It’s been an emotional few weeks for Derry. Lisa McGee’s sitcom Derry Girls has just concluded in style with a poignant finale about the Good Friday Agreement, which now stands threatened by the British Government’s break from reality.
It’s into this heightened sense of anxiousness and uncertainty that Derry’s finest songwriter steps forward with their best work to date. ‘If I Never Know You Like This Again’ is a stunning exploration of Bridie Monds-Watson’s personal anxieties about the trajectory of their career and personal life.
Soak moved to Brighton in advance of the onslaught of the pandemic with the intention of writing the album, renting a basement studio and setting up a base of operations.
“I was gonna write an album anyway,” says Soak, who is quick to dismiss the idea that the album is a pandemic baby. “It just coincided with the world going insane.”
“I’m very reluctant to mention the lockdown and the album in the same sentence, ‘cause I feel like the album isn’t about it – it was just written in the same time.”
Soak’s time in Brighton was preordained as a writing year to give the young artist time to work their way through their post-Grim Town scrapbook of ideas.
“I kind of gather bits and pieces over time and then I’ll sit down and make songs out of them kind of like a collage,” explains Soak of their creative process, noting that their time in Brighton was primarily spent on the “organisation” of those ideas.
That is not to say that living in Brighton didn’t contribute to the overall vibe of the album, even if the theme of the songs were spawned from Soak’s experiences over the past few years. The loneliness and existential dread of the pandemic definitely seeped into ‘If I Never Know You Like This Again’ by osmosis.
“The way I dealt with that was to seek escapism in whatever capacity I could. I think writing songs was kind of a way to avoid how the world was. In the same way that I leaned into any media, movies and art just to feel something other than sheer existential angst from the way the world was.”
This resulted in Soak gravitating towards bands like Pavement, Radiohead and Wilco. “I listened to a lot of their music, some of it for the first time, which was really great fun … just really great bands in terms of guitar inspiration, sounds and films.
“I think music finds you at the right time and it definitely did, but I found it really educating to learn about all the different ideas and effects pedals, which I’d never really delved into before”
"Ultimately, I’m searching for truth when I write songs and when I hear songs"
The anxiety contained within Soak’s mind is delivered with the precision of a documentary film-maker, and that exasperation is palpable from the outset with recent single, Purgatory.
“I think the whole song is about trying to figure out where I was in my life, what I wanted to change and what I wanted to do, mainly because I always have anxiety [around] not having enough time or not doing enough with your time. So I was trying to figure out how to ease the anxiety of the waste of time essentially,” explains Soak of the opener’s origins. “I still relate very hard to the song and I think I always will just because of the fear of dissatisfaction.”
Purgatory races to a crescendo with a swirl of drums before Soak contemplates whether they will be satisfied with what they have achieved in their lifetime on the day that they die. “For that part of the song, we got James (Byrne), the drummer, to fall on the drum kit ànd then we kind of made it a bit fancier after that but it was really fun to record.”
Lead single, Last July, introduced the world to the third iteration of Soak with glorious reminiscence of holiday romance; trying to enjoy the moment whilst fearing the end.
“The person I’m writing about in the song, I’ve been with for four years, so it was kind of fun to write about how I felt when I first met them and thought it would be a temporary thing, but maybe there’s some element of the song that still has what the actual story ended up being in it.”
Baby, You’re So Full Of Shit, meanwhile, sees Soak taking out their frustrations on the bullshit bravado that people project into the world.
“Everybody has someone in their life that talks a load of shit,” says Soak, laughing. “I wrote the song after I’d been living in Manchester for a couple of years. I think in your early 20s, everybody is super impressionable and trying to figure out what they are about, but we are all very guilty of contradiction. I knew a lot of hypocrites at the time, and it was kind of a relief to express all of those frustrations with people who say one thing and do the other.
“Sometimes I wonder if it’s a bit too mean but in fairness, half of the song is directly about me as well. Whilst I’m saying all this stuff about another person, I hard relate to most of it and I’m probably guilty of a lot of it myself.”
There is an art to writing songs about negative experiences you’ve had with people you know. There is the other person’s privacy to consider as well as your own. Soak deals with this by ensuring that wherever possible, they are the villain of the piece.
“Ultimately, I’m searching for truth when I write songs and when I hear songs. So, if it’s me and my privacy I don’t really care but when it’s other people’s. I think there’s a respect and a sensitivity you have to go about that with. I’m never gonna release a song that’s clearly about someone without their permission. I think there’s a respect to it, and you don’t want to hurt anybody, specifically your friends.”
"With this album, I think it was the first time that I felt like I knew what I was doing"
Midway through the album, Guts arrives with a smattering of strings and shuffling Phil Selway-esque drums. It’s a rousing yet melancholic celebration of happiness. “For a minute, I was the best version of myself,” sings Soak before uttering the album’s title in the song’s final line: “If I never know you like this again, I couldn’t live with myself.”
The song is a significant milestone for Soak, not only as the album’s centrepiece. “That was the first song that I produced on my own album,” explains Soak. “I was living in Brighton. I’d rented this basement room near the station.”
“I was in the basement one day playing with synths and I just found this line and ran with it. I wrote Guts in a couple of hours that day, which is unusual for me. It’s really fun to sing and it was really fun to make.”
As well as being joined by Pillow Queens’ manager, James Byrne, on drums, the album also features contributions from Sophie Galpin (Self Esteem/Soft Lad) and Soak’s long-time collaborator, Tommy McLoughlin.
“I made my first record with Tommy when I was like 17 and I’ve worked with him ever since.” says Soak, adding, “in my eyes, he’s my perfect collaborator. We have a really great understanding; we’ve known each other for so long and we’ve played together for so long and he’s just a really cool decent guy.”
“I trust his opinion over most peoples and I think that allows us to create really comfortably because it’s not an issue to tell each other something sounds like shit. So, it’s a very honest and trusting environment to make music in. He takes me seriously and he always did. When I was 15 and starting out, you don’t expect many people to take you seriously when you’re that young, but Tommy did, so immediately you had respect and over the years, we just got more in tune with each other. He’s my favourite person to make music with.”
A lot of the time preparing for the album was spent “nerding out over guitar pedals” so their was little surprise within the camp at how guitar-based the album became.
“Whenever we’d meet up and go through demos, we were joking about how far we’d taken it with the guitars, so when we started recording it, there were a few times where we’d be like,’Is this too much? Ah well.’”
“Ultimately, all the decisions came down to whether we were having fun and whether we liked it or not as opposed to whether we thought other people might make of the record, but that was a really fun way to create. We were in our own world with it and that was really joyful.”
Perhaps the best example of joyfully nerding out with pedals on the album is Neptune, which clocks in at just under seven minutes. “Neptune was always going to be like that,” states Soak.
“I’d made a demo that probably had every instrument on the planet on it, so we always knew it was gonna be some huge build-up of a song, but it was really fun to make in the studio, especially the very end section of the song. We just let Tommy lose his mind on the guitar. It didn’t surprise me how it ended up, but I was very satisfied with how intense it got.”
While Soak found themselves in purgatory on the albums opener due to the quality of what follows, you would hope that they find themselves in a better place.
“With this album, I think it was the first time that I felt like I knew what I was doing. I don’t think I ever truly did before then…which is weird considering it’s my third album, but It’s nice to feel comfortable and confident in what I was doing.”
The proof is in the pudding. ‘If I Never Know You Like This Again’ is Soak’s finest work to date and if this only truly represents them finding their feet, the sky’s the limit for album four and five.