| Sofi Tukker talks their inclusive values, dancing in shared spaces again and erotic fruit
By Chris Azzopardi
For Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern, collectively known as Sofi Tukker, it doesn’t need to be Pride for it to feel like a Pride show. The duo has been promoting and practicing the values of inclusivity and self-empowerment in their music and during their concerts since the release of their 2018 debut album, “Treehouse.”
Same goes for the band’s shimmering followup, “Wet Tennis,” a playfully invigorating collection of electro-pop that, after so much sheltering in place, feels like a much-welcome, good-vibes-only, clothing-optional invitation to get back on the dancefloor. In addition to their original bangers, Hawley-Weld and Halpern have remixed songs by mega pop stars like Billie Eilish, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. They’re also passionate activists and have raised funds for The Ally Coalition, Planned Parenthood, The Trevor Project and March for Our Lives. For their latest North American tour, including a stop in Detroit at The Majestic Theatre on June 2, $1 per ticket will go toward PLUS1 Mental Health Access Fund, which supports direct service organizations delivering mental health treatment and access to care.
Here, Hawley-Weld and Halpern talk about their mission to celebrate individuality, what they really mean by “Wet Tennis,” and their sexual take on the _other_ peach.
Thanks to your “Kakee” video, I’ll never think of a persimmon the same way. It’s like when I saw “Call Me By Your Name” and a peach became so much more than a peach. What’s your phallic go-to fruit or veggie emoji when you’re texting?
Sophie Hawley-Weld: I mean, I think we’re eggplant people.
Tucker Halpern: Yeah. But you got me thinking now.
Hawley-Weld: Because persimmon doesn’t have an emoji.
Halpern: I think I could get a little creative using the pear. Maybe do pear and then nuts. I prefer a pear to a persimmon all day. All day. I don’t even really like persimmons to eat them, but I love songs about them.
Can you talk about how you came to use the persimmon in the “Kakee” video?
Hawley-Weld: Yeah. I mean, in the song basically, I’m obsessed with them. I just think they’re so delicious. And also, they’re super seasonal. So it’s not always easy to find, which makes it this really fun game that when you do find one, it’s very exciting. And so I was talking to our long-time collaborator, Chacal, the Brazilian poet, and I was like, “Can we please write a poem about the persimmon? Because we need a song about a persimmon.” And so he wrote that poem and it’s the weirdest, sexiest poem ever. True to form, that’s his vibe. So obviously, we knew that the video had to be as weird and sexy as the song and the lyrics, and that’s that. I just love it.
How did “Wet Tennis” come to be?
Halpern: So the acronym of “Wet Tennis” means: When Everyone Tries to Evolve, Nothing Negative Is Safe. And that is basically the thesis statement and the idea that we wanted to say from the beginning, and how we were inspired by the community that built around our live streams during the pandemic called “The Freak Fam.” And how people chose to build something to be positive, even in really shitty times. And that was really just so inspiring and exciting to us that we wanted to make sure we paid homage to it and dedicated the album to that idea. But at the same time, we didn’t want the whole album to be a reminder of the pandemic. So we wanted it to be fun and sexy, and if you want it to be surface level and just fun, that’s fine. If you really want to look into the deeper meaning, that’s there too.
Everything I and Sofi do is back and forth. All the music we write, all the ideas, all the visuals, everything, really, is us knocking ideas back and forth like in tennis. We love the history of the fashion of tennis and really saw an opportunity to sort of make it colorful and fun.
You’ll be touring and playing Pride this summer. What do you think it’ll feel like to bring people together with this new music?
Hawley-Weld: It’s already been feeling so good. We’ve been emerging slowly, and so we’re kind of preparing for a bigger emergence. Starting in May, we’re going to be on the road nonstop. We start our world tour. I think that everybody feels like this is just really, really precious; we know this could be taken away from us. So we have a much bigger appreciation for hanging out, dancing in groups, sweating on each other, and just the freedom of being with other humans enjoying movement [together], which is something that is so, so, so, so precious. And we realize also how much life is worse when we don’t have it.
In 2020, you released “Spa,” which features you, Icona Pop, and Jordan Firstman, gay comedian and Instagram sensation. What was it like to make that video during the height of the pandemic?
Halpern: That was so fun. I mean, what a cast of incredible people. We sadly did our part from our house at our pool in our backyard. Jordan was in LA, and Icona Pop was in Sweden. We tried to make it look like we were all together with the best we could. And it was so fun. Then how did Jordan come about? I mean, we were watching Jordan early in the pandemic. He emerged with his impressions, and we’d watch them and we’d die. We were like, “We need this guy. He is the funniest guy in the world. We need him in this video.”
Hawley-Weld: We just DM’d him and he said yes.
I got the impression that you guys had been friends for years based on the video.
Halpern: That’s what it felt like.
When I think of that video, obviously Jordan brings a queer element to the video, but the video is just kind of queer, period. And I think aesthetically, some of what you do is queer. But both of you are allies. Is that right? You don’t identify as LGBTQ+?
Halpern: Sophie’s a little bit of everything. I’m an ally. And I feel so grateful and connected to that community. It’s really a special place for us, honestly. I think it’s an interesting question, and I think we’ve kind of even thought about it before where it’s just natural. It’s kind of how we are and how we express ourselves. And the color is one of the most inspiring things to me personally, and combinations of color and being bright. I think [we have] a lot in common with the LGBTQ+ community, aesthetically.
Hawley-Weld: I’m thinking of the “Spa” video and just naked butts. I think that there’s a certain freedom and playfulness, and just free to be yourself and erotic and colorful. Even talking as a hetero dude, [Tucker] dresses super fem and colorful. But I think that none of it has to do with a queer aesthetic. It feels more like what we naturally are drawn to.
It sounds like for both of you, it’s an extension of who you are.
Hawley-Weld: Yeah. And we have a team and some people on the team are queer. The language for me hasn’t… I’m still exploring. I don’t really know what language I would like to use for myself. But it’s nice. I mean, I think that the next generation really is just like, “Hey, no one’s straight or gay anymore.” Defining it is deeply confusing and also, for some people, not for others obviously, largely potentially unnecessary. Again, most of our friends are queer. It just makes sense to us with who we are, who we surround ourselves with, the type of values that we have around being yourself, and inclusivity.
Halpern: It’s kind of the world we live in. That’s kind of where our social world is.
If that’s your social world, Tucker, how many men have you had to turn down?
Hawley-Weld: Oh my god. Too many. I have personally had to let a lot of queer men down because they ask me like, “So Tucker, would he be interested?” I’m like, “Sorry.”
What is the vibe like for you at a Pride show versus a Sofi Tukker concert?
Halpern: I think there’s something really special about Pride events that we feel really lucky to not replicate at our Sofi Tukker shows in general. It’s definitely not the right word, but I do think there’s a similarity of freedom to just be yourself and be joyful and feel safe. I think that we are really grateful that that’s what the Sofi Tukker experience has become. And it wasn’t necessarily intentional. It’s just kind of the values that I think are shared in the room, and it does just feel really good and we’re grateful. And going to Pride shows is the most fun, also.
Hawley-Weld: At first, when we started playing shows, I think maybe some people would gather that those are our values. People know that they come dressed in the most fabulous outfits. Any show we go to, we can look out to the audience and be like, “Yep. Those are Sofi Tukker fans,” because it’s wild and colorful and happy and open.