SOAK’s third album is their most honest to date, processing emotions and truths.
“Where have I been all my life? Watching myself from the sidelines. Won’t you wake me up sometime?” This existential retort leads the listener to the end of If I Never Know You Like This Again, the third record from revered Derry-born songwriter and musician, SOAK. A skeletal arrangement pulses with sombre drum samples and mournful guitar riff, the melody momentarily erupts before retreating to a more introspective soundscape as Bridie Monds-Watson repeats the refrain in their distinct cadence. This impactful closer crystallises Monds-Watson’s in-depth examination of their ever-evolving relationship with identity and self-esteem coupled with universal experiences of being in your mid-twenties. It’s a trite sentiment commonly pinned to art depicting a certain (and crucially formative) period in one’s life, but it’s undeniable that If I Never Know You Like This Again stands definitively as SOAK’s coming of age record.
“I think I finally found my stride with songwriting,” Bridie notes on where they were at, with regards to their artistry, leading-up to the making of this record. “For years I was trying to figure out what kind of format I wanted for my songs and how they should sound. [If I Never Know] is honestly the first album I’ve made where I actually know what I sound like as a musician and songwriter. I think everything up to this point was a lot of trial and error and working things out. I feel confident with what I want to say and how I want to say it. There’s less of a weight on my shoulders when I’m writing now. I’m not self-critical to the point where I’m paralysed by the worry of making something shit and not make anything. I write all the time, which is really nice, but it took a while to get to where I’m at in terms of building confidence.”
That process of cultivating self-belief and unlocking inherent idiosyncrasies that many people hide away to fit in throughout teenage years build a strong foundation for If I Never Know’s narrative. Similarly, some of the record’s musical influences are indicative of this period of discovery. In this instance, Bridie was listening to lots of ‘90s alternative music, notably Pavement (Terror Twilight is their go-to) and Bends-era Radiohead ahead of recording. Yet, the overall timbre of these songs confidently announces SOAK’s arrival to the sonic realm occupied by Soccer Mommy, Phoebe Bridgers, Snail Mail and Lucy Dacus. There’s youthful exuberance in its emboldened textures, but the lyrical content reminds us of what a dark and inhibiting time this can be in a person’s life.
It seems apt, then, that when I speak with Bridie, on a gloriously sunny afternoon, they’re sitting in their tour bus in Leeds, having joined Lucy Dacus on the U.K. leg of their tour the night before. Aside from an intimate tour of independent venues which they embarked on with Tommy McLaughlin (with whom Bridie has collaborated with since their 2015 debut Before We Forgot How To Dream) at the start of this year, this support slot with Dacus is one of the first opportunities Bridie has had to share new material with audiences ahead of the album’s release. “It’s scary being the opening act, especially when you’re standing on stage by yourself. But the show last night was amazing,” they smile. “It’s fun gauging reactions to certain songs because when you live with them for so long you reach a point where you think, ‘Is this good?’ So, it’s super nice to see people connecting to the music in real-time.”
It’s no surprise audiences are already connecting to Bridie’s latest offering. Since the beginning of their career, there’s always been an extremely magnetic quality to their music and personality. This is evident across our conversation, throughout which they’re extremely warm, engaging and fun. In the press, on social media and across their lyricism – especially on the latest LP – Bridie has been more than generous letting fans into their life. Read an interview from the last few years and you’ll discover their long-standing adoration for Where The Wild Things Are, which inspired them to ask friends and family to call them Max (after the protagonist) because, as a child, they hated the name Bridie.
Listen to lyrics on purgatory, bleach or pretzel and you’ll hear, bluntly, of their physical and emotional insecurities: “Nothing scares me like my irrelevance,” or “She dances naked on the bed to teach me self-confidence,” and “What if you fall in love with a posh boy on gap year? I’ll never compete with anatomy. I’ll never be the real deal.”
In many ways, If I Never Know is undeniably Bridie’s most immediately accomplished and affecting body of work under the SOAK moniker. Bridie began releasing music aged 13, their Choice Prize winning debut came out when they were 19. Essentially, Bridie has grown-up with her fans and in front of our eyes. I wonder how it feels reacquainting themselves with the version who wrote the visceral lyrics of the latest record; exposing their vulnerabilities first-hand to live audiences and for fans to forensically dissect each verse and chorus. Whether it’s a passing reference to The Blue Nile’s Downtown Lights or deft self-analysis such as, “Did I ever find out if my name was correct / Or did I just get used to it?” from purgatory. In the process of getting to know them-self on these ten tracks, the audience is welcome on the journey.
“This record still feels very true now. I very much feel like the person I was when I wrote it,” says Monds-Watson. “I think that’s why, lyrically, it’s my favourite album. It’s the most honest I’ve ever been in my music. On this album, I wrote mainly for myself and really wasn’t trying to prove anything. I’ve been guilty of doing that before; trying to seem more impressive through complex lyrics or language. But with these songs, I was just like, ‘I gotta get all these things out and process them’. Putting those feelings and thoughts into songs was my way of doing that,” they explain. “I still feel so like the same person I was when I wrote the record. I feel like so many of the questions I had then and was trying to solve, I still don’t have a clue! I think the lyrics on this album opened the rabbit holes that I’m still trying to follow and figure out. I guess because of that, playing them live is so much more intimate because I’m still conveying the same thoughts and feelings.”
In being so frank with their music and on social media, I wonder how Bridie feels being a role model. “The tour [Tommy and I] did at the start of the year was one of the most significant experiences across my whole career. We were meeting people after the shows, talking to everyone. That was the most I’ve felt like my music had really resonated with people. It was incredible to have people say how having me as representation helped them with their own gender identity or queerness. I was meeting so many people from small towns, like myself, who were like, ‘Seeing people like you do this publicly makes it feel ok for me to do what I’m doing publicly as well’. To meet people and hear what songs meant to them was super emotional and validating.”
Finally, I wanted to know how Bridie hoped people would remember them in years to come. “Ultimately, to be considered as genuine,” they posit after a moment. “That’s the best quality anyone can have. I imagine people would also call me a chancer! My whole career exists because I’m a chancer and have always just hoped for the best and will things to happen.”
If I Never Know You Like This Again is out on Friday May 20, via Rough Trade Records.
Words: Zara Hedderman
Photo: Sam Hiscox