“Willing and excited and enthusiastic, that’s really what we are” – An interview with Sofi Tukker

The New York duo tell all about their unlikely friendship, what makes a perfect party, and percussive on-stage foliage.

Originally recorded for Surge Radio and published in The Edge

Sofi Tukker (aka Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern) might not be a household name just yet, but you’ll certainly recognise their sound. Since the release of their Portuguese-language debut ‘Drinkee’ in 2015, vocalist Sophie Hawley-Weld and basketball player turned instrumentalist Tucker Halpern have been fusing her bossa nova adoration with his house style for a series of infectious releases, including 2016’s debut EP Soft Animals. Last autumn, they were picked out by Apple to soundtrack their iPhone X campaign, launching ‘Best Friend’ – a lively ode to friendship penned alongside New York duo The Knocks, Australian twins NERVO, and Japanese newcomer Alisa Ueno – directly to a global audience. During their recent headline tour across Europe, we caught up with the pair to dig into what makes their unlikely friendship so special and find out what they’ve got brewing for 2018.

Could you start off by telling me a bit about how you two met? I’ve read it was at university but it wasn’t the most natural combination of musical styles.

Sophie Hawley-Weld: Yeah, we met at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, and I was playing at an art gallery with a jazz trio playing, like, bossa nova Brazilian music. Tucker came early – he was the DJ for the same event that night – and he ended up watching a little bit of my set, and he basically said it was beautiful but boring. He ended up remixing one of the songs on the spot and it was really, really fun, so the next day we met up and we started collaborating. We haven’t stopped ever since.

So was it a friendship based entirely on the musical side of things initially?

Tucker Halpern: It wasn’t even much of a friendship at first, it was really just like a cool musical partnership. I called her right before I graduated and convinced her to move to New York with me to start this band, and we weren’t even that close then. When we look back on it, we’re kind of like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe that she actually came.’ Then we ended up becoming best friends over the next year. And now we’re best friends.

That ties in nicely with the new single, of course.

SHW: Yeah! Nicely done, Tucker.

Tell us a bit about ‘Best Friend.’ For most people, it’s their first exposure to what you guys do.

SHW: Well, it’s a song celebrating friendship. We made it when Tucker was in the garage and I was on the phone with my best friend from college. I just walked into the garage and started gushing because I’d just had the best conversation and we’d talked about nothing for hours – just, I love friendship so much so we ended up writing a song. We didn’t really know what to do with it, so we ended up sending it to our friends to get verses on it. It was like this mashup of all these different verses that we had, but we weren’t sure we were going to put it out, you know. Then Apple reached out to us and we ended up putting it out and now it’s taken over in a way that we definitely did not anticipate.

I read it’s just gone gold in Canada and it’s top 50 on iTunes in 45 countries.

TH: Yeah, it’s pretty wild. Totally blowing our minds.

How has the reaction been compared to some of the other stuff you’ve put out? Obviously it seems like such a massive explosion for you.

TH: The reaction we’ve observed is just a whole new thing for us. We’ve never been on pop radio – at least not in the United States – and now you can’t get in an Uber without hearing it. It’s really wild. Our personal reaction is we’re still in awe. Every time we hear it unintentionally we’re just pulling our phones out trying to record it, saying ‘Oh my God, look!’ It’s all new to us.

It must have been quite special at the end of last year as you had the song blowing up and you were out on a massive tour with ODESZA in America.

TH: Yeah, that was cool. That was a great experience. We got to play really huge rooms – mostly arenas. The past couple of years we’ve really pretty much been touring non-stop, and that was one of the only really huge tours we’ve done as an opener, and it was a great experience to learn how a giant thing like that runs.

And now you’re in Europe. How are you finding it so far?

SHW: Just incredible. We were just in Dublin and in Glasgow – we’ve never been to either city before and we were just blown away by the audiences. The energies in the room were insane, so we’re off to a very good start.

On moving around, you lived in Brazil for a little bit – what drew you to that culture? It comes through a lot in your music.

SHW: The language, really, and the music. I was really obsessed with Brazilian music so I decided to learn the language so that I could sing my favourite songs, and then once I learned the language I was like, ‘Well, I guess I should go to Brazil,’ and I just fell in love with the culture. I just think the music is so beautiful and the language is perfect for singing – it’s just so naturally melodic. I love it there.

Are you planning on doing any more Portuguese-language songs [like ‘Drinkee’ and ‘Energia’] or even exploring other cultures in your lyrics?

Both: Yeah!

TH: We have a lot made already. We have a lot of songs just waiting – we’re antsy to get them out into the world. Some of them are Portuguese, some of them are mixtures, and we also do take from all sorts of cultures and places all over the world, I think. We get influenced by all sorts of things. Sophie was in a west African dance troupe in college and those sorts of rhythms definitely come through in our music and it’s also really consistent with a lot of house music percussion stuff that I loved. Our influences are really all over the place.

What do you two listen to together on the tour bus when you’re going round?

SHW: We listen to a lot of dance tracks together. I think that’s really our common ground.

TH: We have some friends we’ve been developing artists and bands with – we’re always listening to works-in-progress, critiquing, making notes, and working on things all together in the bus or on a speaker that we have in the green room. It’s just like fun, creative, constantly making things, even when we’re listening to things.

Is that how you pass the time and keep things exciting while you’re out on the road?

TH: We don’t have to keep things exciting, we’re trying to keep things less exciting. I haven’t slept in three days!

There are so many really great duos in electronic music, where people just seem to work really well together even if they’re coming from different backgrounds. What’s the secret to making it work?

SHW: One of the secrets is we don’t have that much in common so we can just spend a ton of time together without getting sick of each other. My shortcomings are his skills, and his shortcomings are my skills.

TH: I also think really open communication is really good. That’s probably working with anyone in any field or relationship in general, but we’re really honest with each other and we don’t let things linger and get pent up or anything. When there’s any weirdness or issues, we just discuss it either way and move past it. It’s great – we have a really functional friendship and working relationship going on. We love it.

What would you say is the coolest part about being in a band and touring the world?

SHW: The coolest thing about being in a band is that we get to share it with each other. Like, there’s so many wonderful things happening – and there are so many challenges – and we get to go through them together and talk through them and celebrate them. It’s just best when it’s shared, so I’m really grateful that we’re in a band together.

TH: You were probably going to say this next, but also seeing people from our past – like people we went to school with, people we grew up with, and family – because we’re constantly travelling so we can keep relationships alive that we probably wouldn’t have if we were living in one city and not travelling a lot. That’s been really exciting and valuable to me. I’ve been able to stay in touch and see friends so much more often than I thought I would after college.

SHW: We’ve also been able to make so many friends around the world and have so many beautiful people come into our lives that have been really inspiring.

TH: Totally.

You’re working with a lot of your friends on ‘Best Friend’ and some of your other tracks. It must be really cool getting everyone together on one big posse cut.

TH: We literally called it a posse cut when we were making it. I was like, ‘Oh, it’ll be like one of those rap songs where everybody gets a verse and we just have a party with our friends on a track.’ That’s really the vibe. That’s what we intended for it. We didn’t even know if it’d be put out. We were just having fun making a song about friendship called ‘Best Friend’ with our friends.

You and The Knocks go way back, am I right? They brought you into this musical world to an extent?

TH: To an extent, totally. I was DJing – before I even met Sophie, actually, I opened up for The Knocks at a club in Providence when I was still in college and we became really good friends just, like, partying all night one night. Then, I stayed in touch with them, visited them in New York, showed them some stuff that Sophie and I had been working on as sort of an afterthought – they didn’t even know I made music when we became friends – and then they said, ‘Hey, you should pursue this – this is really cool.’ That was enough confidence that I needed to get it going, so literally that day I called Sophie and convinced her not to move to Brazil to teach music and yoga after collage and to move to New York with me and to start a band.

It all worked out quite nicely in the end, didn’t it?

SHW: Yeah, it’s so funny because we really do look back on it – that was just one person saying, ‘Hey, come and work in our studio at nighttime,’ you know? It was still a big risk but we wanted it so badly, I think, and we did it and I’m just so grateful that I didn’t move back to Brazil and instead started the band.

You’ve said you’ve got a lot of music ready to go and we’re at the start of a new year. What’s next? A new EP? An album? More collaborations?

SHW: I’ll just say there’s a lot of music coming.

TH: It hasn’t been announced yet, but we really do have a lot ready to go and it will be coming pretty soon. We’re so, so excited for everyone to hear it. We play a lot of new stuff live.

Tell me a bit about the live show, because I’ve seen your performance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon – what is the Book Tree?

TH: I was going to let Sophie take this one. When she tries to explain the Book Tree, it goes horribly wrong.

SHW: I always mess up the description! It’s a tree with books on it and you hit the books it the it makes sound. There you go.

TH: The science behind it is that it’s an eight-foot-tall structure with an aluminium circle around the top and books zip-tied to the aluminium. Inside the books we’ve cut out the pages and put contact microphones in each one, so when you hit them with drumsticks it triggers a sample from the computer. Each song has different samples on it, so it’s basically like a giant drum pad. It’s this homemade thing that has developed over time with us and it’s part of our show.

What would you say is the recipe for a perfect Sofi Tukker party?

TH: People not worried about getting really sweaty and ready to go.

SHW: Ready to go and wearing the right shoes. Stretching, maybe?

TH: Maybe some sparkles and glitter, you know? A little bit of everything.

SHW: People ready to get wild and be themselves.

TH: Just people willing and excited and enthusiastic, because that’s really what we are.

SHW: Because we go there, and when people go there with us it’s just the best.

One last question: where do you see yourselves in five years’ time?

SHW: I have absolutely no idea, but we were just talking recently about what our goals are. I think the thing that’s really important to us is that yes, we want to grow, but the most important thing is that we keep the spirit alive that we have today. There’s just so much excitement and so much joy about what we’re doing, and I hope in five years we have the same amount of enthusiasm.

TH: And that we stand behind everything that we put out into the world and that we love it a lot and that it, you know, means something. I think that’s all really important to us.


Author: Xavier Voigt-Hill

I write words.

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