An Early Grammy Nomination Helped to Inspire the Electronic Dance Duo Sofi Tukker

click to enlarge COURTESY OF FANCY PR
Courtesy of Fancy PR
In what sounds like something that could be a scripted scene in film, Sofi Tukker singer-multi-instrumentalists Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern first met at an art gallery opening when the two were students at Brown University. Hawley-Weld was playing a bossa nova-inspired acoustic set, and Halpern was the house DJ.

“He came early and saw me play and remixed one of my songs on the spot,” says Hawley-Weld in a recent conference call with Tukker. Sofi Tukker performs with Kah-Lo, LP Giobbi at 8 p.m. on Monday, April 30, at the Grog Shop. “We started collaborating at that point.”

After they started playing parties together, Halpern and Hawley-Weld naturally started to think about recording some of their songs for their debut EP, 2016’s Soft Animals. They reached out to their friends in the electronic dance duo the Knocks for some assistance.

“We were figuring out how to work together,” says Hawley-Weld. “We were in New York for most of it. We were just going through life as recent college graduates figuring out how to make music and what were as a band in terms of our identity. So we started working out of the Knocks’ studio in Chinatown. It was great. We worked at nights and would come in when they were not working. It was nice to get some mentorship.”

“We just started to work at 7 and then worked  all night,” says Halpern. “It took us that whole summer to figure out who we wanted to be.”

With its guttural vocals and clanging percussion, the album opener, “Drinkee,” truly sounds otherworldly.

“I studied Portuguese in college and spent six months living in Brazil,” says Hawley-Weld. “I was passionate about the language and the culture and developed a friendship with the poet Chacal, and that is a collaboration with him.”

When the song received a Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording, Halpern says he was “shocked.”

“It was a wild start,” he says. “We got to grow and build from that song.”

As the group began work on last year’s Treehouse, it tried to incorporate the lessons it had learned from touring for two years in support of Soft Animals.

“We wrote about what influenced us,” says Halpern. “That was different. It was a different mentality. We had the same things. Our philosophy is that as long as we love it, we’re cool with it. We don’t worry about genres. If we love it, we go with it.”

The group used a variety of different studios, and Halpern says they even recorded in hotel rooms and tour buses.

“We were writing as we were on tour,” he says. “We don’t need crazy stuff to do what we do. I bring around Moog synthesizers and stuff and we have nice gear we perform with for the live show, so we have nice interfaces we can use in the hotel room."

Halpern says his jerk of a college basketball coach inspired the punk-y opening track, “Fuck They.”

“He was kind of an asshole and didn’t let me be myself,” says Halpern. “He had an idea about what an athlete should act and dress and be. That wasn’t how I felt comfortable being. For me, the song is about that.”

Hawley-Weld says the sentiment applies in many different contexts.

“It’s about anything or anyone that holds me back,” she says. “They can be in your own mind sometimes. It’s a nice thing to be able to say."

For the first time, Halpern sings lead vocals on the wild and wacky “Batshit.”

“It happened naturally,” says Hawley-Weld. “We were working on that song and first had the idea about itching my vocal down. Then, we thought we could have Tucker do it. I hope it’s the beginning of many Tucker singing moments, which I’m really excited about.”

The song also features a gnarly guitar riff courtesy of Australian guitarist Jonathan Hume.

“We’ve done three or four songs with him,” says Halpern when asked about Hume. “We usually just do the two of us. Sometimes, it’s hard when you go in with other people who have their own style or their own way of producing stuff and we’re particular. It’s been awesome working with him.”

The album’s centerpiece, “Best Friend,” mixes heavy bass riffs, soulful vocals, spirited raps and rattling cowbells.

“Me and Sophie made it in the garage actually,” says Halpern. “We didn’t know what to do with it. We had her verse and we didn’t know what to do with it. We took it to [the production team] Nervo and they had a girl in Tokyo that they work with. We knew we wanted a verse in Japanese. They got back to us and loved the track and wanted to get it on too. It was about best friends and we had best friends on it, so we got the Knocks. We all jumped on the track and made it together.”

They initially didn’t know if it’d make the album, but Apple heard it and wanted to build an ad campaign around it.

“We were like, ‘Holy shit,’” says Halpern. “So we put it out and it blew up accidentally.”

Halpern says the live show is “pretty fun.”

“It’s Sophie on guitar and singing,” he says. “I’m on bass and singing. We have a giant sculpture on stage. We call it the book tree with drum triggers inside the books. You hit them and they play different samples. We do choreographed dancing and crowd surfing. We go crazy. It’s nuts. It’s electronic music. We’re not trying to be a full band. It’s just a fun dance party.

Sofi Tukker, Kah-Lo, LP Giobbi, 8 p.m. Monday, April 30. Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-5588. Tickets: $16 ADV, $18 DOS,

About The Author

Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected]
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