Interview: SOFI TUKKER Are Back and They Want to Get Us Wet
Above image by Elizabeth Miranda
When your very existence resembles something like a traveling, global party, which occasionally stops to record some new music to keep the party going, what do you do when the entire world shuts down?
If you’re SOFI TUKKER you switch on the technology and start beaming yourself across the universe. To be sure, within a week of the first COVID lockdowns in March of 2020, the duo of Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern had launched a daily DJ series from their home in West Palm Beach, Florida, developing a whole new sort of digital intimacy with their fans, even allowing them in on their creative process.
That process eventually begat their first new album since their critically acclaimed 2018 debut Treehouse. And the curiously titled WET TENNIS (see explanation below), released April 29 via Ultra, betrays whole new levels of sonic and emotional maturity, without sacrificing any of the fun. In fact, from the opening track ‘Kakee’, which sounds like Kraftwerk doing surf rock, it’s clear the message is to expect the unexpected.
Indeed, the cool, retro-funk of the title track flows effortlessly into the visceral dream pop of ‘Sun Came Up’, and that into the hyper calypso grooves of ‘Larry Bird’ – yet it’s all so seamless and artfully cohesive, that one barely notices all the genre hopping. Other standouts include ‘Mon Cheri’, an exuberant collab with Amadou & Mariam, and the poignantly confessional ‘Forgive Me’, with haunting strings by Turkish DJ/producer Mahmut Orhan.
Hardly surprisingly, they’re also taking the party out around the globe once again, commencing a worldwide tour on May 21 at DC’s legendary 9:30 Club. Four-plus months of touring will then ultimately conclude at the ODTÜ Vişnelik amphitheatre in Çankaya/Ankara, Turkey.
We caught up for an insightful chat with them just before it all kicked off.
You were amongst the first to launch a regular streamed DJ series from home when the COVID crisis hit. How did that ultimately go?
Sophie: During a time that could have been extremely isolating and depressing, we ended up feeling so connected to a global community. We DJ’d every day for hundreds of days in a row and it really kept us feeling like we had a purpose and were looking forward to something. It was the reason to get dressed in the morning and to feel joy every day.
What was your overall pandemic experience?
Tucker: We had our challenges and there were days that were harder than others; but because of the livestreams, we really did have a joyful and meaningful experience. This community built up around the streams called the “freak fam.” Even though it was through screens, we felt so much camaraderie and connection. We felt like we were building something together and bringing joy to people’s lives as they brought joy to ours.
How are you feeling about getting out on the road again? Nervous about safety? Excited?
Sophie: We are so excited. We definitely don’t take it for granted that we get to travel around the world and play music and hang out with people in real life now. We’ve designed a whole new show that incorporates a lot of what we learned throughout the pandemic. It’s more interactive than ever before and hopefully will be an experience that everyone can walk away from feeling more energized and optimistic.
WET TENNIS is an acronym for “When Everyone Tries to Evolve, Nothing Negative Is Safe” – what does that phrase mean to you at a time of such deep societal devolution?
Tucker: It’s a reminder that we always have a choice. Shitty things happen. That’s inevitable. But we can either react by feeling like a victim or by seeing it as an opportunity for growth.
The lyrics to the title track go, “It’s about to get freaky / So what are you waiting for?” Are you trying to inspire everyone to just let loose after two years of fear and isolation?
Sophie: For sure! Fear and isolation are still with us. We are still living through so much uncertainty and we still live in a time where there are forces outside of us trying to control us, telling us we are “bad,” that our desires are wrong, or that we are imperfect, that we are sinners, that we should be ways in which we are not. When we say “it’s time to get freaky,” we mean to embrace yourself exactly as you are, without shame.
What was the driving force behind the new album, and what were some of the things influencing your writing and recording?
Tucker: A huge driving force was the freak fam. We were so inspired by the choice everyone was making to stay positive, to dress up, to stay connected – against all odds. We would test out a lot of the songs during the livestream, play them in the sets, and then go back into the studio to finesse them. The freak fam was truly with us throughout the whole process.
Your use of the ‘Tom’s Diner’ sample in ‘Summer in New York’ is flawless. Were you Suzanne Vega fans?
Sophie: We are def ‘Tom’s Diner’ fans. It’s such an effortlessly catchy hook.
Summer in New York has actually been pretty desolate these last two years – and you escaped back to Florida. Are you expecting NYC to bounce back this summer?
Tucker: We actually bought a place in New York after writing the song. We wrote it and then were like…wait a minute, we want this to be our reality. So we are back here in the city now in time for summer.
Sophie, your voice has never sounded so visceral as on ‘Forgive Me’ – what is the story behind that song?
Sophie: We wrote that on one of the worst days I’ve ever had. I was not okay. And we almost never write from that place. But we were in the studio and Tucker challenged me to go ahead and just use my experience in what we were writing. It’s been so cool now to have this song be a force for connection with people. What could have been something so deeply sad and isolating has alchemized through the process of writing the song into something that’s now connected me with people around the world. God, I love music.
How did you wind up connecting with Mahmut Orhan, and what did he bring to the track?
Tucker: Mahmut brought his incredible sensibility with orchestration. He works with the best Turkish violinists and his music is always so sexy.
Musically, there’s calypso, funk, house…’Sun Came Up’ reminds a bit of New Order and The xx. How would you ultimately describe the WET TENNIS album to someone?
Sophie: It spans a vast array of genres and moods. We want people to go on a journey, experience all the wetness: sweating, crying, feeling turned on – and at the end feel optimistic and remember…what a wonderful world.