I got to hang out with Northern-Irish singer/songwriter Bridie before a sold out NYC show at (le) Poisson Rouge this summer. Since we met, the successful tour across Europe has continued and Bridie’s debut album, Before We Forgot How To Dream was recently nominated for a heralded Mercury prize. One listen of the album is enough to get it stuck in your head, but the live experience was just that – an experience. Haunting, stunning and surrounded by a completely silent, enchanted crowd. SOAK could have easily waltzed out immediately after, on top of the world – knowing that the job was done. Instead, every fan was spoken to and acknowledged; some even got some personally-drawn and signed artwork of the NYC skyline. That’s the difference between great artists and great musicians who transcend their public image. Musicians like SOAK engage the people they’ve impacted, connect with them as human beings and inspire them with their kindness just as much as their lyrics.
“B a Nobody” sounds familiar because the lyrics hit home for a lot of teens – the struggle between purpose, fulfillment and “What’s all this worth?” Can you expand on that?
The whole logic behind the concept of being a nobody is such a complete contradiction to the idea of being a somebody because it’s the exact same thing but one has more connotation. I guess it’s kind of because you grow up and in school you’re like “Everyone’s special and unique and individual” too. It’s kind of also pushing that fact but being like, “You don’t have to change anything” and there are parts of you that might be bad but it’s okay.
You’ve said that first-hand accounts or reactions to your own experiences influence your writing – who are some artists that inspire you lyrically, though?
I really like a guy named Paul Buchanan from The Blue Nile. Leonard Cohen obviously has his hits and stuff and while there’s a few I don’t like, lyrically everything he does is amazing. Also, Jeff Buckley…Joni Mitchell… the classic, incredible songwriters.
A lot of people don’t know The Blue Nile, they’re dope.
Yeah, I’ve been speaking about them for the past month and I’m always like “What, are you crazy?” I don’t know how people haven’t heard of them because I love them so much and they’re so great.
I can see that, I guess. Foy Vance comes from Belfast, no? I like him a lot lyrically.
He might be from Belfast, yeah. I’ve never heard his songs. I know of him but I’ve not heard him. My friends did one of his shows once, which was cool.
You’ve gotta get on that.
Definitely have to listen to some songs.
Did growing up in Derry inspire your sound?
I don’t think that it did musically. I think lyrically, just in that everyone I knew was from there and I grew up there and that’s where I had my experiences. But I don’t really reference any actual places or anything.
Did you find that stifiling creatively at all – to live in such a small town where everybody knows your business?
I really like Derry and I like a lot of the people there but I think…kind of doing what I do now and being known for it; since it’s a small place everyone talks. Over all they’ve been extremely supportive and unbelievably kind in giving me all these opportunities and stuff but, with that there’s definitely a small percentage of people that will hate you for it because you came from a small place and want to drag you back but it happens everywhere I guess.
Was there ever a great live show or festival growing up that had a vibe that got you buzzed or just made you euphoric in any way? That “this is fucking mental, I can’t do anything else” moment?
(Laughs) There were definitely a lot when I was just starting to write music and I was really young and trying to go to loads of local shows with local bands. I definitely saw those bands play and think “I want to do that” – I mean what I do in solo shows is really kind of quiet and intimate and stuff, but with a band it’s loud as hell. But even with that, there are bands from years ago that go crazy on stage and just like being really loud and chunky, I guess, with their guitars. That’s what I want to start doing…progressing into like, indie-pop.
That’s awesome. You had a band “That’s What She Said”, is that still kickin’?
No, not anymore. It’s a good band name! Out of all of the guys I was in that band with, like none of them talk anymore – well, I don’t talk to them either but that was so many years ago, you know? But that is a good band name. It’s definitely taken, like someone has definitely gotten in there since and taken it.
Say you’re headlining the Lotus Play Beats festival with your Indie-pop band– who are five other acts/artists you’d want there with you?
Set the vibe, let’s do it.
The 1975 – but they’re only allowed to do their early EPs.
I agree with you wholeheartedly on that one.
Yeah, honestly – only those EPs.
Shura! She’s my pal and that would just be fun in general.
Foals are one of my favorite bands so that would be awesome too.
They’re awesome. If you could only listen to five songs —
Yeah! For the rest of your days! Which five would you pick?
Fuckin’ hell! Okay…
Fuckin’ hell this is such a hard question….five songs….
It’s funny when people get asked this on the spot because they panic and suddenly it’s like they’ve never heard music before.
Let’s talk Spotify – ya love makin’ those playlists.
Mmm, yeah. I do, it’s just like a great time. I don’t know, I think because I’m constantly on the road and have been for probably two years. I love music, obviously, and have always liked hearing music so I follow loads and loads of [BBC] Introducing bands and I love when people recommend me bands, so Spotify is my way of being like – this is what I listen to, now send me everything you think I’d like. I just love hearing new stuff that’s really good. I think I’ve got two [playlists] on Spotify right now, but one of them is the ‘Real Sad’ playlist and it’s like my favorite thing because I just love sad songs and it’s a great way to introduce people to bands they haven’t heard of.
Do you stick to your Irish bands or do you enjoy branching out?
No, no there’s probably…I mean there might not even be two Irish bands on that. I just go by what individual songs I like, what I think the people who follow that playlist might enjoy and work from there.
That’s the reason I started the radio show too actually. Making playlists –
It’s so fucking fun, isn’t it?
Yeah it’s awesome.
Especially fun for you because you can force people to listen to the songs you’re loving.
Well, you too! You have that platform where you can probably tell your fans “I love this band” and they’ll immediately be like “Us too!”
That’s the thing! So far people have been like, “I really like your playlist and I like everything on it.” But that’s good. It’s what I want to do it for.
You have quite the Tumblr following too.
I do actually. I really like it.
That goes hand in hand with the playlists, I feel.
I think that’s the vibe, yeah. I mean I’ve had a Tumblr account since I was definitely 14 and I just really like it. I’m actually not as active on it right now. I’d like to be because I really enjoy everything there. It’s just all the weird people. On Tumblr people send me all sorts of cool things and tag me in shit that’s fucking cool. You can find people who ignore outside influences a lot and don’t give a shit and just are who they are on that platform. They seem cool. I’d like to be friends with them in real life so I like that aspect of it.
There’s this app called Cymbal that you might like. It’s kind of like an instagram for a single that you’re listening to. Your profile ends up being this never-ending playlist that people can check out.
What? Oh my God, I need to get that it sounds really good.
Yeah it’s dope I’ll show you mine.
I’ve got to get that! It sounds awesome.
How important is meeting people after shows to you? Do you make it a point to make that connection?
Yeah, I think it’s important to do that. I know for me when I was younger and I was going to loads of shows and stuff – what makes it for you is not just the memory of the good show, but how you feel when the artist makes it a point to come and meet you and thank you. I just feel like that’s so important. It definitely sticks in people’s memories and people appreciate it, as well. I always sign everything and take all the photos people want, why wouldn’t you? These people are coming to your show. Surely, you want to meet them and be like, “What’s up?” because they’re probably cool people. I’ve met really cool people after gigs.
Some people complain about that and I never understood it. If someone came to my show with a cake they’d made, I’d sign their whole body.
Before We Forgot How To Dream is quite the title. What’s that all about?
“Sea Creature” is from the record that I wrote when I was 14 and blogged when I was 15 so a lot of songs come from different parts of my life between those points. The idea is that B.W.F.H.T.D is [a commentary on] the time before people have to be real about everything and be like, “Ok, my art isn’t selling so I have to get a job at a convenience store” or people have to give up something in order to live well. That’s the whole logic behind it. Generally, people grow up and have to go into boring jobs and eventually the boring job turns into the entire job…
And the life…
Yeah, yeah exactly! So, it’s kind of a depressing thing but it’s also like, you know, it’s before that period. It’s an album about my childhood, I guess.
Did you find it kind of hard transitioning from loving to play music and it being this pure thing into thinking about it more as a business?
Yeah, I mean I definitely know a lot of friends that are musicians who are consumed with how a song will sell and what they can do to the sound to make it sell to a station or label; or they think of how they can get their song on an advertisement for 30,000 pounds. A lot of people look at it that way, but I don’t. When I write a song it’s not because I think that it’ll make someone cry or that it’ll be important for a specific reason or that my label will love it. For me, it’s like…I’ll start writing a song because I feel like I need to and then after that, I just enjoy the multi-tracking/demo process. It’s a lot of fun for me. It’s also weird though because you know that that’s what your label’s going to do. As much as your label loves music and as much as your management loves music and everyone that you work with loves music – at the end of the day, their jobs lie in the profit. It’s kind of weird. Sometimes when you’re about to launch a single, you’ll get an email chain of 60 people or something and all these people work for you more or less. You’re funding their careers so it feels like it should be a lot of pressure but at the end of the day I don’t get pressured by it too much. At the end of the day it’s your own decisions. It’s how you look at it, you know?
I really respect your choice to stay indie after you got so much attention from huge labels asking for publishing deals. You stood your ground and Rough Trade isn’t a small indie label by any means, but you probably had a lot of pressure from higher-ups to go upstream.
When I was 16 everything started happening and all those labels were “coming after” me so to speak. I probably would have been like, “Oh, these people are offering me this, so I’m gonna sign this blah-blah” but my parents helped me. I felt in a rush and the amount of people who tell you, “These things only happen once” is crazy and stressful, you know? So, my parents were like, listen your talent isn’t going to go away. These people aren’t going to go away. You have time to think about it. So, I just took a really long time with everyone I worked with because it’s so easy to get fucked over in music. It’s easy to pick one dodgy person to work for you who then has an effect on everything you do. It took a long time to figure out who to work with. At this stage I’ve got pretty much everyone and it’s really, really good and you just have a much better time.
We very nearly signed with two other labels before Rough Trade and for whatever reason it never worked out and I was always really close to signing the deal – like something would come up last minute. Rough Trade came out of nowhere last summer after I did Glastonbury and after months and years of talking to labels we signed with them after 10 days. Geoff and Jeanette who run the label came to me and said this is what we do, we think you’d fit in and it’d be really cool. That was it. Just really cool. It felt like an actual label, like the kind of stories you hear about.
How was Glastonbury?
Last year was really cool. It was really scary because it was a big stage to do and we’d played on BBC quite a bit before that but it was after that when things went really big so that was alright. This year we went back and played the full band for the show on the second biggest stage they have and that was like…that was scary. It felt like a lot had happened in that year in between though, which was good.
Do you find a lot of your show’s audiences are younger or does it range depending on where you play? Is it weird meeting people at shows from completely different walks of life?
My band always jokes that you can spot someone coming to my show. It’s always like bearded men wearing a band t-shirt…it’s a weird span of people sometimes there are loads of kids my age with 45-50 year olds. It’s a really interesting span of people and it’s cool to have that kind of audience. People can get quite intense when they meet someone who makes music that they relate to and I get quite awkward and uncomfortable in those situations but I’ll be really open and honest about it, like “I’m not doing this shit!” (laughs) I just get quite uncomfortable when people ask too much of you or push you so far outside of any normal person’s comfort zone. That’s overall the weird thing. Other than that it’s fun, the people are generally so awesome and just as weird as me. T-shirts with your face on it, all that.
It is weird, I agree with you, especially being the interviewer because I know all about you but you have no clue who I am and what my story is, yet I’m expecting you to be this open book.
(Laughs) But it’s your job! And it’s my job to be like, “here’s what I think…” so… the whole idea of interviews is an odd thing anyway but it makes sense.
How did Boston treat you?
It was a bit of a dry crowd to be honest. They were cool when I met people after, though. There was a family of 12 there actually. One of the kids wanted to come to the show for their birthday and I was like, “Holy fuck!”
Yeah! And like, the crowd was cool after but it was just really dry. It was kind of like playing to a Swedish crowd.
Yeah the Swedish crowds come in force and like after a song they’ll stay really quiet but at the end they’ll lightly clap. It’s just dead silence.
I hear that’s the case in some Asian countries. When bands play there for the first time it shocks them because people just stare, but it’s really just a sign of respect.
Could be! You respect that but then they want an encore at the end and you’re confused because they didn’t show any sign of being interested in the show.
“You fell asleep!”
You want an encore?? Really? Boston kind of felt like that.
They were a bit more clappy than that, though.
I recommend next time you come, to hit up The Great Scott. It’s a small venue but people lose their shit.
When I come back – we go home for ten days and then we come back to do another round of the East Coast but we really want to come back as the full band and do a run of venues this size [Le Poisson Rouge, NYC] and hopefully it’ll be packed when we come back because they’ve been pretty busy already. I want to come back with the full band and just play really loud tunes in really cramped rooms of people. It’d just be really fun. Hopefully we can do that.
Last thing, but to be honest I’m scared to ask now…anything to say to those Boston fans?
Those deadbeat Boston fans!?!?
The people I met afterwards were really cool, that’s the thing, though! I think there’s a thing about how they think they have to react to the nature of the show. It’s kind of intense, so people are reluctant to clap too much or shout anything out in case they disrupt or ruin anyone else’s experience and I get that! But, I don’t know. They were just…they were just too polite (laughs).