Sophie Allison is sitting in a coffee shop in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, wearing a leopard print tank that reveals a fine-lined heart tattoo on her left shoulder, sucking a cinnamon-flavored toothpick and sitting next to her guitar case.
The 20-year-old indie singer-songwriter, who performs under the name Soccer Mommy, is familiar with the city; she grew up in Nashville (and has since returned to her Belmont-Hillsboro neighborhood), but attended New York University as a music business major for nearly two years before dropping out to pursue music full time. And now, on a rainy Thursday in late February, she’s back with one week to go until the release of her debut LP Clean (which arrived March 2). Later that evening, she played to a sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg as the opening act for Phoebe Bridgers.
“I feel like a crazy person all the time and I feel like people are watching me and I feel paranoid,” Allison says of how she’s adjusting to her recent rise to mainstream success. “It’s the worst part. It’s just a constant lingering feeling that everyone is waiting for you to fuck up.” At the same time, she radiates an energy that says she doesn’t really care what people say or think about her. It took a trying freshman year in college, during which she spent a lot of time alone in her dorm room, for her to reach such a point.
“I was super homesick, depressed and having severe anxiety,” she continues. “I realized, ‘I don’t know who I am, and I’m always trying to be something for other people.’ So I spent a lot of time reflecting on that and thinking about what I wanted to do and how I was going to be happy. I was going through my first breakup, too, and my cat died. It was a lot of growing up in a year-and-a-half of my life — I came into myself.”
During that self-reflective period, Allison was writing all the time, “then poof, here’s an album.” And when she wasn’t in her room “practicing arpeggios and shit,” she was leaning about the business side of things in her classes. “I definitely learned stuff like advancing a show, what percentage I should be paid, what’s going be in a contract I’m going sign. The whole time I was thinking, ‘Oh, so this is how they’re going to try to fuck me over.’” Prior to Clean, Allison gained a strong and faithful following on Bandcamp, where she self-released five lo-fi EPs before signing to Fat Possum in 2016 after the independent label emailed her an offer out of the blue.
The middle of three kids, Allison showed interest in music at a young age, but admits she never thought it would become her career. When she was five years old, her parents bought her an acoustic guitar and she penned her first track: “What the Heck Is a Cowboy?” She hasn’t stopped writing inquisitive tracks since. On album opener “Still Clean,” Allison contemplates in hushed tones whether or not she’s getting played — “I guess I’m only what you wanted for a little while” — over downtempo guitar strums, and on the twangy “Last Girl” she questions her own intrigue: “Why would you still want to be with me?/She’s got everything you’ll ever need.” The DIY nature of her debut draws you in, but it’s her soft delivery of all-too relatable doubts that makes you lean in even closer.
Separate from what she produces, Allison is similarly skeptical of what she consumes. She tuned into the Grammys this year (though usually doesn’t watch) and came to the quick conclusion that “[awards shows are] dead.” She continues to say, “It could be my personal taste, [but] it’s not that hard to know what people genuinely like. Get on Twitter. Know that people are going to watch for Rihanna, Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar. JAY-Z could’ve performed. That would’ve been sick. Obviously Lorde should’ve. What was that about? There are so many people that I’m like, ‘This is what people actually like and want to see,’ and you’re just going to not have them perform?”
Allison’s personal taste traces back to Avril Lavigne (“She’s a perfect blend of Elliott Smith meets Evanescence, with some ’90s dark grunge; that’s the kind of stuff I like that I can do”), Kelly Clarkson, Hilary Duff and Ciara. “It hasn’t been a conscious thing, like, ‘I don’t want to listen to a bunch of dudes,’ but I genuinely like music by women better,” she says of her listening preferences. “There are tons of male musicians I like; that’s not the point. But sometimes I’ll be sitting in a room with dudes talking about Guns N’ Roses or whatever rock gods they’re thinking of, and I find that shit boring. The ruled-by-men genres are lame as fuck.”
That being said, she confesses with a shrug that, “I don’t really idolize artists.” And as she sits back into the wooden booth, holding the toothpick she’s been gnawing on between her thumb and pointer finger, she quietly declares: “I just want to do my own thing.”