Two weeks after the release of her debut album, I caught up with Bridie Monds-Watson, the hugely talented singer-songwriter and Derry native more commonly known as SOAK, on the afternoon of her final stop on her Irish tour in the Triskel Arts Centre in Cork. While her support band Rousseau spent the night before in a tent on some cliff somewhere outside Galway, the release of the new season of Orange Is The New Black warranted Bridie to be more sensible as she opted for her pyjamas over a sleeping bag. As a result, she was well rested and in good spirits as she sat down with me to discuss a record that is the culmination of four years of songwriting and growing up, both musically and personally.
Now that the album has been out for a few weeks, and you’ve played a good few gigs since, whats it like to be able to play all of that material that you’ve been waiting to play for months?
Soak: I think specifically now that the band is with us we can play a lot more of the album, because a lot of it doesn’t transfer live solo. There’s a lot of different melodies that I cant play on one guitar at once. Its refreshing to play something very new to an audience, and also to have a completely separate sound to what it’s like solo.
You wrote Sea Creatures when you were 14. A lot of kids would just be beginning to consume music for themselves and develop their own individual tastes at this age. How did you get in to songwriting at such a young age?
Soak: I just saw it as a way of talking about things. Instead of going and talking to my friends and being like, ‘so what do you think about this?’, my way of figuring out things for myself was to sing and play and write everything down. When it was on paper in front of me I could get my head around it better and understand what I was trying to say.
So would you go into a room and sit down with a guitar and a notebook with the intention of writing a song, or would it have to come to you via an experience?
Soak: I’d have to be feeling a certain way. I’d have to have the need to talk about something or figure something out. I could just sit down and start writing a song but it wouldn’t have as much depth as it would if I wasn’t trying to write about something.
You’ve got Tommy McLaughlin and James Byrne here from Villagers forming your band and Tommy produced the album. How did that collaboration come about?
Soak: We’ve been working together for years. Tommy’s studio isn’t that far away from my house, so I recorded it with him and James played on it aswell. It was a lot of fun and I’ve gotten to know them quite well. When I was like 15 I did a show with them. I’ve probably done about 5 shows with them at different events. I guess thats how the connection came about.
You’ve played a couple of big festivals in the last couple of weeks like The Great Escape and BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend. Does the approach change much for a small, intimate venue like the one tonight? Does the set change?
Soak: No the set doesn’t change. I think we’re lucky in that the songs come across in a seated environment or a standing environment. Theres a different reaction from the crowd sometimes. In Belfast, on this tour, the crowd were all standing and singing along to the songs and there was a real boisterous, and loud energy there. The Pepper Canister in Dublin on the other hand was really relaxed and calm and everybody was seated and in that kind of environment people are a lot less likely to shout anything back or sing along because I guess they’re more at peace or whatever. And then last night in Galway was half seated and half standing, which was cool also. I don’t really know what to expect tonight, but this church has a bit more of a warmer feel than the Pepper Canister so it should be good.
Do you prefer one over the other?
Soak: I think I prefer standing. I’ve done so many solo shows over the last two years, so now having the band with me I just want to be loud and have people singing back and thats what seems to happen when everyone is standing.
There was a lot of instrumentation I didn’t expect on the album, a lot of orchestral and ambient sounds. Does that reflect on this tour and in the gig tonight?
Soak: Yeah completely theres a lot of new sounds. Theres a lot of electronic sounds and quite a few triggers. Theres drums, guitar and bass which I haven’t had before. It’s all going on.
Festival season is upon us and you seem to have been billed much higher this year, for example you’re playing the Other Stage at Glastonbury. Do you see this as a validation of how far you’ve come over the past year, going from the smaller stages to the bigger ones?
Soak: A little bit yeah. I feel like things have gone up another level this year in terms of how things have progressed in general and the album of course. Its a good feeling to go back to festivals you’ve played before and see you’ve moved up the ranks I guess. Last year, I played Glastonbury at the BBC Introducing Stage and the Left Field stage, which are incredible to do and what a privilege but like, they’re pretty entry-level and now to come back and to do the Other Stage is crazy.
Do you feel the pressure to move on to a bigger stage and play to a bigger crowd or is it more of the same to you?
Soak: I don’t get that nervous about it that much. I’ll probably be quite nervous about this because it is what it is. But its cool and I think we can pull it off. I feel like since I’ve been doing this since I was 15 and I’m 19 now, being on stage feels quite natural and laid back, which is cool and it gives me a lot more headspace to move around.
And then being in America for SXSW must have been an eye-opening experience. What was the reaction like to your music over there?
Soak: It was cool. I wasn’t sure what to expect or if the crowds would be attentive but all of our shows were packed to the rafters and people were really quiet and were really listening. I think it went down really well.
That was your first time bringing your music to America is that right?
Soak: It was yeah. Now we go back in July and do three weeks. So that should be fun. I got to do A Take Away Show for La Blogotheque on a rooftop in New York while I was over there. Some of my favourite artists have done it so its always been something I wanted to do.
You’ve toured quite a lot around Europe also and as you said you’re going to Italy on Tuesday. Are you getting used to life on the road?
Soak: Yeah like the past year has been pretty hectic going from one place to another. I don’t get to spend much time at home anymore which is a bit annoying. But at the same time, usually I go home and last about four days before I get bored. Its cool to have a few of my friends with me too. A lot of them are in school but I can take a few of them on the road.
You’ve got your friend from home here selling merchandise. It must be a great feeling to be in a position to give your friends the opportunity to come on the road with you and work?
Soak: Its interesting in general to bring my mates on the road and show them what its actually like to do my job. A lot of people think I just get somewhere and hang about until its time to play the show and thats not at all what happens. So its cool to show them that and its also cool to be able to employ your friends and help give them a job.
Growing up in Northern Ireland and coming through the music scene up there, you seemed to build up a great foundation of support from the likes of BBC Radio Foyle and Stephen McCauley. Was it a good environment to nurture your talent and learn the tricks of the trade so to speak?
Soak: I think what was cool was that Stephen McCauley supported my music from when he first heard about me, and that was a really cool kind of lift up into the music scene. I’ve been really lucky that I’ve had a lot of support like that whereby people have been there since the start and have helped me ever since. Its been good.
Being 19 years old, obviously you’re still constantly discovering new music and being influenced by different things and you make your own playlists on Spotify which I’ve discovered a lot of new music from listening to. What artists out there at the moment do you draw inspiration from and admire?
Soak: Theres a few. Right now, I’m listening to a lot of Ibeyi, Flo Morrissey. Theres quite a lot of good music out there.
I’ve heard you reference The Blue Nile in a few interviews, who are a band I absolutely adore. I consider Hats one of the best albums I’ve ever come across.
Soak: I love that band so much. Theres Hats and then theres Paul Buchanan’s solo records which are unbelievable.
He’s so underrated isn’t he?
Soak: He is yeah. So much so! I cant believe that I say it in interviews sometimes and people don’t know who he is. I’m like ‘come on, seriously?’. The Cars are in the Garden from his solo album is probably my personal favourite. Also Mid Air from that album aswell. Lets Go Out Tonight also which he did with The Blue Nile. It’s just all so good.
You’re signed with Rough Trade now and you’ve gathered such a huge following in the last year. Do you feel as though you’re in a good position whereby you have the creative freedom to make your own decisions with regard to your music, because as you know a lot of people at such a young age tend to be pressured or interfered with by their label?
Soak: Rough Trade aren’t that kind of label. They’re not going to be like ‘we think you should sound like this and you should look like this’. They’re not like that. I have control over everything. If I want to do something I have the option to do it and likewise if I don’t want to release something I have the option not to. So I’m in charge of myself and thats good. I think the other thing coming up to the album and recording the album was putting the songs together and figuring out how I wanted them to sound. They kept the structures and stuff the same from the moment they were written and I wanted to make sure they sounded like they’d been written in a moment of sadness or happiness or whatever, and to keep them true to that. Overall, because I’m still learning and I’m only at a certain stage of guitar, I feel like over my career if I end up doing this for a while, it’ll span quite differently and the sound will change quite dramatically. Especially for the second album, because the songs that are on this album were written over the last few years, and even Sea Creatures is two chords because they were the only chords I knew how to play at that point in time. So, I guess as I grow as a musician and a writer things will develop naturally.
Do you feel like thats a requirement in most artists nowadays, that they need to be more flexible in terms of their sound and have a lot more variety?
Soak: I think with the internet being so important in music right now, you just won’t get away with it. Unless you’re One Direction or something like that, which has its time limit anyway. For me personally, I get bored with bands whose second album is the same as their first, and I think its important for musicians to grow and change because that brings you to new places and allows you to make new, more interesting music.
I guess you have the luxury now to be able to take the time with the second album and figure out your own path?
Soak: Well I hope I have the luxury to do that. I’ve only just started writing things for the second album because I write a lot anyway, but at the moment I’m getting the vibe that its going to be a lot less poppy, which is probably how it will turn out to be.
Do you write a lot on the road or do you find it easier to write when you’re settled in one place?
Soak: I just write a lot in general. Like, my notes in my phone are full and I have a book I write in all the time aswell. I guess I always feel like I need to be doing something or documenting things creatively.
You brought a couple of EP’s out before the album. I feel like thats such a good idea to give people a wealth of material to invest in before releasing an album.
Soak: Theres no point releasing an album if you haven’t released shit before it. If you don’t, theres really nothing for people to go by. We did the Blud EP, with Chvrches label Goodbye Records about a year ago and that was cool to do.
Is there a song that you feel like people react to the most? Blud seems to have quite a kick when the chorus comes in whereas B a Nobody is quite mellow.
Soak: I don’t really know. I usually go to the merch desk after the show and I talk to everyone and I hear a lot of interpretations of songs that aren’t necessarily about what they think its about. Its all cool though. In interviews I get asked about B a Nobody the most, I guess because of the subject matter and the lyrics have quite a lot of depth to them. It’s probably the most defining song on the album aswell, in regards to the theme of youth and the whole growing up process.
Those main tracks like Blud and B a Nobody and Sea Creatures, they’re positioned very early on in the album, within the first five tracks to be exact. Is there a reasoning behind that or does it matter at all?
Soak: Track-listing wise, I didn’t compile it on the basis of the year it was written in or singles first or any sort of structure like that. I just wanted to have a dynamic whereby it started off with a bang and went and peaked before the fifth song and then to go way down and dark after that. I wanted people to be able to sit down in a room and listen to it and just focus on it and to really feel like they’ve gotten something out of it emotionally or personally. Maybe its made them think of certain things or remember things or whatever. I guess thats music in general but when it comes to the track listing I like to hope thats what it does.
The content and subject matter like you said is very intimate and a lot of the time its your commentary and interpretation of adult behaviour and domestic disputes. What do your parents think of such intimate details being expressed?
Soak: I guess at the end of the day they know thats how I talk about things, by writing about them and I’m always going to do that. It’s just what I do. I’ve never asked them about it. Because Blud got a lot of radio play and stuff, my Mum was like, ‘I have to listen to this in the car’, which I guess means she’s ok with it.
They’ve been very on board since you were young, managing you throughout your teens and constantly shooing A & R people away. It seems they did the right thing.
Soak: Of course. When I was 16 a lot of record labels and stuff were like ‘oh I want to sign you’, as they do I guess when they hear about young artists, but my parents were like just chill out, your talent isn’t going to go away and you don’t have to do this immediately because its there. So we just signed a publishing deal and that gave me time and money I guess to kind of do whatever and play with my friends in my basement, and I actually was in college doing a music course at that time but I realised in the middle of that course that it wasn’t for me and I just wanted to be out there learning things by doing them and not being thought stage etiquette and shit like that which nobody cares about and isn’t relevant to anything I want to do.
You can watch my full interview with SOAK here:
Before We Forgot How To Dream is out now and is available to download from iTunes.