SOFI TUKKER is what the future of electronic music sounds like
SOFI TUKKER, a Grammy-nominated pop-electronic act comprised of vocalist/guitarist Sophie Hawley-Weld and producer/guitarist Tucker Halpern, is technically based in the concrete jungle of Brooklyn, New York. But when you listen to their music, which is often accented with frenetic, tribal-sounding percussion and tropical synths, it’s easy to believe they were raised in an actual Amazonian jungle.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that their 2015 hit single “Drinkee” struck a chord with listeners around the world. The single charted in Brazil, Italy, Australia, Cyprus, Hungary, Costa Rica and a wide range of other countries. It propelled the duo stateside, earning the pair a Grammy nomination for Best Dance Recording, a category they shared with huge names like The Chainsmokers and Flume.
That may just be the beginning for Hawley-Weld and Halpern, who put on raucous live performances with a sort of punk-rock attitude, frequently stage diving and climbing around onto stage props. Once young electronic fans get tired of big, bass-y drops, one could easily see them flocking to the sound of SOFI TUKKER.
AOL caught up with the duo after their August show at the Palm Springs Air Museum -- part of the Splash House music festival in Palm Springs, California -- to ask them how they got their international flavor, Halpern’s past as an Ivy League basketball star and an old, slightly embarrassing Instagram post.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
AOL: I was watching the Mixmag set you guys did last year, which I love. I think the song choice did a really good job of reflecting the international, jungle flavor you guys have. Where do you think that came from -- maybe other than Sophie living in a bunch of different countries growing up?
Halpern: It’s kind of just both our favorite kind of music. We love being in tropical places. We love what they look like. Palm trees are like, my favorite thing in the world.
Hawley-Weld: [laughs] This guy.
Halpern: What? It’s true.
Hawley-Weld: They’re the rhythms that make us wanna move the most.
Halpern: And the house music that I was obsessed with before I met Sophie had kind of similar vibes. And she brought the Brazilian, West African … whatever. [laughs]
AOL: Did you expect to have a large share of your following to be international when you were starting out?
Halpern: Kind of. We definitely didn’t expect anyone in the U.S. to give a f---. So, I guess. [laughs]
Hawley-Weld: We didn’t know that anyone would give a f---. The way that it’s popped up in different countries is mind-blowing. First [“Drinkee”] got really big in Italy, then all of a sudden we gained a following in Turkey. We were looking at the charts and seeing us on the Namibia charts. And Estonia. Latvia, I think, is the No. 1 place for our new song [“F--- They”]. And the Czech Republic. I grew up in international schools, so my sense of nations is really confused. I’ve never really understood it, I guess. Like why do we have to divide ourselves by those kinds of arbitrary borders?
AOL: Nationalism -- that’s a huge topic in the world right now, and in the United States especially.
Hawley-Weld: Yeah, obviously. And I think it’s beautiful to have cultural diversity in different places. But we don’t think of the people who listen to our music as being in different countries. They’re just people.
Halpern: People who we love and are thankful for! [laughs]
AOL: Tucker, you got the Epstein-Barr virus that bed-rid you for 8 months. Then you tried to go back to basketball and that didn’t work out. What was that period of life like for you, when you realized you wouldn’t be able to achieve your first career choice of basketball and had to pivot to something else?
Halpern: I got obsessed with making music before I knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep playing basketball. I kept trying to play basketball after I got obsessed with music, because I was still obsessed with that too. It wasn’t until about a year later that I realized I actually had to stop playing basketball fully. And I was already so in love with music that I didn’t feel bad for myself. I just went all gears focused to [music], and didn’t feel sad. And I think that probably saved my life [laughs]. Because it had been such a hard time.
AOL: [laughs] Yeah, what was the backup to the backup plan?
Halpern: Nah. I had a second. Come on, don’t make me think of a third.
AOL: And Sophie, you had a bit of an athletic background too, right? What are the details there?
Hawley-Weld: I grew up playing soccer. And I was obsessed, too. I was on a lot of soccer teams my whole life. When I was 15 or 16, I tore my ACL. And that was the end of it. At the time, I was traveling every weekend on a boat to play other teams. But the ACL injury took me out. And it changed my life. I decided to go to boarding school because of it.
AOL: Are there any artists who stick out whom you two would like to work with in the future?
Hawley-Weld: We’ve been recently just shouting at the same people, and I think we should keep doing it so that they hear it. Stromae and Die Antwoord. I think those are our top two right now.
AOL: So to finish up, we like to do this segment for interviews where we go back and find an old Instagram post, and let you two explain the context of it.
Hawley-Weld: [laughs] Oh, this is amazing.
Halpern: [laughs] This is one of the f------ best photos ever. Alright, we were in Miami. For some business [coy smile]. Nah, we were probably with my dad. But we were there for our first photoshoot ever. Maybe the second one.
Hawley-Weld: No, really?
Halpern: It was a photoshoot thing!
AOL: I did have to go back pretty far to find this.
Hawley-Weld: Damn! That’s so cool.
Halpern: We were there just to like do photos with this girl we had a mutual friend with who would do our photos for free, or something. Every time we go back there, she’s awesome.
AOL: Was that you, Sophie, who took the photo?
Hawley-Weld: It was. Different beds!
Halpern: Yeah, we were like, “Are people gonna think we’re sleeping together?” But then we were like “Nah, we’re in different beds.” That’s so funny, I definitely remember that.