Irish Music Scene
SOAK: “I’ve never been so comfortable and confident in myself”
Singer-songwriter SOAK on the release of their third album, the freedom of writing in isolation, and the importance of being their authentic self
Just weeks after the release of their third album, If I Never Know You Like This Again, SOAK is bathing in the well-deserved praise they should surely be accustomed to by now. However, the payoff is all the sweeter now that they say they feel they’ve finally found their sound. Writing much of the album throughout lockdown, SOAK (Bridie Monds-Watson) tells us how they felt a freedom to write more honestly and explore their music more than ever before.
The new album has been out for a few weeks now – how are you feeling about it now that it’s been living out there and people are receiving it?
I’m really happy actually. I was really intrigued to see what people would think, you know? Because obviously you have these things in your phone for six months or whatever before they do anything. I was just like, “S**t, I hope this actually transfers”. So if anything, it’s more of a relief when it’s finally out and you can hear what people think.
I feel like with every day I’m getting more messages from people that have just found it or who have just heard of me, and that’s what I wanted most, for new people to find this and be into it. And mostly, the messages I’m getting are from people that it really resonates with. And that’s the highest compliment I think.
With those new listeners or maybe even long-term fans, is there anything in the feedback so far that’s surprised you? Things that people have taken from the album that you weren’t necessarily expecting?
I think it’s quite a joyous album, even though a lot of the lyrics can be a bit sad. And I’ve seen people define it as a really sad album and I don’t think it is for me, but I can see the music maybe elicit that response.
There’s a song in the album called ‘bleach,’ which people keep coming back to and that seems to be the one that’s getting through to people most and I’m really happy with that because, for me, that’s my favourite song on the record. It doesn’t sound like a single or anything, but it’s more of a deep cup. People seem to like that one a lot and I’m really chuffed about that.
That’s interesting to me also because from just reading the feedback online, I see people are feeling the sadness in it but for me, I’m really excited to get in the car and go for a drive listening to it. It just has that feeling of warmth and homeliness, it feels so cosy to me.
That’s my ideal listening scenario. With every album that I really like, if I hear a song and think, “Oh, that’s good” and I want to listen to the whole album, I’ll just get in the car and drive and listen to it. I don’t think there’s a better listening experience than in the car. I’m uninterrupted. It’s a bit of a nowhere zone.
There has been a lot of hype about you ever since the first album, from the awards to the write-ups. I can imagine that was a lovely experience but also potentially something quite scary. Moving through your career and now on your third release, how has that experience changed for you? Do you feel the weight of that expectation?
I did before, when I was younger, obviously. You know, it’s really exciting to get all these things said about you. And it’s really fun to be in those circumstances. I know it was a real privilege to have any of it and it’s appreciated. But when I got into music and put out that first record, I was a bit directionless, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, or what accomplishment felt like on a personal level. I guess I was looking at everything like, “this is what you want to do, you want to be nominated for these things, you want to win”.
But now, when I make music, I just really want to make something that fulfills me. And maybe that’s just with age and stuff, but I feel accomplished in making something that I think is really good. And just making more music and making sure that it’s authentic and genuine. That’s my intention now as opposed to, “I want this to get loads of attention”. I just want to make things that people care about and that will age well.
I think before that hype definitely did have an effect on how I would create and I think for a while after the first record, it really took me a long time to find my feet with who I was as a musician and what I wanted to make. I think just because of that roller coaster of everything on the first album, which again was so nice, but I definitely felt the pressure after the first record.
Much of this album was written during lockdown and you’ve spoken about feeling like you had space to write from a more authentic place. It opens with a deep inhale and exhale – was that moment you readying yourself to share more with us?
100%. I did it accidentally initially and then I was like, no, actually, let’s do a real proper deep one. Making the album, to me, was really illuminating. I feel like I know myself quite well now and I feel quite comfortable and confident in myself. A lot of that is because of sitting down and forcing myself to not avoid myself and make those records. And so just starting off with this, like, big exhale of “I have so much to say,” and you know, “buckle up, because here we go,” I’m quite fond of that.
With the song selection and that being the first thing you hear, it’s kind of imperfect, like the guitars are purposefully kind of silly, and things fall apart. I wanted that to be how you entered this phase of my life, I guess.
How was the experience of writing this album during lockdown and how did you approach it differently to previous releases?
I think the difference is mainly intention. I think going into writing this album, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I didn’t really know what I was gonna say but I knew what kind of album I wanted to make, and what kind of things I wanted to talk about and what I wanted it to sound like.
I think before with anything I’ve done, there was never really a clear intention. On my first record, I was writing songs because that’s how I was getting through life. Like I that’s how I was talking about things because I wasn’t a great talker, even to my family and friends, I kept a lot to myself. So, to write songs is my way of therapy in some ways. My second record was a little bit lost, I didn’t really know where I was going or what I was doing.
But then with this record, I was kind of just claiming that title of you know, I am a musician, I am a songwriter, I’m gonna do this. The intention was to make something really genuine and authentic without trying to jazz anything up too much so I knew who I was writing for and why I was doing that. And I think that changed my writing process a lot.
I think, in some ways, it was a benefit to be forcibly isolated, I was lucky to be able to have space in my home to write and to make music. And it helped just to maybe confront a few demons.
You’re heading our on tour later this year across the UK and Ireland and you’re playing some amazing grassroots music venues like Whelan’s in Dublin. What is it about those venues that makes them such a joy to play for both you and the fans?
I think community and support for a start, like the people that want to go to Whelan’s and see a show are people who typically really, really love music and just want to see an amazing show. I find in those kinds of venues they’re not really there to chat you know, they really are interested in music and those venues have been so special and significant.
There’s an air of the history in those places too, you can kind of feel that it has all that energy in it. And I’ve actually never played Whelan’s before, not like my own proper gig, so that’s something I really wanted to do, because it’s just so notorious.
It’s also just the way the room’s built and the way the stage is, it’s a really intimate show. And that’s what we want with this record. Every time I talk to the guys in the band about it, we’re just like, “Oh, I just want to play really sweaty shows,” because there is an intensity to the album that I think will work really well when we’re face-to-face with the audience.
And how are you feeling about touring after lockdown and taking the new music on the road?
Honestly, we’re just raring to go – I will play any gig, anywhere at this point! We’re just saying yes to everything, because all of us in the band really feel strongly about that. I think because we had such a joy making [the album] we know how fun it’s going to be to play live. And obviously, post COVID, that’s the feeling for most people. It’s just like, “get me out there!”.
I’m really excited to see how [the album] is going to translate live too. The energy to this record is different than any of the other albums we’ve done, so I think that could make for a very fun live show.
In 2019, you came out as non-binary online – how important was that for you as an artist and has it influenced the album in any way?
For me, it was mostly important to do it as a person because I wanted to feel comfortable in my skin. I’ve spent so much of my life, especially as a teenager and a kid, thinking the worst question I could be asked, the most uncomfortable thing that could happen, was people asking if I was a girl or a boy. I’ve always been quite androgynous in my appearance, and I guess just my attitude as well. So, I had loads of discomfort growing up about that.
When I finally came to understand where I stood on the gender spectrum, for me, I had to say it publicly because I want to be referenced the correct way. I want people to see me the right way and through doing that, I’ve never been so comfortable and confident in myself because I don’t have anything to hide.
For me, when I came out as gay, I just felt like I had been so lucky. In my life it never came with any problems for me and I was only met with acceptance, but I didn’t have those feelings personally about being non binary. So, that was a trip for me to figure out and to accept, but I have no regrets. Just being open with who I am has brought me so much peace and comfort, and I feel like I can really confidently be myself.
And beyond that, just in terms of representation, it’s been so special in my life to see so many people represent me and in the world, I want to be able to offer that to people as well, you know?
Having those queer role models in music, TV, and the wider media – having that LGBTQ+ visibility – is incredibly important. I wonder for you, who were those influences in your life growing up?
Growing up, like so many people, there was a lack of representation for the queer community so we lowered our standards to watch a lot of things that just involved gay characters. So, I mean, The L Word was a huge point of understanding, and musicians like Tegan and Sara and so many great musicians now that, you know, you’re drawn toward because you’re like, “finally, I can relate to these lyrics so much… this speaks to me properly”. And I think the music industry is shifting towards having more open arms. I find people are being lifted up a lot in those communities way more than they were before. There are still obviously a lot of problems but I feel we’re going in the right direction.
From your perspective, and maybe that of other artists you know who are a part of this community, what are those challenges that still exist within the industry?
When you look at the reports of the gender divides on line-ups that’s far from perfect, and that itself is an indicator of where we stand in the music industry. It’s interesting because I get asked all the time, like, “Oh, do you think this affects how you’re viewed in the industry” or “your success” or whatever, and it’s impossible to know because you’ve not lived a different life.
I can’t deny that there probably is a lot of things that come into play there. But I guess we just gotta keep working to normalise these things. And representation is such a big part of that.
Finally, what’s next outside of the tour later this year – what’s top of the ‘to do’ list?
I just started writing again and have set a deadline for myself, I’d like to make an album pretty soon. After the last record, I kind of figured out how to trust myself as a songwriter. I kind of learned what I’m doing and I don’t think I really knew that before.
I feel I have a lot to say, and I’m really excited to be making music right now. So I think whilst I’m doing stuff for this record, I really just want to make another one. You know, the ideas are there, so why not?
Soak will be playing dates in Whelan’s Dublin and Dolan’s Warehouse, Limerick as well as a string of UK dates in October 2022. Find tickets here.