In the past 12 months, singer-songwriter Soak has gone from obscurity to being courted by major record labels. But the Derry teenager isn’t fazed by the fuss. “Nothing is definite – except my A-levels,” she tells TONY CLAYTON-LEA
‘YOU CAN call me Bridie – it’s only strange people that call me Soak in interviews.” It’s a relief to be reminded – now and again – that youth actually isn’t wasted on the young. Sixteen-year-old Bridie Monds-Watson may be one of the most hotly tipped acts for 2013 but, by Thor, she certainly isn’t one to show it.
Bright as a newly minted coin, and the wearer of spectacles so large they would make Elton John squint in wonder, Bridie talks 10 to the dozen about the past 12 months, during which time she has gone from virtual obscurity to being mentioned frequently in dispatches from many sectors of the music industry.
“There’s a fun story and there’s the actual story,” she says, as we sit down to chat. “Which one do you want to hear?”
Er, well . . .
“When I started writing songs I knew I had to have an act name; there’s no imagination in using a name like Bridie, I think. It’s a lot more interesting to have something else, almost like an alter ego, so when I started writing songs, my original idea was to have a style like a mix of soul and folk – hence Soak. But the music never turned out like a mix of soul and folk at all; I wouldn’t classify any of my music like that. But the Soak title just stuck – it’s only four letters, it’s simple and it’s just one syllable. Plus, spell it backwards and it’s Kaos!”
Monds-Watson’s breathless delivery belies the music that has garnered so much attention in the past year. Major labels have been circling overhead for some time now, and she seems acquainted with, if not prepared for, whatever will come her way.
“There’s a lot of talk, but so far nothing has been signed. With regard to that, I’m very sure about things – I know what kind of music I want to make and how I want it to sound. I know what music I definitely don’t want to have anything to do with. Your music is how you present your self, and why would I want anything to deviate from that? It’s a part of what and who you are, and I don’t like the sense of corruption involved. People know what’s pure and what isn’t.”
So there’s no need to rush into anything just yet. Besides, she says, what’s possibly more important is how the music industry over the past two decades has altered beyond recognition.
“The online presence has changed the level of profile for someone like myself, who is essentially a low-key singer-songwriter. You can gain a profile is a lot quicker now, which is brilliant. I know if I’d been around 20 years ago, trying to get my music heard, it would have been so much more difficult. I also know I probably wouldn’t have had the resources to record my own music at home. In fact, it’s quite likely I wouldn’t have got anywhere.”
When Monds-Watson started out a few years ago, there really was no plan. It’s odd how it began, she says. “Three years ago, my brother got a guitar for Christmas, but he only learned to play Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water, and then gave up. So I thought I’d learn it just to see if I could be better at it than he was. I expected it to be very difficult, and it was at the beginning – my hands and fingertips killed me for the first couple of months – but then it was fine. Then I learned the main chords – from my dad, I have to admit; he’s a brilliant guitar player – and then I learned tablature, which was helpful.”
Once she heard a song she liked (these included a few Pink Floyd tunes, as well as songs by Fleetwood Mac and Abba), Monds-Watson would then trawl the web, search out the chords for it and learn to play it. “Being able to play songs I really loved helped me continue to play the guitar. If you love it then you’ll do it more. There were other random songs, but musical tastes develop, so after these I just surged ahead.”
At what point did she sense that her love of music wasn’t just a passing phase? Some people of that age delve into things as if their lives depended on them, only to move on without a moment’s thought.
“I never really thought of getting something out of music,” Bridie admits. “It was just something I enjoyed and wanted to continue doing. Once I was confident that I could play a few songs, then I was happy. And once the song structures were there then the words just flowed.
“What were the songs about? Just experiences I’ve had, things I’ve witnessed, things about other people. Essentially, it’s just what happens to me or around me. There isn’t a lot of technique about it; it’s just as natural as it can be. I don’t want people to think that it’s produced, as such, or strained out. The song has to come to you, which I know sounds a bit hippyish, but it’s got to be natural. It’s odd how it works, isn’t it?”
Indeed it is, and from what we’ve heard so far, it seems more oddness is on the way this year.
“Last year was so unplanned yet I did really well, I think – with, I have to say, a lot of support from a lot of people, and a lot of luck. And I have no plans for this year, either; I suppose I hope to be signed up to a publisher, and I hope to release some music. Nothing is definite, of course – except my A-levels, all of which are musicrelated.
“You see, I have a back-up plan. If this whole music career thing goes downhill, then I can still have a life in music . . .”.
Soak performs at the Glassworks venue in Derry, Friday February 8th, as part of Other Voices: from Kerry to Derry. She also plays support to Ethan Johns in Dublin’s Sugar Club on Friday 22nd February