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
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