Soak: ‘This is the first album where I feel like I know what I’m doing’

Bridie Monds-Watson on their ‘lockdown album’ and coming out as non-binary

The term “lockdown album” might understandably send you running for the hills. Images of lone musicians recording lo-fi, acoustic guitar tunes about the state of the world straight into GarageBand are enough to trigger a physical response in anyone who – musically speaking, at least – is ready to move on from all of that.

Bridie Monds-Watson agrees. Picking at a bowl of chips in a city centre hotel, they’re fresh from a night supporting Lucy Dacus in the 3Olympia where they finally got the chance to play some new material for audiences. Their third album, If I Never Know You Like This Again, is due for release next week and is “the most accurate portrait” of themselves so far. While the album was written in lockdown, we both agree that it’s a far cry from the solemn sound associated with the time.

A lot of people focused on my lyrics and used words like 'wisdom'. People seemed fascinated that I could have known who I was – I didn't, I still don't

Monds-Watson (whose pronouns are they/them) has been releasing music as Soak (not an acronym, but a portmanteau of “soul” and “folk”) since they were 18. Named one of the BBC’s Sounds of 2015, they went on to win the RTÉ Choice Music Prize for their debut album Before We Forget How to Dream, as well as taking home the Northern Ireland Music Prize and a nomination for the Mercury Prize in the UK. Much of the press at the time focused on their age; how a young person could sound so wise beyond their years.

“Being quite young in music, and being so self-aware, a lot of people focused [back then] on my lyrics and used words like ‘wisdom’. People seemed fascinated that I could have known who I was [while I was still so young] – I didn’t, I still don’t.” They laugh.


Intuitive space

This third record is a confident offering from Soak, who says they feel more confident in their songwriting than ever before. The band heard on the album, who they’ve worked with since record one, have settled into an intuitive space where each of the players are free to experiment and bring their own ideas to the table. While the lyrics still focus on self-reflection, there’s a buoyancy to the sound – hinted towards on 2019’s Grim Town – that takes off magnificently.

“It’s the first album I’ve made where I feel like I know what I’m doing,” they say. “Prior to that, I had been learning through trial and error, growing pains. This is the first time I feel super confident in what I’m supposed to sound like, and what I want to say.”

“Lyrically, I had so much doubt before, about myself as a writer, which limited what I could do. Something changed [during the pandemic] with how I came at it, and I feel like I know what I’m doing way more than I ever have. I’m confident in what I have to say – I’m not afraid of honesty.”

Still, writing an album during lockdown came with its own issues, both logistically and artistically. Though they treated it like a regular job (“I got up, went into the room, and wrote every day”), it is sometimes a “maddening process” to hear nothing but one’s own voice, all day every day.

“With all that time indoors and alone, you start to doubt why you do what you do. You start thinking: am I actually any good? I was searching for escape at the time, so I was going into the past, the year prior, [examining] things that I still had to process. When you look at things the second time you see so much more.”


This level of self-examination isn’t new for the artist, but there is also a lot of joy to be found in this third record. The song Neptune is a collection of Monds-Watson’s favourite memories of their friends: “all of our friends in the same place”; “I’m in the jaws of our sentiment”; “no one will know me like this”; “I am where I’m supposed to be.” Written in isolation, it’s both mournful and elated, like a memory played back on an old VHS set.

Seeing Tegan and Sara playing guitar when I was 13 was probably why I even picked one up. You need to see yourself represented to feel capable of these things

“I hope that people can hear the fun we had making it,” they say. “[The band and I] had the best time, we hadn’t seen each other for a year and we were having such a laugh together. Lyrically the album spans all of these highs and lows, but I think there’s consistent happiness in the performance of it. I hope that comes across.”

This is also Monds-Watson’s first release since coming out as non-binary in 2019. In an Instagram post celebrating Pride, they wrote: “Now seems as good a time as any to say my [pronoun] preference is they/them, please and thank you.” It’s a difficult time for trans and non-binary people to exist in the public eye, but coming out was a no-brainer for Monds-Watson.

“It was really important for me to be honest on a representation level, because I know seeing Tegan and Sara [who are openly gay] playing guitar when I was 13 was probably why I even picked one up. You need to see yourself represented to feel like you’re capable of these things. You don’t always have to, but it helps.

“It’s funny, I never had any internalised issues about being gay. I was lucky and privileged to grow up in a very safe environment. But it surprised me, how hard it was for me to come to terms with where I fell on the gender spectrum. Saying it [publicly] was a step in starting to understand it. [My gender identity] was something I struggled with; I could never put my finger on it. And when I came to understand what being non-binary was, it was such a relief. Just to even have a word for the feeling.”


Thankfully, there hasn’t been any negative backlash for Monds-Watson after coming out as non-binary. In fact, the only real difference is that “people think I’m a band now, which I guess I am!” But with more press taking place, and inevitable questions about the current “trans debate”, there’s a worry that they might attract the ire of so-called “gender critical” feminists.

“I think there’s no healthy debate about any of that. Most of [those criticisms] are probably born out of people having had a really hard time growing up gay. Maybe it’s coming from a more innocent place than it’s being exposed as. If people could just sit down and talk without screaming we might actually learn something.”

It’s hard to speak to the 26-year-old and not admire the aforementioned “wisdom”. We’re speaking just a week after Derry Girls star Jamie Lee O’Donnell drew attention to our culture’s obsession with age on The Late Late Show, calling out Ryan Tubridy for a “misogynistic” question. It’s hard not to draw a similar parallel with Monds-Watson’s early career.

“I hated that,” they say, referencing the obsession with their age early on. “I had ridiculous things said about me; that I was a prodigy.” They laugh at the idea. “These comments are churned out because it sounds good, but it’s really intense to hear when you’re young.

“Thankfully, I had so many grounding people in my life who would have never let me get away with taking that seriously. My Mum would actively slag me about it, and I still don’t hear the end of it from my brothers. I don’t think I was ever going to be a dick about it, but it was helpful to have people around me who made sure I didn’t.”

The obsession with youth in the music industry is, hopefully, changing, but it takes high-profile people calling it out to make a real difference. Monds-Watson cites Rebecca Lucy Taylor – who broke through in pop music in her mid-30s as Self Esteem – as someone who is challenging these norms in pop music.

“That’s the change that needs to happen. She’s leading a good charge, and I feel like it is changing. It’s really needed”.

Now, Monds-Watson is focusing on getting through a long day of press, before releasing the album next week and finally touring the record across the UK and Ireland this summer. Getting back on the road is a reminder that they’re doing the right thing, making music designed to be heard and celebrated with people who need it most. “We’re properly getting into shows now. It’s been amazing how much I missed the interaction with crowds.”

If I Never Know You Like This Again is released on May 20th