Photo: Shervin Lainez
Every artist has that voila moment that becomes the first day of the rest of their lives. For Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern of Sofi Tukker (get it?), it was as a future VH-1 Special might have it — on their last day before graduation at Brown University in 2014.
“We were in the school’s studio,” remembers Halpern talking via Skype from a Milan airport, as the New York-based duo is in the middle of their first tour through Europe. “It was the first time we put an electric guitar in Sophie’s hands. The ‘Drinkee’ riff happened that day. We were like ‘oh shit.’
More like “awww sheeit.”
“Drinkee” that Portuguese-laced, feel good song of summer has been everywhere this year, from New York Fashion Week runway shows to the top of Spotify charts, to three million plays on YouTube and even music connoisseur’s Cameron Crowe’s new Showtime show “Roadies” this past Sunday.
Up until that fateful moment in Rhode Island, Halpern was a DJ who had found salvation in music after having to give up a promising college basketball career (he was an All-Ivy League honorable mention as a sophomore at Brown) because of Epstein-Barr virus. Hawley-Weld, who was born in Germany, grew up in rural Canada and attended international schools, had found a home on stage playing acoustic guitar at gigs around campus.
“My music wasn’t accessible,” says Hawley-Weld over the same Skype call. “I used to make music that was slow.”
“So slooooow,” chimes in Halpern.
Shortly after graduation, they moved to New York on a whim “we didn’t even have a name,” remembers Hawley-Weld and uploaded “Drinkee” onto Soundcloud, which is when they had their second “oh shit” moment. “Apple got in touch with us and wanted to put it in an Apple Watch commercial,” recalls Halpern. “That was when we realized we could do this. It could be a real thing.”
Although the group just released the psychedelic “Drinkee” music video (see below) last week to make you fall in love with the hit single all over again, their newly released E.P. Soft Animals (HeavyRoc Music), proves that they’re far from a one-trick pony.
“It’s exciting because it’s the first collection of songs we made together and we’ve made songs since then, but these six, in particular, are the way we arrived at our collaboration and developed our sound,” says Halpern of the six songs on Soft Animals, which is a veritable coming out (dance) party for a young group that has no musical boundaries.
“It if it feels good, feels different and falls in the middle of both of our wildly different tastes then we know it’s a Sofi Tukker song,” explains Halpern. “We work really hard,” adds Hawley-Weld. “We overanalyze everything, discussing what worked, what didn’t. We can never remember who did what half the time.”
“Matadora” sounds like a bullfighter’s walk-out song with its mix of the traditional Charango (small Andean guitar), a shaker, Portuguese chants, hand claps (a Sofi Tukker staple) and rhythmic beat drops. “Hey Lion” is grrrl power at its most sultry, while the jet-set “Deja Vu Affair” is a James Bond-theme after dark with its rock out with your cock out guitar solos fueled by a bubble bath of sultry BPM’s.
“We make what we want to listen to,” states Halpern. “People come up to me and tell me ‘I listen to it (the album) every day when I’m working out, or when I’m driving to work, or when I’m walking or when I’m having sex —
“That’s my favorite one,” says Hawley-Weld with a laugh before adding. “And, dancing!”
“We love to get people moving,” adds Halpern. “Especially moving together.”
Dancing was literally at the center of a Sofi Tukker show I witnessed firsthand at a recent headlining performance at the Lyric Theatre in Los Angeles. Halpern has an NBA power forward size, with dyed blond locks and a perma-shit eating grin who jumps around the stage, banging on a book tree of beats (have to see it for yourself), while egging the audience on like a team mascot. The magnetic Hawley-Weld commands the stage with an electric guitar, pulled back ponytail and white body suit. There’s lively crowd banter, goofy dance routines “yeah, we abandoned the cool thing awhile ago,” admits Halpern, “and lots of “is this really happening” glances between the two.
“We will look at each other at every mid-show at one point when we face each other in ‘Matadora’ and we smile and say to each other ‘let’s fucking go!!!’ And then we turn to the crowd and say the same thing,” says Halpern, who notes that they’ve been getting the same response in Europe. “We didn’t know what to expect since we’ve never been out here, but the shows have been amazing. Even in places with stereotypically stiff crowds there’s been a lot of dancing.”
They’ve come a long way from meeting at an art show at Brown where Hawley-Weld was playing acoustic guitar in a jazz band and Halpern was DJing, but here they’re together as the buzz band of 2016.
“We started making music together before we were really friends,” says Halpern. “And now we’re best friends. It’s a great partnership. Sophie is so free-spirited, open-minded and intelligent. She brings the sensuality. The soft connection. She can look people in the eye and make them feel something.”
“Man, I’m blushing,” says Hawley-Weld. “That was nice.”
“Now, you have to say nice things about me,” jokes Halpern.
“Tucker is extraordinarily good at creating community and bringing people together for celebrating which is what this is all about.” says Hawley-Weld on cue. “He brings the… I’m looking for the word —
“Unce… Unce… Unce,” pipes in Halpern making the universal house music sound.
Hawley-Weld sums it up best, “Sofi Tukker is truly Sophie and Tucker.”