Entertainment & Arts

Soak: Tender, awkward songs from a teenager wise beyond her years

SOAK Image copyright Record label
Image caption Soak: "I felt I could take my time because I've been doing this since I was 16"

The opening lines of Soak's debut album perfectly capture the ambiguities and anxieties of adolescence.

"A teenage heart is an unguided dart," sings the Derry-born artist on B a noBody. "We're trying to make something of what we are."

"The album is about growing up," explains the 19-year-old, "and I think the opening lines set the tone for the rest of the record."

Before We Forgot How To Dream has been five years in the making, collecting songs written throughout Soak's upbringing in Northern Ireland.

The husky-voiced singer, whose real name is Bridie Monds-Watson, still retains some of her teenage awkwardness. Her speech is littered with qualifiers - I think, I s'pose, maybe, dunno - and she cringes when discussing her lyrics.

But those wry, self-aware songs let her speak freely, winning legions of fans.

"I think people hear something that reminds them of themselves," she says of the songs, which tackle heartbreak, betrayal and her parents' divorce with a wisdom beyond her years.

As the album finally reaches shops ("I'm going to go into a store somewhere and move all the copies to the front"), she speaks to the BBC about her unlikely rise to fame.

The album includes some of the first songs you ever wrote. Why was that important to you?

The logic behind the album is that I had all these songs and I didn't want to get rid of them.

They all represent the moment they were written in. So, Sea Creatures was written by a 14-year-old and Blud was written by a 15/16-year-old. I wanted to showcase the logic you have at that age.

I wouldn't want anyone to see the things I wrote as a teenager!

It is weird looking back! But it wouldn't have felt right to release my first record and not have those songs.

Image caption The teenager played the BBC Introducing Stage at Glastonbury 2014, a long way from her first show "to my family and 50 people in a tiny room"

When did you start playing guitar?

When I was 13. I wanted drums and I never got them - but then my brother got a guitar he didn't want. He wrote one song and I stole the guitar because he wasn't using it!

What's the first thing you played?

My dad taught me Everybody Hurts by REM and then I went onto the internet and taught myself using YouTube and UltimateGuitar.com

How long did it take for you to start writing your own songs?

Not very long. Sea Creatures is a two chord song because that's all the chords I knew when I wrote it.

Who was the first person you played one of your songs to?

Probably my GCSE music class but it might have been my parents. Both happened around the same time.

Did you get a lot of encouragement from them?

My parents didn't believe I'd written the songs! They were quite overwhelmed when I said, "genuinely, I wrote this and here's the proof and here's the demos," because I'd never shown any sort of interest in music.

They were like, "how did you know how to produce this? How did you know how to write it?"

It's a good question. How did you know?

Music was the first hobby I really had. It was the best way for me to talk about things without having to have a conversation with someone else.

I could sit and play and sing, then write down everything in my head. And from that, I could understand what I was trying to say a lot better.

Image copyright Record label
Image caption Soak once played a gig to launch Derry's City of Culture an hour before sitting her GCSEs

Where did the name Soak come from?

I was trying to figure out a stage name and I knew I didn't want to use my own name. So my mum suggested Soak and I was like, "well that sounds cool". And then she said, "it's a combination of soul and folk," and I was like, "hmm, not that part!"

Is it true that Sea Creatures sparked a bidding war?

Not necessarily a bidding war. But when I was about 15, I started uploading things online to the BBC Introducing website and stuff, and that's when I suppose word got to London about what I was doing. A&R men started getting interested and they'd fly over to Derry to introduce themselves.

Did that turn your head?

It was kind of scary. I was 16 and being offered record deals lasting 15 years, which was double the age I'd lived.

But my parents were cool and had their heads screwed on. They told me I had time to decide what I wanted to do, and I didn't have to jump at the first thing that was offered.

What happened to school at that point?

I finished my GCSEs but I [lost] any involvement or enthusiasm for school.

Then I got into music college - but just as I started, everything started kicking off. We were getting offered really good support slots and festivals and I had to turn them down.

At one point I just decided, "I'm not going to let a potential career pass me by". I knew I'd have more fun going out and actually doing things, rather than sitting in school being told the correct, elegant way to sing.

When it came to making the album, did you re-record the old songs?

Oh, yes. The original recordings would have been ridiculous! But I kept most of the lyrics true to when they were originally written.

The opening line, "a teenage heart is an unguided dart", is very striking.

I think it's the defining lyric of the whole record. Being a teenager is an important time for everyone. It's the stage where you grow up, where you realise a lot of things.

What were your teenage years like?

I don't know what to compare it to, but for me, it was a relatively normal teenage upbringing. I had the usual ups and downs. My parents divorced at one stage but overall it wasn't ridiculously terrible.

Is Blud about your parents?

Yeah - hearing an argument and lying on the floor of my room so I could hear what was going on.

How do they feel about that?

I don't know! I've never asked them properly. My dad's never said anything and my mum jokes about it - "oh, I have to hear that song about me and your da on the radio all the time".

But they get that I write because I have to and I'm just being honest about it.

Image copyright Record label
Image caption The singer dropped out of music college, after landing a publishing deal. "Being in a classroom frustrates me anyway," she says

On the other end of the scale, you've got a few upbeat, poppier songs like Garden.

Garden's like a classic pop song. It's a classic summer romance idea - which I hate because it sounds lame.

So lyrically it's a bit generic - but it's supposed to be. It's about when you're 16 and it's summer and you're off school and everybody's a bit romantic and delirious.

And now that you're touring with a full band, do you finally get to play those drums you wanted when you were 13?

I've had access to a kit for about five years because I bought one when I started gigging. So on the album I drummed on Blud and a few of the other tracks.

So will we see you going full Dave Grohl and drumming on stage?

Potentially! Maybe! It could happen.

Before We Forgot How To Dream is out now on Rough Trade records.

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