Photos: Tim Boddy | Words: Kate Solomon
“In about two hours I’m going to be really nervous,” says Bridie Monds-Watson, otherwise known as SOAK. In about two hours she’s going to be on set recording a few songs for Later… With Jools Holland. It’s a far cry from her first London headline gig at St Pancras church or the years of support slots in her native Derry as she gigged her way into recognition, but for now she sounds pretty chill about the whole thing, giggling down the phone as she tries to find somewhere at the BBC with decent reception.
It’s less than a month until SOAK’s debut album comes out. Before We Forgot How To Dream is, fittingly, a dream of a record, the sort of authentically sad, nostalgic album only a teenager could make. It meanders through those messy adolescent years, woozily contemplating what it’s like to become who you are through impenetrable teen friendships and how changing from a child into an adult can make you feel sad and alone. With the album written across the course of her teens, SOAK started playing shows before most of us were out of short trousers, absorbing her parents’ musical influence with everything from ABBA to Joni Mitchell regularly spinning on the Monds-Watson record player.
It’s fun but intimidating to talk to Bridie on the phone. At nineteen, you get the impression that she knows exactly who she is while I am significantly older and still have no idea. I keep saying “That’s cool, that’s cool” like a spinster aunt who’s forgotten how to talk to young people and there’s a feeling that any minute now I might try to rap a couple of verses, throw a gang sign and melt into a puddle of shame. She’s very sure of herself now, but when SOAK started out Bridie was very shy – ironically, performing and writing was a sort of escape from that. “Because I was so shy, when it came to performing it felt a lot… I don’t know, it was just kind of easy,” she remembers. “I wouldn’t count myself as shy in any way now, but back then I’d never done anything in front of an audience or anything of that kind. It was quite an odd thing.”
Despite the burgeoning career and record execs sniffing around, Bridie’s teens were pretty normal. The fact that she came out to her parents at fourteen was no big deal. She describes her hometown Derry as having “not much going on,” which goes some way to explain the dinosaur tattoos she now calls “stupid, but I like them”, the home-made Avril Lavigne music videos she hopes will never end up on YouTube and her well- documented fondness for skateboarding. “I was a massive tomboy. All I’d hear was ‘you’re pretty good…for a girl’,” and the music industry wasn’t much better. “When I was starting out and I did some support slots, some sound guys wouldn’t take it seriously,” she says when I ask if she ran into any stick for being young and, you know, female. “They’d just like whack on anything and it’d sound shit. You’d fight with them about the monitors and they’d be like, ‘No, they sound good to me.’ And they didn’t, they just couldn’t be fucked to do anything else. That was annoying.”
People tended to change their tune when they heard SOAK play; and her steady success allowed her the freedom to side-step venues that had treated her poorly on the way up. Even now Bridie prefers playing smaller venues. “I think I’d rather sell out like two nights at a reasonably intimate venue than sell out one big night at a big, impersonal arena or something. It wouldn’t suit my kind of music – unless I wrote an album that was really arena-like.” Would she ever do that? Pull a Kate Nash and go in a completely unexpected direction? “I reckon if I put my mind to it I could, potentially. Maybe I’ll just become a heavy metal artist. Total 180. Like, bing! Here I am, Reading.”
She’s joking – I think – but she’s also not about to rest on her laurels. While Before We Forgot How To Dream is only just about to come out, she’s hard at work on a follow-up. “The next album won’t sound like the first album, I know that much,” she says. With more time to write on tour than she’d expected, there’s already a growing library of SOAK lyrics and poems on the go that she describes as “a little more grown-up –I guess because I am a bit more grown-up”.
“I haven’t changed my style of writing or anything but I’m writing a lot more interesting things. Obviously, on Before… there are a lot of moments and nice stories – but now the stuff I’m writing is a bit more… articulate? Is that the right word without sounding like a dickhead?” Although she won’t record any demos until she has some downtime back home, there are musical ideas percolating too. “I just don’t like the idea of repeating things, I’d rather come up with a different kind of sound,” she says – not, I note, ruling out hair metal as an option.
“I think that’ll just happen naturally the more I play and the better at the instruments I get.” A melting pot of musical influences will go into it, if what Bridie’s been listening to on tour is anything to go by – Taylor Swift, Sun Kil Moon, Japanese House and The Blue Nile are all on the playlist.
The stuff I’m writing is a bit more… articulate? Is that the right word without sounding like a dickhead?
Nineteen is a weird age whether you’re touring the world playing music or not. As we talk about what it’s like to do the PR circuit and the questions she’s always being asked, I try to imagine Bridie in twenty years. The album that no one has heard yet will have soundtracked countless strangers’ lives, and the memories they’ll embed in her songs will change them. Years of playing them live will have changed them too, “like a natural progression,” she says. Will she still remember what it was like to be the teenager who wrote so empathetically about her friends being bullied and her parents’ divorce? Will Bridie still be patiently explaining “the whole, like, ‘Where did SOAK come from?’ thing” that she’s already sick of being asked when she’s 29? 39? “It’s just got a really shitty meaning,” she sighs. “It’s not even a meaning, it’s just, like, a word. I hate explaining that. If I had a good story then fair enough, but I don’t.”
But for now, it’s all ahead of her. In two hours: Jools Holland. Then in June, the album comes out. Then touring and writing and catching up with friends over FaceTime. And, maybe one day, just to keep us guessing: a heavy metal album. She could do it if she wanted, she reckons. With confidence like that, SOAK could do anything.