The wis­dom of youth

Three years ago, record la­bels were beat­ing a path to Bri­die Monds- Wat­son’s door. The Derry singer- song­writer known as Soak played the long game, and in the process set up a very promis­ing ca­reer. She talks to Jim Car­roll

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - COVER STORY -

There is a num­ber of i t ems al­ready crossed off Bri­die Monds- Wat­son’s bucket list. One oc­curred the night be­fore this in­ter­view in a BBC TV stu­dio in Lon­don. The cast of char­ac­ters in­cluded Paul Weller, Fa­ther John Misty, Lianna La Havas and Curtis Harding, with ring­mas­ter Jools Hol­land call­ing the shots. And the teenager from Derry known as Soak in the mid­dle of it all. “It didn’t feel real,” she says. “It hap­pens a bit – it’s not that I’m out of con­trol, but some­times it feels like I am do­ing things and watch­ing my­self do­ing them. You see Jools Hol­land on TV all the time and then you find your­self stand­ing be­side him in the stu­dio. It was proper. I’d a big smile on my face af­ter­wards.” She’s smil­ing to­day as she re­mem­bers it. Her to- do list is go­ing to get a ham­mer­ing in the next few weeks with the re­lease of her de­but al­bum Be­fore We For­got How To Dream. Then there’s a run of tour dates and fes­ti­val ap­pear­ances to keep her go­ing for the rest of the year. When all that ends, she’ll start com­pil­ing an­other list. It’s sur­pris­ing to stop and note that Monds- Wat­son is just 19 years old. For the past three years, since word first came out of the north­west about this tal­ent with great songs and a wise head be­yond her years, Monds- Wat­son has be­come part of the fab­ric home and abroad. Be­tween early ap­pear­ances on Other Voices, the in­dus­try buzz around her and watch­ing peo­ple grav­i­tate to­wards songs such as Sea Crea­tures, Monds- Wat­son has done much of her grow­ing up as an artist in the public eye. Her suc­cess at this junc­ture comes down to a few things. There’s un­ques­tion­able tal­ent, for sure. There’s also a few wise de­ci­sions made along the way, as we’ll see. And then, there’s per­sonal mo­ti­va­tion.

Write and read

Monds- Wat­son had se­vere dys­lexia when she was younger. “From six on, I did loads of ex­tra tu­ition and Sun­day school and ex­tra classes. I was very mo­ti­vated. I was al­ways told to write and read as much as I could and I ended up in the top English class as a re­sult. “I’m so glad my par­ents didn’t put me in a dif­fer­ent kind of school be­cause that would have had a mas­sive ef­fect on where I ended up. “The mo­ti­va­tion comes from be­ing told that I was not ca­pa­ble of do­ing some­thing. That mo­ti­va­tion has spurred on a lot of things that I’ve done and I’m glad I have it.” Mo­ti­va­tion alone though doesn’t ex­plain how she dealt with the mu­sic in­dus­try in­ter­est in her when she first emerged. Back in 2012, it seemed as if ev­ery record la­bel and manager on the planet was head­ing to Derry to talk to the 16- year- old school­girl to get her sig­na­ture on a con­tract. “It was so weird to have th­ese peo­ple who were twice your age of­fer­ing you all th­ese en­tice­ments and deals. At the time, I didn’t know what I was do­ing and my par­ents didn’t know what they were do­ing and they were try­ing to help when all th­ese peo­ple were com­ing to my house.” She cred­its her mother Ais­ling for hav­ing the fore­sight to re­alise she had time on her side when it came to mu­sic. “When all those peo­ple were on to me, my mum was lay­ing down the law. She’d tell peo­ple ‘ Bri di e’ s i n s c hool a t t he mo­ment’ or ‘ she has an exam com­ing up, you can see her in a cou­ple of months’. “I was just itch­ing to get go­ing, but my mum said ‘ you’re good but you’re too young and you need some time to be a kid’. She was smart about it when I was get­ting over- ex­cited about it all. If she wasn’t there, I’d have ended up in a to­tally dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion, so I was very lucky that my mum and dad were there.” Monds- Wat­son found the whole in­dus­try palaver dif­fi­cult to com­pre­hend at first. “It’s such a for­eign world. I’d never heard of it hap­pen­ing to any­one I know. It was weird to be so re­spected and to be seen as some­one who was ca­pa­ble of things. I was never in that po­si­tion be­fore, and when you’re 16, you’re still so young. But when you’re of­fered sup­port slots with Snow Pa­trol and la­bels are call­ing, it gets real very fast.”

Down by law

In­stead of pos­si­bly be­com­ing a lawyer (“I was al­ways very opin­ion­ated and loved de­bat­ing”), it was clear that Monds- Wat­son would be writ­ing songs and singing them for a living. A pub­lish­ing deal early on gave her the money to in­vest in a home stu­dio to demo songs and the breath­ing space to bide her t i me. Slowly, she added an agent, manager and pro­mot­ers to her team be­fore sign­ing a record deal with Rough Trade last sum­mer. “I look back now and I re­alise I was so young and it’s weird to be do­ing so much when I was 16,” she says. “I’m not em­bar­rassed by any­thing I did – I’m not too keen on the all the awk­ward hair­cuts I see in pho­tos – but it’s kind of shock­ing to see how young I was when it all kicked off. “I feel like I’ve grown into quite a ma­ture per­son, I’ve grown into my­self. I’m fairly proud of my­self for what has hap­pened and how I’ve man­aged to do the things I wanted to do. I’m glad I did all those gigs and travel be­cause it all added up and con­trib­uted to me know­ing what I am do­ing and be­com­ing a more ef­fi­cient song­writer.” You’ll hear the proof of this on Be­fore We For­got How To Dream. Pro­duced with Vil­lagers alum­nus Tommy McLaugh­lin in At­tica Stu­dio in Co Done­gal, it’s the story of Soak to date, songs which set out the mile­stones on her jour­ney from Derry bed­room to fes­ti­val stages.

Tell the story

“Al­most half the al­bum are songs which have been around for a while, but they had to be there to tell the story of what I did to date be­fore I move on to some­thing else. I wanted ev­ery­thing to stay true to the mo­ment they were writ­ten in and that’s where the strength in the songs come from. “They’re hon­est be­cause I write them when I want to talk about those things. I wanted to keep the cho­ruses and chords the same, but I was open to sug­ges­tions about ev­ery­thing on top of that and that’s where Tommy came in.” Nat­u­rally, she has al­ready moved on from her de­but in her head. “I was so re­lieved as well as ex­cited to fin­ish the al­bum. So many of the songs were writ­ten over a cer­tain pe­riod and they’ve a sim­i­lar thread so when it was done, I was happy to move on. “It’s so clear and ob­vi­ous to me that my song­writ­ing and per­for­mance has moved on and lyri­cally, it feels to me that there’s a lot more in the newer songs and there’s a dif­fer­ent vibe. It’s weird to have the bones of a sec­ond al­bum when you’re still talk­ing about the first.” Those bones will be sorted in the com­ing months. She’ll have a week off ev­ery month to head home to Derry to catch up on the world out­side her bub­ble. “Be­fore, if I was home, I’d go up­town all the time, hang around and drink. Now when I’m home, I spend most of my time in my room demo- ing or just en­joy­ing be­ing on my own and not hav­ing a sched­ule to keep or my friends come around and hang out and we catch up. “When you’re away so much, you feel like you’re miss­ing a lot.” As the in­ter­view fin­ishes, she re­mem­bers an anec­dote which sums up the Soak story to date. Te­gan and Sara came to Belfast a few years ago and she was des­per­ate to see them. So des­per­ate that she per­suaded her mother to ring the venue to see i f they’d let an un­der­age kid, or even an un­der­age kid with her mother, into the venue for the show. No dice on ei­ther score. Of course, she even­tu­ally got to see Te­gan and Sara. Ac­tu­ally, she got to see Te­gan and Sara a lot, when she sup­ported them on their Euro­pean tour in 2013. Monds- Wat­son sits back and grins. An­other thing off the list. Be­fore We For­got How To Dream is out on Rough Trade on May 29th

I was just itch­ing to get go­ing, but my mum said ‘ you’re good but you’re too young and you need some time to be a kid’. She was smart about it when I was get­ting over- ex­cited about it all

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