In 2005 Soak made quite the impression with her stunning Mercury-nominated debut album, ‘Before We Forgot How To Dream’. It was a collection that established the Derry-born songwriter as one of our most vital new voices, making music of deep emotion and piercing relatability. Now, after four years away she has returned with a second album that is bigger, bolder and brighter. ‘Grim Town’ is a step up for an artist who returns more confident than ever before.
It would have been easy for Soak to stay on the treadmill and capitalise on the success of her debut, but instead, the singer decided to take a more considered approach. “If I hadn’t have taken that time out I don’t think I’d have made this album or an album as good,” she begins. “At that point of time in my life, I had to really think about my health and just take some quiet time to grow up a little bit outside music.”
Only 19 when her debut was released, the intervening years have seen a crucial period of reflection and discovery which she has poured into ‘Grim Town’. “My first record was about the years 13-17 and being a teenager. It was more hiding behind a guitar and mumbling lyrics because I was still quite shy,” she explains. “I’ve grown up so much since then, and I wanted to make confident music. The breakthrough for this record was that I wanted to be as honest as possible and I didn’t want to be shy about what I had to say. I felt strongly about everything. Musically, I wanted to have loads of fun and to juxtapose how some of the lyrics were dark with music that’s upbeat.”
You can hear all her desire to break down any boundaries and push herself in ‘Grim Town’s’ expansive, dramatic pop rushes and tender emotional confessions. Part of its striking nature is down to its relatability. Everyone knows a grim town; everyone can picture the seemingly meaningless futility of life with no options and no future. Soak, though, can see a way out and she paints that picture vividly as the record progresses on its journey.
“Grim Town is a location I’ve created,” says Soak. “If my brain were a place it would be Grim Town. I was trying to create my brain as a sonic dystopian place. I came off tour after three years, and I got used to that lifestyle, with not much of a routine and a lot of hecticness. I came back to Derry where my life was slow and quiet, and you couldn’t even get a bus anywhere. It was depressing and just a huge low in my life. The themes on the record are frustration with myself and where I lived.”
As well as small-town ennui the record deals with mental illness and anxiety and the conflicting rush of emotions of youth. “It looks at social anxiety and depression but also I wanted the album to start like you were in a well and by the end, you had crawled your way out of the well,” says Soak positively.
The significance of how a deeply honest record like this might affect someone dealing with similar issues is one that resonates with Soak. “When I was going through that breakdown trying to work out what was going on, I was obsessed with finding things to relate to and ways to feel understood,” she reveals. “I wanted to be as honest and frank as possible. It’s so scary to talk about mental illness and be honest with yourself. It’s hard for people around you to hear you say these things, but ultimately it’s for the better. I just wanted to help lessen the stigma and hopefully help anyone else in that situation.”
The voyage of discovery leading to ‘Grim Town’ is perhaps best represented on one of its key songs, ‘Life Trainee’. “I define that as the era in my life when you move out of home, leave your friends behind and life gets serious. I’ve become more comfortable with myself in the last couple of years compared to when I was younger. I feel a lot more confident in what I have to say and doubt myself a bit less than I did before.
“Most importantly, I know what I want. With the first record, I didn’t know what I wanted and was just writing it and thinking everyone else’s opinion was better than mine because they were professionals. I was so new to the scene. With this record, I was able to say exactly what I wanted from the songs and what the overall vibe should be.”
At one point she sings of being a “work in progress”. “ I don’t think it’s ever really impossible to come out of that stage of being a life trainee; I don’t know if you ever graduate and become perfect at life. It’s ok to go through the whole spectrum of emotions.”
‘Grim Town’ is a collection that meshes the dark with the light in a way that mirrors everyday life. It’s about finding moments to cherish and savour and holding on to hope. “There’s a line in the penultimate song about pushing yourself off the bottom of the swimming pool and saving yourself from drowning, To me, that’s a good thing to finish the record with.”
Taken from the May issue of Dork. Soak’s album ‘Grim Town’ is out 26th April.
Words: Martyn Young