Since the release of her confessional debut album Clean in 2018, Sophie Allison has gone from bedroom indie-pop artist to full-fledged rock star. Under her project name Soccer Mommy, she’s toured nonstop, played bigger shows, and achieved enough financial independence to move out of her parents’ home and into one with her sister. At the moment, things are good.
But Allison, known for spinning complex emotions into digestible lyrics, imbues her forthcoming album Color Theory, due Feb. 28, with both distress and joyful sounds that mask contemplative thoughts. The project is broken into three colors. It kicks off with blue, which is representative of melancholy. That leads into yellow, for mental and physical illness, before wrapping up with gray, signifying the fear of loss. While divided by sections, the themes often overlap and intertwine.
Unlike Clean, Color Theory sees Allison painting her own portrait as she battles emotional trauma. “There’s this kind of self-reflection, like looking at myself and seeing a weird degraded version,” Allison, 22, says of the project. “There’s some themes of self-harm, and having a desire to hurt myself to unleash some kind of feeling or emotion.” As she wistfully looks back at her childhood in the music, Allison self-analyzes through the turmoil. “I think [the song ‘Bloodstream’] is a really good way to open up the record, considering that a lot of [the album] is about things that have kind of taken my happiness and decayed me over the years.”
With Clean, Allison had a general idea of how she wanted the record to sound, but for Color Theory, she honed in on specific references. “Part of that was wanting to include a feeling that made it sound a little bit more live and less like everything was recorded separately,” she says. Over eight months, she wrote the record on the road or when she had breaks at home. By March 2019, she began recording. But unlike with Clean, which she made solo with a hired drummer, Allison sought a more collaborative effort for Color Theory, one that reflected a connectivity between musicians.
“For this album, we had my whole band that I’ve been playing with for a long time come in, learn the songs, and contribute to it, which I think makes it sound a lot more like how we sound live,” she says. “I think it translates a little better than Clean did just because our live performances are a lot like how everybody that’s playing with me plays, and I kinda give them some freedom to make their own parts a lot of the time.”
Allison was intentional about Color Theory’s influences, which surface throughout the record’s 10 tracks. Early 2000s pop, ‘90s Sheryl Crow, and bits of Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” and “Complicated” by Avril Lavigne slip in. Allison’s single from the “blue” section, “Circle The Drain,” is a moody alt-rock jaunt reminiscent of mid-’90s Liz Phair and Alanis Morissette. With “Yellow Is The Color of Her Eyes,” a song Allison penned about being away from her terminally ill mother on tour, she found herself listening to Japanese pop band Fishmans, specifically a 45-minute-long track that informed its composition. “It felt like there were so many different variations of this long piece that were written rather than just a song where it kind of went through multiple different melodies and main parts,” she says. “And that’s kind of what I wanted to make ‘Yellow Is The Color of Her Eyes’ into. I just wanted to keep this idea of staying in a sonic similarity.”
Allison also uses Color Theory to wade through her depression, anxiety, and paranoia — triggered by her artistic rise and continued use of social media — as well as her mother’s cancer and how it has affected her since adolescence. “It just made me have a weird outlook on life,” she says of her mom’s illness. Music, however, became a source of catharsis for Allison with her latest body of work. “This is one of the few times where I feel like music actually did help me cope with [my mom’s sickness] and actually move forward.” Allison first found out her mom was sick when she was 12, but didn’t really process the situation at the time. “When I started touring a lot, I started to get this feeling of losing time with her and then just everyone,” she says. She references that recognition of her sense of guilt on “Yellow” where she sings, “I’ve been choking up truths that I couldn’t swallow.” Writing through those emotions helped her come to the realization that time is precious.
One of the most painful and poignant parts of the record is unrelated — it’s when Allison grapples with power dynamics in a dark situation. On “Stain,” she recalls a moment where a man took something from her without her permission: “And I hate the taste that it puts into my mouth/Now I’m always stained like the sheets at my parent’s house.” “It just made me feel like I lost a bit of my power to a man,” she says. “That was pretty hard to write, and I didn’t really play it for anybody before.”
Inspite of Allison’s anxieties and fears, she comes full circle by the album’s stark, somber closer “Gray Light,” which she sees as “the perfect ending.” “I am looking back to youth at the beginning of the record, and on [‘Gray Light’], I’m looking forward to growing old,” she says. By the end of Color Theory, Allison has found her own form of acceptance — while facing the fears she had all along. And she’s become stronger for it.