Published Feb 26, 2020Sophie Allison, better known to music fans lately as Soccer Mommy, is talking about fame as she drives from Philadelphia to New York City in the midst of a hectic press day. This is only one in a series of back-to-back interviews today, all promoting color theory, her world-expanding new record. It's a darkly complicated and richly imagined album, one that'll only brighten her steadily rising star — likely leading to more interviews like this one.
"I hate being in the public eye a little bit, I guess," she says, laughing. It's not necessarily a surprising admission — in the span of five years, Allison's public life has mutated significantly, from releasing home-recorded demos on Bandcamp to touring with Kacey Musgraves, Paramore, Liz Phair and Mitski. She's also developed a fervent fan base, capable of the kind of devotion that's as occasionally unnerving as it is supportive.
"I love my fans — they've given me so much. And they're usually really amazing to me. But sometimes, it's like… that doesn't mean that I don't get to be a person anymore," she says. Allison's debut studio album, 2018's Clean, was an intelligent, hook-laden swansong for youth, tackling love and doubt and power with a disarming lucidity. She writes with a particular clarity about life's opaque corners, excavating what can be found and memorializing what can't. It's no surprise that so many found themselves in her work, that she inspires such loyalty among her fans.
It's also no surprise that she now walks the same tightrope as so many young artists who deal in intimate narratives — as Twitter and Instagram further blur the line between the personal and public, the limits of fandom are tested in the name of some imagined familiarity.
"You get great reactions, but you also get, sometimes… y'know, kind of insensitive things from fans," she says. "It doesn't even have to be hate. It can just be commenting on something that's like, 'That's not really your right to read into or anything, and it's my personal life, and it's really none of your business.' I think sometimes people just don't understand boundaries."
There's often a tendency among artists who reach a new echelon of exposure to build those boundaries themselves — to broaden their subject matter, to shift their stories from the specific to the abstract. color theory does neither — the record is intensely personal and unflinchingly direct, scaling the mountains of depression, solitude, terminal illness and death. "I'm not someone who writes with a lot of intention, I guess. So I don't sit down and say 'I want to be personal or I don't want to be personal,'" she says. "All I can do is write stuff about myself, 'cause that's the only thing I know."
Whether the writing itself comes from a place of intention, there's little doubt that Allison is a purposeful creator. color theory is a record made with heart and precision, so intricately layered and referential that each new listen reveals some previously hidden facet — a softly ticking drum machine, a burbling sample, a subtle haze of guitar.
"We had a lot more time to sit around and add all these little parts. It's not something you come into the studio knowing — all these little things you wanna put here and there. It's more something you hear in the music as it develops," she says. color theory feels like the product of a particular mind's particular pathways — its '90s alternative sound is both instantly recognizable and somewhat alien, woven together from a vast array of influences.
"There's stuff that's always kinda been an influence — Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot has a lot of the kind of ideas that I love about production," she says. The record's more precise influences, including a live rendition of Fishmans' epic 35-minute Long Season and an oft-overlooked Tori Amos record, reveal themselves more quietly.
"I remember for 'gray light,' I really specifically wanted to tap into this Tori Amos album, To Venus and Back," she says. That song – color theory's tender closer – is a testament to Allison's ability to absorb and reconfigure her influences, its metamorphosing percussion and electronic whirr a subtle nod to Amos rather than a direct imitation.
When asked if she thinks about her listeners while writing — if she considers what it is they might gather from the worlds that she builds, she pauses. "Honestly, I don't really care," she says. "Whenever I think about it that way, it just seems so… like a God complex. As if it's like charity that I love to do. I don't have some idea of wanting to save someone with this. I don't really know that I have that power."
Instead, she says, she does it simply because she doesn't know how not to. "I don't really think it's cathartic. I like to concretely express things that are on my mind," she says. "It doesn't make me feel better, or make me feel like I've moved past something usually. Maybe occasionally. I just do it. I've always done it. I couldn't say why I do it, or what drives me to do it."
What drives her muse may remain a mystery, but her intentions seem clear — to write honestly, no matter who's listening or how many magazines her face is printed in. It's likely that we can keep counting on Sophia Allison to write her songs, to try and sort through all the beauty and ugliness and unspeakable realities. "I hope it means something," she says. "[But when] I'm writing the songs, it's just for me."
color theory comes out February 28 on Loma Vista.