feel not alone and connected to people. But I really would love to see happier, more positive music. I just think there are a lot of really depressing things that are happening, and understandably people would be writing depressing music, but I want to hear more hopeful, positive things.
Who's an artist that you'd most like to invite to a holiday dinner with your family?
Tucker: That's funny. Nora En Pure. We just became friends with her the past couple of months at a couple festivals, and then I just hung out with her in L.A. She's the coolest person ever.
Sophie: I think Benny Benassi would be really fun at my Christmas dinner. He's just such a fun, happy guy.
Tucker: Actually, I just thought of another one that would be the opposite of those two: Ninja from Die Antwoord. I would want to see everyone's face the whole time. At Thanksgivings, I'm like, kind of the nutty one. I couldn't really go anywhere that I wouldn't stand out. But if Ninja had been there, I would have looked like a boring normal person!
What was your most memorable Uber ride of 2018?
Sophie: I was in L.A., and I got in the car, and it was just one of those rides where we were talking the whole time. [The driver] was an aspiring actor, and we talked a lot about failure and insecurity. We had a really good conversation. I told him that I make music, but it wasn't really discussed that much. When we got to the destination, he was like, "Oh, what's your band name?" I said Sofi Tukker, and he just completely froze. He was like, "Your music means so much to me." And we had already had this connection, so to have that happen was really special.
What else can you say about your upcoming projects?
Tucker: We are going to be putting out a song called "Fantasy" that we've been performing for a bit. And we're going to be making a music video in the next month. And then there's a lot coming after it. I don't know how much we can say. I know we've already put on sale a Eastern European tour, a Mexican run. So it's going to be really fun.