From Brown to Badass: An Interview with Sofi Tukker

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As is the case with many wonderful things in this world, New York-based band “Sofi Tukker” had its beginnings at a little college called Brown. Sophie Hawley-Weld ‘14 and Tucker Halpern ‘14, the pair behind Sofi Tukker, met during their senior year and have been pretty much inseparable ever since. FADER calls their music “folk-dance,” Billboard calls it “acoustic house.” Consequence of Sound labels it “electropop,” MixMag deems it “global house,” and some of Sofi Tukker’s songs are even sung in Portuguese. Whatever genre best defines their music, we’re definitely about it.

The band released their first EP, Soft Animals, in July, and since the summer they’ve been on the road with St. Lucia. Last week, from a restaurant in Kentucky, Sophie and Tucker gave us a call to talk about Brown, the goddess that is Grimes, and the funky aesthetic they’ve nailed to a tee but still can’t quite name.

Without further ado, we present you with Sofi Tukker.

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Hannah: If you could just start at the beginning, I think everyone would love to know how you met at Brown.

Sophie Hawley-Weld: We actually didn’t know each other for the first three years. But my senior year, he was DJ-ing and I was playing bossa nova in a little jazz trio and we were asked to do an event withwhat are they called? The SCAC? And it waswas it in Olneyville? Yeah, it was in Olneyville. [SCAC was] putting on this event at an art gallery. They asked me to perform with my jazz trio. And they also asked Tucker to DJ afterwards. And so Tucker actually came early to the Olneyville space and saw [our] set and he knew [my] keyboard player. During one of my songs he just got up and was like, hey, can I remix one of your songs? He got up on the stage or whatever and put a kickput drums from a DJ songbehind one of my tracks and set it up really fast and it just sounded really good and fun and a little bit more accessible than the music I was making by myself. Literally that night or the next morning I get a Facebook message from Tucker and he’s like, hey, like, can I remix that song? And we met, and instead of remixing we just made it again together and basically, we’ve been working together every single day [since]. We met in October or November, and then by the time the school year had finished, we still weren’t very good friends, but we had this whole EP done and Tucker ended up showing it to some people in New York who encouraged us and invited us to work out of their studio.

HDP: So you guys finished writing the EP that you recently put out your senior year?

SHW: No, no. So the EP that we finished at Brown was different. That was like a little… yeah, it was a different style. It wasn’t really us. It was more like songs that I had made and he produced. But during senior week, we made “Drinkee.”

HDP: Oh, wow, that’s so cool.

SHW: We made it in the… what was it called? Steiner.

HDP: I read somewhere that “Drinkee” was inspired by Portuguese poetry that you studied here. Could you talk about that? I think that’s the coolest thing.

SHW: Yeah, um, so I studied Portuguese at Brown and

HDP: Was that your concentration?

SHW: It was not. No, my concentration was Development Studies, but as part of Development Studies you have to study a language, and so mine was Portuguese, and I spent a lot of time at the department. I was really close to my professor, Patricia Sobral, and she would have these evenings where she would invite alumni and students to her house and she asked everybody to bring something. So I brought my guitar and this one professor brought a book of poetry. We were sitting around after dinner and I was playing the guitar and [the professor] brought out some poetry, and I was singing the poems that he had and it was just such a jam and such a good vibe. When this Portuguese poet came to Brown, whose name is Chacal, I got a call from [the professor] and he was like, “Hey, do you want to do the same thing we did at the dinner? This poet’s coming into town and I want you to sing his words with him.” It was actually during Spring WeekendI missed one of the Spring Weekend shows and was at the Portuguese Department’s little event [instead]. And we met, and I really vibed with [Chacal], and he invited me to continue using his lyrics. Tucker’s finished eating and he’s salsa dancing on the street in Kentucky. [She laughs, a lot.] Wait, let’s open the door. He says that you’re picturing [him dancing] better than he’s actually doing it.

HDP: I feel like he’d be good. In the videos I’ve seen him in… I feel like, you know, if you could make it work with the book tree, you could make it work with the salsa dancing.

SHW: Yeah, you know, he’s getting there. [She laughs again, and then says to Tucker:] She has faith in your salsa dancing abilities. Okay, here we are, we’re on speaker now.

HDP: Hi, Tucker!!

Tucker Halpern: Heeeyyyyy!!

HDP: Do you guys wanna tell me what it’s been like touring with St. Lucia and how it was being back in Providence last weekend?

TH: Yeah, it was kinda weird being back in Providence. Like, it’s so different when you don’t know people there anymore. Because I remember it as being such an amazing community and I knew everyone if I [was] out on the Main Green… at least I’d recognize people, but it was just weird being out there. But it was cool. I mean, I loved it there. We think so fondly of Brown just ‘cause we both loved it for such different experiences, so it was nice to go back. We were pretty excited.

SHW: I mean the whole time we were like, oh, this is where we did this! And this is where we did this! Like, oh my god!

TH: Our tour manager was like, all right, guys, I’m bored. We were like, no, but this is where our friends took a pee!!

HDP: Was that your first Providence show?

SHW: Mmm…

TH: Yeah.

SHW: Yeah, it was.

TH: But it’s different when you’re opening for a band because it’s their show, you know, and then we’re just kinda rolling with them. I’m pretty excited to do a proper Sofi Tukker Providence show at some point.

HDP: What’s it like to tour with St. Lucia? How are they on the road?

TH: They’re awesome. They’re great. I mean, we’ve been lucky. Them, and M83, and The Knocks are the people we’ve done substantial tours opening for, and they’re all the best people ever. They’re all so supportive. We learn from them, it’s fun, the crews are nice. I mean, everyone’s cool. We’re not on the bus with [St. Lucia], we’re driving on our own, so we don’t get to spend as much time with them. We try to have dinner with them when we can, when the timing works with sound check and stuff.

HDP: Out of all of those peopleM83, The Knocks, when you played with Grimes, whateverdo you have one really specific memory that stands out, or a moment where you guys were like, oh my god, this is real, we made it?

SHW: I mean, I don’t feel like we’ve made it. I don’t think so at all. We have a long way to go. I think, that said, the Grimes show was definitely one of those moments where we were like, shit, this is what we want to do.

TH: It wasn’t a ‘we made it’ moment. It was a ‘holy shit’ moment, though. Cause [Grimes] was soooo good. I mean, all these bands we’re lucky to learn from, they’re all so good in different ways, but what she was doing was probably the closest we’ve ever seen that we, you know, think is some sort of weird derivative of what we do. It was also an amazing show in Milan and there [were] a ton of people and the fans were so engaged, it was crazy.

HDP: I think that you guys have a really cool aesthetic going on, which is definitely clear in the “Drinkee” video. How would you put that aesthetic into words?

TH: What would you put it into words as? You’re the writer!!

HDP: I don’t know, that’s a good question. I feel like you guys have a cool­­well, you have the lyrics that aren’t in English. So it’s like a foreign, tropical-y… you know what I mean?

TH and SHW: Yeah.

TH: It’s weird too…

SHW: We don’t know how to describe it either.

TH: We just did a Mixmag DJ set thing, and they [said that they] always put the genre on all of [this material], so they were like, what genre should we put? And we were like, uhh…

SHW: They ended up putting global house.

HDP: Yeah, I feel like that works.

TH: It kinda works for sure. But, you know, a couple of the songs aren’t even really house music. We make what we want to hear and we don’t make it unless we really like it.

HDP: Who are your biggest influences?

TH: They’re really different…

SHW: They’re also changing. I think something that’s really exciting is that I forget that [someone is] such a strong influence, and I’ll be like, oh yeah, that’s where that came from. Like I only realize it way later.

HDP: So who are you listening to right now?

SHW: Today we were listening to Courtney Barnett, who is such a fucking master lyricist. We’re so impressed and inspired by her. She’s got a kinda rocker lyricist vibe that

TH: She’s soooo dope. I love her. Just so you know, I also just listen to house music all day all night.

SHW: [Laughing] He likes to say that, but he doesn’t actually.

TH: No, I do!! Sophie’s tryna sleep in the car and I’m, like, tryna listen to house music. I think I’m gonna get a tattoo across my chest that just says: “House Music.”

SHW: No, he’s not.

HDP: I think it would look good if you did that. You should definitely do it.

TH: Thank you.

HDP: Tuckera lot of people on Blog are really curious about the book tree and if you actually read the books that you play and how that works.

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Said book tree, used by Sofi Tukker as a musical instrument.

TH: It’s a little bit of a combo. I think initially, the book thing came about because of the poet Chacal, who wrote “Drinkee” and “Matadora.” And then we expanded the book tree and also beat the shit out of those original books. We had to change the books, and we had to get books that were the right size, and we had to get books light enough to fly with. So what we ended up doing was getting a bunch of books that were the right size from used book stores, Strand and stuff in New York, and then we cut out the pages, [and] cut the holes in them to put in the zip ties and the microphones. I’m not sure we really read any of those. A bunch of them were, like, photography books that had really, really cool things.

SHW: A lot of them are art history and architecture, though.

TH: Yeah, which is what I studied at Brown.

HDP: How many iterations of the tree have you had? Or do you just replace them as needed?

TH: We replace the books as needed, but there’s basically been three iterations of the tree. We call this Book Tree 2.1 because it became the big circle and it wasn’t just the shelf thing anymore. And then, we added foliage and stuff.

SHW: But 3.0 is probably… you know… who knows what that’ll be like?

TH: Hopefully it’ll be a jungle at some point with a bunch of different trees and I can run around the stage and hit shit all over the place.

HDP: What are your plans for when you wrap up touring in December?

TH: We’re not really wrapping up touring any time soon.

SHW: We’re kinda just on the road constantly.

TH: Yeah, ‘cause we’re doing this tour and then we’re doing a couple festivals and then we’re doing a European tour and then we’ll try to write.

SHW: We’re going to Mexico.

TH: Yeah, we’re doing a really awesome festival in Mexico. And then we’re going to try to write in December as much as we can. Hopefully in some hot weather. And then early next year we’re going to start touring a lot more and hopefully do a headline tour as well.

HDP: Awesome.

TH: We might be going to Australia in January? But none of that’s confirmed, so. Who knows.

HDP: Well it all sounds like good stuff.

TH: It is. It is.

HDP: I’m sure nothing’s better than Kentucky though.

TH: Oh, god, it’s so popping down here.

 

Want more? Here’s Chit Chat with Sofi Tucker: fun stuff we talked about with alums who do a really, really cool thing.  

Sophie and Tucker on their favorite Spring Weekend acts:

TH: Well my freshman year, before Sophie was at school [Ed. note: Tucker took a year off and then graduated with Sophie’s class], it was the 25th anniversary, or the 250th anniversary, or something crazy, and they had triple the budget. So it was the Black Keys, Major Lazer, Snoop Dogg, and MGMT. [Ed. note: it was the 50th anniversary of Spring Weekend.]

HDP: That’s insane.

TH: I mean, Snoop Dogg was already that huge, but Major Lazer was no one at that point, and MGMT was kind of in their prime of like, “Electric Feel” and “Kids,” and it was like the best shit ever. It was so fun. Actually, that year also, I think it was that year, [it was] the Spring Weekend After Dark concert, and James Murphy and Oliverthe group Oliver—DJ-ed, and it was fucking dope. Also, I should say when The Knocks came to town, because that’s when I met them and opened for them DJ-ing when I was a senior. They were the ones who ended up listening to our music and saying you should pursue this as a career and stuff. So like, that’s probably the most meaningful. But that first Spring Weekend was so crazy.

HDP: What about you Sophie?

SHW: I’m so embarrassed to say this, but I literally just opened my iPhone to look at the past lineups because I didn’t remember who was playing! But now that I’m looking at it, I remember the Dirty Projectors really fondly. I didn’t go my junior year and I didn’t really go my senior year because I was super injured. Like I was in a cast.

TH: Classic Sophie. Classic Sophie answer.

SHW: And my freshman year I was like… I don’t even wanna say what I was doing.

TH: Soph, your freshman year was a bad year though for it. It was raining, and it was indoors

SHW: It was raining.

TH: And it was, like, P. Diddy or something.

SHW: So I really only went my sophomore year, but I guess that, I don’t even… Oh my god. Lauryn Hill came. That was my freshman year.

TH: That was your sophomore year. But she made us wait, like, eight hours.

SHW: Oh wait, that was 2014. That was my senior year. Did I see that?

TH: I think I waited there for, like, two hours.

HDP: Lauryn Hill? Yeah, that was my freshman year. We waited two hours for her to come on.

SHW: What Cheer Brigade has played, like, every year. I actually remember that.

TH: I don’t.

HDP: What Cheer Brigade does play every year.

SHW: I went to the What Cheer Brigade shows downtown like, all the time.

 

Sophie and Tucker on their freshman dorms:

SHW: I lived in… what was it called…

TH: You don’t know?

SHW: MP3? NP3 or MP3?

HDP: MP3?

TH: Probably not MP3 [laughing].

HDP: Ohh, you lived in New Pembroke!

SHW: Yes. Yes.

TH: Oh, that’s lame. You’re lame.

SHW: Well, you know, you already know that. That said, I was a Women’s Peer Counselor in Keeney my sophomore year.

TH: You lived in Keeney sophomore year?

SHW: Yeah.

TH: [Laughing hysterically.] What a loser!!

HDP: I’m glad you guys are learning these things about each other through our conversation.

SHW: I’m glad you’re understanding our relationship through this conversation.

 

If your song “Hey Lion” were a Blue Room sandwich, what would it be? 

SHW: Um, oh damn. I’m just gonna go with my favorite Blue Room sandwich, which was the roasted veggies. That doesn’t really have anything to do with “Hey Lion,” though.

TH: Anything with avocado I feel like is a better answer.

SHW: That’s true, that’s true, that’s a much better answer. We’re both big avocado fans.

 

On the best spots on campus:

TH: The apartments above Johnny Rockets.

HDP: Oh, that’s a good answer. Those are still a thing.

TH: They were back in my… we kinda started that in my time.

SHW: Really? You sure about that?

TH: I’m very sure. It was Clandessa. It was the lady who read cards until we lived there. We totally started that.

SHW: Oh yeah. God, what’s my favorite? I’m gonna say Ashamu, the dance studio. I have a lot of very fond naked memories. Naked memories? Memories of nudity.

HDP: After hours or during hours?

SHW: Mostly after hours. But it was good times in that dance studio.

Images viavia and via Jokichi Matsubara. 

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