Sofi Tukker Details the Colorful and Inclusive Ethos Behind ‘Wet Tennis’
As the world begins to find a level of normalcy and we collectively rid ourselves of pandemic anxieties, there is hardly a more fitting soundtrack for celebration than the music of Sofi Tukker. Since their beginnings, Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern have been a beacon of positivity with a sound and vision quite unlike much else. While their music is too fluid and adventurous to justify any restrictive classification, it’s primarily a strain of bright and buoyant dance floor fare that assumes diverse forms from its duo’s creative whims. A share of Sofi Tukker’s lyrics have always been in Portuguese, for no other reason than that singer Sophie Hawley-Weld found herself attracted to the language and culture. In this spirit, their music culls sounds freely from all over the world, and has been received accordingly, with a devoted fan base spanning the globe.
Sofi Tukker’s sophomore album, “Wet Tennis,” is a jolt of positive energy that finds the duo serving up more dance floor bangers with all their usual flair, and continuing to evolve artistically. Evolution is a core part of the philosophy behind their music, even making its way into the title of the new album. “Wet Tennis” refers to the dynamic, fluid interplay between the two minds and personalities, but is also an acronym: When Everyone Tries To Evolve, Nothing Negative Is Safe. This time, Sophie and Tucker continue to expand their range of international influences, collaborating with artists from Turkey and Mali. They explore a wider range of nuanced emotions on this album, while, of course, remaining decidedly upbeat and inspiring. Sophie and Tucker spoke with Entertainment Voice to dig into the ideas and inspirations behind their new album and the ongoing evolution of Sofi Tukker.
Your new album, “Wet Tennis” has a loaded title, itself an acronym expanding to “When Everyone Tries To Evolve, Nothing Negative Is Safe.” What came to you first: the analogy of tennis as a playful musical exchange or the concept behind the expanded statement?
Sophie: Actually, I think it was the “wet” part that came first, and then the tennis part, and then the acronym. It basically has three layers. The wet part is just excitement and flow and juice, and crying, which I love to do (laughs), and just movement. And then the tennis part: everything is a back and forth between me and Tucker, and we’re both athletes, and come from athletic backgrounds, and we love sports. Also, we really love tennis fashion. Traditionally, it’s been all white, and you can’t get into country clubs unless you’re wearing all white, but we really wanted to turn it on its head, and make it inclusive and colorful and bright and welcoming. And then, the acronym part is “When Everyone Tries To Evolve, Nothing Negative Is Safe.”
Tucker: And that part is basically inspired by when we were in the pandemic, and we livestreamed for three hundred days straight, and we were really inspired by people all over the world that would tune in every day and choose optimism, and choose to grow something and build something together. We wanted to pay homage to that because we wrote a lot of the album when we were in quarantine.
While artists worldwide found themselves struggling to stay positive over the past couple of years, positivity has been at the core of Sofi Tukker’s vision since your inception, and that vision has only been increasingly realized with each release. Did you find yourselves empowered by your own ethos as you made your way through the pandemic?
Sophie: Yeah, very much so. I think it’s a very virtuous circle. Actually, a couple weeks ago, I got injured, and I was really sad. I was scared, and I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was in pain, and I remember talking to Tucker about it, and his first reaction was “When everyone tries to evolve, nothing negative is safe” (laughs). He was like, “Hey, we named our album this. Let’s live this. Let’s hold each other up to that higher standard of seeing the world with the glass half full.” Sure it’s shitty, but where is the opportunity here to evolve?
Your sound has always taken global aspirations, and the new album features artists like Malian duo Amadou and Miriam and Turkish DJ-producer Mahmut Orhan, who will introduce your fans to new sounds from around the world. Tell us a little about these particular collaborations, and about any new global sounds that you have found particularly inspiring since your last release.
Tucker: We’ve been huge fans of both those artists, particularly. Mahmut Orhan, we got introduced to him when he did a remix of our first ever song, “Drinkee,” and when we went and played our first show in Istanbul, he came, and we met him, and we struck up an awesome friendship. We’ve always been wanting to make a song together. It’s always been in the form of remixes, and then we finally made “Forgive Me” together, and it really paid a lot of attention to Turkish style and Turkish sounds. The way he works with strings and violins specifically is so amazing and sexy. He’s a special producer. He’s a special dude, so that was really fun. Amadou and Miriam was also a group that both of us looked up to, and were fans of before Sophie and I even met, so that was a sort of a dream collaboration that we felt really lucky to have the opportunity to do. There’s always been an African guitar. Sophie used to be in a West African dance troupe, and there’s something about the guitar parts in a lot of West African music that has always been inspiring to us.
Your single “Summer In New York” is a nod to Suzanne Vega’s “Tom’s Diner.” It abounds with references to your favorite spots in the city, and effectively expresses your love of it. Having spent the last few years partially in Florida, where it is always summer, what is it that makes New York summers specifically special to you?
Sophie: Well, we are definitely warm weather people, hence the fact that we still live in Florida for the winter (laughs). New York is the place where we really started the band. It’s the place where we have most of our community. It’s the best in the summer because of all of that spontaneous energy — you go out, and you have no idea who you’re going to run into and what you’re going to do that day, and then you meet up with someone, and then you run into someone else, and then you become part of a crew, and then you go somewhere else that you never expected to go. That magic is especially prevalent in the summertime, we found, in New York, and that kind of spontaneous, adventurous vibe is what makes New York so special, and we’re so excited to be here now, living here for the summer. We really like that we were nodding to “Tom’s Diner,” which is obviously a New York song. We actually went to Tom’s Diner the other day, which was really fun.
Your single “Original Sin” voices a natural continuation of the ethos behind your 2019 “RIP Shame” tour, as originally conceived. As you yourself ask in the song’s chorus, “what the fuck’s original sin, anyway?” Expand on your empowering rebuttal to that absurd concept.
Sophie: It comes from a lot of different places. At first, we wrote the song in the middle of the pandemic, when everybody was not necessarily their best self because there was a lot of uncertainty, anxiety, struggle. We were hearing a lot of bad news, and I think people made mistakes, and they fucked up, and maybe they hurt people that they love the most. And it’s just a song saying “Hey, be nice to yourself. Sometimes you make mistakes, and you’re not perfect, and that’s okay. That’s what makes you human.” But also, I think this concept of sin has been very much a theme in our music, and in what we sing about and talk about, for a long time. I think it’s almost a way to control people, to think they’re wrong for being human. It’s a controlling mechanism, and I think we are trying to be the opposite voice, and be a voice for liberation and really deep self-acceptance and love and celebration.
How does the new album stand apart musically from your other work? Do you feel like there is a refinement of your overall aesthetic? And, what are the major musical departures that stand out to you?
Tucker: I think we try to always have musical departures. I think it’s always an evolution, and we try to bring in things that are inspiring and exciting us at the time. I think one is probably “Forgive Me,” the song with Mahmut Orhan, because it’s a little more emotional — not just that the BPM is slower, and it’s less of a dance-out track, but also just the emotion in it is a different type of thing than we have tried before. But I think everything we’ve always done is a bit of a departure and a bit of evolution. I think it’s hard to put down a genre, and I think that’s how we like it. We never want to feel like we’re stuck to a genre because if it makes you feel something, if it makes you move and it makes you dance, then we’re happy (laughs).
When the two of you met, Tucker, you were a basketball player, and Sophie, you were a jazz singer. The new album finds you respectively revisiting these backgrounds, on “Larry Bird,” a tribute to the eponymous NBA star, and on a cover of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” Tell us a little about these two tracks. Upon recording them, did you feel a sense of having come full circle?
Tucker: Yeah. As we continue to grow and keep making music, I think it feels really good to revisit the sides of us, and where we came from, and our journey. I think they allude to our past and our genesis and where we came from. And those things aren’t even always intentional decisions. They just happen because that’s who we are. I’ve always wanted to make a song about Larry Bird. I’ve always wanted to use that. It’s such a big part of my life. I have a little tattoo in green that says his 33, and I wore 33 my whole basketball career. It’s always been a huge part of me, and it’s always been part of my identity, so it felt really good to show. I think we really wanted to show ourselves in this music more than ever because we have been showing ourselves and our personal personalities more throughout the pandemic because of the livestreams. We feel like we’re a lot more open to the public, to the world, and I think that does come across in the album more.
While the Covid-19 pandemic brought things to a standstill for artists in general, one can only imagine how much of an impediment social distancing was to Sofi Tukker, considering that your last release was literally titled “Dancing On the People.” What can fans expect from the thrilling prospects of a return to your live shows?
Sophie: Well, we’ve been having this conversation about crowd surfing (laughs). I don’t know yet that we’re going to return to that exactly, but I think we’ve been storing up energy for the past two years, and storing up excitement, and the fact that we now get to actually be with people, on people, through people, (laughs), constantly with people we love, it just has a whole new, special feeling because we don’t take it for granted, and we know that it’s precious and can be taken away.
We have a world tour coming up, starting the 21st of May. It’s the “Wet Tennis World Tour,” and we have a very, very fun show. It’s going to be exciting. We’re going to go all over the world.