Sophie Allison has been winning over a lot of new fans lately. Just a few years ago, the then-New York University student was playing shows at the DIY Brooklyn venue Silent Barn and cutting homemade recordings of scratchy but tuneful lo-fi indie pop under the name of Soccer Mommy. Those songs earned her a devoted following and a deal with Fat Possum, who released last year's Collection, which featured re-recorded versions of her early work, and this year's Clean, an assured, introspective set of songs that were written before she turned 21. Her witty explorations of heartbreak and ennui have won acclaim from critics and also have helped her nab an impressive amount of dream gigs.
In the past few years she's gotten to play shows with peers that she admires such as Jay Som and Mitski, as well as indie-rock legends like Luna and shoegaze pioneers Slowdive, whom she calls "a band I loved for a long time and never thought would even be touring again, so I didn't think that would even be a possibility." This summer, she was invited to open for Liz Phair, who was doing stripped-down versions of her earliest material. "I was really excited that she was even doing that tour," Allison says. "And that I got to be a part of it was really cool." Once that wrapped up, she embarked on a tour opening for her fellow Nashville natives Paramore.
Getting to open for and meet some of your favorite artists—including some of the people that inspired you to start writing songs in the first place—is one of the potential benefits of the confluence of buzz, a rising profile, and a bit of luck (Allison admits that it might have helped that in interviews promoting her albums, she kept mentioning Phair as a formative influence). But while it can be thrilling to play with your heroes, it can also be intimidating.
Keep your feet on the ground
According to Allison, the way to get the most out of the experience is to not think about the musicians in such an elevated manner. "When you idolize people,” she explains, “I think that's what makes it hard for people to meet musicians they love. I think I treat them like normal people."
Allison had experience meeting her favorite songwriters well before she was getting to play with them. She met Taylor Swift at a quick meet-and-greet through her high school ("she just kind of said 'hi'") and actually introduced herself to Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams when she saw her at a Nashville mall. "I had seen her posting my music and knew that she liked it, so I wanted to say ‘hi’ and get to talk to her for a minute," Allison says. "First I was just like, 'Hey, I'm a fan,’ and she was like, 'Oh, hi. Nice to meet you.' She was super-nice. And then I told her I was in a band and we just talked about our music."
The key to meeting people whose music you love is to not overthink it, and resist the temptation to fan out or fawn over them. "I think I don't really have that much trouble meeting people that I'm super into. I mean, it can be a little nerve-wracking when you first meet some of the artists that you've loved since you were little. But I don't know, I think that everybody's just a person and you just kind of have to treat them that way and realize that they're only people," she says.
While their music might have meant a lot to you, just remember that putting someone on a pedestal will not only make it difficult for you to interact with them, it will also make the situation awkward for the artists that you love. "It can put a lot of pressure on other people, and it also can let you down a lot, for sure," she says. "It's uncomfortable because artists are just people, and it's uncomfortable to be treated like more than that."
Remember that they might make art that you love, "but that doesn't make them a god or something. It doesn't make anyone some kind of special person," Allison says. "It makes them talented, but at the end of the day, they have friends that are like you and they have a family like you and they do the same stuff that you do. They're not different than you. They just happen to make really great art."
So if you get invited to tour with an artist, just relax and soak it all in. If you do get to hang out with them backstage, just act natural and don't feel the need to force any kind of special interaction. "I just think that's another thing that just comes with putting too much weight on people when they're just a human being that can't live up to any ideas or dreams you have of interactions with them. I think just talk to them like normal people. If you have something to talk about, you can talk about it. If not, you guys don't have to talk in that moment. I think it just can be normal," she says, noting that when he was touring with Paramore, she and Williams would chat backstage about "music we liked, or I don't know, skin care or food. Stuff like that. Just normal stuff."
Dealing with disappointment
While playing with an artist, it is always possible you will have a negative experience with them. But just because you found someone to be rude or unpleasant, don't let that detract from your enjoyment of the art that they make.
"You can meet an artist you like a lot and find out they're an asshole, but that doesn't have to change you liking their music, really. Everyone is just a person and one interaction with them doesn't define them just because you had built it up in your head so much," she says. "You can love their music and that doesn't mean you know them as a person."
If you’re a rising artist, getting invited to open for an established artist can be a great way to grow your profile, but sometimes it can be dispiriting to play for a crowd that is not there to see you. Allison says that instead of putting pressure on yourself to win them over, just try to have fun.
"It's hard, because most of the people there don't know your music and aren't there for you, and a lot of times aren't even interested in seeing you," she says. "But I think when it's such a big space and everyone's talking and stuff, it almost takes a little of the pressure off, just because you know that it doesn't really matter if you mess up. A lot of people aren't even listening. And the people who are listening, if you play a good show, they will enjoy it. Because even if you can see a bunch of people talking, even if it's a small percentage of people paying attention in a big room, that's a lot of people that you're reaching."
Now that she's gaining new fans, Allison says she is starting to have her own interactions with people who love her music, some of whom are clearly intimidated to say hello. She just tries to keep it normal for everyone.
"I've definitely met people who seemed very nervous and like they were kind of freaking out a little bit, for sure," she says. But she just had to remind them that it's no big deal to say hello to someone. "Usually they say like, 'Sorry I'm so nervous.' I'm just like, 'It's fine. Totally cool.'"