Bridie Monds Watson: A friend was bullied at school so I wrote a song as a way to strike back
Ahead of her biggest gig in Belfast, singer Bridie Monds Watson tells Una Brankin how she has navigated her music career
Soak - aka Bridie Monds Watson - has a small entourage of close friends at many of her concerts, a proud bunch from her native Londonderry, mostly.
So it's not surprising the talented 18-year-old has drawn on her friendships for several of the tracks on her critically acclaimed debut album, Before We Forgot How To Dream - beautifully sung, evocative and catchy songs which have so far landed her a deal with the leading indie label Rough Trade, appearances at a clutch of the most hip music festivals, and a coveted slot on Later With Jools Holland.
The stand-out single, Sea Creatures, an eloquent response to the homophobic bullying of a school friend, has a gentle, hummable melody and ethereal harmonies that I can't get out of my head. The songwriter sounds chuffed when I tell her so, a shy half-laugh coming down the line from her family home in central Derry.
"It's about a situation I was in when I was 14 and had some personal things going on," she says. "I had a friend who was being bullied at school. She was ill and I wrote this song to help her. It was a way to strike back. It was emotional bullying; it got sorted out."
Bridie has always been very close to her parents, Jimmy and Aisling (nee Monds) Watson, who have been a huge support to her career. Along with her two brothers, she grew up listening to their parents' varied record collection - Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Joni Mitchell and Beethoven included.
The teenage singer was influenced by them all, as well as by Abba.
"I think Dancing Queen is one of the all-time best songs ever written. They were a great band," she enthuses, adding that she also likes the Swedish superstars' hits, The Name Of The Game and One Of Us.
She started writing songs at 13 to impress her father, "a great guitarist," and made secret recordings in her bedroom. After a short-lived stint with a covers band, she entered local music website Chordblossom's Kickstart competition and won the chance to record an EP.
Around the same time, at 14, she made the decision to come out as a lesbian.
"My parents were absolutely cool about it," she recalls. "It was no big deal at all; it was the easiest thing. But I've a lot of friends who had a very hard time with it."
Like the English singer La Rouz, Bridie has a distinct androgynous style. "It's just the way I dress," she says, matter-of-fact. "I used to run around with a handkerchief around neck. Gangster-ish. I was never girly, not at all, at any stage."
Under the Rough Trade record deal she signed last year, Bridie has full control of her Soak image. (The stage name is an amalgamation of 'soul' and 'folk', although her original, melodic sound cannot be categorised as either). It would have been interesting to see what X Factor would have made of such a genuinely gifted and independently-minded singer/songwriter - but the mainstream entertainment colossus was never part of Bridie's plan.
"I hate X Factor," she asserts. "They take advantage of people who don't know any better. It shouldn't be allowed. It's sad."
I wondered if she had the same view of X Factor protegees One Direction, and hit-machines like Katy Perry, Rihanna and Beyonce.
"I'm not personally into them, but I can see they have their use and that's fair enough. I like some new music as well as obscure bands like Japanese House and Ibeyi - they're Cuban twins."
The EP Bridie made after winning the online competition is a stunning snapshot of her formative years growing up in Derry, touching variously on the themes of isolation, family and trying to figure out a path for the future. Already compared with the likes of Laura Marling and Beach House, Bridie's big break came after a chance uploading of the Sea Creatures demo to the BBC Introducing playlist.
"I started to upload stuff when I was 15 and lot of labels flew over," she says nonchalantly, the antithesis of those over-excited TV talent competition entrants.
"Then I got a publishing deal with Universal at 16, but I decided I wasn't going to sign anything else until I was ready. My parents guided me, but I knew myself not to rush into anything until I was ready."
Instead, she split her time between studies, the local skateboarding park ("I'm all right at it") and daunting early shows, such as opening Derry's tenure as City of Culture, hours before a GCSE exam.
Her career moved up a gear last year, when she teamed up with Scottish electronic band Chvrches for their launch of a singles label, and toured with young English singer/songwriter George Ezra and Canadian pop duo/twin sisters Tegan & Sara.
She signed her deal with Rough Trade the same summer most of her friends got their A-level results. Long before Bridie's time, The Smiths were one of the indie label's most successful bands and she is arguably one of the more interesting acts they've signed since.
Like Morrissey, Bridie insisted on artistic control from the outset: "I have free rein over my image, over everything," she confirms. "It's completely down to me; that was my decision on signing. I call the shots."
Her busy schedule has left "no time" for a girlfriend. At the tender age of 18, she's not sure if she believes in marriage, but she has been supporting a Yes vote in the Irish referendum on same-sex marriage.
As she said in a previous interview: "I think everyone has the right to decide, and I definitely want it as an option by the time I come around to that.
"It's a matter of human rights. So if you're able to have a say in this Friday's vote, I'd say make sure you do."
Whatever the future holds personally for Bridie, you can be sure it won't interfere with her carefully-plotted career, which she's determined to conduct on her own terms.
"I'm not fussed on collaborations; I prefer to do my own thing," she says, keyboards sounding in the background. "In five years' time, I just hope I'm still doing this for a living."
Soak's biggest headline show to date takes place in The Empire, Belfast on Wednesday, June 10. Tickets are on sale on from ticketmaster.ie
Singer who has wowed the critics
- Named One To Watch for 2015 via the likes of iTunes, Spotify, and the BBC Sound Poll, Soak’s debut album, Before We Forgot How to Dream, has critics hailing her as the voice of a generation
- Glowing reviews include The Guardian’s: “A vivid portrait of teenage deep-thinking: intricate, ambiguous psychodramas”, Sterogum’s: “Understated and beautiful”, and NME’s: “Age be damned. Talent shouts louder.”
- The single Sea Creatures was released via Rough Trade in March and quickly moved up the Radio 1 playlist, featuring on top-rated shows hosted by Fearne Cotton, Zane Lowe, Huw Stephen and Annie Mac. The video for the single focuses on various characters via one life-changing event, and was filmed (often with just Bridie and her skateboard) at the crack of dawn around London’s Olympic Park
- See www.soakmusic.co.uk and www.facebook.com/Soak0fficial