There’s a kind of a cliché about the kids who go to college in New York City — that while their pals in Ann Arbor and South Bend are content to fumble through four years of sloppily drunken coming-of-age-stuff, these eager young achievers have put themselves on an accelerated track. Their partying has a bit more purpose, perhaps, a bit more edge. Their soft skulls have already began to calculate their particular hustles.
When classes start at NYU this month, Sophie Allison — rising junior and music business major — will not be there. She’ll be on tour with her band, playing the deft, heartache-y guitar jams she writes as Soccer Mommy. But Allison didn’t intend to fulfill that cliché of an overambitious arriviste hustler. It just sort of happened.
“I was definitely thinking I’d go to college and make music on the side,” Allison says on the phone from her family’s house in Tennessee, where she’s taking it easy before playing dates across the Southwest. “I wasn’t even sure if I would still make music. But, yeah … It just kind of changed when it got a little bit of traction.”
She grew up seeing her friends’ bands play shows at Nashville punk houses and playing guitar and idly daydreaming about releasing her own songs. In the summer before she went off to college, she screwed up the nerve and started posting tracks on Bandcamp as Soccer Mommy. The stage name was originally a Twitter thing, one of a bunch of punny, referential display names she’d cycle through. The previous longest-running moniker was ProstaCutie.
Blessed with dorm roommates who were “pretty chill,” Allison would play her guitar “as much as possible,” constantly searching for bits that might work. “Trying to create parts,” she says of her songwriting process. “Maybe a melody out that, or a riff over here, or try to build out of that chord structure.” By December of 2015 — the end of the first semester of her freshman year — she’d put out the EPs Songs From My Bedroom and Songs From My Bedroom Pt. 2, and gotten the attention of the tiny, highly tasteful record label Orchid Tapes, with which she’d then go on to release the well-received For Young Hearts.
“It definitely surprised me,” Allison says. “I didn’t think the songs were, like, terrible, but the recordings weren’t very good. And you can post great music online and you’re never gonna get found. I never thought it would get to this point until it was at this point. I never thought I would get signed to a label. And then I was just like” — and here she very quickly breaks out of her regular, unbothered speaking voice into the slightest of yelps — “what?!”
A brief interruption: “Mom! I can’t talk. I’m on the phone.” Back to the interview: “My mom’s being frantic downstairs.” Everything okay? “Yeah. She’s just lost something. We’re very space cadet-y.”
Of NYU, Allison says, “I think it’s definitely very similar to the [pop culture] depictions. A lot of partying. A lot of going out. A lot of,” she pauses, “brunches, for sure.”
And the competition? Cutthroat?!
“There were a lot of ambitious kids,” she says. “And a lot of of good musicians, obviously. But I wasn’t in the music program and, I don’t know, it wasn’t intimidating to me as a writer. They just seemed like they were focused on building a career. I wasn’t drawn to it. I was just happy with having friends that I liked and going to shows that I wanted to see.”
And when someone would try to rope her into working on music together, she’d politely rebuff. “It’s not that I can’t collaborate,” she explains. “It’s just that I don’t know how to say no to people. If someone’s like, let’s write a song together, it’s like, ‘You’ll write the song and I’m gonna okay everything.’ It’s very hard to think that their ideas work with what I’m trying to do.”
Listening the Soccer Mommy discography so far, you can understand why she’d prefer working alone. The music is delightfully intimate. Her looping guitar drives things forward, but at her own pace. The songs are spare, candid, enchantingly direct. On the For Young Hearts closer, “Switzerland,” she holds our attention, at first with just her voice and her guitar. And then — bang, bang, bang — we get a slow, steady blast of faraway drum. There is a quiet sureness here that is a tantalizing look at the places Allison might take her music. Playing an early evening opening set recently at Bowery Ballroom, she limited her stage banter to intros and explanations: “This song is called “Benadryl Dreams”; “Now the band’s going away and I’m gonna play a song alone.”
Allison’s now taking a “gap year,” she says. Honestly, though, she’s not really sure if she’ll definitely go back to NYU. There’s more touring to do, and more recording, too. According to Twitter, she’s currently in the studio, “working on some emo pop bangers.”
So what was it like when you told your fellow driven NYU friends you were the one dropping out of school to go pursue your professional dreams?
“I don’t think I had a lot of jealousy,” she says. “Maybe a little social-climber kind of activity, like people who wouldn’t talk to me before would talk to me after they found out. But mostly people were supportive. Or kind of surprised. I don’t think a lot of people knew I was doing music on the side.”