interview by GISELLE WOO
Rhythms, cultures and unicorns — oh my. There we were at weekend two of what has easily become my favorite time of the year: the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in beautiful Indio, CA. A couple of friends and I agreed that we’d see Hinds on the new Sonora stage, then run over to the Gobi tent to check out a dance duo by the name of SOFI TUKKER. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was excited because of the buzz about them from the weekend before. We trekked across the crowded field and joined the fray of bodies swaying back and forth to sonic beats. SOFI TUKKER were owning the Gobi stage like many greats before them, delivering hypnotic dance moves and musical invention. I will never forget those indelible moments when I realize Coachella has once again opened my mind and heart to new music that I will love forever.
GISELLE WOO: Briefly tell us how you two met. Was it an instant connection?
SOPHIE: It kind of was, actually. We were both at Brown [University] and we met our senior year. I was playing acoustic bossanova — jazz inspired music — and Tucker [was] a house music DJ. We were playing the same party at this art gallery. Tucker came early, saw my set, and ended up remixing one of my songs on the spot. It was really fun and sounded really cool. Basically since that day we’ve been working together every day.
GISELLE: I’ve read up on you guys, and I just love that story, you know how it just happened.
TUCKER: You should’ve told us you’ve already seen it.
SOPHIE: I would’ve told you a different thing — the real story.
If you hadn’t met, where do you think your paths would have led you?
SOPHIE: I really don’t know. I had a fellowship in Brazil I was planning to go to. I didn’t know what was going to happen [once] I was there, but I was going to teach music and yoga and just kind of see what happened from there. I just love Brazil and the music there. So that was my plan, but it was kind of a short-term plan. I think I was hoping it would lead me to music in some way.
TUCKER: I knew I was going to try to do the music thing. That was my passion after I stopped playing basketball, but I didn’t really know how I was going to do it. It was really nice to find a partner to do it with. I mean, I wasn’t like, scouring the streets looking for a good musical partner, but luckily it happened.
Sophie, you mentioned that deep inside you wanted music to be a part of your life?
SOPHIE: Yeah, definitely. Even when I didn’t say it out loud, I think inside I was hoping that would be the case. I used to tell people that I wanted to be a firefighter ballerina, but what I really meant was [a] rockstar.
TUCKER: Now we start fires instead of putting them out. (drops mic)
How would you describe SOFI TUKKER to readers that haven’t heard your music?
TUCKER: It’s hard to describe. Whenever I start to describe what we do, people look confused. “Well, it’s like house music but, you know, it’s half in Portuguese, and Sophie plays guitar and sings, and I do like, low talking. I play some bass, I hit some books.”
SOPHIE: Yeah, when we get to the ‘books’ part they start scratching their heads.
Is there something that your fans would be surprised to know about you?
TUCKER: Maybe that we tour around the country in a little minivan.
GISELLE: That’s so rad, do you guys drive it yourselves?
TUCKER: I wish Sophie would help…
Can you tell us how it felt being on the Gobi Stage — making us all dance — both weekend one and two of Coachella?
SOPHIE: It felt so good. I mean, we didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know if anybody would show up — it was so hot.
TUCKER: We knew that Coachella was really famous for a reason, but we didn’t really know why everyone was like, “Holy shit, you’re playing Coachella?” We were like, “Well, you know, we’ve done some other festivals. It can’t be that different.” And it really was different. When we were up there, and after the shows, we were really kind of mind blown. [We] thought, “Wow, something cool just happened.” It felt really good to connect with that many people. They were so willing and open to take our vibes and vibrate them right back.
Did you guys feel a difference between weekend one and weekend two?
SOPHIE: Definitely. Weekend one for me was way more nerve wracking.
TUCKER: It was more stressful and way serious. We also had a lot more press.
SOPHIE: I didn’t remember to drink and eat, and I was just on stage like (faint laugh). But the second weekend was kind of the opposite because we knew how to prepare, so we drank a lot of water.
TUCKER: We know how to do festivals now.
Was it the first time in the desert for you guys?
What was your impression of the festival? Was there a special moment that stands out to you?
TUCKER: It was way better than I could’ve even thought, to be honest. I was real excited just because it’s “Coachella” and it’s such a “thing.” I really didn’t know how cool it was. The art created a vibe and an openness. Having weird unicorns in the middle of the place — I feel like it made everyone feel like a unicorn (laughs). And just the openness and the friendliness of everyone.
SOPHIE: I think that everybody really put a lot of effort and care into what they were wearing. How they were freely expressing themselves — both energetically and visually — I think it made for a really amazing, open vibe, like Tucker said.
TUCKER: I think my favorite moment was after the second show. I was so excited ‘cause I felt so good about the show and the connection we made and everything. We went and danced at Maya Jane Cole’s DJ set in the YUMA tent an hour after we got off stage. It was probably my favorite moment in the whole two weeks.
What was the concept behind your stage design? Can you explain the wheel with the animal-printed drum pads?
SOPHIE: Those are actually books. That’s why Tucker was saying he hits books (laughs).
TUCKER: We put contact microphone triggers inside every book, so when [we] hit it, it plays a sample. It’s different in each song. It was a fun, cheap and creative way to play, build our own instrument and get something different on stage. It kind of becomes a third member.
Sophie, how long have you been playing guitar? What is your songwriting process like and when does Tucker come in, or vice versa?
SOPHIE: I haven’t actually been playing the electric guitar for very long. I started playing the electric guitar the day that we wrote “Drinkee,” which was our last week of college. That was a couple years ago. We pretty much make the songs in the same room together, just vibing off each other the whole time. It’s not like I write a riff separately and then bring it to Tucker. [I doodle] around while we’re together making the song, and maybe there’s already some drums, maybe there’s bass, maybe there’s nothing.
TUCKER: Yeah, sometimes I’ll be like, “Wait, do that part again!” or “What did you just do with the walk up here?” And sometimes she just nails it right away. It depends.
Tucker, your presence on stage was huge. Probably because you’re really tall. There was a moment where you stood center stage and it reminded me of a lion on Pride Rock. If you could be an animal, what would you be
TUCKER: I’d be a giraffe, but a lion is cool.
SOPHIE: He has a really long neck (laughs).
What about you, Sophie? If you were to be an animal, what would you be?
SOPHIE: Well, on our book tree, we’ve got animals around it. If you look closely on Tucker’s side, they’re all different giraffes. On my side they’re all different types of cats, like panthers and leopards. [So] definitely the female lion category. Strong and smooth runner.
You’re working on new music. Is it going to have a different sound than Soft Animals, or is that like the blueprint?
SOPHIE: Actually, we played a couple of the new songs live. One of them was called “Batshit.” We’re definitely excited to share them and we’ve grown as writers since Soft Animals. But Soft Animals is where we were born, so it’s still a part of us.
Who writes the lyrics?
TUCKER: Sophie does more of the lyrics, like I do more of the technical production stuff. But we both are always there next to the other one, just to make sure that we like what’s going on.
You mentioned that you’re looking forward to shooting new music videos for your new songs. Would you ever consider coming out to the Coachella Valley to film one? Do you guys have a say in how the videos are directed?
SOPHIE: Great idea! We’re dreaming about some new music videos right now. We’re independent in the U.S., so we don’t have a label that’s saying, “You have to make a video in a certain way.” So that’s also really nice. In particular with “Drinkee” we had this idea and a concept that we really wanted to make. Then we found a director that was into the idea and he elaborated on it and made it come to life. He was the one who made the two videos that we were in. His name is Sam Mason.
Having released an album last year — along with a Grammy nomination, playing Coachella and having your songs on FIFA and Apple commercials — do you have any advice you can impart with up-and-coming artists who want to break into the industry?
TUCKER: I would say the best thing that we could advise [to] anyone is — make music that you love, that you want to hear yourself and that you can really stand behind and be proud of and excited about. And if you get that excited about it, then trust that some other people will too. The authenticness and realness of it will come through. I think too many people end up making music for a certain genre or for what they think people want to hear. That’s when things start sounding like a lot of other stuff or less genuine. So for us at least, we just make what we want to hear and what we love and hope that other people will like it too.
The Coachella Valley will be graced with the presence of SOFI TUKKER again this August for Splash House 2017 in Palm Springs.
If you haven’t already heard them, check out their music