At 18, Soak is already tired of answering questions on her sexuality. Her debut LP should put some of the focus back on her music, writes Ed Power
SOMETIMES Bridie Monds-Watson feels like a small furry animal frozen in the headlights.
“It’s weird when people ask deeply personal questions,” says the young Derry singer who performs as Soak.
“To have part of your life analysed when you’re still a teenager… well, I find it strange.”
Soak, 18, has been out of the closet since early adolescence. When she first achieved recognition in late 2012, her sexuality was an instant talking point.
Her music is supremely mournful and she was generally assumed to be wrestling demons and struggling to make peace with the hand life had dealt her. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“I find it very uncomfortable,” she says of prurient interest in the fact she is lesbian.
“I’ve had to develop techniques to wriggle out of questions I don’t want to deal with. On occasion I’ll say it straight out: ‘I’m not answering that’.”
She is at peace with her orientation and has received nothing but support from friends and family. Besides, the melancholy dramas that play out in her songs are often drawn from the lives of those around her.
The angst is not necessarily autobiographical.
“I write songs based on observation. Often it comes from other people’s lives. I’m inspired by things that are all around.”
Soak was recently quoted in the NME upbraiding Ireland, North and South, as homophobic.
“Ireland is an extremely religious place, but religion and Ireland hasn’t been the best friendship for people who live there – especially the LGBT community. It’s a hard enough situation already for gay young people… Both North and South of the border, the way church and state are tangled up is continuing to cause problems.”
Her pessimism will no doubt have been tempered by last week’s yes vote in the marriage equality referendum.
“There are tears in my eyes. Congratulations Ireland,” she tweeted as the result was announced, adding, “It’s your turn next Northern Ireland.”
There are tears in my eyes.
It's you're turn Northern Ireland.
IT IS a strange moment for Soak, whose music is in the bare-boned confessional vein of Damien Rice, with some patented Bjork weirdness sprinkled through (“Soak” is taken from ‘soul’ and ‘folk’, her favourite genres).
Two years ago, she emerged as a cause celebre in Irish music circles thanks to her extraordinary EP Sea Creatures.
This brought her to the attention of labels and managers in the UK and, having signed to storied Rough Trade, she is about to release her first album, Before We Forgot How To Dream.
After so many preambles , it’s an understandably tense moment.
“For the last while it has been all go,” says Soak. “This has become my everyday life. To be touring and recording all the time feels like normality to me. I’ve had to grow up a lot”
She was still at school when the media began banging on her door. This caused some strain: She could have agreed a record deal and toured the world there and then. But her parents, otherwise completely supportive, wanted her to finish her exams. She could see the logic of their position.
Meanwhile, the process of agreeing a record deal was turning rather fraught. There was a scramble to sign her, with several majors promising the earth, moon, stars, and whatever other heavenly bodies she required.
However, Monds-Watson was determined to safeguard her creative freedom and negotiations started to drag. Then, at the death, independently run Rough Trade made a bid. She signed more or less on the spot.
“We were in the middle of almost doing something with a major label. Discussions were going on nearly two years. Rough Trade came in with a deal that gave us pretty much everything we wanted. Ten days later, we had signed.”
She picked up a guitar for the first time in her early teens. Though writing came naturally, she never imagined she would one day make a living from music. Everything that has happened since has been one ongoing surprise.
“There was never a plan. This was a happy accident. I wrote songs, started doing gigs, and it just grew and grew from there. I never sat down and thought, ‘I must do this or I must do that’.”
Soak grew up in a middle class suburb of Derry. Maternal grandfather Fabian Monds is a BBC governor responsible for the North; her father, now her manager, works in mental health; her mother is a lecturer in social studies at the University of Ulster.
When she came out aged 14 they were supportive and understanding.
She was slightly terrified going into the studio to record her debut album. Collaborating with Tommy McLaughlin of the band Villagers Monds-Watson was determined to make a record that was true to her early EP; that is, a collection that was stripped down and earnest, with no glossy production to get in the way of the songs.
“It was fun but also scary,” she nods.
“Tommy’s studio is big and fancy. We spent a long time working on the album. I trusted him and it came together very well. Of course, there were nervous moments. However, mostly it was a laid-back experience. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Soak plays the Pepper Canister Church, Dublin, June 11; Triskel Christchurch, Cork, June 13. Before We Forgot How To Dream is released tomorrow
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