It sounds like a perfect meet cute for a teen Rom-Com: Tucker Halpern was all set to make it as a basketball player but health issues forced him to drop out, and while he was mostly hiding in his bedroom learning how to make beats, he met Sophie Hawley-Weld, a worldly, spiritual whirlwind, singing bossa nova in a warehouse. And Sofi Tukker was born.
I managed to catch them Thursday at AM Only’s SXSW party at the Blackheart—a very serious whiskey bar, with the Pappy’s to prove it. The backyard had a lively atmosphere, lit up by a spirited DJ set from Point Point. Tucker—ripped black jeans, black T-shirt, very very tall—and Sophie—white leotard, white pants—had clearly burned off whatever jet lag they may have had when they first arrived in Austin straight from Milan. Clearly energized, Sophie took a moment to dance it out with one of the DJs. They opened their set with their new track, “Hey Lion,” Sophie playing the lead hook on guitar, and Tucker playing drum pads mounted on tall booms. The crowd immediately started moving, and after the first song Sophie commented that some of the audience knew the words already despite the track being out less than a week. By the third song people were full-on dancing, and the band helped out with some minimal choreography.
When I first heard Sofi Tukker’s recordings, I thought they might become the next global backpacker soundtrack—the next Manu Chao, the music you hear on a South Thailand beach or while smoking a spliff with your new Dutch friends in Mexico. But also: it seems everyone who sees them play live loves them. They’re both so naturally charming, and Sophie simply exudes joy. If the 3ten ACL was the natural venue for this “genre” of music—moving lights, fog machines—it still fit perfectly at a backyard day party. Also, their song ”Drinkee,” which closed out the set, is just contagious– which is probably why it appeared in an Apple Watch ad. I caught up with the band via email while they were in Italy earlier this week to ask about that and more.
Sophie: The show was really fun. We had a great time dancing afterwards, too. We spent a couple of days in Rome, ate really well, marveled at everything… I broke down in tears when we saw the Pantheon. It’s just so beautiful.
Tucker: We also met some cool artists that were playing… Rochelle, Willy William… good vibes, good hangs.
Tucker: I love my friends. Spot of inspiration is our clubhouse, Ama. It’s closed right now, but is reopening in the next month!
Sophie: I second the above. And I love all of the parks and public libraries in New York with a passion.
It’s interesting that you both have such athletic backgrounds, and have spoken before as music being spiritual. While performing can certainly be vibrational, there’s so much intellectual busy work in the music “business”– how do you balance this all out?
Sophie: We really love both aspects. The spiritual, “vibrational” side is what initially attracted us to making music a career, but there’s a lot of business strategizing that we do with our team– who are all unreal– that is also really creative and gratifying.
The Apple Watch ad– such a game-changer. This is the kind of thing that was considered “selling out” 20 years ago and is increasingly becoming the way to survive as an artist, what with free streaming replacing album sales. Are there products you’d like to be associated with, or products you wouldn’t?
Sophie: Having our music in an advertisement is a funny thing because like you said, it’s a way to survive as an artist these days. Artists use commercials, TV shows, and movies as ways to share our music because the more traditional platforms are less dominant. It’s a gift to have our song circulating in the universe!
Sophie: I love that song! I think Portuguese is the most beautiful sung language. It’s already so melodic! Drinkee is purposefully not about its meaning; it’s more like a mantra. Chacal, the Brazilian poet whose poem is repeated in the song, told us that the poem is quite difficult to understand, even for a Portuguese speaker. He uses a lot of wordplay and embraces nonsensicalness. Luckily people understanding the words doesn’t seem to be getting in the way of people feeling connected to it!
Sophie: Sometime before the summer! The most surprising thing on it may be the two slightly more downtempo songs. They are slightly more vibey and dark than the ones we have already released. We also have an upbeat song we wrote with a good friend of ours that we are really excited to share!
Sophie: To kind of answer the question, “Wild Geese” is really the one. My close friend printed out a copy on a beautiful piece parchment paper and it’s the first thing I hang up when I move into a new place. It’s definitely become a sort of Sofi Tukker guiding principle.
Sofi Tukker plays March 18, 5 p.m., at the Yard in Austin and March 19, 1 a.m., at Sidewinder in Austin.
Bradley Spinelli is the author of “Killing Williamsburg” and the writer/director of “#AnnieHall.”