Sofi Tukker Are ‘Trying to Be Themselves in More Extreme Ways': Interview
Tucker Halpern had just posted the most embarrassing picture to his band’s 30,000 followers on Instagram. He was wearing a long sleeve shirt with a twisted, colorful version of the old MTV logo that he had bought on ASOS and, as he told me, the image he posted had the most awful angle. “It looked deformed and crazy,” he assured me without showing the photos. He was trying to delete it.
Haplern and Sophie Hawley-Weld comprise Sofi Tukker, an electronic dance duo that formed while both were students at Brown. It was there that Halpern, a six-foot-eight, former NCAA-competing forward, met Hawley-Weld, an international relations student who had spent her high school years singing in bossa nova bands in Brazil. Two days before graduation, he told me, he had convinced Hawley-Weld to join him in the alternative dance environs of Williamsburg. Less than three years later, they would be at the Grammys, with a Best Dance Recording nod.
Before they met, Hawley-Weld had been playing the college coffee shop scene with a small folk trio, her cool voice comfortably sliding inside the rhythm of trance-like Portuguese incantations. Haplern was immediately transfixed. “I loved that it wasn’t in English. Her style and the way that it flowed was so beautiful. It sounded like something I wanted to hear on the dance floor.”
The journey from acoustic soul to dance-pop bounce is less uncommon than you would think. It was recently mirrored in the form of Maggie Rogers, the erstwhile banjo-playing singer-songwriter who had a spiritual experience with dance music while studying abroad in Paris and then turned to it when recording “Alaska”—forever remembered as that song that made Pharrell cry. Even more so, it reflects a changing temperature of our own pop climate: the move away from Mumford and Sons beat downs to DJs dropping beats.
Their sound was enough to impress Ben Ruttner, who Haplern had once gigged for and is most well-known as B-Roc of the DJ duo The Knocks. “He heard what we were doing and told us that we should peruse this. And I said f— it, let’s do it,” Halpern tells me.
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He invited them to record in his studio in Chinatown where they crafted their debut EP, Soft Animals, a curious dance musical beast rife with jungle imagery (the cover features a giraffe and another song is titled “Hey Lion”). The EP explicitly challenged the overly cozy and monolithic tropical beat that has slowly smoothed over all varieties of deep house music in the race for radio airplay. Viral single “Drinkee,” which took them to the Grammy Awards in 2017, is led by a hard rock guitar riff which slowly explodes like a pebble hitting a pool of water. Hawley-Weld’s vocals, which were inspired by the work of a mildly esoteric Brazilian poet named Chacal, remain in their native Portuguese. In one sense, this renders the lyrics into pure nonsense, an interpretation she has given credence to, but in another, it inverts the rush to reduction of Swedish-designed millennial pop. There is actually something here, if you look.
It is fitting then that Soft Animals was named after a line in a Mary Oliver poem, a poet who managed to be one of the best-selling writers of the last century, despite being a poet and all. Poets don’t normally sell. And it is fitting, also, that Sofi Tukker’s latest music does an outstanding job of sounding different from earlier material: “Greed,” which the duo released on President’s Day this year (a deliberate political jab, as they explained on their SoundCloud page) and on which Hawley-Weld’s voice approximates that of Karen O.
On “F— They,” which was just remixed by Benny Benassi and MazZz, the duo turn a piece of DJ Khaled-esuqe advice into an emotive manifesto.In the music video, they star as pets who end up becoming owners, a comically literal transformation.
“We’re trying to be ourselves in more extreme ways,” Halpern explained. “We want to feel excited and liberated by what that is.”
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