NEW YORK — How songs come to Sophie Allison is pretty simple. They just sort of show up, raw and in need of attention.
“The way I write is I just sit down and — I could be watching TV, be having coffee or something — I’m just kind of mindlessly playing guitar until I stumble upon an idea I like,” the singer-songwriter says.
She stumbled on a lot during the pandemic judging from “Sometimes, Forever,” her band Soccer Mommy’s third album. It’s a wonderfully varied mix, from the industrial harshness of “Unholy Affliction” to the eerie “Following Eyes” to the airy “With U.”
As the title suggests, “Sometimes, Forever,” is a push-and-pull of light and dark, happiness and sadness, both jumping from song to song but also within songs.
“I really wanted this sense of contrast, obviously, because so many of the songs have contrasting themes and contrasting sounds and ideas,” she says from her home in Nashville.
She leaned into ’80s goth pop, like The Cure, The Smiths, The Jesus and Mary Chain and Siouxsie and the Banshees. “I wanted a lot of the album to have that ability to play with both darkness and fun.”
Soccer Mommy first hit the indie scene in 2018 with “Clean” before making its Billboard 200 debut with the follow-up, 2020′s “color theory,” which led to a slot at Glastonbury and a late-night TV debut on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Allison is considered one of Gen Z’s brightest voices, one who allows her fellow musicians to experiment.
“She almost has like a director’s mindset,” says Rodrigo Avendano, who is credited on the new album with playing synth, acoustic 12-string, electric bass, electric guitar and lyra.
“She gives people their space and autonomy. But she knows when something feels right and she knows when something needs work. She knows what she wants and she knows when she has no idea what she wants. So that’s a really inspiring type of songwriter to work with.”
In addition to Allison and Avendano, the band includes Julian Powell on guitar, and Daniel Lopatin on piano and synths. The album also features Rollum Haas on drums and Graeme Goetz on bass.
“Sometimes, Forever” was produced by avant-garde producer Lopatin, who helped shape The Weeknd’s “Dawn FM” and Charli XCX’s “Crash.” Allison, 25, said she quickly warmed to Lopatin.
“I do not like relinquishing control over to people. It scares me,” she admits. “I’m a big picture person, so I need someone who can come in and know the big picture, but then take charge in getting us there because otherwise I’ll get lost and distracted.”
Lopatin was encouraged to “get weird” and gave Soccer Mommy a layered, dark-synth gloom. “It was just instantly sounding great. And I was like, ‘OK, I can relax,” she says.
Her lyrics often explore depression and isolation but also the complexities of love and fame. On the new album she sings: “I don’t want the money/That fake kind of happy/ I’d sink in the river/Before I let it have me.”
This time she also wanted to write a song about her truck, inspired by the country music she loves. “I wanted to get that kind of feeling of lightness and relief that I get when I’m personally driving around in my truck with the windows down on a nice day,” she says.
But this being Allison, the end result is much more than a twangy love letter to a hulk of metal. With the rest of her Soccer Mommy bandmates, Allison uses the truck as a metaphor.
“Maybe the days are just running out/Like the gasoline gauge as I’m driving south,” she sings in “Feel It All the Time,” comparing her battered vehicle to herself, “worn down from everything.”
Allison mixes the personal and the professional every day. She lives with Powell, Soccer Mommy’s chief guitarist. Two of the songs on the new album — “With U” and “Shotgun” — are specifically dedicated to Powell. But Allison being Allison, they’re complex songs, exploring dependence and need.
“I don’t think it would ever be fair to create a portrait of love and it’s just like, ‘Oh, everything’s so great!’ Unless I’m just trying to write a stupid pop song,” she says.
“I’ve been in a relationship for six years. You don’t go six years without having personal life highs and lows in your life. Nobody does. So I don’t think it’s a realistic portrait to paint.”
That relationship also sparked one of the album’s cutest lines. In “Shotgun,” her song of devotion, Allison sings: “Cold beer and ice cream is all we keep/The only things we really need.”
“We both get to do what we want to do for a living and get to play music all the time and travel together or go places,” she says. “I think it matches with a lot of different parts of our personalities very well.”
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits