SOFI TUKER: YIN & YANG
When I talk about SOFI TUKKER, I feel like I’m bragging about my friends.
It isn't a far stretch, considering that we have the same alma mater: Brown University. Stowed away in a corner of the US, little ol' Providence is home to plenty of intimately small projects gone big, including SOFI TUKKER. Flourishing on their own in college, Sophie Hawley-Weld led the life of a Brazilian-speaking yogi and musician, while Tucker Halpern breathed basketball. Both performers’ creativity, by way of hobbying, coalesced into something far greater than they had anticipated.
With over three million views, SOFI TUKKER’s video for their hit-single, “Drinkee,” reveals the duo’s enthralling performance and sound in just a few minutes. Filled with greenery, colorful icey drinks, and a one of a kind drum set known as the “Book Tree,” the video follows Sophie and Tucker through a staged 3-D set, with shapes and shades coming into view from all sorts of angles. The set is surrealist and bizarre, and the music, ever cool. The duo’s music has been called “jungle-pop” for its Brazilian-heavy lyrics and instrumentation; however, the music is too complex, in our opinion, to be labeled as mere pop. Looping in sounds from traditional Brazilian and electronic music alike, Sophie and Tucker take inspiration from Portuguese-speaking poets as well. There’s never a rule to break and never a broken rule, because everything and anything on their minds is up for experiment. SOFI TUKKER’S EP, Soft Animals, is more of an intermix of house, Brazilian classics, and arguably, experimental phonics. It’s impossible to reduce their style into one genre or phrase - they are inherently a collection sound and culture come to life.
SOFI TUKKER’s music is a call to dance and a homage to instinctually-driven music that feels good no matter which way you choose to tango. From Mexico City to Istanbul and Manhattan to Sao Paulo, Sophie and Tucker have managed to tap into people’s deepest desires, creating tracks that hypnotize listeners from disparate worlds, over and over again.
DRØME: How did SOFI TUKKER start?
Sophie: We started while we were at Brown University; we did an Independent Study together our last semester and ended up writing “Drinkee” during the last week. “Drinkee” was the first song that we made together that made us think we might have something.
Tucker: Before that, I was producing Sophie’s songs. She had these beautiful Portuguese, mostly Bossa Nova acoustic tracks and I was making them into electronic music. It was cool, and that’s definitely what got us started but it wasn’t an actual collaboration of both of our minds; it was really her music, and me trying to make her songs more accessible and a little more upbeat. And then with “Drinkee,” our creative minds met.
D: When did you start practicing and playing music?
S: I spent a lot of time going to jams. I used to go to my friend’s house every Friday, and there were probably, I don’t know, seven to fifteen people and we would just make music for hours. There were super talented guitarists and drummers and singers. There are so many things I learned at Brown, and a lot of things have translated into what we’re doing now. Specifically, how to improvise and think about creation.
T: I got sick my junior year and left school for a year; that’s when I taught myself to make music. My senior year I was just DJing. I’d wake up and DJ. I just wanted to do it all the time. I felt that same rush that I did from playing basketball, which I hadn’t felt since I’d stopped playing, so it was perfect. It’s just such a great feeling. There were a couple of us [at Brown] bringing the music that hadn’t reached the States yet. It was just a good scene.
D: With so many performances, how do you make them unique?
S: It’s so different every single time. Every time. It’s the room, it’s the crowd, it’s our particular vibe that day.
T: We also change the set sometimes. We have a lot of new songs and we like to mix it up: sometimes we have an hour set, and sometimes we only have thirty minutes. Sometimes we’re in a place where people don’t speak English so we don’t talk as much in between, sometimes we’re the headlining show in the U.S.
S: The way that we fit in the songs and wear them is really different, always.
T: Every time we get off stage Sophie’s always like, “You played shy guy today!” And I’m like, “No I didn’t!” Then I think about it and I realize, “Oh! Maybe I wasn’t as out there with my personality today.”
D: Any special dance moves you have on stage?
T: With Drinkee we always do a head roll during the break down part. Even when we do DJ sets we always do a head roll - it’s become a thing. Also with Matadora we have a choreographed bit. It’s kind of dramatic boogying.
S: We’re trying to physically embody the music rather than just playing the parts.
D: You embody your style in the instruments you play, like your Book Tree. How do you make that work?
T: We cut out all the pages from the books so that they’re not too heavy, and then we inserted a contact microphone into every book. Each book is connected to the MIDI interface by cable. Every time you hit a book, its vibrations make a MIDI signal that maps onto every song – it plays different samples for each one. So by hitting the books, I play drums on some songs, I play piano part on one song, I play a horn part on one song and the sound switches every time a new song starts.
D: Where does Brazilian music and influence come into the mix?
S: I studied Portuguese at Brown University and then went to Rio and did the study abroad thing for six months. I just loved the musical culture so much, I think it’s the most beautifully sung language.
D: We noticed! How do you create your lyrics?
S: I’ve been working with poets, like Chacal and Leminski. I read their poetry and I’m really into the way that they use consonants and vowels and how they let them flow into each other. It’s nice cause there’s a freedom in using language that isn’t my own because the meaning and significance isn’t attached to all of my previous usage of those words at all. So it’s just about the way that the words sound next to each other.
D: And how did that collaboration start?
S: When I was at Brown I was very close to my Portuguese professor and he would invite us over for dinner with other Brazilian poetry scholars. There was one night everyone came to the dinner; you didn’t have to bring food, you just had to bring something creative. So I brought my guitar and one of the guys brought a book of poetry.
T: She just didn’t get that you really had to bring food. (They laugh)
D: They were like, where are the mashed potatoes?
S: Yeah exactly. Someone brought a book of Leminski’s poems, so after dinner we were jamming and I was singing and then I ended up reading the poems and singing and making music and it sounded so cool. We had a really good time. A week after, Chacal did a poetry tour, and we did the same thing but in front of people. It was really fun, we really got along and he said we should continue to collaborate, and I said I would love to.
T: Yeah we came up with the guitar for “Drinkee” and we were trying to figure out the vocals for it when Sophie was like, “Wait a minute, I have permission from this guy who I was trying to work with anyway, why don’t we use one of his poems?” Then, literally an hour after we wrote the guitar, we realized the poem was perfect.
D: People all over the world think so too! According to Spotify, your top listeners live in New Mexico, Turkey, Manhattan, and Brazil. How did you become so global?
T: European dance music has definitely had a large influence on me – I figured people in Europe might like it more just because it’s familiar to them. And Sophie brought in more Latin vibes; West African music is also an influence of ours. We puzzle piece together things that we love no matter where it’s from. We want to take a style and put it in a frame that isn’t expected, and I guess it just struck a chord for people from different cultures. I’d never even really traveled around the world before SOFI TUKKER started and now I’ve been to a lot of places, so it’s pretty cool.
S: My knowledge of mainstream music is very slim. (Tucker sings a song. Sophie doesn’t know it.) See, case in point. I listen to a lot of really obscure music that would often be categorized as"World Music” - those influences probably slipped into our music a lot. I think it’s really cool that people are liking it and giving a shit.
D: We love “Madatora,” how did it come to life?
S: One cool thing about “Matadora" - the charango, a small Bolivian instrument, is played by my friend. She was staying at a hostel in Rio and playing the charango on her iPhone and she sent me the iPhone recording and then I sent it to Tucker.
T: And then I chopped it up! It’s actually that same recording. You can hear the birds in Rio in the background!
S: For the lyrics, I chose the Chacal poem based on the sounds and it has a really, really nice flow to it: Chacal’s poems are just written really well. I looked up the words and I realized how crude and ridiculous they were and I thought, “all the better.”
D: We love that nonsensical vibe.
T: Me too. If it’s in a different language, even better. I don’t wanna know what it means, I don’t care. (Laughs.)
It’s no surprise then that SOFI TUKKER’s music speaks for itself. Centered and poised, the yin and yang of Sophie and Tucker makes for the perfect sonic balance.