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We all vaguely remember teenagehood: all of that drama, all of those first experiences, all of those emotions. That vagueness is for the best most of the time, because it allows us to reflect on our sunrise years fondly, with all those times when we felt truly terrible about ourselves and our lives (again, emotions) compartmentalised into some little black box in our head we rarely visit.
Irish artist SOAK, real name Bridie Monds-Watson, doesn't have such luxuries, because while we were crying alone in our TV Hits poster-covered bedrooms watching Pretty in Pink, listening to the Spice Girls (just me?), Monds-Watson was folding everything she felt too vulnerable to discuss IRL into delicate little pieces of acoustic guitar-driven poetry.
If she thought these pieces would remain close, she was wrong, because they've travelled online, into the hearts of her diverse, devout fan base, and been picked up by cult independent label Rough Trade, who will release her debut album, We Forgot How To dream, this June. Monds-Watson is touring Australia this month to celebrate the release of her album, and here she discusses, among other things, her music background and why she can only write sad songs.
SOAK (UK) Australian Tour, with Jesse DavidsonSydney
Friday 17th April, Shadow Electric
Hi Bridie, how are you? You've just finished up at SXSW right? How was it? Intense I imagine.
Um, yeah it's been kind of a crazy time. We had a great time at South by Southwest, and all of my shows were really great – nothing happened where I was like "this was a disaster", which is awesome.
I want to start at the very beginning of your career. When did you first get into music? What first interested you about it?
I started playing guitar when I was about 12, and I started writing songs at around the same age. My parents surrounded us with music as we grew up. I asked for drums when I was like 10 and I never got drums, but my brother got guitars. He learned Smoke on the Water, which is a three chord song, and I asked him to teach me that. I was surprised that I could actually play it and I got really cocky about it and asked my dad to teach my more guitar, and then I realised that I really liked playing.
Are your parents musicians?
My dad plays guitar, he's played guitar for a really long time – he's a really good guitarist. My mum thinks she can play drums, but she can't haha.
What kind of music did you have around the house growing up?
We just had everything, like Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell, ABBA. Sometimes we'd put on the Swan Lake ballet and we'd dance to it and we'd kind of go crazy.
Was there anything that you were particularly into, like: "yus, this is what I want to sound like."
I always wanted to be a member of Pink Floyd. I don't try to sound like any bands that I've listened to but I definitely take a lot of inspiration for them, and try to be as good as them.
The lyrics of your songs are the things that make them really special. Who or what influenced your lyrical writing style?
I wasn't good at discussing anything except for the most basic things to my parents, or to anybody really. Writing songs was a way of organising my own thoughts. Sharing them by sharing a song or singing a song to someone was a way of getting things out without directly talking about them and having to go through that awkwardness.
By writing songs I could hide certain things within words that would make them sound more indirect, but if you were to listen to the lines you could figure it out.
In a few interviews I've read you don't want your music to define you as a sad person, because you're generally a happy person. Do you use your music to compartmentalise your emotions?
Yeah I feel like it's really important, to say, "hi, I'm a happy person, even though some of my music is sad". Writing sad songs is a lot easier than writing happy songs.
Do you think?
Yeah I think so, for me definitely. I can only write songs when I'm in a certain mood and when I have to talk about something or it'll drive me mad.
You must have grown a lot as a musician and a person in the relatively short time you've been writing music. Do you still see yourself in the older songs you've written?
A lot of the songs on the album are songs that were written ages 13 through 16, which was a different time in my life. I've obviously grown up quite a bit in the interim and experienced more as a person. I've also gotten better at songwriting and learned so much.
Do you think the songs from when you were a teenager are teen angst-specific, or do you think they deal with more universal themes?
I get a surprising amount of people that are a lot of different ages listening to my music, and people who come to my shows are often tonnes older than me.
I think some of my music can be quite teenage angst-y, but a lot of it is just emotional music that's written by a teenager.
Tell me more about the album. How did you bring all these songs together?
All of the songs on the album have been written since I was about 13, so it's a really large retrospective of my lives and the significant things that happened over those years that I felt strongly enough about that I had to write about them.
It doesn't follow a specific story line, the songs aren't track listed in any way, but overall the album is about growing up, and about how people lose hope and believe less when they grow up.
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